In case you haven’t heard, dirt is cheaper in the country.
That bit of homespun business wisdom was made New Mexico famous by well-known Valencia County businessman, politician and race car driver Casey Luna.
A recently released biography of Luna written by local historian Richard Melzer, recounts a life begun big — Luna was 11 pounds at birth — and continued with verve.
“Every time I saw him, he had another story,” Melzer said with a laugh. “To publish, I had to stop seeing him. He has this great personality and charisma, and has been successful in so many ways.”
Melzer said Luna’s story could almost be three books, recounting his time as the successful owner of two car dealerships, then his rise in politics to become New Mexico’s lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1995 and his success as a champion race car driver and owner of national championship sprint cars.
“I spent more than 100 hours interviewing him — in person and on the phone,” Melzer said.
Initially, the historian planned to interview Luna for a La Historia del Rio Abajo column that runs in the Valencia County News-Bulletin regularly. Once he began gathering information on Luna, Melzer realized the story went well beyond a mere article.
While he was familiar with Melzer’s writing, Luna had never met him, but that didn’t stop him from showing up at a yard sale Luna and his wife of 55 years, Beverly, were having at their home.
“We started talking and all of a sudden we created a partnership and one thing led to another,” Luna said.
Luna’s family and friends had often encouraged him to write an autobiography, but he always felt “there are a lot of other people walking around that have done more than I have,” he said.
Working on the book for more than two years was a much more involved process than he anticipated, Luna said.
“I always knew if I was going to do something, I would do it right. Be as transparent as possible,” he said. “I was going to do it the way I though it should be done, and I think I did.”
Interviewing Luna for the book was the “most fun ever,” Melzer said. “He’s full of fun. He’s traveled all over the world. Casey says there’s the fun bus and the dull bus; he’s always on the fun bus.”
Melzer said the three worlds Luna inhabited — sports, politics and business — were all intertwined.
“What he learned from one, he took those great skills he learned and applied it to the next,” Melzer said of Luna. “In the concluding chapter, there are about two dozen life lessons. People often read biographies to learn from them.
“In this case, we wanted to make clear what Casey’s values are, and having read the book, you’ll know where they came from. They are all based on trust; people could trust his word. He always came through.”
Luna said working on the book has been an interesting experience that has brought up a lot of memories.
“We tried to keep it as local as possible,” he said. “Even though Beverly and I are gallivanting all over, Belen is still our home.”
Melzer and Luna will be at a book signing, with proper social distancing, from 2-4 p.m., Saturday, March 27, at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts. Copies of the book will be available for sale or can be found on Amazon.com. For a sneak peek of the book, see the La Historia del Rio Abajo column Melzer wrote on Page 9 for an excerpt.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.