Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better!

I haven’t seen it yet — my only current magazine subscriptions are The Economist, Vintage Guitar, and Juggs — but I am reliably told that your humble author has two, count ‘em, two articles in the newest issue of that well-beloved and august publication, Road&Track. TTAC readers are already comparing me to the Emperor Napoleon as I triumphantly return to color magazines the way Napoleon returned from Elba.

Yes, I said return.

Twenty-two years ago, I began writing for Bicycles Today magazine. In a monthly column entitled “One Racer’s Perspective”, I railed against the excesses of the industry, provided advice for new racers, and exposed the too-cozy relationship between the manufacturers and the color mags. I even wrote a little fiction. Sounds thoroughly familiar, right? Most of all, I campaigned for riders to be given a voice in the sport of bicycle motocross, which at that point was run by an unholy coalition of parents and sunshine-state scam artists.

When BMX Action! became GO! magazine and a fellow pro racer named Chris Moeller took control as editor, he invited me to contribute and I did so… only to see the rag fold before my first column could be printed. Oh well. The first experiment in letting the inmates run the asylum was a failure.

A decade after that unhappy ending, I wrote an angry letter to Car and Driver objecting to their praise of a certain South African kit-car manufacturer. C/D printed the letter and a major online car forum of the era made said letter a subject of discussion. My decision to join that discussion started a chain of events that landed me right here nine years later.

Road&Track is not the first major car magazine to ask me to contribute. I declined for a variety of reasons in the past and when Sam Smith contacted me in August my first impulse was to decline again. Over the course of a couple discussions, however, I became convinced by the three-inch-thick stack of Benjamins Hearst Publications offered me clarity and integrity of Sam’s vision for the mag.

To bring me on as an occasional contributor, Sam not only had to convince me, he had to deal with a firestorm of objections, criticism, and negative reactions from automakers and fellow journalists who have been on the receiving end of my cordovan MacNeils since 2007 or thereabouts. To his credit, he did that and his boss, Larry Webster, stood behind him. They’re still hearing that they’ve made the wrong decision — from people in the business, from the yes-men in the PR cliques, from the whispering cowards at the press events.

If you pick up the April issue of Road&Track, you’ll see that my editorial voice and personal commitment to truth were allowed to shine through without modification or mollification. The comparison test I wrote, which pits the 911 Carrera S PDK against the Lotus Evora S IPS on the back roads of South Carolina, may shock the mag’s regular readers but it won’t shock you.

I will continue to do the majority of my writing right here at TTAC, but I am pleased to note that for the foreseeable future, you’ll also be able to read me at Road&Track. I’m also asking you, the reader, to hold me accountable for what I write here and there. I’m not doing this for the money or the perks; I’ve owned the kind of cars most autojournos have to sign two waivers just to touch and when I want to fly somewhere nice I just take out my wallet. I’m in this business because I believe in truth and I remain deeply passionate about cars. That won’t change.

This experiment that Hearst is trying — that of stacking a color magazine with actual club racers and letting them run wild — may fare no better than Wizard Publications’ decision to let Chris Moeller run BMX Action! I’m hoping that’s not the case. This time, the good guys deserve a win, and I expect to be standing right next to them when it goes up on the scoreboard.

Be seeing you.

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