Why Do Journalists Race?

#Ford, #Ford

Memories of a checkered-flag past. Or: Good enough to get on the team if she promises to write a story about us for the sponsors.

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We're so proud of Ronald Ahrens, we could just spit. His account of running in the grueling Alcan Winter Rally, "Three Zero Heroes," begins on page 72 and is the usual great Ahrens read. It's made greater by the fact that he and his teammates, campaigning a BMW, won the event outright.

It isn't every day that an automotive journalist goes racing with the big dogs and finishes on the podium. We usually lose. For as long as I've been in this business, auto journalists have leaped at every single opportunity to compete (at someone else's expense, generally) in anything with an engine and wheels. Anything. Go-karts, Formula Fords, sedans, Indy cars, rally cars, vintage cars, dragsters, off-road trucks... you name it, we'll drive it. We'll do long-distance runs, record runs, the Baja, the Mille Miglia, vintage meets, vintage road rallies, SCCA club races, Pro Rally, Pro Solo, twenty-four-hour endurance racing, hill-climbs, even demolition derbies. Call us. We're racing sluts.

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It goes like this: The phone rings, and it's BFG, the tire company, wanting to know if we would like to be on its endurance team. It's Ford Motor Company's head of racing, wanting to know if we want to race a prototype. It's Mazda, wanting to know if we want to field our own Miata (Automobile Magazine, June 2004).

The Story (with a capital S) is typically what gets journalists behind the wheel of a racing car. What our benefactors all want to know is if we're willing to take a few turns at the wheel and then write a big, fat, exciting story that will turbocharge their name, their team, or whatever racing event they are currently sponsoring.

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Yes, we are willing, within reason.

It's that "within reason" part that is hard to figure out, especially once you catch the fever. In my earlier years, I had the bug as bad as my fellow editors. It didn't take much - one four-day Bondurant high-performance driving school closely followed by a silly little all-Renault Le Car race at Mid-Ohio. The Le Car had a tendency to lift the rear inside wheel in tight right-handers when it wasn't just falling over on its side. It was like racing garden tractors, a huge spectacle that brought out the big-shot IMSA Camel GT drivers of the day to the pits to hoot and holler us on. But it was my first taste of a massive adrenaline rush and its accompanying superhuman powers. When the checkered flag fell, I burst into tears from the sheer excitement and terror. I was hooked. Of course, I wrote a story about it.

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Next came the years of competing car magazine staffs racing the 24 hours of Nelson Ledges. Ford's SVT guys were working on a souped-up Mustang and asked us to race the prototype. The boys didn't let me drive until they'd popped the engine and spent all night rebuilding it and we were about a zillion laps down. "Don't break it," said teammate (and then-boss) Don Sherman. They all went to sleep for my stint. There was no startling comeback win.

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