As a contributor to this august publication, I travel quite a bit. Perhaps you remember my insightful coverage of the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. If so, you really need to up your dose of ginkgo biloba, because I never made it to the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. For every story that makes it from concept to reality, there are several that crash and burn, and my confounded attempt to get to Tokyo was just one of many Stories That Don’t Make It.
That one is pretty straightforward. My connecting flight out of O’Hare leaves the runway at an angle more common to a Trident missile than a 747, and three hours into the flight – around the Arctic Circle, somewhere – the pilot announces that the tail of the plane dragged on the runway at takeoff. Which is a problem, since 747s don’t have wheelie bars. So we’d been flying around to burn enough fuel so we can land again without punching the struts up through the fuselage. Back in Chicago, the airline says that they’ll try again tomorrow, but that’s problematic, since the Tokyo show is only two days long. I give up and fly home to Boston with no story except, “Did I ever tell you about the day I flew to the Arctic Circle and back for no reason whatsoever?”
Then there are ideas that are doomed by their own complication. I’m full of those. For instance, have you ever wondered if the Chevy Corvette ZR1 is actually faster than a NASCAR stock car – at least, a restrictor-plate car? After all, the Vette does 205 mph, and Jimmie Johnson earned pole position at the 2008 Daytona 500 with a qualifying lap of 187 mph.
I decide that I want to find out if we’re at the point where a Chevy you can drive to the track will actually compete with the cars out on the track. All I require to make it happen is a ZR1, a stock car, a NASCAR driver, and private access to a NASCAR speedway. Simple, right? With several false starts and probably more than a few favors called in by GM’s PR people, it all comes together on race weekend. On the eve of the story, I have dinner with photographer A. J. Mueller to discuss our game plan. As we’re walking back to the hotel, he casually says, “Hey, what if it rains?” And just like that, I know that in fact it will rain. Which is a possibility that, believe it or not, had never even entered my mind.
The next morning, we’ve got the cars, we’ve got the track, we’ve got NASCAR Rookie of the Year Regan Smith, and we’ve got a torrential downpour. “The track is closed, and the cars aren’t coming off the truck,” says the GM car wrangler. What’s more, there will be no rescheduling this circus. So is a ZR1 faster than a stock car? That, like the origin of the statues at Easter Island and the continued success of According to Jim, will remain a mystery debated by our children’s children’s children.
The bulk of my ideas, though, never even come that close to reality. You may have heard of the Road to Nowhere in Alaska. While the Bridge to Nowhere never got built, the road to that bridge did. So there’s this nice new stretch of road that leads out into the woods and dead-ends in a cul-de-sac. One day last fall, I’m looking at an aerial photo of that cul-de-sac, and I think, “Hey . . . that looks an awful lot like a skid pad.” And another ambitious, completely impractical story idea is born.
“Here’s what we do,” I tell the editors. “We, as taxpayers, deserve to use that road. And we deserve to use it for something awesome. So we get a Ferrari 599GTB, a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, maybe a Pagani Zonda – no, a Spyker! – and we head up there and tear that thing up. I can already see the headline: ‘Going Nowhere Fast.’ It’s gonna be great.” And then road test editor Marc Noordeloos calmly explains that there’s a practical reason why you don’t see exotic-car shootouts staged in Alaska. “I’m not sure you’re going to be able to drive those cars up there,” he says. “I think I can get you a 1984 Corolla and a team of sled dogs, but that might change the story a bit.”
OK, fine. But I’m not giving up on all of my ill-guided ideas. Somewhere, there’s still a Volvo C30 with a trailer hitch, and I’ll let you ponder what I plan to do with that. Somewhere else, there’s a hearse, a big-block, and a Guinness world record waiting to be broken. Also, if you happen to own a decommissioned Formula 1 car and you’d like to let a responsible writer drive it for a little while on the street, just till he gets arrested, you know where to find me. Rain or shine.