According to family lore, “car” was the first non-essential word in my vocabulary, and I was able to identify every automobile on the road by the time I was 5. Of course, this is the standard backstory for virtually every car guy I know. What was unusual about my case was that my infatuation with cars came out of nowhere. There were no car guys in my family, no race fans, nobody in the automobile industry, and growing up in New York City, none of my friends shared my passion. But something about cars in general, and racing in particular, captured me as a kid and continues to energize me to this day.
Back in the ’60s, racing wasn’t covered in the newspaper, much less on TV. So I learned about the sport through books. The first was Phil Hill: Yankee Champion. Much later, Phil Hill himself confided to me that he hated the admittedly simplistic biography, but I was so taken with the romantic tales of Masers and D-Jags that I stole the book from an elementary school classmate. (Belated apologies, Lee Odden!) This led to Jim Clark at the Wheel, Daredevils of the Speedway and, best of all, Parnelli. Before long, I was reading Rob Walker’s Grand Prix reports in Road & Track, Pete Lyons’ Formula 1 coverage in AutoWeek and, after discovering a bookstore on East 56th Street in midtown Manhattan that carried British racing magazines, Denis Jenkinson’s idiosyncratic columns in Motor Sport.
My interest in cars waned when I went to college and began working as a newspaper reporter. But in 1984, I happened to be at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when the Dallas Grand Prix brought F1 to Texas. The sports department wasn’t interested in the event, so I volunteered to do all the advance coverage. Carroll Shelby was serving as the honorary race director. I met him just before winning a media race at the local outpost of Malibu Grand Prix. (Thereafter, Shelby always told me, not very convincingly, “Preston, you should have been a race car driver.”) Shelby later introduced me to his friend, artist Bill Neale, and Neale was kind enough to introduce me to David E. Davis. Eventually, David E. persuaded Jean Jennings to assign me a story, and I’ve been working for the magazine ever since.