Monday, July 15, 2013


Catch-phrases that live long enough to become cliches only do so because their truth can not be denied...

Fear of falling off a timing tower into a flaming burnout box seething with panicked rattlesnakes is reasonable enough (and more common that you'd think). But most other fears are irrational childhood baggage, serving only to distract us from our potential. If we're true to ourselves and open to possibilities, any fear can be seen for what it is and readily dismissed. When I finally achieved a glimpse of that awareness, I learned about trust and began taking regular leaps of faith to celebrate it. Which brings us to today's main topic.

 How to provide SGE readers with honest behind-the-scenes insight into automotive journalism without biting the hand that feeds me? It can't be done. So for a number of years now, I've gambled my career on a policy of full disclosure, on this blog and in all of my affairs. Nothing to hide. Most subjects have embraced this ethos and shared freely of their experiences here for your amusement  (rightly assuming that nobody has time to read this thing, anyway). A couple of SGE guests have arrived bearing promotional agendas, but I deemed them interesting enough to introduce to the readership. They operated on a separate standard, but were entertaining. So far, so good.

This week, I risked possible jail time to procure the following photos of prominent automotive journalists in somewhat compromising situations, because I felt that you deserve to see how your favorite publications operate. I downloaded the photos, studied the images, and pondered the ethical and legal implications. It comes down to this: SGE profits in no way from the images or text it publishes. The vast majority of images are photographed by myself and are posted knowing that I will not be using them in any other manner. You like something I've posted and want to download it? Fine by me. I'm honored, and thank you for spreading the word! If the following individuals and/or their handlers protest this post, I'll take my lumps. If nothing else, such drama will provide future blog fodder.

Actual layout for Car Craft Magazine cover. This is how magazines are made. And also where babies come from, according to certain anonymous industry insiders.

Top Secret Hot Rod Magazine staff meeting. What are they hiding from you? Why are readers not represented at such assemblies? Why don't they show their faces? What's the square root of 37?

Hot Rod staffer Mike Finnegan, obviously enjoying Editor-in-Chief David Freiburger's public humiliation of an endangered species, on stage, in front of a cheering audience. Their mothers must be so proud.

Hot Rod's Crusher Camaro was on it's way to being destroyed to help our environment heal, when staffers procured it and installed a gas guzzling blown big block. It's been emitting hydrocarbons coast-to-coast ever since. Toast it when drinking your next bottle of water to stave off the effects of global warming.

The Camaro caper was followed by a saga of depraved decadence involving this innocent Buick, corrupted into a gas pump-dependent thrill slave, then abandoned. The story was relayed in a decidedly sophomoric vein - I believe they find this debauchery to be humorous

Car Craft Magazine Publisher Ed Zinke flaunts extravagant lifestyle, while starving staff photographer obediently follows orders. This is what your subscription is paying for.

Car Craft Editor Doug Glad (infamous for sadistic office policy) finally instituted a Casual Friday dress code last November - a token gesture and blatant insult to underpaid staffers (and unpaid interns). In his defense, Glad cut enough of last year's budget to produce the excellent Elapsed Times special issues, already bound for collector status. He's still a total Nazi, but wears it well.

Dennis Pittsenbarger's Hot Rod Live radio show budget was slashed to support Group Publisher Doug Evans' obsessive Scotch tape collecting habit. Pittsenbarger was consequently evicted from his studio apartment and has been living in a motorhome since February. 

   Pittsenbarger's unheated home has no electricity and is said to be infested with rabid rodents (AKA "dinner"). Neighbors report regular sightings of Pittsenbarger drinking heavily on his back porch in a bathrobe (though it may have been John Dianna).

Note emaciated condition of Hot Rod Deluxe model, reduced to nibbling on printing overstocks (lightly buttered with reduced-fat spread). Heartbreaking. 

The noose seems to tighten hardest around those necks most in need of some slack. That would be the freelance contributors, in my heavily biased opinion. Cole Coonce is seen leaving his new scaled down apartment, on way to office. The master of nitro journalism now commutes by bicycle.

Car Craft staffers (L-R) John McGann, Jeff Smith, Taylor Le and nameless intern, enduring yet another marathon telling of Ed Zinke's favorite cheeseburger discoveries. This particular opus wasted an entire lunch hour.

SourceInterlink was forced to increase news stand pricing 15% to pay for a month of lost productivity last winter while (L-R) Brandon Gillogly, Jesse Kiser, Freiburger and Finnegan engaged in a beard growing contest, documented hourly via photos by Taylor Le. 

During his stellar reign as Hot Rod Deluxe Magazine editor, Dave Wallace Jr. has toiled and slept in the back of this decrepit Ford van (wedged between vehicles in Famoso Raceway pits). Talk about "We did it for love"!  


Previously on the SGE blog, a mention was made of the Motor Mouth radio show, a grassroots level production created by a hot rodder (Ray Guarino) and a restorer (Chris Switzer). The balance realized by these bookended heroes of the automotive microcosm is to be admired, allowing accessibility to all. While I relate to Ray and have become friends with him, Chris' resto sensibilities are so foreign to me (and visa versa) that we've kept our distance, for the most part. Well, I feel there's no room for divisiveness in this hobby, as we're all in it together and our strength lives in our numbers. So today I'm reaching out to Chris with an olive branch salute to the restorers. What does a dimwitted punkass street racer like myself know of restoring a classic car? Not much. Only this:

Every business tends to lean on the bank account of it's most well heeled customer. At the shops I've been lucky enough to work in, these patrons were crudely referred to as Sugar Daddies. One such sponsor supported the entire business at an anonymous shop where I plied the trade. We had built three full customs for Mr. X when he brought us an incredible barn score: A '57 Corvette with 23 actual miles on it. This was circa 2002. Though virtually untouched mechanically, the 'glass body had deteriorated badly while sitting under rafters constantly populated with flocks of birds - you do the math. We performed a full-on resto over a year's time and when the big day arrived, guess who got to slide behind the wheel and put mile number twenty four on the Vette. That's right,  the dimwitted punkass street racer/shop grunt was the only employee experienced in driving a dual quad stickshift lightweight. That was a landmark day for me: I so wanted to wring it out, but conjured up some unknown discipline out of respect for the car and customer. I played nice and slept well that night.

To repay that invaluable gift and lesson of restoration, I submit the following treasures from my top secret Corvette stash (my condolences to peers sickened to learn that I have a Corvette stash) - images likely never witnessed by Chris Switzer's virgin eyeballs. Chris, today you are a man! You're welcome. But you owe me. Big time!

  General Motors designed, built, and promoted the Corvette as "America's Sports Car" - intended to terrorize public roadways and race courses. How these born warriors became bastardized into pampered princess poodles is one of automotive history's saddest chapters, or greatest shows of respect, depending on who you ask. Luckily, hot rodders and drag racers kept the badass bully image intact by torturing untold T-birds, Mustangs, Panteras and Cobras with the plastic Chevys - until they were deemed trendy investments by blue chip collectors and pried from the hands of their intended demographic. 



   Walt Arfons (left) passed on in June, at 96 years old. Bonneville won't be the same. But it'll still be jumpin'!

Bonneville Speed Week is only a few short weeks away, and this year's edition promises plenty of the sleight-of-hand ingenuity and passion-fueled record busting you've come to expect since 1949, plus a couple of truly epic extra-special features. For starters, this year will see the largest gathering of 400+ MPH contenders ever...

Danny Thompson (son of Mickey and carrier of the piston-driven land speed record torch) has updated his dad's old Challenger II streamliner and readied it for a vicious attack on the record books. Danny plans to chase the record that vexed Mickey (409+MPH in 1968) this fall at Mike Cook's Shootout - a private FIA event - but might bring the new-gen Challenger II to Speed Week for display, and just may make some shakedown runs. For the record, Danny states, "I don't really care about winning the class. I want to be the fastest person out there, period."

Under M/T's tenure, the Challenger II (replacement for the quad engined Challenger I) ran stereo blown 427 Ford engines. Danny's AWD Challenger 2.5 version runs two naturally aspirated nitro Hemis, each making a conservative 2,000 HP.  

Dark wizard of chassis science Kent Fuller has also updated an old favorite for action - the streamliner he's been toying with for decades as a part-time hobby project, which has not turned a tire under power, as of this writing. Funded in part by a Kickstarter public pledge project, 79 year old Fuller and his 14 year old grandson Greg vow to have the 'liner on the salt (for its maiden voyage) to run down the class record as payback to the hundreds of investors and helpers that have finally made his vision a reality.

Fuller's been kicking out dragster, landspeed, and other racing chassis since 1956, for a wide variety of customers. His personal streamliner project only received sporadic attention in between customer cars, so it's been a slow build. Driver Andy Davis will be positioned horizontally and peer through a periscope to guide Fuller's dream down the course. A single unblown flathead on nitro is responsible for eclipsing the Vintage Fuel Streamliner record of 280+ MPH.

Towing out from New Jersey in high fashion, the Gyronaut X-1 Triumph motorcycle streamliner will attempt to recreate (original builders/racers) Bob Leppan and Alex Tremulis' 1966 245+ MPH  record run. A recent restoration/updating at Ida Automotive rates up there with Thompson and Fuller's efforts, but the Gyronaut X-1 is certain to win the Coolest Tow/Push Vehicle competition, as an Ida Automotive Tucker will be pressed into service to fill that need.

Roy Steffey, Maynard Rupp and Gene Logge built the Gyronaut X-1 chassis in '64. Twin Triumph engines from Leppan's Cannibal II drag bike powered the lil liner from '63 to 1970. Together, they dynoed at 130 HP in '66. The rear wheel was chain-driven (ironically, the weak link in the drivetrain). Leppan was nearly killed when the front suspension failed at 270 MPH in 1970. He survived to eventually begin the restoration of the Gyronaut, ultimately finished by Rob Ida. Bonus: 67 years before, Alex Tremulis helped Preston Tucker design his car. In 2013, Sean and Mike Tucker (Preston's great-grandsons) helped restore the Gyronaut, now owned by Steve Tremulis, Alex's nephew. Rob Ida's grandfather owned a Tucker dealership = A full circle connection! 

If you notice a confused guy wearing a Tilton Engineering hat wandering aimlessly around the salt, stop me and say Hi. I'd love to meet you!


NEXT WEEK: The fun machine has no OFF switch! Until then, amigos!!!