How to be an automotive journalist?

“I'm gonna work for an automotive magazine. That's what I want to do.”

This is one of the promises I made to myself in high school, and it's what has ultimately led me down this particular road. It doesn't mean that I will definitely fulfill my promise, but if nothing else happens to prevent it, it's probably going to happen at some point. When people ask me about how I “got into cars” or why I like working on them so much or whatever, it always turns out that the answers are long-winded – they almost never involve a single moment of clarity where everything suddenly became clear and purposeful. Rather, any number of little reasons coalesce over time until they become big enough for you to make a decision and follow them through.

Things started happening kind of early, actually – when I was only in the 4th grade, my dad bought an old '89 Mustang LX Hatchback with a 5 speed that had been sitting up on cinder blocks for about 7 years prior to being sold. It didn't have any rust or major engine problems and ran well enough with its stock 9:1 compression pistons and camshaft, but it was kind of rough around the edges (literally). Not long after he got it though, we went to pick out performance parts together at a local mechanic's shop where they were talking about how you could buy these new “cold air induction systems” for cars, short ram air intakes.

The idea of installing an aftermarket CAI piqued my interest, so I asked my dad if he wanted one for the Mustang. He said it probably wasn't worth it at the time (it would have only increased horsepower by 15-20), but that made me think about what else we could do with the car – and more specifically, what kind of magazine might have articles to help people figure out how to make such a modification. Eventually, we found parts on eBay that worked pretty well, and spent hours savaging through catalogs together to find other cool stuff we could put on the car.

When high school came around though, my parents emphasized academics as much as possible in order to get into a good college (which they did, and I've been very grateful for), and so my dad told me that he wouldn't pay to have any car out of the driveway unless it was stock-looking, which made modifying the Mustang almost impossible. This forced me to go back on my word to myself in high school and make new promises – I promised him I wouldn't work on cars at all until after college if he let me keep working on mine throughout high school, and then when I graduated from High School he allowed me to take a year off before going off to college, whereupon we mutually agreed that while in the meantime I could still use my own money to modify the car but had to leave it unitl he got home from work every evening (for the most part).

It's probably a good thing that this happened when it did though – I might have started working on cars even earlier if my dad hadn't been so strict about the Mustang, and I wouldn't have gone through all of those years of being obsessed with different game consoles. Part of why I was so fascinated by them was because I'm no good at tinkering with mechanical objects (“hand-eye coordination” doesn't describe me)… but video games don't require any actual physical interaction at all. They're my way of holding onto that passion for automotive modification without having to put up with learning how to tinker with a real automobile 🙂

During high school, this became one of the main reasons that pushed me towards majoring in the social sciences (communications) – I wanted to write about cars, and after I started working on my Mustang as much as I possibly could, I realized that what was missing was a fan voice in automotive journalism. Despite being one of the most popular categories of vehicles sold every year in America (and probably many other countries too), there were very few automotive journalists out there who actually had a significant or comprehensive reader base… and most of those people were either senior citizens or not up on modern car technologies like forced induction, traction control, etc.

Even today though, if you look at some of the top-ranking automotive websites online they've got hundreds or even thousands of articles written by contributors – but none of them have many followers. Perhaps they're just not very good at marketing themselves, which is why I'm hoping that this blog will be my way of getting my name out there enough to the point that it gains some legitimacy as a source for information on all things automotive – and in the past year or so since starting it I've been genuinely surprised by how much enthusiasm there seems to be from other people who are like me in terms of their passion for cars. This has made me feel even more confident about making the transition from writing about video games (for fun) to writing about automobiles (for profit).

Although I'm completely sincere when I say that this blog is something I do because I love doing it… at the same time it has to be acknowledged that I'm not making a whole lot of money from it so far. This is partially because the automotive journalism industry is still developing… but I figure that if anything, this should only improve my chances in getting a job over someone who already has those contacts to turn to 🙂

Who knows – maybe one day this will help me land some sort of writing gig at AutoTrader or Popular Mechanics or something, and I'll be able to quit my day job… which would totally be my dream come true. But until then, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read through some of my rants about stuff you care about!

First automotive love

My first experience driving anything (other riding in a car, of course) was in seventh grade Louisiana , the summer between eighth and ninth grade, when my dad let me borrow his old '93 Toyota Camry. I got my license on July 1st that year almost exactly ten years ago – yet it's still one of my most fond memories to this day.

It wasn't completely legal though; technically I had to wait until I turned 16… but since I'd been taking driver's ed classes for months leading up to it all there were no problems. My dad and stepmother Jan got divorced around the same time and he moved out so we didn't need to worry about her having any objections either (besides which she never drove anyway).

For someone who hadn't been driving for even half a year, being able to borrow the car and cruise around with my friends is still one of my favorite memories from high school. We would pick up our buddy Jason after he got off work at Wendy's (his parents didn't allow him to have a car yet) and we'd all go meet up with other kids from school as well as some of our older brothers' friends… everyone was pretty immature so it wasn't uncommon to just get into random arguments that escalated into fistfights.

What I'll remember most are all the times though where one or two of us were left hanging, where someone got in trouble or their parents made them come home early; there might be three or four people on your call list who you know are all at the mall, but you can only call one of them… and then they have to leave before everyone else has a chance to meet up with them.

That's why countless hours were spent just driving around aimlessly, talking about nothing in particular or listening to music. A lot of people like my buddy John didn't have their license yet so we'd take them places anyhow – even if it was a place that we'd driven by hundreds of times and knew exactly how to find it. Sometimes we even did illegal stuff, driving from the northern side of town all the way across I-10 into Slidell , where there aren't any police stations – not because anyone was going out of their way to break laws, but just as an added bonus of having your own car.

In his V6 Camry, my dad was able to get up to about 127 mph. We'd never go that fast ourselves but on a couple occasions we were out at night and came across some slower vehicle in the right-hand lane and we'd immediately whip over to the left line and pass them with ease (of course only after seeing their brake lights come on). That's how safe it felt; you can do whatever you want, he used to say. Freedom – what more could I ask for?

Of course I didn't have much opportunity to operate this power myself until I finally got my license, so before July 1st seemed like eons away… if anything, I had to remind myself constantly that it was still there, just a couple short months away.

As my driver's ed teacher and mentor Bill Summars put it,” No one's going to take your license”, he'd say. Sometimes, when we were driving around on the 4-lane highway across Lake Pontchartrain with no cars in sight at all… or when we weren't even out on the road somewhere but instead sitting at the stoplight by Best Buy or this other pizza place called Pizza Hut (which now, for some reason, is KFC), he'd hit the gas and flex his foot off of the floorboard like he was pushing harder than anyone else could possibly go.

“For as long as you have your license, nobody will take it away from you. It's yours to do whatever you want.”

A lot of times I thought about how much more freedom I would have with a car when school does start up again in August… especially without having to worry about all the things that could prevent me from getting behind the wheel, like whether my mom had to work late or not (she always seemed to at least until 10 pm)… or if she was too tired and didn't feel like driving. And even though she often worried about me driving too quickly and encouraged me to be extra careful – I never really listened to her; once you're out on your own, some things are just expected of you, right?

I wasn't one of these people who had been dreaming about my license from the moment I could remember; it was more like a realization, a premonition. When you're that young and you see everyone else driving – it feels weird not to have one. To be able to drive by yourself is a statement in itself, but even if no one really knows or notices, it makes you feel better all on its own anyway.

Hey man, once I get mine… then we might have a chance at going out some time this summer… don't worry about me though – my parents say they'll sign me up for driver's ed as soon as school starts up again next month… although I doubt that anyone will let me go anywhere before July 1st.”

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