Monday, February 21, 2005

"Tapscott Behind the Wheel" Driving Soon to This URL!

Everybody has their preferred means of "getting away from it all." Some like to take a long walk in the woods, others prefer to knit something or maybe play a round or three of golf. Getting behind the wheel or bars and driving or riding - as (safely) fast as possible as often as possible - has long been my favorite way of clearing my mind of all the nonsense of politics, media and the daily babble.

Cars and motorcycles - and especially anything and everything having to do with racing them - have been among my chief passions since I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 60s. One of my earliest memories is listening on the radio to Sid Collins, "the Voice of the Indy 500," with my dad every year.

And there was that night in 1957 at an early NHRA Nationals when Dad and a neighbor helped Art Arfons get his aircraft-engined "Green Monster" ready for the next day of competition. Dad was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy during WWII and may have had some knowledge Arfons found useful.

My hero in those days was A.J. Foyt, who was in his prime during my teen years, so actually getting to see him at Indy in 1964, the year he won his second 500 (and the last win for the old front-engine Offy roadsters), remains among the greatest thrills of my life, even though it was only the final day of practice and qualifying, not the race itself.

Oddly, Dad was a Chevy guy, so I was as well but the sound of those four-cam Indy Ford V-8s shutting down for Turn Two where we were sitting still makes the hair on my neck stand up. But so does the blip of a Chevy small-block as a driver downshifts for a corner, the smell of exhausted rubber, brakes and petrol at a Formula One race and the sight of Rick Mears passing Michael Andretti on the outside of Turn One at Indy as Andretti was going inside to pass another driver.

Anyway, for most of my life, cars and motorcycles and racing were just a passion, nothing more. It didn't occur to me until 1985 that writing about these things was not only possible, it might also be a way of making some money. So I approached The Washington Times about writing a regular review column and much to my amazement they went for it.

One thing led to another and those initial "Behind the Wheel" columns provided an avenue for becoming a full-time journalist, covering government and the automobile industry. About two weeks after the Times hired me as a full-time reporter, I realized being a journalist is probably what I should have been doing all along.

So much has happenned since those early days in the Times newsroom. I was able to break some important stories along the way, including a 1986 piece on how NASA's chief safety engineer had been warning the agency for months before Challenger blew up that those O-rings were no good. My obits on Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari appeared on A1, too, which was an honor, and there were a number of important stories about waste and fraud in the government bureaucracy.

It's been two decades now and there have been ups and downs, good days and some truly awful ones as well. But through it all, one of the few constants has been those "Behind the Wheel" columns. Week in and week out for nearly two decades, I've had to make a deadline and produce something reasonably interesting, informative and useful about a new car or truck. How columnists like the Times' Wes Pruden - who produces two often brilliant and hilariously funny takes on Washington and politics every week - do it is beyond me!

The column went from the Times to K Street Etc. in 1990, then to The Journal Newspapers in 1991 and has been continued by the new owners as the Journals became The Washington Examiner. Five years ago, the Patuxent Publications also started running the column in many of its suburban Baltimore weeklies.

Now with the growth of the Blogosphere and the modest success of Tapscott's Copy Desk, it seems appropriate to start posting the "Behind the Wheel" columns on the Internet as well. Thus the creation of "Tapscott Behind the Wheel," a companion site to TCD. In addition to the new car and truck reviews, TBTW will include my occasional editorial thoughts, musings and observations about the auto industry and the world of motorsports.

So, even if the prospect of heel-and-toe downshifting while braking an open-wheel race car from 150 mph for a 50 mph hairpin, or revelling in the tearing-sheet scream of a Ferrari V-12 at full song at 3:30 a.m. during the Daytona 24 Hour or experiencing the intoxicating 10,000 rpm lunge of a Suzuki Bandit 600S isn't exactly your cup of tea, you still might discover a pleasurable distraction from numbing spin, analysis, ranting and facts of the Blogs and politics. Just remember, "Tapscott Behind the Wheel" is very much a work in progress.