Where Have You Been?Everyone should add up the places they've visited and things they've done
Have you ever wondered what you're doing with your life? The other day it suddenly occurred to me I have been a licensed driver for just over 30 years. In that time, I have pretty consistently banged out more than 30,000 miles per year-just over a million miles total-in such a bewildering variety of vehicles that I'm not sure exactly how many cars, trucks and motorcycles I've owned.
I have driven in all 50 states (I finally nabbed elusive North Dakota during my Around the World drive in 2000) and in more than 40 countries. Some of those miles have been pretty exciting; most of them have been quite dull; a few came close to being tragic. I have been involved in six traffic accidents, fortunately none of them involving any fatalities or serious injuries. Three of the accidents were my fault, the other three I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I guess that's why they're called accidents.
The reason for all of this introspection comes because I started making lists again. Making lists seems to be a typical "guy" thing to do. For some reason members of my gender find satisfaction in seeing an organized column of our accomplishments. It also helps bring back memories of places we've been and people we've met. But the creation of a list also helps clarify what you thought of as the best and the worst among the items on the list. If you are not careful with this process, before long you have yourself a pretty good description of how important the automobile has been in your life for the last 30 years and million miles.
Countries Driven InAndorra, Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Norway, Peru, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Wales.
Countries Visited, but not Driven in Bahamas, Bermuda, Iceland, Ireland.
Best Drive EverPasso de Bracone in a BMW 7 Series on my honeymoon in Northern Italy. Incredible scenery, huge drop-offs, one-lane road with no guardrails, incomparable company, fabulous car.
Worst Drive EverFrom Istanbul to Samsun, Turkey. Driving all night, fighting fatigue, and unlighted trucks and buses on narrow mountain roads after spending the whole prior day fixing the car to stay in the Around the World Rally in 2000.
Most Dangerous DriveAlaska Highway in the winter. Passing trucks at 90 mph in an Audi Quattro on loose snow in a complete whiteout, hoping against hope that nothing is coming the other way.
Best Race EverPittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Finishing fourth overall (out of 24) in the pre-war race in my junkyard dog of a Model A Ford-powered sprint car. I drove carefully and spent the whole race conserving my brakes, and then drove like a madman at the end to beat a bunch of half-million-dollar Bugattis.
Worst Race EverI didn't even get two turns into the pace lap at an SCCA regional race at Indianapolis Raceway Park before the engine in my Improved Touring Class Volkswagen Golf came apart and covered the track with oil. Bad day.
Biggest Rally HeroErik Carlsson. The man was and still is incredible. He could do more with less in those tiny Saabs than anyone had any right to. It's my biggest thrill in this business that he remembers my name.
Biggest Race HeroThe same morning I got to meet Nikki Lauda at the Munich Auto Show, I also met Francois Michelin, who owned the company I worked for at the time. I was more impressed by my meeting with Lauda, who was warm, charming and witty-everything a World Champion should be.
Favorite Automotive FictionI've said it before: "The Red Car," which is a children's book by Don Stanford from the early 1950s. Years after it was written, Stanford was still teaching kids like me how to be a sports-car guy.
Best Automotive Adventure Tale"Sideways to Sydney" by Innes Ireland. A story of the 1968 London to Sydney rally that got me wondering what it would be like to drive in far-off lands.
Best Travel GuideIn 1910, C.L.F. Freeston wrote "The High Roads of the Alps." It was a motoring guide that provided everything you needed to know, then and now, about driving in the French and Italian Alps.
Best Automotive Technology Book"Race Car Vehicle Dynamics" by William F. and Douglas L. Milliken. They literally wrote the book on the science of racing cars and this is that book.
Best Collection of Automotive StoriesModesty precludes me from including my own work in this list (ISBN 0-9729445-2-4, www.riversbendpress.com), but three stellar books come to mind and I can't choose between them. Ken Purdy wrote his "Ken Purdy's Book of Automobiles" in 1972 and there was nothing else like it, before or since. Denise McCluggage wrote her wonderful "By Brooks too Broad For Leaping" in 1994 and David E. Davis, Jr. wrote "Thus Spake David E." in 1999. Any of these three books are perfect to read while sitting by a fire with a large glass of port. I never met Ken Purdy (though God knows how I would have liked to), but nothing makes me prouder than knowing Denise and David E. are my friends.
Favorite Car OwnedI've owned my 1952 MG TD longer than anything else (coming on 10 years now) so I guess it must be my favorite. It isn't fast; it's uncomfortable and is starting to look a bit ratty (I'll call it patina), but in the company of a dozen other slithering and sliding T-types on a racetrack, nothing is more fun.
Least Favorite Car OwnedCrazy as it sounds, there was always something appealing to me in every car that I have ever purchased, even if some of them only stayed with me for a matter of days.
Best Motorcycle OwnedMy first, which was a BMW R100/7 and which I stupidly sold last year. I regretted it before getting to the bank to cash the check.
Best Ride Ever (not driving)Peter Hardman took me for a few laps of the Millbrook Proving Ground in the 1959 Le Mans-winning Aston Martin DBR1/2. A close second place was a ride in a 1927 Type 35 Bugatti on the original Targa Florio circuit in Sicily. The car was rumored (by its owner) to be the winning car from that year.
Looking over this list, I might be accused of being an automotive name-dropper. That wasn't my intent. I'm sure if I were a golfer, my list would have been peppered with the names of my golfing heroes. But I don't like golf; I like cars. Maybe you do, too, or you won't be reading our magazine. I'll bet if you were to think about it, you've probably been within a degree or two of separation from your own heroes. If not, you need to get out more.
I urge you to sit down with a blank piece of paper and start making the same kind of lists I did. Use my lists as a starting point and then add your own bests and worsts, highs and lows and favorites as you go. It won't put food on your table or cure male-pattern baldness, but it is fun. If nothing else, it really helps you figure out what you have been doing with your life.