I am very proud to be a Contributing Editor for Road&Track magazine today. It’s not because I’ve written our Performance Car Of The Year feature for each of the four years we’ve done it, although that is one of the things that, as Belle&Sebastian sings, they can write on my grave or when they scatter my ashes. It’s how we handled a situation that was deeply upsetting and embarrassing for all of us at R&T — and how we broke the rules of the business in doing so.
During PCOTY testing, my boss, Joe DeMatio, wiped the front end off a McLaren 570S. It’s not something he’s ever done before. But it is something that happens all the time in this business. I’m aware of another major publication, and one rather despicable fellow at that publication in particular, that has accounted for maybe five or six totaled cars in the past half-decade. Even if half of the things I hear at press events and over dinner tables are true, there have been maybe twenty vehicles absolutely shit-canned by print and large web outlets since I started my “career” in the autojourno game.
This is how these things are usually handled: The car is quietly taken away, it is quietly replaced, and nobody ever says anything to somebody who isn’t part of “the club”. There are writers who have crashed so many cars on racetracks that they are no longer allowed to drive on racetracks as a condition of their employment — but you won’t see that in the YouTube videos where they stand in front of a paddock and talk about how a car understeers at the limit.
We could have done that with the McLaren. Nobody saw the crash but our writers and the tow-truck driver who took it away. The cops didn’t even bother to show up. It was the perfect crime. But after some soul-searching and a discussion among all of us, the decision was made to disclose what had happened to the readers.
I am proud of Joe DeMatio for writing this up. I’m proud of Kim Wolfkill and the rest of the Hearst management team for signing off on it. And I’m proud to be associated with a group of men and women who thought that the reader should know the truth about what happened to the McLaren. Having character doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes. It means that you do the right thing after you’ve made that mistake. I hope that after reading this year’s PCOTY article, you will agree that we did the right thing.