Love In The Time Of Minor Car Blogs

jackb

If you stop by TTAC today, you’ll see a QOTD that has nothing to do with the usual “What’s the Worst (insert different word for “thing on a car”) On The Market Today” run of the daily-question mill. The question is: Do We Really Need So Many Car Blogs? The answer, of course, depends on whom you mean by “we”.

Bark’s never written for an outlet that has fewer than a million or so readers a month — with the exception of the one you’re reading now, which reaches a modest-to-put-it-mildly 1,250 or so people a day on the average — so his acquaintance with small-time autoblogging is limited to being held up on a racetrack by small-time autobloggers. I cannot claim the same. To the contrary, I started in this business as a small-time autoblogger. No, scratch that. I started off as less than that.


Thirteen years ago or thereabouts, I had a Letter To The Editor published in Car and Driver. The subject of the letter was my negative experience with a Lotus Seven clone built by Hi-Tech Automotive of South Africa. I sent the letter because I’d read a C/D puff-piece on the Noble M12 kit-supercar, the build and assembly of which had been subcontracted to Hi-Tech for export markets like North America. My concern was that people would read magazine features like the one on the Noble and that they would then enthusiastically purchase a Noble, only to find out, like I did, that Hi-Tech didn’t always give much of a shit about basic things like welding two steel tubes all the way together.

A friend of mine alerted me that my letter was being discussed on VWVortex.com. The prevailing opinion on said letter, led by a forum regular who was an enthusiastic booster of the Noble and Superformance brands sold by Hi-Tech, was that I was a liar and scumbag. So I joined VWVortex to make sure that THE INTERNET KNEW THE TRUTH DAMN IT. Over the course of the five years following, I became involved in all sorts of ridiculous shenanigans as a consequence of that decision, from my “$5000 (Or A Punch In The Face) Mid-Ohio Laptime Challenge” to the simultaneous ownership of two Volkswagen Phaetons and a self-financed trip to Dresden.

I was very happy arguing with people on the Internet and spending unconscionable amounts of money on things like extra Porsches and a $30,000 season of Spec Focus racing. I owned a small consulting company, was happily married, and had more money than I had any reasonable use for. In November of 2005, the people at VWVortex approached me about putting one of my longer forum posts on their front page. It was wildly popular. It was also wildly unpopular. People implied that I was everything from a drug dealer (not strictly true) to a pedophile (not true at all, I hope). But as Ice Cube once said, a click is a click.

Over the course of the next year or so, I had a few discussions with Zerin Dube, the owner of a small car-blog titled DubspeedDriven, about writing for him. It took me a while to realize that he was utterly serious about blogging and about having me on the masthead. In mid-2007 we agreed that I’d join the team. I was never paid for it, but at the time I didn’t need the money and Zerin wasn’t making any money on the blog anyway. Off I went to the introduction of the 2008 Ford Focus in Seattle. I found the idea of the press junket fascinating and repugnant and delightful all at once and was gobsmacked by the fact that I earned maybe ten times what most of these autowriters did yet didn’t live nearly as well.

Zerin, my new boss, was a suave fellow with the ability to talk PR people into unlimited press cars and trips. Too many for him to take. Over the year that followed, I wrote the original twenty “Avoidable Contact” columns and reviewed everything from diesel RAMs to Vipers for the publication. I introduced the idea of using actual TraqMate data in a review — I still think I was the first person to do that, back in 2008.

I also took as many press trips as I could. My second junket was for the United States introduction of the Audi R8 and S5. Do we have a video? Yes we do. This was actually the first press trip for the writer of technical documentation and English dime-store whack-off novels known as “Murilee Martin”. He’s holding the camera. What I like about this video is the following:

  • it’s the first time I wore my then-new yellow linen Kiton jacket, which has been to three continents and forty or so states since then;
  • Murilee’s commentary and open fear about our pace;
  • the fact that I ran a press car two wheels off and didn’t slow down. At the time I really didn’t give a shit if I ever got invited back anywhere.

So let’s roll tape.

The resulting review is here. It contains the oddly prescient and correct line,

…the sight of an Accord Coupe in one’s driveway fails to provoke envy among any but the most prosaic of neighbors.

Too fucking right, let me tell you. Sucks to be poor. Who knows. Maybe I’ll finish my book and it will make ten million dollars and there will be movie rights and before you know it I’ll have a matched pair of Audi S8s in the driveway. Or a magic unicorn will just bring me some money. Both outcomes are equally likely.

After this Audi review, Zerin and I both thought there could be bigger things ahead for Dubspeed Driven, so we rebranded it as Speed:Sport:Life. The following year, I joined Murilee and Jonny Lieberman on the Jalopnik team for the 24 Hours of Lemons. Jonny introduced me to the people at Autofiends, another small-time blog with 500 views a day. Then he introduced me to Robert Farago, who took me on at TTAC. Then Jonny joined Motor Trend and I was probably far too hard on him about his early work for that publication and we stopped being friends, which I regret.

The rest is the stuff of extremely minor legend: the CTS-V Challenge, the Skip Barber Media Challenge, think pieces that were reblogged all across the Internet. I took a freelance position at Road&Track and rescued TTAC from its disastrous slide in both respectability and click-volume under Bertel Schmitt. My son was born. I won races, lost races, crashed race cars, crashed a street car, went to the hospital a few times, got divorced, moved a woman in, moved a woman out, moved another woman in, and so on, up to the present day.

Speed:Sport:Life continues to this present day under the able administration of Zerin Dube and my friend John Kucek. Alexa says that the blog you’re reading is much bigger than S:S:L, but Zerin never intended for his site to challenge Autoblog or Jalopnik. He wanted to write fun features and take great photos and drive fun cars. The manufacturers like the fact that his site’s been around for a decade and ranks well with Google. Everybody wins, particularly “Z” himself. You should see how my man lives. Really. He has what’s basically a mansion and he has a lovely wife and a Wrangler Rubicon. And he never lets the drama get the better of him, not for a moment.

Whereas I… well, I let the drama get the better of me, in my minor-blogging years. I seduced the wives of the other writers and made out with PR girls after the bar closed and woke up in those five-star hotels next to the unobtainable girljournos with a fuzzed tongue and a tragically dim memory of the drive event itself. Like the song says: I cheated and I lied and I tested / and I never failed to fail / it was the easiest thing to do. I regret all of it. Or maybe I regret none of it. But I regret one night in particular.

It was an event at the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay. It was maybe one in the morning and I was sitting there at the hotel bar with this gorgeous Latina from some half-ass Mexican car blog. She was methodically brushing my hair and I was ten shots in. I told her I had to walk out for a minute, probably to use the restroom. But once I was out of the bar I went outside and saw the ocean and thought of another woman entirely and I walked down the path to the sea. The moon was the only light and the waves were worryingly strong against the rocks. I was half in love with the journalist and half in love with someone else I’d met on the previous trip and entirely in love with someone else entirely and I sat down to think about it for a minute, maybe to raise my courage or crush my humanity enough to return to that dark-haired beauty in the hotel bar with the newborn baby of her own at home and the dutiful husband watching their lovely seaside home in some town that I remember today as Juarez although that cannot be correct for geographical reasons.

A few hours later the tide woke me, the salt sea filling my shoes and my pants and my eyes which were closed against the sand. I got up and ran through knee-deep water back to the path. My room key was dead and I banged on the big front door of the Ritz until someone let me in and cued up a new one. Once I was in my room I realized I’d have to leave for my flight in three hours. I slept briefly, consigned a new Brioni shirt and a set of Zanella slacks to the trash because I couldn’t dry them adequately, and got in the shuttle to the airport with yesterday’s socks on.

I don’t remember her name and I don’t remember the car we were driving but somewhere in my desk drawer there’s one of those goofy-ass cards they used to give to guests. Mr. Jack Baruth, in residence at the Ritz-Carlton. Mr. Jack Baruth. Minor-blog blogger. Compensated travel, leave your wallet at home, Sir, open tab at the bar, an unspoken agreement to leave what happened at the hotel the previous night behind you, five hundred views a day, the future uncertain and the end is always near.

24 Replies to “Love In The Time Of Minor Car Blogs”

    • Disinterested-Observer

      I am not sure what the point could be. The big players like the NYT or Washington Post auto reviewers are just as unethical as the small guys. More so, since low information consumers may actually listen to them.

      Reply
    • Tmkreutzer

      I laugh at your disdain of cargo shorts, polo shirts and brown belts and want you to know that this is exactly the ensemble I wore onto the street of the East Asian paradise in which I currently find myself last night. I would have worn a Hawaiian shirt but I only have the one and and I wore it the night before…

      Reply
  1. Chris

    I sit here, in cargo shorts and a tucked-in polo, and dream of these press junkets.

    As my beat is strictly classic cars, it ain’t happening.

    Reply
  2. Tomko

    My all time favorite Jackism is this one from 2012:

    “I don’t think I write about getting laid *that* often. I mean, I write about it more than Dutch Mandel does, but that’s only because nobody wants to read about ordering a steak from room service, charging it to Bentley, stuffing it into a shoe, and banging it while you cry over declining circulation numbers.”

    I still tear up just thinking of it.

    Reply
  3. Ronnie Schreiber

    Southern Cross is one of those “but there’s a different meaning since you’ve been gone” songs for me. Staying in a Steven Stills vein, I also have a hard time listening to Cinnamon Girl.

    Reply
  4. Harry

    Its funny for me that this post and the QOTD were posted today.

    Yesterday I was watching the most recent instructional YouTube video my friend made, and I commented to him that it was one of the most well presented and thorough videos of its type I had ever watched, it had no annoying fluff. The only thing it lacked was an accompanying article to give it some context.

    Within the video he recorded there was enough stuff to also do a “review” on the 1/2” 18v Ryobi impact gun, adjustable Rancho shocks, HF composite ratchets and more, topics which would generate many more views than any specific installation guide for one application only.

    For about the 10th time in the last few years we said “lets start a blog!”

    We are both in a good position to do so, comfortable economically and with what seems to outsiders to be an abundance of free time. What has held us back before was a fear/revulsion of being hacks. When you are a commenter or an amateur YouTube poster you are just throwing stuff out there, the second you hit “monetize” to try and get revenue, or sign up for ad sense to cover hosting fees it seems to us that you are crossing the line over to “professional” and should be putting things out there that are immediately good. We’re probably wrong about that. As I read this comment to myself I also worry about having not exercised my writing muscles in a very long time, and when I read some of my older comments on sites from over the years I realize how much I sometimes sound like an asshole withough meaning to.

    The point being is that reading about how different writers have gotten started gives me a better sense of whether or not it is something I would like to get involved with, so thanks.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I’d heartily encourage you to start a blog and I’d be more than pleased to link to it from here and TTAC.

      Good quality writing and video content should rise to the top, even if that’s not always what happens.

      Reply
          • -Nate

            Kevin ;

            I went and read your entries , they stopped five years ago , what happened ? .

            Lots of untold stories in there you alluded to I’d like to hear .

            It’s nice to know that having a twisted & fucked up Childhood wasn’t just me .

            -Nate

          • kvndoom

            Nate, I had been playing the game since 2005… as we outgrew Guild Wars, the communication kinda died and in 2010 I was working hard on my degree and I had met Karen… ’twas a busy year, and I have a bad habit of not picking stuff back up when I put it down for too long.

            It’s been on my mind this summer a lot though. I have to make myself commit, and I know I’m not getting any younger. I won’t have any help from my family though (other than maybe my brother Phillip)… I know that nobody will help me fill in the gaps and pieces of my memory. I don’t know if it’s pride or shame or denial, but it’s pointless to even ask.

            When Karen read the books “The Glass Castle” and “Gifted Hands,” she told me I need to tell the world how it went down in my house(s) during those years. My bluntness would probably put off a lot of people, since I don’t sugarcoat how I speak of myself or of anyone else, but in the end I’m just not out to make people like me anyway.

        • VolandoBajo

          That is some good writing @kvndoom, I do hope you will get back to writing.

          And don’t let the fear that honesty may put some people off. There is also a great number of people who long to know and try to understand truth, no matter how painful it might be. And one of the reasons is that people like to know that someone could go through a lot of hardship and still come out strong, and happy, and able to bring happiness to others.

          I hope you will have the strength to deal with those strings in a way that has the potential to exorcise them for you perhaps for more readers than you can know.

          Reply
  5. Dan S

    Those original Avoidable Contact articles had some pretty thought provoking ideas in them about the automotive industry, for what it’s worth. Quite a bit moreso than the high brow clickbait I’m seeing posted up at TTAC the last few days. Rich Corinthian Swaybars anyone?

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I’m going to plead guilty in advance for tomorrow’s article. I’ll be more thoughtful on Thursday 🙂

      Reply
  6. kvndoom

    Dude, there is no car on earth I’d rather have in my driveway right now than an Accord coupe. With the 6MT available in white once again, it’s soooo daaaaamn harrrrrd not to pull the trigger and order one.

    I couldn’t care less what German overengineered crap the neighbors have. They’re just going to turn it in when the lease expires because they’re scared to drive it out of warranty.

    Reply
  7. Kyle K

    Hey Jack, what was your day job (or what still is your dayjob) before starting your journalism career? I’m a young guy trying to figure out what I want to do, and I’d love to have enough money to be able to race full seasons of SCCA/NASA racing!

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I sold drugs!

      That’s what my neighbors thought.

      Mostly because there were a lot of Bolivians at the house all the time, and also because I sold drugs.*

      *not entirely untrue, long story

      Reply

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