My first ride in a sports car came while I was 7 or 8 years old. I was attending a summer camp near my home of Decatur, Ill., when one hot Sunday morning I saw a cloud of dust moving across the flat fields of central Illinois. As it got closer I could hear the roar of a straight six engine. My dad and a friend were driving a Jaguar XK120 on loan from his friend John Kilborn, local car dealer and sports car racer.
I slid into the deeply contoured leather seat, pulled on my hat and slipped sunglasses over my eyes. Scooting around country roads, listening to the lovely bark of the Jag’s exhaust, was a feeling was unlike anything I knew. Hundreds of cars and more than six decades later I still feel echoes of that magical feeling whenever I get behind the wheel of an exciting automobile.
So how did I become an automotive writer without any formal training in engineering or design? Mostly by reading voraciously. I pored over stacks and stacks of car magazines. Initially, my hands-on experience came from helping my brother build a hot rod when I was in junior high school or working beside my dad and brother as they overhauled dad’s Crosley Hot Shot. I learned to drive the Hot Shot when I was 12. I mastered the clutch by driving up and down our driveway. Occasionally I was allowed to drive around the block on the gravel roads of our undeveloped subdivision accompanied by my brother, dad or brother-in-law.
Although I came to The Star as a staff photographer in late 1978 and moved through various management positions in the photography department, my fantasy was to become the automotive editor. Sometime around 1983 Mike Waller, managing editor of the now defunct Kansas City Times, agreed to let me write some car reviews for the Saturday auto section. In 1991 I became the full-time automotive editor and in 2002 I left the paper to freelance for The Star and other newspapers, websites and magazines.
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Sometime about 2003 I began a weekly column about vintage cars and the people that love them. Little did I know the impact that column would have on me. I met car enthusiasts throughout our region, from significant collectors with seven-figure cars to everyday folks with modest cars. Car people are without question some of the nicest hobbyists I’ve ever encountered. They all share an abiding interest in their cars, and everyone meets on the same level, regardless of education, income or status. Cars are the common ground.
I love telling stories about people and photographing their cars. For many, cars mark a pivotal point in their lives, often recapturing the excitement of days gone by or enhancing the memory of a loved one. There are stories of love, dedication, celebration and loss.
It is often said that the best way to appreciate a car is to wash it by hand so you can feel every contour. For me, the best way to appreciate a car is to spend time letting it speak to me through my lens.
Almost without exception, the people in our car community are generous and kind. They have become my extended automotive family, and I am honored to call so many of them friends. Each time I write about a car it feels as though I own a small part. In that way, I have gathered a car collection that far exceeds anything I could ever buy but will always treasure as if it were my own.
So, after three decades of writing about cars for The Star, I’ve decided to take my leave and explore new horizons. I plan to continue my syndicated columns.
I’ve been incredibly blessed that so many people have taken me into their homes or garages and have been willing to share personal, heartfelt stories. To each of them I say thank you.