Time To Say Goodbye…

A lot has changed in the hot rodding world since I started at this company some 22 years ago. For my first stories, I shot Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film and typed up articles on a Brother typewriter. Most of the magazine's printed pages were in black and white, but the car features on a few choice pages were in color.

When I moved from North Carolina to New Jersey to take an associate editor job for CSK Publishing, they stuck me in a room full of other car guys—we all split duty between magazines like Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, High-Performance Mopar, Vette, Muscle Cars Magazine, High-Performance Pontiac, and Bracket Racing USA. They called that room the bullpen, but it was more like a zoo. Many of the top names in the industry cut their teeth in that joint. But the most unique thing about the bullpen was that each desk had some new-fangled thing called a Mac.

This unholy box had a screen the size of a TV set right out of 1949, and when turned on, it looked about as good. When it got hot, it smelled like sesame-fried rice from the Chinese restaurant across the street. As a matter of fact, I always thought that smell was the restaurant across the street, until the Mac finally caught fire one day!

I'd write my stories on a floppy disc, run 'em down the hall to my managing editor, and drop off an envelope full of black-and-white prints or color slides to the art department on the way. When us guys came back to the bullpen from a trip, we'd send the film to the lab. We didn't get paid crap in the bullpen, so instead, we shot the hell out of some film. Sometimes we'd dare each other to shoot the most rolls, and management would go through the roof at the processing bill! It was payback, because when we worked a two-day weekend, they only paid us one comp day.

Then in 1995, the World Wide Web arrived. There was one guy in the office in charge of the Internet thingy. He had the only email address, so when "e" mails came in, he'd print them, walk down the hall, and put them in our real "in" boxes. This quickly turned into a deluge of paper, so in 1996 we all got upgraded computers with Internet connections and our own email addresses.

Fast-forward to 1997 and some brief history. CSK Publishing sells to KIII, which absorbs all CSK's magazines. The CSK titles are added to KIII's expanding portfolio, namely the magazines of McMullen-Argus (Super Chevy, Street Rodder, and, of course, the flagship, Popular Hot Rodding) and Dobbs Publishing (5.0 Mustang, Mopar Muscle, and Super Ford). To mark the merger, KIII changes its name to Primedia. (It's rumored that when seen in the small print of the severance contracts, KIII looked too much like Kill!) I'm no official company historian, but around this time Hot Rodand Car Craft were also rolled into the whole enchilada via the EMAP buyout (formerly Petersen). The universe of enthusiast car magazines and specialty automotive publishing had, with the exception of a few holdouts, been consolidated under one giant roof, and the FTC no wiser for it. (Trust me when I say the history of airline or bank mergers can't hold a candle to our industry's history.) In 2003, I was asked to work as the editor on Popular Hot Rodding, so I loaded up my family, moved from New Jersey to California, and it has changed our lives forever.

Things in the publishing biz were changing at a lightning pace by then. Dozens of publishers merged, and some great magazines were lost in the shuffle. On the distribution side, the number of regional distributors putting print magazines in stores shrank from hundreds to just a handful nationally. Meanwhile, the popularity of the Internet had been growing (and continues to grow) as fast as a creature from a bad 1950s sci-fi movie. The circulation numbers of print magazines faltered, then went into freefall. Saddest of all, when the recession hit, many of my friends were laid off in legions.

It's not for want of trying either. The tools used in this job have improved significantly, allowing us to not only produce more content, but to build it better, and build it faster. My Pentax 35mm camera, Tri-X film, and Brother typewriter has been replaced by a 15 megabyte digital camera with HD video capability, a laptop with more computing power than the entire U.S. Air Force of 1972, a wireless cellphone that doubles as a computer/camera/camcorder, cutting-edge photo and video editing software, immediate direct-to-web publishing, YouTube, and scads of social media to get the word out. In fact, the tools, skillset, and responsibilities of my job have so far outstripped the title of "magazine editor" that the company doesn't even allow us to refer to ourselves as editors any more—we are brand managers.

It's a fact that magazines from 10 and 20 years ago just don't have the same zing as what we're doing now in terms of quality, feel, content, and raw emotive connection. Nevertheless, time and economics has caught up with us. In spite of all the improvements, PHR's parent company—renamed The Enthusiast Network—has justifiably elected to close the final chapter, and this shall be the last issue of the magazine. In defense of this decision, it is the right move if we're to continue to survive, and bring quality content to enthusiasts around the world. Forthwith, I have been asked to take on the job of brand manager for Mopar Muscle, and I have accepted the challenge.

As for the Pro Touring muscle car movement, it will survive without PHR, and I am told Car Craft and Hot Rod will embrace you guys. I was really lucky to be the head lunatic for this group of hard-core enthusiasts over the last decade. You guys took me in—flaws and all—with open arms. We got to do some killer stuff together, like the annual photo contest, the AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge, Muscle Car of the Year, Goodguys Street Machine Autocross, the Reader's Projects Contest, and True Street drag racing. With any luck, I'll be able to bring some of that magic over to the Mopar Muscle brand! See you over at MM!

Is Your Stance In Denial?

To the extent that Popular Hot Rodding is the de facto leader for things Pro Touring, it's inevitable that we gravitate to muscle cars with a certain look. Part of that "look" is an aggressive stance that is fairly universal across many styles of hot rodding, not just Pro Touring. For the moment, let's forget about wheel sizes, and the fact that the Pro Touring movement has polarized hot rodders into small-wheel and large-wheel camps. For the sake of this argument, get amnesia on whether you love or hate large-diameter wheels.

If you cut out a paper silhouette of any classic muscle car, along with two circles for wheels, and ask any sharp 10-year-old boy to pose the wheels in the wheel arches until it looks just right, he will nail the stance. If you make the circles different sizes, he'll even know to put the bigger one in the rear, and he'll give it the right rake too. The problem is, when many of us "grow up" and buy a real muscle car, we ignore or entirely bypass this simple thought experiment, and charge headlong into aesthetic and handling failure.

Over the years, a boy's finely tuned artistic sensibilities erode. Tires start sticking out, rakes take on a "perma-launch" or four-by-four attitude, and to the degree it's even possible, the handling takes a hit backward from stock. But the worst part is that most guys with goofy-looking cars are in complete denial. You have to know a little about car-guy psychology to know why that is, and there are some very good reasons.

The path to a failed stance actually starts with good intentions. Here's how it happens. We want to jazz up the looks and handling of our cars, so we start looking around for rolling stock. Armed with a wad of cash, lots of desire, and almost zero patience (we're guys after all), we attack the nearest swap meet, Craigslist, or the mail-order discount speed shop. Maybe we hit the "wheel & tire" section of our favorite message board for some weak, emoticon-filled advice. With the exception of the most pedestrian of wheel sizes, there's either no real info, or just vague theory. It's the blind leading the blind. Many Interweb guys have already made the same mistake we're about to make, but that's OK because misery loves company.

Once the tires are mounted and the wheels get bolted on, it either looks bitchin, or it doesn't—and when it doesn't look bitchin, the long process of denial begins. As proud guys, we're not going to admit we screwed up, especially to spouses, who didn't want us to waste the money on wheels in the first place. According to the wife, you shouldn't have even bought the car, let alone the wheels, so getting another set is out of the question. And you're absolutely standing your ground to save face with your buddies, so you're stuck with lame-looking wheels and tires. You sigh, and makes the most of it.

The problems escalate from there. The rear tires hit the bodywork, or the fronts rub when it turns. Maybe a set of ground-hugging headers smack the driveway ramp. Whatever the case, it's time to start vandalizing the vehicle with spacers, adapters, axle blocks, tall springs, hack saws, baseball bats, shackle kits, and high-jacker shocks. Gone is that 10-year-old boy with the eager pencil who had the gleam in his eye decades ago.

One of two things happen—one either does all those jackleg hacks to make the car just drivable (there's no hope this disaster is ever going to get raced), or it's time to cut bait. If one gets wise, the wheels and tires end up on Craigslist, at the swap meet, or on the message board—where the cycle starts anew for the next guy with cash burning a hole in his pocket.

It's a shame really. So many great-looking classics are held hostage by bad wheel and tire choices, then aided and abetted by one or more first-degree suspension felonies. There's a beautiful machine in there just waiting to get out—like the drawing you made in the third grade. You might not think so, but the possibilities are closer than you think. It might be a brutally simple street car with 15-inch Torq-Thrusts and a staggered tire package, a Pro Street machine with big-n-littles, a rat rod with perfectly patina'd mags and pie crust slicks, or a pro touring muscle car with 18s and 20s. It could take many forms, but it just looks right as rain the moment you see it.

As gearheads, the right stance is already in our DNA. Unfortunately, we learn over the years to rationalize the stack-up of bad choices, and push away from grace and beauty with lies like "too expensive," "too difficult," and "too impractical." Go ahead, keep telling yourself that. Or you can just read "Get Killer Stance!" and find out what makes a mean street machine look so irresistible. It's not too late to get back in touch with your inner 10-year-old.

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