Sunday, November 16, 2008


One day a few years ago, your editor at Simon Pulse asked if you would write a series about drifting. At the time you had no idea what drifting was, but as soon as you learned that it is a competitive form of driving that involves controlling a car that has lost traction, you were thrilled that she’d asked.

The idea of living vicariously in a racing car driver’s body was just as attractive as living vicariously in a good surfer’s body.

You were taught to drive when you were twelve years old. It was 1962, the United States was in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and within inches of getting into a nuclear war with Russia. Your father decided that if there was to be a war, it would be crucial for you to know how to drive. He took you to the parking lot at the Country Club (it was a country club called the Country Club. Imaginative, huh?) in his MG TF-1500, put a phone book on the seat so that you could see over the dashboard, and taught you to use a stick shift.

It wasn’t until many years later that you began to wonder where exactly he thought you’d go if the bombs did indeed fall. You lived on Long Island. At one end with New York City, which was sure to be completely demolished and rife with life-threatening radioactivity. At the other end of Long Island was the Atlantic Ocean (you were pretty sure that the MG, while great fun to drive, was not designed to float).

The Country Club parking lot was composed of loose gravel and so from the very beginning you were aware of the possibilities for a moving car to lose traction and slide. While it was your father’s intention to teach how not to do this, you secretly enjoyed seeing what happened when you did.

Once you had your license, you took great pleasure in what was then known as power-slides*—going fast and then turning the wheel just sharply enough to break traction and “slide” (skid) sideways through a turn. You performed some power slides on dry roads, but many more on snow or ice, and, now and then, by accident in the spring, on the sand leftover from the winter (before municipalities began to spread salt on icy roads, they often used sand). On several occasions you wound up on someone’s lawn, but never, luckily, wrapped around a tree.

Part of the fun of writing about drifting was learning about its fictional origins on mountainous roads in Japan, and reading the manga series Initial D, in which a young man, Takumi Fujiwara (coincidentally, also 12 when he first begins to drive), teaches himself to drift while dilvering tofu for his father. Currently, most drifting occurrs in the fictional realm of video games, although there is a small contingent of young men and women in this country, and in Japan, who do indeed drift real cars in parking lots and race tracks, and, to a lesser degree, illegaly on the streets.

Your days of power slides are thankfully over, but you have retained your interest in cars, and have a particular fondness for old automobiles, as well as some new German and Italian models.

The only car you ever really dreamed of owning was the 1956 Bentley S-1. It remains one of the most beautifully designed (and hand-built) cars you’ve ever seen. A close runner up might be the 1968 Mercedes 280-SL.

Wait! What about all those gorgeous Ferraris? And the Rolls Phantom 2s from the 1930s. And let’s not forget the Stutz Bearcat. And the old Land Rovers, and the original Toyota land cruiser? And how can you not include Porches? And … Oh, well, forget it. Too many memorable cars to name.

These days cars seem to fall into two categories for you – either they are works of design art and automotive history, or they are merely vehicles to get you from place to place. You have lost the desire to own any vehicle that you would have to worry about dinging, scratching, or being stolen. Most cars are pretty much like tubes of toothpaste. Use’em up and throw’em away.

Unless, of course, you could get your hands on a 1950s Bentley Corniche, or a classic 1950s ‘Vette, or a Jag XK-120 roadster, or …

*Power slides are a part of a drifting driver’s repertoire of moves.

Mr. Bill says, “I myself come from a long and distinguished line of land rovers.”

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