Whenever I try to say who I am by describing what I’ve done, I sound older than I feel. I began writing as a seaman apprentice aboard a U.S. Navy cruiser engaged in shore bombardment of Vietnam. In more than three decades as a journalist and two as an author, I’ve climbed the sheer face of the mysterious Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea, at 16,023 feet the tallest mountain in Oceania, my two partners and I led there by erstwhile cannibals; I’ve raced both cars and motorcycles at Daytona, including once setting the world motorcycle speed record for 24 hours (riding on a team with four others); and descended the remote and treacherous River of Doubt in the Brazilian Amazon, retracing the 1914 expedition of Theodore Roosevelt.
I crewed on a 54-foot ketch in the Trans-Pacific sailboat race, and co-drove in La Carrera Panamericana, the revival of the 1800-mile Mexican Road Race from Guatemala to Texas, in a 1950 Oldsmobile with a Corvette engine. Dived off the cliffs at Acapulco; hunted alligators in the Bayou with the great Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry; tracked bobcats at 20 degrees below zero with the legendary Maine woodsman Oscar Cronk; ridden along in a Spitfire warbird during the Reno Air Races; climbed Yosemite's El Capitan with Ron Kauk, the country's best rock climber at the time;and covered exciting events from the historic round-the-world flight of the Voyager, to the first human-powered flight by the Gossamer Condor, to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as 16 Indy 500s and 16 Daytona 500s. I've written more than 400 stories for Sports Illustrated, as well as pieces for Outside, Playboy and other magazines.
After attending the University of Miami and Penn State, and my stint in the Navy, I studied journalism at San Diego State before beginning my writing career at the tabloid MotorCycle Weekly. My first story was a report from the Isle of Man motorcycle races, after which I chased the grand prix circuit around Europe with my first wife Judy, living in a Volkswagen bus and writing the stories for gas money (with a bit left over for bread, cheese and wine).
After three years as a writer and editor with motorcycle magazines, I was hired by Sports Illustrated, where I covered motorsports for 17 years. I was privileged to hang out with and write about giants like Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, Dan Gurney, Richard Petty, Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Parnelli Jones, Shirley Muldowney, Don Garlits, Kenny Bernstein, Kenny Roberts, Freddy Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Cale Yarborough, Darrel Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Niki Lauda and others.
I began racing cars myself during that time, and wrote the book "Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots," reprinted in 2007 by the University of Nebraska Press, a prestigious publisher specializing in classic memoirs.
Later I was deputy editor of AutoWeek magazine in Detroit, where I won the Ken Purdy Award, automotive journalism's highest honor, for a two-part profile of '50s drag racer Jocko Johnson. A sculptor in ironwood and billet aluminum, Jocko and his artist wife Joanie lived in a school bus in the Mojave Desert as he tried to reinvent the internal combustion engine using hand-me-down tools and scrap aluminum. His plan was to stuff his portly 60-year-old body into his self-built streamliner motorcycle and guide it to a new Land Speed Record on the Bonneville Salt Flats. After that, the engine would save the world from global warming by getting 300 miles per gallon. The story was so good that when I left the desert after my time with Jocko, I wanted to call Paul Newman and tell him he had to make the movie. He could have directed it, and played a memorable Jocko. Come to think of it, Michael Douglas could do Jocko today.
During the dotcom boom, I was a “creative director” for the San Francisco website Quokka Sports, where I creative-directed a site devoted to the Mt. Everest climbing season. I’ve also edited books, most recently “The Birth of Hot Rodding: The Story of the Dry Lakes Era,” which also won a Purdy Award. And if you rent the video "On Any Sunday II," a misguided sequel to the great original documentary by Bruce Brown starring Steve McQueen, you'll see my name on the box as one of the four or five co-writers. Long story without a happy ending, but it's a credit.
I’ve traveled in all 50 states and 35 countries, and lived in four corners of the U.S. (Manhattan, Miami, San Diego, Hood River) as well as the Midwest (Chicago, Detroit). I was married for 21 years—three times for seven years each. Today I’m a single dad with sons 13 and 11, and soccer is big around our house--my soccer team of 10-year-olds, the Smokin’ Mexicans, was undefeated last year. I get my thrills kitesurfing on the Sea of Cortez in Baja and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, where we live. And I race my thundering ex-NASCAR Oldsmobile, once driven by the late, great Dale Earnhardt. See the Bandit Blog for the 25-year story of the car, made legendary by “Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots.”
My book “At All Costs,” published by Random House in 2006, is a character-driven, page-turning, sea adventure story, every detail of which is true. It contains original war research about Winston Churchill, to support the story’s position that the island of Malta was the crux of World War II, standing between Hitler and the oil in Iraq and Iran.
I’m currently working on “Senor Madre,” a memoir that's coming from a journal I've kept for more than a decade, the last 6 years as a single dad. It’s sometimes intense and sometimes hilarious; I guess you’d call it a parenting book, starring my boys Tai and Maks. When that’s done I hope to write a novel to be titled “River Without a Cause,” based on that descent down the River of Doubt in the deepest part of the Amazon jungle. In the meantime, I test new cars and write reviews, forwww.newcartestdrive.com.
Check out myRoad Test Blogon this site!