The automotive world and me

Just as the automotive world is vast and varied, so are those of us whose lives are entwined within it.

I can't say for sure whether it was nature, or nurture, that sparked the car-nut flame within me; certainly I grew up with an infusion of both.

My father, a Cambridge-educated, war-decorated fighter pilot, once raced MGs in his native Britain, while my brother, a muscle-car aficionado, often dragged home much battered specimens which he lovingly returned to their former glory.

As most kids do, I idolized my older brother, and I associated those cars with all that was cool.

But the car that won my heart was a bad-ass, black streak of big-block attitude - a 1972 Pontiac GTO with 455 HO motor, Muncie gearbox and Hurst shifter. I can't imagine my brother without that car - in my mind, they're inextricably linked and I'm happy to say that it's still safely stored in his garage after all these years.

Under his tutelage I learned very basic maintenance, but more importantly, I acquired patience - sorting sockets and torque bits and cleaning gummed up carburetors.

The ability to draw cars on torn-out notebook paper and desktops earned me a certain measure of popularity, not to mention candy, with the boys in my public school.

Later, as a bohemian art student I seldom gave thought to my adolescent car crush. Embracing life in the big city, I travelled by foot, street car or bus.

Newly single at 35, having spent most of my youth - and finances - pursuing a passion for horses, I cast about for something to fill the void. Recalling the hours spent in contentment and accomplishment at my brother's workbench, I grabbed my camera and started heading to the local cruise nights. As most women do under the circumstances, I also indulged in a little retail therapy - and purchased a gleaming, black Dodge truck.

I was appalled by the treatment I received the first time I took my baby to be serviced. Gritting my teeth, I decided to arm myself with knowledge. It was rewarding to see shock, then respect on the faces of service techs when I could not only pinpoint the problem, but offer up solutions complete with part numbers.

After taking over most of the basic maintenance - tune-ups, tire rotations, shocks and wheel bearings - I decided to tackle something a little more formidable, building most of a hot-rod V8 in the mud room off my kitchen.

The next few years where a whirlwind of activity: attending truck meets, cruise nights, rallies, lapping days and spending hours in the garage with members of the local Motor Sports Club. Eventually, the newspaper I'd worked at since the mid-eighties grew weary of my continuing suggestions on improving the auto section, and put me in charge. What fun it was to watch master car customizers at work, talk to champion rally drivers and try my hand behind the wheel of a 1-million-dollar fire truck.

From local events I branched out to cover a bit of racing, karting events, national cruises and regular test drives. Eventually, I was invited to apply for membership to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. Since then, I've been fortunate to travel the world - literally - covering new car launches and international auto shows. I'm very grateful that my work has been recognized with several AJAC awards.

I'm a fierce advocate of formal driver training. Although I've attended countless driving and racing schools with some of the most iconic names in the industry, I never turn down a chance to benefit from more instruction. I hope to share some of those experiences with readers, in the hopes that you too discover a passion for safer driving.