This is the introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap. The book recaptures 40+ years of essays by Albert Drake that appeared in various automotive magazines. It includes many new and previously unpublished photographs and new material.
Introduction: Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap
When I started writing the columns I had no intention of continuing them for so long a time. In 1982, to get through a brutal Michigan winter, I wrote a book titled Street Was Fun in ‘51, the first book on historical hot rodding. It was a look back at the good old bad days when I was an active hot rodder. In the course of writing the book it occurred to me that I could take some small part of the larger picture--the nature of dual pipes, or echo cans versus pencil tip tail pipe extensions, or that I might focus on a certain car, or club, or event that I remembered--isolate it and develop it. The first column I wrote was, I believe, about wheel coverings. Then I wrote two more. I had a piece of fiction in Rod Action, the only fiction the magazine ever published, so I wrote to the editor, Brian Brennan, and asked if he'd be interested in seeing those columns. I still have his reply, where he circled a few words of my letter in red ink and wrote "Great Idea!" I was on my way. I called the series "Fifties Flashback," because I wanted to focus on that decade.
The monthly column wasn't the only thing I wrote. I completed and published a major book on the Pontiac GTO, The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book, and compiled and published a book of oral histories about the GTO, Herding Goats. In 1982 I published a novel, Beyond the Pavement, a book I worked on for 20 years! It was chosen by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission as one of 100 significant Oregon books. And in 1983 I published a fiction collection titled I Remember the Day James Dean Died. Later I published two books that complement each other, and were the result of years of research and travel: Flat Out, a history of California dry lakes speed trials, 1930-1950, and Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street, the first comprehensive history of hot rodding from the 1920s to the 1980s. Along the way I also published short fiction, poetry, criticism and reviews. Of course all this writing was really a sideline, as my main work was teaching full time, at a major university where I was a full professor. Although writing about cars was not a literary field, I could justify my work because evaluations had shown that students wanted to make a living at writing, and non-fiction was the genre where that was most possible.
My last columns for Rod Action appeared in the mid-1990s when the magazine folded up. I was owed $6,000; I went to a lawyer, hoping to get at least some of that money, but he dissuaded me, saying that even if I got a judgement I'd find it difficult, probably impossible, to collect. Later I went to a major rodding event put on by the Goodguys organization; Gary Meadors was head of the company, and it was a big deal, staging hot rod events all over the nation. It met Jon Gobetti, a guy I'd corresponded with when he had been editor of Rod Action. We hit it off, and a few days later he gave me a call and suggested that I write a monthly column for the Goodguys Gazette, which he edited. I thought it over, and said okay. By then I was retired, but I had a good deal of energy for writing and travel. Jon wanted me to continue with the title "Fifties Flashback," but I felt that I had pretty much mined the ore from that decade; I decided to call the series "Flashing Back," which allowed me to examine things that happened before and after the 1950s.
But I have to say that such approval is not one hundred per cent. Some people simply don't like cars, or those who write about them. When I was a tenured faculty at Michigan State University I was so proud of my columns that sometimes I'd Xerox a few copies and give them to my colleagues. Usually the person said nothing. Sometimes he'd imply that he disapproved of the subject matter, as if writing about hot cars was trivial. A more fitting subject would be the language of Chaucer, or lace-making in the 18th century, or the gender politics of modern fiction. Hot rods were certainly not suitable. One colleague summed up my writing by saying, "Oh, I ran the Model A around the pasture." The dean hated cars. My last department head, Dr. Paananen, didn't drive, and didn't even have a driver's license, which says a lot about his thoughts on cars. When I published the first GTO book I received a lot of publicity and was interviewed by both local and state newspapers; it was front-page stuff, because the Pontiac had been built in Michigan. Some of my colleagues didn't like -- were jealous of? -- the publicity. The department head, Dr. Baskett, asked to see a copy of the book. He returned it after a couple days, saying, "I used to own a Pontiac LeMans." No indication what he thought of the quality of the writing or the extensive research that had gone into the book. It could, in fact, be compared to a doctoral thesis.
Please visit the Flat Out Press catalog page to order Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap or other books by Albert Drake.