When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

Introduction to Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

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 It includes many new and previously unpublished photographs and new material.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

I have devoted a large chunk of my life writing columns for automotive magazines. I first wrote a monthly column for Rod Action (later Street Rod Action) for 16 years. During those years I also wrote monthly columns for Rodder's Digest and Street Rodding Illustrated. When those magazines folded I began writing a monthly column for Goodguys Gazette, and that has been going on for 20 years. That means I've been writing the columns for 36 years! That's a lot of columns! I like to think that I've made it into an art form. 

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. 

I have to say that I felt a great deal of satisfaction in seeing my work in a popular magazine, usually with a photograph or two, sometimes with a touch of color. When I walked into a 7-11 with a friend I'd go to the magazine stand and pull out the current issue of Rod Action; there on the glossy pages was my work under my by-line. I had been published in numerous respected literary magazines, but those had a limited circulation and were primarily read by academics. Usually those magazines paid little or nothing. In Rod Action my work reached a mass market and I got paid. Most of all, I was writing about a subject that I loved.

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. 

For me, the column never gets old. I can be driving down the road, or weeding in the garden, or washing my car and I'll get an idea that can be developed in the column's 800 word limit. I'm sometimes surprised that I haven't run out of ideas. Every month I wait with anticipation to read the newest installment of what I've written. The Gazette is a handsome publication that has constantly gotten better over the years. It's over-size, substantial, colorful, loaded with interesting and useful articles and profiles of notable people and high-buck hot rods and muscle cars. I'm honored to publish in the Gazette, and readers seem to like my work. 

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. 

Fortunately, my work has met with the approval of car guys. I have also worked with about ten editors of the Goodguys Gazette who have approved of my work. During the past 20 years a number of other columnists for the Gazette have come and gone, while I have remained. Such longevity indicates that my column has had staying power in a tough magazine world. I don't get much feedback but occasionally I hear comments by readers who say nice things about a particular column or who say that my column is the first thing they read when an issue arrives. Such comments please me immensely, because the nature of writing is that one does it in solitude, and an author always wonders what others think. A reader named Harold sent me a note regarding a particular column, and I can quote it in full: "Al: Re: Synesthesia -- God can you write!" I'd like to think that comment applies to all my writing. 

Please visit the Flat Out Press catalog page to order Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap or other books by Albert Drake.

Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap

 AUTHENTIC: adjective. 1. trustworthy, reliable, 2. of undisputed origin: genuine. Webster's Dictionary

Drake remembers with clarity and detail the first legal drag races, early car shows in California and Oregon, speed trials at Bonneville and Madras, and the ingenuity of the men and women of the time who invented ways to modify the emerging rods and customs in ways to make life interesting.

This selection of essays celebrates the people who made hot rodding an American culture. Rediscover the fun of racing, hanging out, flirting and driving from the voice of someone who experienced the 1950s and has a passion for telling the story of old metal. His stories are authentic.

Albert Drake has been a practicing hot rodder since 1951, when he built a '29 A-V8 Ford roadster. Over 400 of his articles have appeared in a variety of magazines including Street Rodder, Street Rod Action, Rodder's Digest, Popular Cars, Hot Rod Mechanix, Street Rodding Illustrated and many more!

Read the introduction to the book here or read an excerpt from the chapter Remembering Roger Huntington.

509 pages, 268 b/w photos, 8 x 10 x 1.2 inches, paperback (September, 2020)

Stone Press; ISBN: 978-0936892504. Signed copy...$29.00  Order from Flat Out Press, 

or order from Amazon.