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The Therapeutic Value of a Back-Road Drive

By | Editorials

Road therapy really is a thing.

Not many people get a regular opportunity for this stress-reducing, healthy method of travel, as do I. So, in case you want to take, or make, the opportunity, I’ll share with you the concept of “shunpiking” as therapy; no drugs, no sitting cross-legged on the floor, no facing off with a counselor. The drive, done properly, will get you in touch with a part of yourself you don’t access often enough.

My good fortune is that much of my professional life is in Detroit and its burbs. I live 75 miles west and a little north of the city, with wetlands, fields, forests and a few small towns between. Two or three times a week I need to be in the city for a meeting, press event or some other activity. While that drive normally takes barely more than an hour without traffic slowdowns I try to allot two hours, or maybe more, for the trip one way, the other, or both, so I can “shunpike” it as much as possible.


To shunpike is to shun the turnpike: that is, take back roads instead of the highway, in the spirit of Charles Kuralt, Jack Kerouac and William Least-Heat Moon. I’ve found, since discovering the word, that most enthusiastic motorists use and value this technique but most didn’t know there is a word for it, nor do they make enough time for it. You should, I confidently recommend.

We want no predetermined route and we use a map as little as possible. It helps if you know the area, but not necessary. It also helps if you have a decent sense of direction, but that’s not necessary if your vehicle just has a compass, as do most these days.

Coming out of the city I head for the edge of town to escape the urban environment as soon as possible. Outbound, I know my destination is about 60 miles west and a little bit north so I just drive in those directions taking whatever road strikes my fancy. I might end up on a road that turns to dirt, then must decide to backtrack to try another, or just keep on going. If the dirt road is wet, just know that a dirty car can be a badge of honor to a real shunpiker.  Dozens and dozens of road combinations are before me

And, by the way – as soon as you get to the edge of town – turn off the radio! You’ll be amazed at the feeling of stress release and sense of freedom you’ll feel.  You’ll soon find yourself enjoying the flora, fauna, geography, geology, vehicle dynamics, and a rhythm of the road. Take a few deep breaths and either allow your brain to go where it wants, like putting it in neutral. Like a long run (for those of us still up to it), you’ll find yourself solving problems, making plans and gaining inspirations out of the blue.

It will be a serenity you’ve forgotten possible, or perhaps you’ve never known while rediscovering the sights, sounds, smells and ambiance of the countryside.

That’s road therapy.

Now, if you don’t have the opportunities I have, you’ll want to make your own. Take a half day, or more if you can, pick a place at least a hundred miles away with rural space in between. A sports car, convertible, or something else special, will likely enhance the experience for those who really like the process of driving. For nature-lovers, those who appreciate the rural environment or others, the vehicle may matter less.

The point is to enjoy your drive.

For another story from the back roads, this time with a wild vehicle, take a look at this: (Please forgive all the ads. The story appears on a commercial site.)

International Wheel Awards

By | Projects

A Project of the Individual Communicators Network

The International Wheel Awards was a prestigious competition for automotive journalists dating from the 1980s managed and presented by the Detroit Press Club Foundation, the charitable arm of the Detroit Press Club. After the DPC ceased to exist in the 1990s the Foundation stood on its own and continued the tradition of presenting these awards for a few years with support from the automotive OEMs, tier-one suppliers and other patrons. The infamous annual Steakout (a raucous, off-the-record comedy show that roasted journalists, business people and politicians) was, in later years, used to generate the funds needed. The original version of the International Wheel Awards finally went away in about 1998.

After the Wheel Awards had been dormant for a half dozen years the Individual Communicators Network, a consortium of business communications professionals in private practice, was asked to bring the Wheel Awards back in order to honor excellence in automotive journalism, as had the original awards. Some of the ICN members had been involved with the Detroit Press Club, its Foundation, the Steakout and the Wheel Awards in years past. With the support of Ed Lapham, executive editor of Automotive News and one of the DPCF’s remaining board members, the ICN brought back the awards program in 2004.

It turned out that the Wheel Awards were still well known and respected throughout the automotive media community, and the new version was a great success, lasting five years under ICN management. As the auto industry began struggling again during the Great Recession, the Wheel Awards went away again for lack of funding, and now await another resurrection.

The ICN still gets inquiries from journalists, publishers and supporters asking when the awards will be back. Our intent at the ICN has been to bring them back whenever we are able to get enough funding to support them at an appropriate level. We believe the awards will still have the luster of prestige within the industry that it enjoyed during its first two lives, though it would have to be radically updated to reflect the monumental changes in the field.

Sponsoring the revival of the International Wheel Awards would be an opportunity for a company to honor the importance of automotive journalism, its contribution to the auto industry, and to help grow this event over upcoming years. Honoring excellence in any field always improves the quality throughout the field. We will continue to seek sponsorship from OEMs, suppliers, and others interested in supporting this mission.  

Woodward Dream Cruise 2018

By | Editorials

For those of us whose misspent youth includes aimless cruising on a Saturday night the Woodward Dream Cruise seems a bit incongruous. In our day crowds of people did not line the streets to watch us show off. We had no sponsors and hospitality tents, parking lots full of tailgaters or vendors selling t-shirts. What we had were youngsters in hot cars gathering socially, indulging lusts and reveling in the exuberance of youth.

The Woodward Dream Cruise was born in 1995 from an effort to fund a local ball field by a few people in Ferndale, north of Detroit at Woodward and 9-Mile Road. With modest expectations they were shocked when a quarter million people took part that first year. Within a few years, the Woodward Dream Cruise had become the largest one-day car event in the world. It seems that a pent-up lust for cool cars and cruising still existed within those 50s, 60s and 70s youngsters who were now in their golden years.

Until now your trusty reporter had not experienced the official Saturday evening Dream Cruise. The whole event has expanded into a week-long wallow in automobile culture and I had always chosen to attend at less congested times earlier in the week. Every evening Woodward Avenue, particularly from Ferndale to Birmingham, becomes a parade of special cars, and other things vehicular, with plenty of spectators and events along the roadside. I learned that Saturday night is the same, only more so.

Our friends at Ford hosted a media center with viewing towers and a large public display of Mustang history, featuring the first Mustang ever built, the 10 millionth Mustang, the original mule from the Bullitt movie and a screen showing that epic Steve McQueen film. From a front-row seat on the Ford patio, we watched stop-and-go traffic northbound on Woodward near 12-Mile Road with cool cars mixed in with white-bread traffic. These civilians, including gawkers, constitute around 80% of traffic with the rest being an eclectic mix of special vehicles. Probably half of the special cars were modern muscle cars like Corvettes, Mustangs, mixed Dodge Hemis and the like. Beyond those were classic hot rods, rat rods, pickups, miniature cars, motorcycles . . . you name it.

Some of my favorites were: the red ’66 Mustang from the LeMay Museum driven in The Drive Home cross country winter rally; a fire-breathing old rusty truck with flamethrower mounted in the rear; an orange ’55 Cadillac ambulance; a pretty, cream-color ’48 Ford resto rod; Top-Hat John Jendza’s legendary ’49 Cadillac notorious original Woodward cruiser and racer of the 50s; a 4-door ’62 Valient survivor with “For Sale” sign in the window; and a white ’65 Fury convertible with 3 lovely young ladies sitting on the boot.

The Dream Cruise is nothing like cruising in the old days, though many of the cruisers and a few of the cars were around back then. One big difference is that, now the local cops shut it all down at an arbitrary time of the evening. Like the past, though, the cops can have only a fleeting influence, as the partying continues.

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