This link is currently down
thanks to the legal types at NBC,
who apparently think we're
trying to get away with something.
We're trying to figure out what?

OK, so a few e-blasts ago I floated up the unabashedly self-serving scheme of auctioning off the dubious honor of becoming (or naming & co-creating) a character in the upcoming STEAMROLLER II novel. It's a shameless money grab, pure and simple (although a portion will be donated to worthy causes...see below) and I readily & gleefully admit it. Hey, it takes a lot of freaking simoleons to publish a damn book these days (YOU try making a million dollars 30 bucks at a time!) and I got travel expenses to think about, too. Not to mention my upcoming audio book projects. And beloved wife Carol has been watching waaayyy too many of those "Home Improvement" shows on TV lately....

But the point is that everybody who responded (and there were a lot of you...thanks!) said "go for it!"
So we're doing just that.
Only then my good friend, topnotch race driver and VDCA President-for-Life (like my marriage, the only way out is a pine box) Mike Jackson brought to my attention that simply auctioning the character opportunity off means it would go to the highest bidder (duh!) and he reminded me that many of my best and most loyal readers & followers would quickly be priced out of the market on account of they're more your busted-knuckle/open-trailer/dirty-fingernail/paycheck-can-hardly-keep-up-with-the-effing-credit-card-bills types.
Point well taken.

And then I came to realize that I really need TWO specific characters for the next book (which takes place in the socially and politically tumultuous early 1960s in the wake of the Kennedy/Nixon election), and the only thing I really need from those two characters, author-wise, is that they both be Americans, somehow involved in the motorsports scene, know each other and are more-or-less friends. Except that one is a staunch Republican who will ultimately (and happily) champion the Goldwater candidacy and the other is a lefty Democrat who will most likely march in a few demonstrations by the time the decade is over.
I think you can see where this is going.
And so can I. Hell, the dialogue will damn near write itself.

So, all that considered, here's what we're gonna do:
1) Yes, there will be an auction (probably on e-bay?) to determine the Republican character. It will go to the highest bidder (what else?) in the purest capitalist tradition. Not sure on the start date yet, but we're planning to END it at midnight(Passaic, NJ time, of course) on New Year's Eve 2014/2015.

2) For the Democratic character, we're going to have a lottery (what else?) so the price of admission will be refreshingly cheap, but there's a reasonably good chance (depending on how many people buy tickets) that you will wind up with nothing but a sublime sense of having participated. Or, in other words, nothing at all. Nada. Bupkis.
Hey, that's democracy in action....
Tickets will be 5 bucks each/5 for $20/15 for $50, and will be available on the website the 1st week of November. As with the Republican character, the lottery will come to its massive climax (our motto: "not with a bang but a whimper") atmidnight Passaic-time (EST) on New Year's Eve, when we will draw the lucky winner (if we're still awake). There will also be:
5 second-prizes (a freebie $250 sponsorship deal in the new book, which gets your name on the sponsor page plus a fancy, leather-bound sponsor/advertiser special edition plus a high quality 200mph Steamroller "Sponsor/Sucker" polo shirt that you'll be proud to own but most likely ashamed to wear) and:
10 third prizes (your choice of a 24x36 Roger Warrick THE LAST OPEN BAR print or one each of the 16x20 summer- and winter-edition
FINZIO'S GARAGE prints by my late and much-missed friend Art Eastman (click on either print title to view).

3) WHAT YOU GET: The two big winners will be able to name (after themselves, a friend, a spouse, a racing pal, an ex-teammate, a spurned lover, someone who has passed on, whatever) and assist in "co-creating" the characters. The winners can supply physical traits, background information, mannerisms, endearing and/or annoying habits, real or imagined history, etc., and the only caveat is that none of it can be be salacious, libelous, ludicrous, malicious, mean-spirited, actionable, pornographic or likely to get me punched in the nose (there will be a signed contract in thoroughly impenetrable legalese that will put any potential liability squarely on the winner and hold me and my publishing company totally blameless).

4) We will be donating 50% of all net proceeds to worthy causes. We're currently looking at several potential recipients (I'm eager to listen to suggestions if you have any). Current thinking is that we'll most likely split this between the Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen (to help get their massive and ever-growing archives organized and, eventually, available online) along with some non-motorsports charity, group or fund that helps people who really, really need it. Again, I'm open to suggestions (but the first thing I'm gonna look at is how much donated money goes into actual services and how much goes into, ahem, "administration").

So that's about it.
Watch this space for further developments.
And, hey, spread the word a little, willya?
Don't think anybody's ever done this before....


Thanks in part to my eagle-eyed, hired-gun proofreader Jolinda Capello and my wonderful, Maine-based webmaster Rebecca Starr, the fourth and fifth novels in my THE LAST OPEN ROAD series are now available as e-books @ $9.99 ea. from both AMAZON KINDLE and B&N NOOK (click on either to find them).
So now the ENTIRE SET of my "Buddy Palumbo"/The Last Open Road novels are available as e-books (and, for those who have been asking, we'll have them all up on Apple's itunes site soon as well). And the POTSIDE COMPANION short-story anthology won't be far behind....


see below....


One of the key perks (in fact, maybe the only perk) of being a so-called "motoring scribe" is that you occasionally get invited (by the manufacturers themselves, can you believe it?) to go thrashing around a racetrack in some of their latest, sportiest offerings. No, really. And if this sounds like entirely too much fun, let me assure you that it is.
And then they even feed you.
Good stuff, too.
Did I mention that the pay in the Motoring Scribe business is generally lousy?
Or that the benefits are generally non-existent?
But who cares, since I got to do exactly that at the recent MAMA (Midwest Automotive Media Association) Fall Rallye, which was held at and around the familiar (and fun!) Autobahn Country Club facility in nearby Joliet, IL. Joliet is also home to the big Chicagoland Speedway NASCAR oval, several casinos that likewise specialize in occasionally contrived & orchestrated Games of Chance. Not to mention the decaying remains of Joliet State Prison, which housed criminals, evil-doers and antisocial types as far back as 1858, counted captured Confederate soldiers among its inmates during The War Between the States (also known as "The Civil War" to the north of the Mason-Dixon line and "The War of Northern Aggression" to the south) and was a really miserable place to be sent regardless of your crimes or politics. Joliet State Prison closed in 2002 and was replaced by nearby Stateville Penitentiary (also a thoroughly miserable place to spend your time...and in frightening company, too) but the old prison is still around as kind of a somber, gothic landmark to the wages of sin. Joliet Prison's most famous flash of public awareness was probably when Jake Blues (played to-the-manic-hilt-and-beyond by John Belushi) was released from behind its ancient walls at the very beginning of the 1980 box-office smash (not to mention the only movie I was ever in), THE BLUES BROTHERS....
But, once again, I digress.
The connection here is that what we MAMA types got away with at Autobahn yesterday bordered on the downright criminal.
Or at least that's what it felt like.
Starting with a damn good, absolutely free, calorie- and cholesterol-laden all-American breakfast courtesy of Ford's up-market Lincoln division (who asked only in return that we sit politely through a short sermon on their current & upcoming products, positioning in the marketplace and future plans without talking amongst ourselves, playing with our damn cell phones, wandering off, dozing off or snoring).
Then they turned us loose to abuse the heck out of cars.
There were all sorts of shiny-bright 4-wheeled marvels on hand. Plus the North racetrack at Autobahn (run in small groups under controlled but liberal pace-car conditions), two "street"-style rallye routes on the public roads around the Autobahn complex and a pair of challenging and entertaining "off-road" trails for the Jeeps, Range Rovers, ambitious crossovers, etc. in the infield. Not to mention a surfeit of manufacturer tech and PR types to feed us as much information and hype as we wanted along with the keys.
Is this a great job or what?
Needless to say, I made straight for the cars with the MAMA "track car" stickers on their windshields (the manufacturers were pretty specific about which cars they wanted thrashed & flogged, which ones were there to get dirty in the infield and which ones were for "street duty" only).
My first victim (er, "test drive") was in the latest version of BMW's popular (but now fading?) Mini. And though it seemed like only yesterday, it's been a full fourteen years since the Mini was the freshest, cutest, cleverest and arguablyFUNNEST new car on the scene. It was snotty, sassy, endearing and iconoclastic all at the same time and, thanks to BMW, it was great fun to drive and pretty  well-built in the bargain. Especially as compared to the old BMC Mini of the sixties, which had a few congenital engineering problems (why on earth would you have the internal engine bits and the swarf-generating transmission gears & synchro rings share the same effing oil supply?) along with component-supplier and build-quality issues and was fortunate as hell to pre-date the "recall era."
But BMW's Mini fixed all that. Or 95% of it, anyway.
And it was a freaking ball to drive in the bargain.
Although the Mini is still an extremely competent, well-built and fun-to-drive automobile (not to mention cute as a bug), it strikes me like the hotshot kid who just never grew up. The new, bulkier versions don't do much for me, and the vaunted "hardtop" has the approximate style and stance of a runty bullfrog. Likewise, that kitschy, Wurlitzer-juke-box dashboard doesn't seem quite so cute anymore. And the interior seems pretty damn close inside. And that fresh, adorable face? Well, it's still adorable. But it's just not fresh anymore. We've all seen it. And seen it. And seen it.
You build a car to the whims and fancies of people trying to remember or re-kindle the passions/emotions of their high-school days and you'll wind up with the same sort of loyalty and sustained interest that most of us had for the people we dated in those days.
Or, in other words, you're tapping into the very definition of the word "fickle."  Hell, we were all on the lookout for a fresher, more intriguing, more engaging, more alluring or more mysterious face to come along.

Which is I guess why everybody (me, included) was going gaga over the new Fiat Abarth with the Renault 17-style "sardine-tin" rollback canvas top (if you remember Renault 17s, you were probably unlucky enough to own one). Now don't get me wrong: the new Abarth is a hoot to look at and an even bigger hoot to drive. It really is. It's got whatever all the great Italian cars have always had in the way of flair, style and hands-on driving personality. It's just, plain FUN! And hopefully without the Fix-It-Again-Tony service irritations, iffy dealer network or terminal rust problems of the ill-remembered Fiats in America's past.
But is it BETTER than BMW's Mini?
Probably not.
And the Fiat is even tinier on the inside. But it's new and fresh and makes a rorty noise and reminds us of the late-fifties/early-sixties and everybody looks at you when you drive one down the street. Seems the American car-buying public is as style- and trend-conscious as a teenage girl. And even more fickle.
Which explains why there was damn near a line next to Fiat's new Abarth and no wait at all to go out in the Mini. And further why the watershed car that arguably started all this "hot econobox" business, the VW Golf GTI (and which remains, IMHO, the best "real" car in the bunch) spent most of its day just sitting there waiting for takers. The VW's better built, has more carrying capacity, a more commodious interior, far better "real world" performance and handling and on and on. Only everybody already knows all about it.
And much the same could be said about the Mazda 3 GT, which was lively, light on its feet, quick in all the right ways, fun to drive on-track and really quite practical. But, like I said, the American car-buying public is fickle. Not to mention easily bored and even more easily distracted.
Who is that new girl in school?
The one with the sassy attitude and the cute tush?
Geez, did'ja see her face?

That's what every high-schooler really wants to know.... 

Speaking of hot Fiats, my great Healey friend Kaye Kovacs of excellent & even regularly exceptional Healey restoration mecca FOURINTUNE in Cedarburg, WI, sent me yet another link to a great, hilarious, why-the-heck-don't-we-get-these-over-here Fiat TV ad. Which I happily pass along to you. Enjoy!

Other Autobahn highlights:
I've always thought the new Jaguar F-Type was handsome as all getout, and a spin around the track in the hot-shit "R" model reinforced the notion that it's not just another pretty face. There's such a solid, quietly confident feel to the controls and the interior and exterior just ooze quality, class, breeding and refinement.
Did I mention that it goes like stink?
Now I don't know if it's "better" than the cash-equivalent Porsche or Bimmer or what-have-you, but to my eyes, hands and the seat of my pants it's a hell of a lot cooler, sexier and more exclusive-looking. It drives great, too.

Sure, you'll probably take a bigger depreciation hit than on some of the German cars. But the price of admission is a bargain, all things considered. The styling both inside and outside are fabulous and the performance and handling are truly outstanding. Which puts it right in line with the heritage of some of the great Jaguars of the past. Dare I say it: The F-Type is, at long last, a worthy successor to the watershed XK120s and E-Types that made the marque what it is. And a lot of us Jaguar nutcases have been waiting to say that for a long, long time.

Speaking of performance, I was less than totally impressed with the hot new, 505-horsepower Camaro Z-28. Oh, it's bigtime fast, make no mistake about it. And it's got one hell of a good chassis (borrowed from beneath one of GM Australia's Holdens, which also supplied the underpinnings for the sorely under-appreciated 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO). But the Z-28's seating position is way down deep in the car (with no seat-height adjuster I could find) and the door sills and dash are way high and the A-pillar it thick. So its like you're peering out of a blessed cave when you're behind the wheel. Which doesn't make the sight-lines too great going around Autobahn's corners. And there's a tinny, cheap feel to some of the controls (at least on this early-production model) like the fore-aft seat adjuster and the steering-wheel height adjuster....
But it sure does GO!
More comfortable (at least to my ass) and more sympatico and unruffled on-track were the two new hot-model Mustangs on hand. Although the Chevy is probably faster against the clock.

Drove a stinkbug-green (there's no other appropriate word for that color) BMW M5 and, in spite of the garish hue, it was pretty damn nice. Fast, composed, well-controlled and beautifully balanced (especially for a big 4-door) and things got even better when highly accomplished Autobahn driving instructor/longtime track pal Tony Kester saw that I was in the Bimmer (and moreover right behind him in the Caddy CTS V coupe "pace car") and picked up the pace quite a bit so we could go play. Like until the rest of the folks were just specks in the mirror. To be honest, he was giving me a bit of a driving lesson, but I could kinda keep up because the Bimmer is just, plain GOOD. So's the Caddy. And I think it says a lot about the Cadillac that the Autobahn instructors tend to gravitate towards it when they've got to do pace-car duty for a bunch of scribes or take corporate types out for drives all day.

One of the big surprises was the current-issue Dodge Viper. I've always had a bit of a love/can't-quite-understand-'em attitude towards Vipers. When they were first introduced, I wrote that Vipers were like some hot-looking woman with a 50-inch bustline. Yeah, it's impressive, all right. But what the hell do you DO with it???? Only then I instructed at/participated in a couple Viper Days events and, even if some of those folks were a little numb between the ears, the rest of them were genuine enthusiasts who just happened to LOVE big, fast, burly-gorilla cars.
And the Viper was every inch a gorilla car.
Then I landed a "celebrity-driver" deal in a Lux Racing Viper ACR-X in the SRT Pro race at Road Atlanta (thank you, John Hammer & Cindi Lux!) and came to realize how far they'd come in turning that raw, musclebound early brute into a massively fast and impressive track car (as proved by multiple class wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans).

Well, now they've come even further. Although I can do without the Orange Julius paint-job, the newest-edition Viper is a hell of a nice track car, and the way they've stiffened up the chassis, dampened and re-tuned the suspension, improved the feel of the steering (!!!) and just generally refined the whole experience impressed the heck out of me.

And it'll still flatten your eyeballs out when you tromp on the loud pedal.

Biggest surprise of the day was the Cop-issue Chevy Tahoe they had for us to try. I figured it was going to handle like a pickup truck full of plumbing hardware (only with waaaay too much horsepower under the hood) but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Oh, it's got (how did Rolls used to say it?) "adequate power". But the damn thing weighs something around 5000 lbs. even without a couple fat cops and a big bag of doughnuts in the front seat. So the acceleration is more "impressive" than "explosive." But, like the Chevy cop-car rep told me: "nobody outruns our radios...."
Point well taken.
The amazing part was what a smooth and comfortable thing this was to drive. It could carve around corners with surprising grace, and yet you could easily visualize spending extended shifts in it with all your cop gear and hardware.
Nice to see the world the way "the other side" sees it.
Not to mention what a treat it is to ride in the FRONT seat of a cop car for a change....
At lunchtime we got more free food provided by Chevrolet's Performance folks, followed by a numbers-laden show-and-tell about how awesome the new Corvette ZO6 is (it is) and how much better and quicker it is than the "old" one. And you do have to be impressed by the numbers. Only (and I'm not picking on just Chevy and their truly excellent new Corvette here) you get the idea that it's the marketing folks prodding and pushing the engineering types to come up with a better, more complicated mousetrap, when the actual fact is that most owners want that stuff more for cocktail-hour one-upsmanship than hot-lapping.
I like to use the analogy (and I'm including Porsche and BMW and Ferrari and Lotus and Audi and Lambo and every other blessed performance-car builder on the planet here) that the buyers are like the audiophiles back when I was young who'd babble on and on ad nauseum about receivers and amplifiers and woofers and tweeters and amps and ohms and fancy, diamond-stylus tone-arm cartridges and never, ever ONCE talked about the damn music they were playing....
But the new 'Vette is indeed cool and even more indeed fast and track-competent, and it's really cool that you can get it with a factory-issue, track-ready data-analyzer (now why would you want to depress yourself like that?) plus a Go-Pro-style camera so you can wow all your friends with your latest spins and incidents.

BMW brought their futuristic I8 hybrid, which I guess is a vision into a future loaded with eco-green technologies and PC-driven agendas (or at the very least ad slogans and sales jingles). And it is impressive in specification and gorgeous to look at. But I'm a little put off by the sheer, moon-shot complexity of it. Not to mention the skinny tires and those ham-slicer doors that don't seem to me to be much of an improvement over the old gate-hinge variety we've become accustomed to over the years. Plus who's gonna fix these things when, a few years down the line, some little brain box or electric circuit goes Tango Uniform in Dogpatch?
And at what cost....
Took a track run in the latest hot-shit Subaru WRX-STI, and while it's fast, capable and comfortable (and really an amazing evolution from the clunky, tough, tinny and inelegant "VW motor in the front/school-bus shifter stalk" Subies we used to work on at Mellow Motors back in the mid-1970s), you cant miss all that extra weight from the 4-wheel drive system. Light on its feet it is not. But, when the snow flies, it's probably the sports sedan you want to own. Also tried out Kia's latest hot hatch and, although it is (like the rest of the brand) a relative bargain, it's a little clumsy and unrefined even while circulating the racetrack at a pretty good clip. The Mazda 3's controls are ever so much nicer to fondle and so is VW's excellent GTI, which feels the most substantial of the lot by a solid margin. The amazing thing is that these hot-rod "econoboxes" are currently serving up what used to be considered sports car (or even supercar!) performance along with seating for four adults (as long as the ones in back aren't too big), plenty of versatile carrying capacity, long warranties and relatively rock-solid reliability.
As e.e. cummings once put it: "pity this busy monster, manunkind, not. Progress is a comfortable disease" 

In any case, the absolute highlight of my day had to be the new Alfa Romeo 4C, which is supposed to be leading Alfa's charge back into the American market. And, as a longtime Alfa addict, fan and racer (and several-time owner and onetime Alfa salesman, too), I'm really excited to have them back and hoping like hell they do well enough to make it stick this time. I think I can say with some authority that a lot of Alfa's problems in this country stemmed from poor product choice (I was selling them when the company decided they were going to take a big bite out of BMW's ass by letting their sportscars and GTs grow cold on the stove and concentrate on Alfetta and later Milano sedans) along with, in some cases--can you say "rust" or "stop fiddling with that damn SPICA fuel injection if you don't know what the hell you're doing"--just plain poor product. Damn shame, too, since the people who love Alfas really LOVE Alfas--warts and all--and, like me, they really want to see them back and thriving in the American market.

But the question on everybody's lips is: "Is this the car that can do it?"
Well, to be honest, I'm not sure. On the plus side, they've gone for light weight as opposed to big power (237 is the quoted HP moving something around 2700 lbs. ) to arrive at performance via the "power-to-weight" rather than "power OVER weight" path. And I'm all for that. Like Buddy Palumbo says: "horsepower helps you in a straight line, but light weight helps you everywhere!"
The 4C's chassis is genuinely magnificent: tight, taut, well-dampened, nimble, reassuring, damn near surgical when it comes to cleaving apexes...all those good things. And the exhaust note will absolutely send shivers up your spine.
Downside is that it reminds you of a Lotus Exige (not necessarily a bad thing, but Lotus Exiges have not exactly been flying off the showroom floors in huge numbers), the 4C is only available with a paddle-shift automatic (a very good and user-friendly paddle-shift automatic, but it's sure to put some of the purists off). And if you plan on taking anything much more than a toothbrush, some stick deodorant and a box of Kleenex with you on a road trip, you'd better think about ringing up UPS.
But, geez, is it ever cool to look at, wonderful to listen to and marvelous to drive. No question it feels like an ever-so-slightly scaled-back (and, therefore, much more usable) current-era Ferrari supercar. Which reminds me how we called Alfas "a poor man's Ferrari" back when I first started racing them on the bush-league-and-proud-of-it Midwestern Council circuit back in the late 1970s (me and my cheater Alfa won 5 club championships and enjoyed 2 undefeated seasons). So, yeah, I'm Alfa Queer (as my old friend and fellow Alfa nutcase Craig Morningstar used to say) and maybe, just maybe, this is the Alfa all of us stateside Alfistis have been waiting for? Only can the exquisitely sexy, svelte and even stunning (but somewhat out-of-the-mainstream and even oddball) new 4C find enough buyers?
Not to mention a solid dealer network and a reputation for reliability and resale value that, if not exactly stellar, is at least not embarrassing.
I sure as heck hope so....

A few days later I found myself back at Autobahn as a coach/instructor for my friends at HOOKED ON DRIVING, and may I say that I recommend the experience highly to anybody with a hot (or cool) car and an itch to see what it'll do. Not to mention what YOU'LL do when confronted by a wide-open straightaway, a double-apex sweeper or a fast-approaching set of esses. It's a great way to enjoy your car (and, okay, burn a bunch of tread off your tires and several thousand miles off your brake pads) and I wish to hell this sort of thing had been around when I was a pup. Hell, we used to try to learn how to go fast on the street, and there's an awful lot of stuff to run into out there. Not to mention cops. And oncoming traffic that may not realize you're the next Mario Andretti....
Track Days and HDPE are wonderful things and, particularly with the performance envelopes that are now available over-the-counter from everybody from Kia to Ferrari (not to mention the folks in Detroit), you'd be crazy to put your foot down hard on the open road.
Might turn out to be your LAST open road....
Much safer to do it where you have everything working for you.
Not to mention somebody like me whispering in your ear.

Or even showing you around (read: "scaring the living crap out of you in your own damn car!")

That's me above, "instructing" in a really nice last-gen Z06 and a surprisingly impressive Saleen 281 Mustang. Good fun.
Speaking of Track Days, I did a little contributing (this time on the much-discussed subject of "Threshold Braking") for my friends at AUTO TRACK DAY MONTHLY (click to view) and, besides me mouthing off like I actually know something, you've got friend and highly respected driving coach Peter Krause, pro driver & coach Ross Bentley, the inimitable Satch Carlson, etc. holding forth on the same theme. Highly recommended!


OK, Trivia Trippers, we had a fat handful of correct & timely answers to last e-blast's two-part picture quiz (and, as before, everybody who answered correctly within 24 hours of the 1st correct & complete answer coming in gets a $10 gift coupon for FINZIO'S STORE). Answers are:

pic #1 features the inevitably scrumptious Marilyn Monroe, song-and-dance man and rat-packer Sammy Davis Jr. plus a somewhat less impressive singer of another type: a British-built Singer "SM" Roadster. And, no, their advertising motto was definitely not "if you're into S&M, you'll love this car." That was the Citroen SM.... 

pic #2 are a couple of gents you should really know. Only I fooled you a little by cropping the bottom portion of the picture. So here's the whole thing:

Sure enough, that's William Harley and Arthur Davidson back in 1914.
They built some motorbikes...


Ok, motoring trivia buffs & buffoons, we have another picture quiz. Please identify the two cars shown below. The usual deal applies where all correct answers received within 24 hours of the first correct answer coming in get a $10 off coupon for anything and everything on sale on the website at FINZIO'S STORE (and don't forget your Christmas shopping!).



in the PEOPLE KARS booth in the vendor-tent areas at:

both the club day on Saturday and the show day on Sunday at the
click for more info

and at the
click for more info
(including America's first-ever 24-hour Vintage/Historic race!)
November 13-15

Catch the latest poop & pictures, the Jay Leno interview, Last Open Road swag & highly inappropriate attire from Finzio's Store and the lurid & occasionally embarrassing "ride with Burt" in-car racing videos on the hopefully now fully operational website at: