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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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Welcome to AutoMatters


Del Mar, California

Welcome to AutoMatters. In this column you will find a wide variety of automotive topics: new car reviews, auto shows big and small, discussions about hot new technologies, interviews with car people, amateur and professional auto racing, road trips, helpful tips and more.

NASCAR racing – and San Diego traffic!

At first I used to worry that I might run out of interesting things to write about, but instead from early on I was faced with a growing backlog of automotive material – some of which I’d already fully gathered information on and shot photos of. As a result there has always been a good variety of subject matter for me to choose from for AutoMatters. Frequently I do not even know what story I will submit until shortly before my deadline.

Mercedes “Ride & Drive” event

You will not find long, overly technical discussions here. Frankly, I find that boring and I suspect that most of you would too. Getting away from that is what motivated me to write AutoMatters in the first place. Here is how it all began.

At the auto show

One day, several years ago, I was sitting down to a meal and decided to read something while I ate. A community newspaper was nearby so I picked that up. In addition to the local community affairs coverage that I expected to find, I also discovered an automotive story there. Well, as a long-time automotive enthusiast, naturally I started to read that – but soon I stopped. Instead of light automotive entertainment to read while I ate, I found it to be more like work. It was a long, dry, boring discussion of technical aspects of some new car. That is not what I particularly enjoy reading about cars when I am reading for entertainment. I want to experience them, have fun with them, learn something about what they are like to drive, what useful new features they have and of course, see what they look like – inside and out.

Disappointed, and obviously with too much spare time on my hands, I decided then and there to write a letter to the editor of that newspaper asking for what I really wanted to see. I mentioned that even though I’d never written for a newspaper, I had written professionally for many years. I went on to express the opinion that even I could do a better job of giving casual readers what they would like to read for entertainment.

Drifting at Irwindale Speedway

I thought that would be the beginning and end of it so I was quite surprised when I received a personal reply from that editor. In it he said that if I would commit to writing a column for every issue of his weekly paper, he would bring me on board as his automotive columnist. Wow, that sounded like an offer too good to pass up. I decided to give it a try. That was several years ago. Now, even though the ownership changed and that editor and I are no longer involved with that newspaper, I still write AutoMatters and it is going strong.

Chevrolet Tahoe

When I began writing my column I had very little special access to automotive events and companies. I had to earn my credentials as an automotive journalist. I did that and now regularly receive Press invitations and access to such events as the San Diego and Los Angeles Auto Shows, NASCAR and other racing at California Speedway and beyond, displays of automotive art, the annual SEMA Show – the huge auto industry trade exhibition and extravaganza in Las Vegas, driving schools including Bondurant in Arizona, vehicle introductions and events sponsored by major automobile manufacturers (although no trips yet – I need more circulation), the annual classic car show at the prestigious Art Center College of Design and much more. As an active member of several car clubs I sometimes participate in their events, so from time to time I also cover those in AutoMatters.

Art Center College of Design auto show

To say my columns are exclusively automotive might sometimes seem to be a bit of a stretch, as I have been known to share my vacation photos taken in far-off places, but I always do make sure to include something of interest that is at least automotive-related.

Paul Newman and Jay Leno

Since starting to write this column, I have seen my fair share of famous auto enthusiasts, including Paul Newman and Jay Leno. While my daughter and I were at a car show together, she told me that she’d really like a picture taken of herself with Jay so I reluctantly asked him, not knowing what to expect. Not only did he graciously do so, but he hammed it up for the camera. Needless to say, that picture made our day and also made it into my column. It was a moment that my daughter and I will never forget. We found him to be a genuinely nice person who loves automobiles and has a wonderful collection of them.

Multipurpose, versatile Toyota Prius hybrids

Our elected public officials address automotive and transportation issues from time to time, especially now that gasoline is getting so expensive and traffic so congested. Sometimes I cover them in AutoMatters.

To some extent this column is in a continual state of change. Even the name has changed, from ‘The Car Nut’ to ‘AutoMatters’ – a word that I coined when I found out that someone else was already using ‘The Car Nut.’

NASCAR pitstop action

Probably the most significant addition to AutoMatters has been my photography. When I started writing my column it pretty much consisted of just text. Then one week the graphics person at the newspaper took the initiative to add a simple graphic – probably clip art, and I liked it. From time to time he continued to do this, adding visual interest to my column every time. I started taking photos to accompany the text.

Taking flight at CORR off-road races

As time passed, it became more and more apparent to me that my early digital camera had some pretty significant limitations. Its photos of still subjects were pretty good but it was very difficult shooting things that moved – especially racing cars. Because of the camera’s slow processing speed, I learned that I had to pre-focus on a spot on the track where I thought the car will get to, hold the shutter button down half way while I panned over to where the car actually was, pan back with it and then snap the picture a tick before I anticipated it would get to the spot where I wanted the camera to record the image. Incredibly, sometimes I was lucky and managed to shoot usable auto racing photos using this method. I longed for a digital camera that was at least capable of doing what my trusty Nikon F2AS film camera had reliably done for so many years.

I have now accumulated a collection of new Nikon digital camera equipment, which enables me to do far more than my early digital camera was suited for. I hope you enjoy my photography.

People have told me that they like reading AutoMatters because it is like having a conversation with a friend. I feel that way too, like I am talking to you, my readers. It is especially gratifying when you send me email.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Next time my column might be about the most recent Grand Prix of Long Beach, GM’s “Auto Show in Motion,” a new vehicle or perhaps something completely different – like a parade. You’ll know soon after I do.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to Enjoy the archives and more at Drive safely and do join me again next time.


Copyright © 2005, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #143r4 AutoMatters

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