Driver's Seat - Roots - December 2004
The Roots of Joe Pettitt's Passion for Sport Trucks
Since this is my first column as editor of Sport Truck magazine, I thought you might want to know more about me. I've been making a living at automotive journalism for more than 25 years, having written for just about every magazine that caters to automotive performance enthusiasts, not to mention, several books on a variety of automotive technical subjects. I started out freelancing in the late-'70s and got a staff position at McMullen Publishing on a magazine called Popular Cars. From there, I went to Wright Publishing and wrote for Hot VWs, 3-Wheeling, and Mini-Truck. My next gig was at Petersen Publishing on a title called Pickup Van & 4 Wheel Drive. After that, I was a staff editor at Hot Rod magazine in the late-'80s, early-'90s, went into public relations at the end of the '90s, and came back to my first love, automotive journalism, a few years ago when Sport Truck's last editor, Kevin Wilson, hired me on as managing editor.
In looking back, the common thread to my automotive adventures was always a need for speed and to be around machines with great style and the best engineering and fabrication. I just flat like to drive fast. I got my first taste of real speed in 1990 when I strapped into RJ Gottlieb's "Big Red" '69 Camaro for a 220-mph 27-minute blast down Nevada State Highway 318 in the Silver State Classic. I'm still vibrating from that ride. It was scary, but gawd was it fun. After that, I got hooked and drove several cars downcourse. I drove Rick Joyce's turbo Trans Am several times, reaching speeds of 160 mph - once driving those speeds through a rainstorm - and then got involved building a Buick T-Type with owner Stan Davis that won the Silver State. That effort was put on hold when the car lost a tire at 200 mph. Still, I love to road-race whenever I can arrange a ride or a test, and love to put the race kart in the back of the truck and get in some practice laps, an activity I don't do nearly as much as I want to. I'm not a particularly good drag racer, though. That's something I have to practice at.
Oh yeah, I almost forget, I first met Kevin Wilson when he came on staff at Petersen Publishing as an editor on Sport Truck. He and I share an affinity (or is it, affliction?) for speed, and we'd meet up at the Silver State when he was running with the Arizona Speed & Marine crew, or with Central Coast Performance, blasting his way downcourse in a serious Chevy Silverado shortbed or super-tuned Ranger.
So that's my background. I'm a just a gearhead with a need for speed who appreciates fine-looking machinery.
As I buckle in behind the steering wheel of Sport Truck, I think it's a good time review how I define a sport truck. It's not as easy to define as it sounds. It's not just, Trucks that I like. We've had discussions such as that between the staff, and it seems we have as many opinions on what a sport truck is as there are staffers. That just comes with the territory when dealing with automotive-enthusiast types that use machines, metal, plastic, and paint as their creative outlet.
My thinking on this subject led me to search through the archives of Sport Truck magazine, where I found the premiere issue, Nov. '88. Drew Hardin was the first editor. Drew wrestled with trying to define the concept of a sport truck as a way of introducing the reader to the scope of coverage of Sport Truck magazine. So it's not a new issue, but one that is good to revisit from time to time, in order to check, and if needed, to refocus, your mission. And since this is a transition of editors, it seems as good a time as any.
Since sports cars became a category of vehicle before sport trucks, let's check the definition of sports car. Webster's says a sports car is a "car equipped for racing, especially an aerodynamically shaped one- or two-passenger vehicle having a low center of gravity and steering and suspension designed for precise control at high speeds." We also found another definition: "a small, low car with a high-powered engine; usually seats two persons."
Webster's defines a truck as a "heavy automotive vehicle used for transporting loads." So if we combine the definition of a sports car and a truck, we should get something like this: an automotive vehicle capable of transporting loads, equipped for racing, or with a high-powered engine, having a low center of gravity and steering and suspension designed for precise control at high speeds. This is my preferred definition of a sport truck, but I know it's not a complete definition yet, because the term sport adds a lot of flavor to this category of vehicle.
In regard to the flavor and color of our obsession, some of the definitions of sport are more applicable to this discussion than other. The ones I found particularly appropriate on the WorldNet dictionary are: 1. sport, athletics - an active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition; 4. mutant, mutation, variation, sport - (biology) an organism that has characteristics resulting from chromosomal alteration; and 5. fun, play, sport.
I like these because they put a name on aspects of this endeavor that are easy to miss. For example, building, driving, showing, and maintaining a sport truck are athletic processes. It takes strength, stamina, and intelligence to modify a truck to make it look and perform the way you want it to. If you've done it, you know. If you haven't, just ask anyone who has. It's not easy to build one. As for the mutant factor, we're not implying anything regarding the folks building the trucks; we're taking about ideas here. Go to a truck show and you get to see all the mutations and variations on a theme. This is where the stylistic ideas on paint, body, and interior collide, merge, and warp into the off-the-hook designs you see in some of Sport Truck's feature vehicles. The last definition is my favorite, because however you interpret your sport truck, the main thing is to have fun building, owning it, showing, driving it. That's what sport trucks and Sport Truck magazine are all about.