Between the Lines: Motor Trend on Leno's Record-Setting Spin

As far as the automotive press is concerned, Jay Leno is the gift that keeps on giving. The Tonight Show host is endlessly, relentlessly generous with both his time and his [large] jaw-dropping collection of exotic, vintage and mutant motors. To say Leno s pithy munificence has been endlessly exploited by doting car hacks would be like wondering if pre-pubescent Persian carpet makers would benefit from union representation. A quick search of Motor Trend s Web site reveals more than a dozen Leno-inclusive features. So, when Porsche approached Motor Trend with yet another JL-based idea, the temptation to file the request under DTD (Done to Death) must have been immense. Unfortunately, they resisted.

A Trip Down Memory Lane at 198 MPH presented Motor Trend s chronically undercapitalized scribe steve cole smith with the usual slam dunk (carefully unscripted bon mots from the master of same) and a new challenge: integrate racer David Donahue s experience. smith s lead sets the stage with journalistic precision:

In a moment, Jay Leno will climb into the cockpit of a Porsche Carrera GT in an attempt to set a speed record at Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama. Leno, of course, is playing the comedian. Grand American sports-car racer David Donohue is playing the man. Both are at Talladega in an attempt to set six records — three apiece — to commemorate similar records set here 30 years ago by race driver Mark Donohue and a Porsche 917/30 Can Am racer car. Mark Donohue was David s Dad.

Right from the start, it s clear that Donohue s inclusion is going to confuse what would have been a straightforward celebrity-based feature. Quite what smith means by his assertion that Donohue is playing the man is unclear — unless the writer left out the word straight to avoid stimulating a debate about the racer s sexuality. The last sentence in the graph further illustrates this tension between chronicling the comedic capers of Mr. Funny Guy, and smith s psychological exploration of the burdens shouldered by The Man Who Would Be His Father.

The story slips into second gear easily enough, with smith quickly inflicting the usual Leno car guy yucks on his suspecting audience.

What s it like out there Jay?
If your erection lasts more than four hours, consult a physician.

What no ba-da-boom? Nope; just a change of tack large enough to flounder an America s Cup sailboat.
This is about to get interesting- for us, for Donohue, for Porsche, and especially for Leno, who ll learn what it s like to spin a Carrera GT at 182 mph. More about that in a minute.
First some perspective.

Now that s nuts. smith gives away the punch line, destroys any hope of linear story telling and asks readers to turn away from the story s epicenter. And what s so important that we must away? A thumbnail history of Mark Donohue s career and a thoroughly unconvincing defense of his son s failure to match his father s prowess. What s worse, the apologies extend to the story itself:

While some may regard the Talladega event as a publicity stunt, David Donohue takes it seriously.

Oh, that s OK then. Or maybe not. In fact, the reader soon begins to feel embarrassed for Donohue Mk. 2. When smith reveals that Porsche isn t interested in eclipsing his father s record, you can almost hear Dave shouting I am!

Strangely, we only learn Mark Donohue s Talladega track record in paragraph 21. When we do, it s via a superb piece of writing. smith asks one of the officials in attendance about the Carrera GT s high speed potential.

So what would it take for the Carrera GT to go 221 mph?
A second engine? Singer says laughing.

Now that s funny. From there, we discover that Porsche s reputation for Germanic precision would be better replaced by a rep for good natured perseverance; the record attempt is delayed twice, and then abandoned for the day. When it s time to set records, records are duly set. And yet, according to smith, the non-FIA records don t mean much.
So they re Grand American records, which is great, but prior to the event there have been no Grand American records, so whatever the cars run will be the record.

At this point, smith s article has devolved into farce. Leno makes it official (so to speak) by spinning the Carrera GT at 182 mph. smith saves his description of Leno s personal circumnavigation for the last four paragraphs. We get a predictable Leno joke about his potentially lethal blunder and a bit of deference to Donohue. And that s it.

Suspiciously, we don t get any photograph of the spin or its aftermath. More to the point, we end the piece without any idea why Editor-in-Chief Angus MacKenzie (oh, NOW we get the caps) considered the story important and/or interesting enough to grace Motor Trend s pages in the first place.

[Note to those who've e-mailed of late: Jalopnik does not know Jay Leno personally, nor do we have his e-mail address, nor does he want to buy your 1979 LTD, your 1951 Ford F-100 or your 1967 Cushman Motor Cart. ed.]

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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