Between The Lines: Jean Jennings Incurs The Wrath of Jalopnik


When Reverend Dave Thomas gets peeved about something, you know it's worthy of a fire and brimstone bombardment. Jalopnik's temporary editor is an even-tempered, temperate man whose editorial dagger remains firmly sheathed— until the Lord whispers the S-word (smite) into his ear. Well, in this case, Reverend Dave decided discretion was the better part of valor— a theory which this epistle pretty much rents asunder— and charged your humble correspondent with the wet work on Jean Jennings, smiley-faced editor of the chameleon-like Automobile magazine. Dave read her opening salvo in May's issue and took umbrage. Her sin? Pride, which goeth before the main mag in Jenning's [only partially correctly titled] "Vile Gossip" column.

"My days of competing in the vibrant IMSA GT road-racing circuit came long before Jim Mullen's historic Spice GTP race car (page 94) was brand new. Actually, they came and went one fine day in May 1982, but more on that later. Those early days of the IMSA Camel GT were heady ones, the very end of an era where heroes had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indy 500, even Formula 1 stars and NASCAR legends, were out there scrapping with a real-world grid that included real estate agents, club racers, mechanics, television commentators, actors, journalists, car dealers, drug dealers and advertising executives."

There are few writers in this world whose work wouldn't benefit from a good old fashioned edit. Unfortunately, there are just about as many good editors as there are good writers, and the editors that can't edit, write, without editing. In other words, you call this a lead? It's dull, self-indulgent (there you go Dave), rambling ("more on that later"?), passively constructed, poorly punctuated, interminable, and, in the end, barely literate. It fails to answer the question that every lead must answer: why should I give a shit?

The fact that there are three "historic" pictures of the author's racing days provides a valuable clue to both Jennings' motivation and Dave's distress. "Vile Gossip" is the first piece of writing in the entire magazine. Like any "Letter from the Editor," it should set the table for the literary experience to follow: welcoming readers into the magazine's world and preparing them for the pleasures to come. Instead, Jennings uses this editorial holy ground to burnish her ego, without even a hint of a wider point. What could be worse? Boredom.

"There were nineteen Camel GT race weekends in 1982- ten of which were endurance races of three to twenty-four hours— beginning and ending with enduros at Daytona. The cars were split into main classes: GT (prototypes), GTO (engines over 2.5 liters), and GTU (engines under 2.5 liters). The GTU class typically had its own one-hour race, while the GT and GTO classes combined for the main one-hour feature. But on enduro weekends, all three groups took the green flag at once. Bedlam."

Wakey-wakey! And I hope you've taken notes. No? Well, I count one actively constructed sentence (actually a part of a sentence) since Jennings' prose first took wing. Pet peeve aside, there's a terrific image in there, somewhere: a crowd of wildly disparate race cars charging (an excellent verb for those who need one) away from the starting grid. I'd like to know what happened in that first corner— but then www.wreckedexotics.com is one of my favorite websites. But no, Jean's put us to bedlam. And in case you've forgotten, it's all about Jean.

"I came in on the coattails of Renault Racing, which had developed an amusing, six-race IMSA series called the Renault/Koni Cup, meant to get its dealer body enthused about the crappy French cars it had to sell."

Hang on; this is killing me. Try this instead: "My racing career started at the tail end of the Renault series: a six-race competition designed to endear its crappy French cars to the company's US dealer network." OK, back to the Gallactica...

"You brought your Le Car from the local dealer, added the approved racing components, and, in many cases, drove it to the race. I, being a journalist, of course brought nothing. Renault had a couple of cars for journalists to race, and my colleagues thought it would be prudent for me to begin my racing 'career' in one."

Clearly, Jennings never met a comma she didn't like. I hope, for her fellow racers' safety, that Jennings' driving, being that of an amateur, didn't have as many stops, and starts, as her writing. I'm also a little worried about Jennings' off-hand comment equating journalism with... what? Poverty? Either that or gluttony and sloth. BTL has constantly slated automotive journalists for accepting manufacturers' gifts without full, frank and public attribution. Is this a long-overdue mea culpa (now that Renault has turned tail and left the American market), or an indication of Automobiles' laissez faire policy on freebies. We report, you deride.

"My mother wanted to hear nothing about it and said rosaries for my salvation. My mother-in-law at the time was not religious, but she, too, wanted to hear nothing about it, because the thought of my racing was too horrifying. Which left Aunt Red solidly in my corner. Her response was to buy an expensive camera, take a quick photography lesson from the salesman, pick-up a six-pack of beer, and drive eight hours to Mid-Ohio to cheer me on."

After four paragraphs, Jennings finally gives us something interesting: Aunt Red. Not that it has much to do with anything, but when you're in the desert, even cat piss is welcome refreshment. This passage also reminds me of Jennings' family connection. Did you know that she's part of the Lienert family; the father, mother and son car critic combo that helps to fill the pages of The Detroit News and Forbes? Hey, if Jennings can write a section of her magnum opus apropos of nothing, so can I.

Strangely, although this piece is all about The Prime of Miss Jean Jennings, it ambles towards the finish line without the Automobile Ed-In-Chief's first person account of Ye Olde Racing. Jennings switches to the second person for the single bit of in-car narration.

"You would ram the car in front of you, pushing it ahead and dragging you in its wake. It was surprisingly effective, enough so that the guy behind me managed to bump me all the way down the back straight past the earnest Road & Track competitor who had qualified ahead of me. Poor him."

Poor us. We would have enjoyed a lot more of this sort of real-time(ish) description. No really. Who wouldn't want to hear about a po-faced Road & Track writer being bumped aside by a babe? And how'd the drug dealers deal with the competition? Did Jennings see any of her compatriots doing blow? Enquiring minds want to know. I mean, we made it this far... And so to the final 'graph, where readers ask, "What's it all about Leo?"

"I snagged a Le Car ride once more, at Detroit's F1 Grand Prix, which was slightly more officious than an IMSA event. As exciting as it was mingling with the Euro studs of the day, they just didn't feel quite as comradely as my fellow superstar drivers on the IMSA paddock."

So now we know. But there is one final question: does pride goeth before a fall or is it still safe to renew my subscription?

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