How An Ex-Road & Track Editor Fooled The Car World

This weekend automotive forums were abuzz over a story alleging a new government appointee's targeting "environmentally unfriendly" high performance vehicles. They'd be rightfully frightened... if it weren't a hoax. The perpetrator, a former Road & Track editor-in-chief, confessed to Jalopnik.

The story first appeared on the website for Performance Business magazine on April 9th and it foretold a scary future: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland was appointing John Dinkel, the former Road & Track editor-in-chief, to the post of Director of Vehicle Efficiency and Performance. The story is the most viewed and printed email ever for Performance Business. Here's the part that scared the auto world:

In his new position, Dinkel will be responsible for advising the NHTSA on issues related to vehicle efficiency and performance and making recommendations on regulations "to reduce the current proliferation of excessively high-performance vehicles," according to a press release.

"While the NHTSA recognizes that President Obama's soon-to-be-adopted fuel economy regulations will require all vehicle manufacturers to place additional attention and resources on overall energy efficiency, we have also noted a distressing increase in vehicles and engines with what can only be considered to be environmentally unfriendly levels of horsepower," Strickland said in the release.


The article, dated April 9th, immediately engenders of a feeling in car guys of "let's overthrow the government!" We received countless dozens of e-mailed tips on the story, but after a couple of read-throughs, we decided there was something fishy going on — and didn't report on it.

This didn't stop Grassroots Motorsports and Classic Motorsports from reproducing it. Nor did it stop The Sean Hannity Forums, ViperAlley, Moparts and other forums from crying foul. The responses vary from "Sounds like the first member of the Brown Shirt Brigade..." to "I #^#$&*%*&^% HATE PEOPLE LIKE HIM!!!!" I.E. it doesn't vary at all.

These would all be understandable responses if, again, the news were true. But it wasn't. And there were abundant clues that something was awry. To start with, the language of the press release was highly undiplomatic. But that's not the only linguistic oddity in the two page document. When describing NHTSA creating a federal standard for performance emissions, the release uses verbiage straight from the auto buff books: "It is expected that fuel economy and emissions will be measured during wide-open throttle (WOT) runs from 0-60 and 0-100 mph and from 0 to the vehicle's top speed." Also, since vehicle emissions are handled at the state level, implementation makes our heads spin. We're imagining testing equipment something similar to an AWD dyno at every gas station. Not what we'd call realistic.


After we saw the story pop up in other outlets — and continued to receive emailed tips — we gave the document a closer look and decided to go to the source. We tracked down John Dinkel, who quickly folded under our harsh interrogation.

"I started this whole sordid affair as an April Fool's joke. And, no, I'm not related to Jim Carrey. Think of me as Honest Abe, but without the axe or the cherry tree. And let's not pick nits over this last statement. I grew up in NY and both the Bklyn and GW Bridges are still for sale," said Dinkel in an email.


It started with an email out to his wide circle of friends announcing the appointment with the following press release. It's full of bits of information that should have been obvious to all but the most humorless person. Fortunately or unfortunately, a humorless person read it a week after April Fool's Day and it became the freak-out story du jour.


A NHTSA spokesperson assured us none of it was true and Dinkel, to his credit, retracted the email after everyone freaked out:

Thank you for your congrats, but now "the rest of the story" in this attached press release. I didn't know I was stirring up such a hornet's nest. I thought when you read the NHTSA was in favor of CVS testing at max speed that all wheels would be off the rollers. I guess it just proves that when it comes to Washington these days, even the unbelievable is believable.


Of course, this didn't stop Dinkel from adding a press release announcing his name was withdrawn.


Bottom line: the Department of Transportation isn't coming to take away your blown Corvette. And if they ever try, expect Jalopnik to be on the front lines of the battle to stop them.

Photo Credit: Faleh Kheiber-Pool/Getty Images

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