Over nine years ago, this website was a blog that supported a chapbook of poetry I wrote back in the early 2000s. It soon became a catch-all blog talking about anything and everything. It was a simple showcase of my writing.
This website also became the proving grounds for what you are reading today. These early postings exhibited my initial forays into reviewing vehicles and writing about the automotive industry.
Then, I made a choice to direct this webspace into an online automotive magazine. It earned a name. Some people still are not able to pronounce at least one of the words in this site's title even today.
V&R grew from reviewing rental cars to covering media drive events, auto shows, the car community, talking about the content coming from our infotainment systems, covering the industry and our society. You read all of it – and got the sticker for your car, toolbox, laptop, and so forth.
This month, V&R turns nine years old. This website is a product of the growth of online automotive media that came from the early 2010s.
In this special Historiography column, I want to tell the origin story of this website. This story had been told a few times on various different platforms. This time, I will try to recall how I got to the point where this website became what it is today.
Let me go back to 1970. I was six years old and had huge dreams about life. Dreams that were framed by Hollywood and Detroit. Reseda's proximity to the entertainment business could not be ignored since someone knew someone who was making films, television, music, and so forth. My mother had a family member who was in the movies several decades back. This person was a link back to the days when we laughed at "The Three Stooges." She was in a few of their films.
Detroit was a distant beacon of light. That city led the world in automotive manufacturing and innovation back in 1970. Some may beg to differ, but that was the perception in this country in the days of Vietnam and Nixon. They made automobiles that captured my imagination – namely, the Plymouth Barracuda and the Dodge Challenger. It was when my father brought home a Barracuda that my fate was cemented as a Moparian.
But, we lived in a household that was half-General Motors by nature. That half was on my mother's side. Her family would never buy anything else unless it came from GM. In 1970, we had a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair and a 1967 Impala Sports Coupe. The latter would be replaced by a 1970 Barracuda.
Granted, 1970 was a time when we saw kinks in the armor of Detroit's automotive leadership. That 1970 Barracuda was supposed to be flawless, but it would have a wet starter when the intersection of Victory Boulevard and Wilbur Avenue would flood after a typical Los Angeles rainstorm. Imagine being stuck with more a few inches of water flooding the street. Thankfully, the city of Los Angeles would reconstruct the intersection with a robust drainage system sending water back into the Los Angeles River.
In the meantime, I picked up my first copy of Motor Trend. This buff book would not only open my eyes to an industry that would mark my future, but the pictures helped to frame what was happening at the moment.
Then, I started reading. Imagine a first-grader trying to read Motor Trend? It helped in my reading comprehension, but not my math or my attention span in the classroom.
The buff books were my portal to a future I had no idea how to pursue in the 1970s. Throughout the decade, I began to comprehend what automotive journalism was all about. These men and women were storytellers. Some material may not have been suitable for a kid from Vanalden Avenue Elementary School, such as the tales from Brock Yates’ Cannonball Runs. It would be their stories that would guide me through the 19 years of online media work.
Later in my life, I would meet those heroes. Jean Jennings was a light of being that still shines today. Tony Swan brought you into the garage and showed you the magic behind the racing car. We lost Swan recently. I was so glad to have met him while he was still alive.
My radar grew wider during this time. The world did not stop at the Santa Monica Pier or the Long Beach Harbor. There was a book I had in the early 1970s that told the story of GM. On one page, I was shown all of GM’s global operations as of 1970. I saw pictures of Vauxhalls, Opels, and Holdens – and read their paragraphs about them. I was already engaged and wanted to learn more.
If you remember when magazines were still a money-making proposition, then you remember those newsstands that had hundreds of them for sale. On the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Van Nuys Avenue was a massive newsstand that had a lot of publications – some from beyond the USA. Think of a Barnes & Noble that was exposed to the elements. That newsstand was heaven to a pre-teen car nut.
I picked up Car magazine from the UK at that newsstand. The magazine was thicker than your usual Motor Trend, Road & Track, or Car and Driver. Both the photos and the storytelling were epic. Not to mention, Car magazine challenged my reading comprehension skills. If one kernel came from Car in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it would be one of the columnist’s stories of media drive events that would both intrigue and repulse me. Stories about how that columnist would drive a Peugeot at some country inn outside of London then jet off to France for some luxury car launch – all the while talking about the food, wine, and weather conditions of each venue. Those stories certainly prepared me for what would come in my future some 30 or so years on.
As you know, it takes time to work your craft. It also takes time to understand it. Not to mention, the time it would take to learn some basics – such as the proper use of language. I ran into an issue with my writing competency as I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree at California State University East Bay in Hayward. I was told by my professor that I would not be able to earn my degree with the quality of writing I was putting out.
That was when I learned to edit. Editing was a skill I needed if I was to get into this business. Granted, I had a few misses since that spring of 1993. Over time, I was able to correct everything and get back on track.
Since my graduation from Cal State East Bay, I began to practice writing – a lot. You have to if you want a future in this business. Let that be a lesson to anyone who wants to do this career.
Fast forward to 2001. I moved from Northern Virginia to Madison, Wisconsin the previous October (I know I skipped a couple of relocations in this story, but let's move forward…), because a friend of mine felt that the D.C. Area was "robbing my soul." I begged to differ. I was still reading columns by the late Warren Brown of the Washington Post and his wonderful reviews, alongside Jeremy Clarkson in The Sunday Times. They sustained me and my love of the automobile across the country from my birthplace and provided inspiration for the work I'm doing today.
Since I mentioned Jezza, I was inches away from him at a media drive event in Detroit for Hyundai in 2018. He, along with Richard Hammond and James May, was in town filming an episode of "The Grand Tour" – the one where they drove some muscle cars around Detroit.
My position was not a paid one. But, it afforded me some very important experience to do some extraordinary things that are considered part of this work today. I began writing some automotive pieces that pertained to the demographics of the website. That parlayed into getting media credentials for the 2002 Chicago Auto Show for Wray and I. We brought home a Tier 1 auto show to our readers – something we never thought would happen.
I attended plenty of Chicago Auto Shows since – mostly on media preview days. Strategies have changed, but it is still a point on the editorial calendar to work there.
Through the experience of Midwest Ursine (the forerunner of what is now The Illinois Eagle), I finally landed in the Twin Cities. By 2004, I was ready for a change. I was wondering how that change would happen.
First came two chapbooks of poetry. Then, this website – OK, blog. Out of the blue, the journalist started emerging. My understanding of the automobile and the industry surrounding it became sharper. All of the lessons learned in the decades prior – from magazines to being a digital pioneer – sort of – led me to the onset of the 2010s.
The following story may have been told before on here, but it is critical to where Victory & Reseda would become what it is today. While perusing Facebook, I found a posting from Chrysler's communications team if there was anyone coming to the Chicago Auto Show in 2011. I raised my hand via a comment. In response, a direct message came through from a gentleman named Mike Driehorst, a member of their communications team. Somewhere in the conversation, he asked for my examples. I sent a link to a review of a rented Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport. Driehorst asked if it was mine. I chuckled.
The next thing you know it, I was invited to a program at Chrysler’s booth inside McCormick Place. It was breakfast with a guided tour of the Dodge booth with Ralph Gilles.
It was there when I had to make a decision about this website. It was also a decision to which direction I want to take my written work away from being too literary into something useful.
The deal was sealed that next month at the Twin Cities Auto Show. Driehorst connected me with Chrysler’s regional public relations person who was working our show. She soon introduced me to the regional public relations person at Toyota. He asked me a couple of questions: Am I a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association? And, am I getting their vehicles?
By the start of 2012, I became a member of MAMA. However, in April of 2011, I received my first vehicle from a manufacturer for the purpose of editorial work – a 2011 Lexus IS 250C. It came when I was doing my capstone presentation at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota for my Master of Arts Degree in Arts and Cultural Management.
The rest, as we say in the business, is history. Nine years in the making.
Obviously, I’m no spring chicken.
All photos by Randy Stern, unless otherwise noted