There is nothing inevitable about the end of driving as we know it. We can preserve this joy for generations to come, but we need to be knowledgeable, we need to be passionate, and we need to get involved. Never Stop Driving, a new book by Hagerty magazine Editor-In-Chief Larry Webster, is intended to foster that anti-autonomous sentiment and reinforce the notion that each of us has a right to guide our own life behind the wheel.
We sat down with Larry to learn more about Never Stop Driving, its list of contributors, and the mysterious human factors that guided his journey into the heart of automotive enthusiasm.
Hagerty: Never Stop Driving is a book with a single focus: the validity, and vitality, of driving in an era where the “autonomous future” is often considered to be unavoidable. Why write it? And why choose the old-school format of a printed book, rather than an online manifesto?
Larry Webster: Two summers ago, I was reading a book—Simple Fly Fishing, edited and largely written by Yvon Chouinard—and I was struck by the way in which it was explicitly dedicated to passing on the joy of that craft, that hobby, to a younger generation. Chouinard writes “... Fly fishing helps preserve our capacity for wonder.” I thought, “Hey, driving can do that as well.”
H: And you thought of publishing a book.
LW: We already share this enthusiasm in our magazine, but I had this idea of something that you could hand to someone and say, “This is why we enjoy what we do.” At the time I was driving through the Northeast in my old air-cooled 911. I put the car on a ferry, headed to Williams, Massachusetts, and holed up in a motel. I spent the next two days laying out the ideas and structure for the book. Then I sent that to a publisher… and they sent back a contract.
H: You didn’t sign it.
LW: No, because I was in a hurry to get the message out. I knew it would take me a while to write the whole thing. So I talked to McKeel (Hagerty) and I said, “I have this idea, and I think we can make this happen quickly…” And he didn’t even let me finish before telling me to get it done. As an ensemble piece.
H: So what was the central idea?
LW: It was that idea of commanding the machine. I’d been talking to Miles Collier, one of a lot of people for whom automotive enthusiasm has been a lifelong pursuit, and when you do that it becomes obvious that our passion for cars is both broad and deep. It’s more than just, say, a parking lot burnout. That’s a small part of what we do, or love. There’s an elevated aspect to it.
H: How did you get started?
LW: I knew that Zach Bowman, this great young writer who’s worked at Cycle World, Road & Track, other places, had just finished a year on the road, in the forgotten corners of the country. I asked him to start thinking about this—right away he had an anecdote about his own car that I knew would work. I asked him to write about the joy of the hunt, the searches where we have this idea of a car in our heads and we go out to match that idea with reality. So we open the book with that. It’s appropriate. For most of us, the relationship with a car starts with that search, that hunt.
H: The next section is yours.
LW: I thought this was the part I could do: “Peace In The Wrenches.” And it’s a lot like fly fishing in the sense that you work with your hands, and the quality of your effort has a lot to do with the outcome. You have to bring enthusiasm to it. Which won’t make up for lack of skill, not entirely, but it helps. And you need it. Until you turn the wrench yourself, nothing gets done.
H: Then we get into the third section, which is about the relationship between man and machine.
LW: Well, I got really sideways for a long time, really lost, in this idea that you can get to know a person by driving behind them in a race. The car acquires a different body language depending on who is driving it. That shouldn’t really be possible, if you think about it. There are only a few interfaces we have with a race car. The way someone handles those simple interfaces—all of a sudden, you’re watching them and you get a sense of what to expect next.
H: It seems odd that human beings would adapt so well to the car.
LW: Exactly. So in this section, we look at the idea that human beings have been around for tens of thousands of years, never traveling much faster than a horse or a sailboat—then all of a sudden we are given, or we create, machines which can go orders of magnitude faster. By and large, it works. If you took a caveman and put him behind the wheel of an F1 car, he’d be terrified and confused—yet he already has all the psychomotor skills he needs, he just doesn’t know it. We were always ready to drive a car. Maybe that’s why it is such a joy. And that’s what is at risk of being lost. We could have this one bright spot in human history where people control their own destinies behind the wheel. For a hundred thousand years, we are riding mules… then for a hundred years we can steer ourselves… then it’s back to being a passenger on something with a mind of its own. No mastery, no joy. Just transport.
H: And not just the experience, but everything surrounding it.
LW: Exactly. The automobile shapes culture in ways we don’t even think about. So for the last section we have Brett Berk, who is a great cultural observer, and he’s looking at that, at the social and human interactions involved. It’s true for people as well. We have a lot of sidebars in the book, written by celebrities and racers. In one of them, Aaron Robinson dives into the story of this old Lamborghini he’s restored. He’s talking about bringing something almost back from the dead, and he writes: “The car also saves you.” That’s profound, and it’s about a process that works in both directions. You save the car—you shape the car—and the car also saves/shapes you.
H: What do you want people to take from the book?
LW: Well, after we finished it I thought I could have been more explicit about the mission in the text, could have come right out and said, “We have to save this for our kids and grandkids.” That being said, I think the readers will pick up on the mission. I hope it helps preserve what we love, and I hope the readers will be inspired to take their own actions to evangelize a bit in the cause of automotive enthusiasm and driving. Most of all, I want the readers to enjoy it, to see their own passions reflected and validated. We’re all in this together.