Gray Matter

In a PBS television interview I saw a few years ago, Rolling Stones rhythm guitarist Keith Richards said something to the effect that while he’s playing on stage, he’s getting ideas for new songs. One aspect of his job, as he called it, fed another. That’s kind of how it works here, too. When I’m at the track, I’m looking around for potential story ideas for Speed News. When I’m in the garage, I’m also thinking of reader interests.

It makes for pretty manic race weekends, and leads to me losing tools that I had just a moment ago. It’s one of the bigger challenges of putting this magazine out, coming up with stories that not only will interest you, the NASA member, but also will benefit you in some way.

At magazine after magazine I have worked for or contributed to — more than 15 last I counted — the mantra was always more hands-on technical stories. Whether it was stories on improving your golf swing or getting more performance from your engine, readers couldn’t get enough of them.

I can’t, either. I love good tech stories because they either teach me how to do something I’ve never done, or give me new ideas for projects on my own car. Or my next car. Our art director, Ashley Horne, who is responsible for making Speed News look as good as it does, affectionately calls them “dirty-man-hands” stories.

We try to offer as many tech stories as staff and budget are capable of, but as any NASA member knows, racing and high-performance driving has a whole other dimension not related to nuts and bolts and gears. That dimension exists in the gray matter between our ears, and it’s where the biggest performance gains lie. Gains in that area are more difficult to achieve than merely bolting on the latest power adder.

The benefits are many. As our contributor Neil Roberts points out in his feature on the racing driver development process, when you invest in your skills, such as reading instructional stories or books or getting some coaching, those skills stay with you. Power adders you bolt on the car often go away when you sell it, so in terms of real, long-term value, you’re almost always better off investing in yourself rather than in your car.

That’s why we’ll be running a few features this year on the mental aspect of racing, from traffic strategies to finding the best line and the finer points of tire management. Each reader has the potential to take away something different from each story, and we hope you’ll find them to be a valuable and appreciating investment in yourself.

Naturally, you have to invest in your car to give yourself a chance to be competitive. We see evidence of that in professional racing every weekend in season. A good driver in a substandard car rarely succeeds. That’s where the conventional tech stories come into play, such as the feature on Spec E30 cylinder heads we ran a couple of issues ago. We’ll run more tech stories this year, too, of course.

Another story in this issue on how to live-stream video to the web doesn’t necessarily make you or your car faster, but it is an interesting way to share your on-track experiences with the world. Live-streaming websites such as, and are just a few outlets that let you essentially broadcast your races to a worldwide audience.

What I hope happens for each issue as it hits your inbox is that it triggers ideas in your minds, that it gives you something to try at the track or in the garage. If it works for Keith Richards, maybe it can work for you.

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