What's it like to be a BDC judge?
So what’s it like being a Best Driver’s Car judge? Everything you’d expect and then some. On the surface, it’s what you see in the glossy pictures in the magazine: I’m piloting some of the most amazing cars in the world in a variety of high-performance situations. At my disposal I have two Americans, two Italians, two Japanese, and six Germans. But I’m not a Motor Trend editor. So how did I wind up participating in one of the best group tests around?
When I graduated from college, I was hell-bent on being an automotive journalist. When I sent my résumé out, I just knew that I was going to land a job at one of the car magazines. I had the credentials, or so I thought: I was a car nut, the senior editor of my college newspaper, and, by all accounts, a decent writer. How could they say no? But I was one hopeful in a sea of thousands. Each rejection letter was an incremental nudge down a different path. So instead I became a freelance writer, amateur racer, and driving school instructor.
But as they say, chance favors the prepared. Almost 20 years to the date of my college graduation, I was approached by Motor Trend to be a guest judge at BDC. All those years of writing and racing and driving allowed me to carve out my own space in the auto industry and catch the attention of the Motor Trend editors—that, and Ed Loh stalked me on Twitter.
Although I knew I had the requisite chops, I still felt like I was parachuting into a dinner party when everyone else had used the front door. The Motor Trend team is like family, and I was the new in-law. You learn very, very quickly if it’s a good match. Thankfully, it was. I hit the ground running without knowing most of the staff, but there was an instant chemistry that made it easy to fit right in.
Throughout the week, these BDC contenders aren’t just competing. They’re commuting. Transporting. Supporting. Trunks and frunks are packed with personal baggage and cleaning supplies, and camera gear might sit in the passenger seat during an impromptu photo shoot in the canyons. Travel days can span hundreds of miles, so although it might be a road trip in a spectacular car, it’s still a road trip. You learn the car’s practical weaknesses and strengths. You might fall in love with a car in performance testing but have it disappoint you on the I-5 slog, or vice versa.
It’s these finer details that put the job in dream job. Part of the responsibility is to explore the unique traits of 12 automobiles and commit them to memory in short order. Just think of the traits that normally take days—if not weeks—to master in one’s own personal car. Now you have mere moments to memorize them. How does it start? What’s the shift pattern? Where’s the parking brake? How do I adjust the seat? (In the McLaren, that’s a challenge.) How far do the doors open on the first detent? (Or again in the case of the McLaren, how high does that scissor door go?) What’s the range of the fuel tank? It’s important to know this stuff not only for those high-speed blasts but also for when you find yourself positioning lots of expensive sheetmetal for the cover shoot. You don’t want to be the guy who holds up everything at the golden hour because your car is running on fumes.
So was it worth the wait? Absolutely. If anything, I’m glad it took so long to be part of something like this. Instead of showing up to the event young and clueless, this became an opportunity to put all the skills I’ve learned over the past 20 years to use in what was once my collegiate dream.
Now that I know what I’m in for, I can’t wait for next year.
Read more about our 2017 Best Driver’s Car contenders:
- Ferrari 488 GTB
- Porsche 911 Turbo S
- Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
- Porsche 718 Cayman S
- Lexus LC 500
- Mercedes-AMG GT R
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
- Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
- Aston Martin DB11
- Nissan GT-R NISMO
- Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
- McLaren 570GT