Autowriters Spotlight: Sam Moses

Sam Moses, generally, is not as confrontational as his Tom-Tom in the May issue of this Newsletter was. As his recently launched website, attests, he prefers to tell stories and let the readers reach their own conclusions.  For example, when covering one of Land Rover’s benighted lash-ups with R.J. Reynolds a few years back, his readers didn’t need to be told he didn’t favor the world-wide promotion of smoking, they could practically smell the smoke and hearPicture: Autowriters Spotlight: Sam Moses the hacking and coughing as he recounted the nicotine ambience of the Camel Trophy Adventure he covered. Cigarettes proffered like drugs at a rave.

Moses likes to write, particularly, he says, when he gets paid for it. That may be a challenge for his website which he considers an aesthetic, functional success but not yet a financial one.  He thinks he needs to focus on driving traffic.  However, his preference for telling stories instead of hitting readers with a two-by-four or punch in the jaw may bring his website the metric that is gaining favor over the number of eyeballs – engagement.  Readers who are enticed not by “must read news you can use” and half-hourly “scoops” but an experience they can get into.

The first thing Moses’ ever wrote for publication was from the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, during his first week of honeymooning around Europe in a Volkswagen bus.  “The editor of MotorCycle Weekly, a tabloid in Irvine, liked it and asked if I wanted to follow the MotoGP circuit, so my young wife and I used the racing to determine our itinerary.”

His ability to tell stories took him to Sports Illustrated as Motorsports Editor for 17 years, deputy editor of AutoWeek for a stint and to successful freelancing. He has penned auto reviews for numerous outlets, including New Car Test Review, and authored two books with a third being polished and a fourth “itching to be written.”  His first book, now in paperback, “Fast Guys, Rich Guys, and Idiots” was rated one of the best auto racing books ever written.  It recounts his two seasons behind the wheel racing a stock car.  The second, “At All Costs“ describes the Allies race to capture the island of Malta during World War II and thereby thwart Nazi General Rommel’s dash across North Africa to the Middle East’s oil reserves.  The third, “Senor Madre,” relates his experience as a single parent raising two teenage boys. Lurking between his mind and the computer keyboard is a fourth book, a novel based on his several hundred-mile descent of The River of Doubt in Brazil to where, he says, no journalist has ever gone before.

His website offers brief glimpses of the books, a blog recounting his recovery, restoration and renewed racing of the Skoal Bandit Olds Cutlass featured in his “Idiots” book and a blog of his new car test reviews.  Motor vehicles have had a dominant role in his writing because he was born into autodom.  One of the favorite memories of his youth is riding with his Dad as they towed a silver AC Bristol from his hometown of Altoona, PA to Akron, Ohio for the 1958 Buckeye Trophy Race. He proudly notes that his Dad finished second, pushing D production winner Arch Means all the way.

For those who want to continue the conversation from his May Tom-Tom, Moses concludes his comments with these observations: Press launches and junkets are not perfect but they are necessary to get cars reviewed by journalists.  Does being pampered and catered to at these events affect what he writes?  He says, “Mostly, they keep me from being negative in tone but it does not stop me from making critical comments about a car, pointing out a flaw, underachievement or as I see it, misdirection in design.  What pisses manufacturers off is a flip and negative tone, not a critical comment of their car that can be backed up by an example.”  On the other hand, he has found reviewing cars loaned by auto dealer puts him squarely in the quid-pro-quo “pay and praise” game.  The dealer buys ads in the newspaper and expects a laudatory review in return.