Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An interview with 0-60's editor

Yesterday I introduced you to 0-60 Magazine. Today, I chat with its editor...

Brian Scotto is the kind of guy you want to hate, given that his day job involves driving and talking about fast cars, but can't because he's such a nice chap. More importantly you're not allowed to because he's one of us. You know how most of the world just nods absent-mindedly and their eyes glass over when you talk excitedly about cars, bikes and/or racing? Don't you long for someone to talk with who actually gives two hoots about the difference between a first-gen and second-gen Lotus Elise or who understands the true importance of the Nordschleife? Scotto is one of those people, and he's transformed that passion about performance vehicles into an exciting new magazine.

Scotto comes from a VW background and in his teens and early twenties this led him to magazines such as Performance VW, European Car and tuner mags like Super Street, but as time went by he took a much broader interest in performance cars in general. It was here that he ran into problems. "None of what you call the 'buff books' here in the States really did it for me", he says. "I just didn't connect to Car & Driver even though I heard the legend of how awesome it was in the 70s." Salvation came when he discovered British imports: "Magazines like Car, Evo and Top Gear returned my interest in car mags, which in turn got me thinking about why we can't do an American magazine like this. After all, the Brit magazines are expensive and they do a lot of reviews of cars we just won't see in the US."

The plan for 0-60 started to form thee years ago, by which time Brian had three years of print journalism under his belt. He had firm ideas of how it should look: "We wanted something more exciting than other American magazines, something that focused on good storytelling and good photography and something that wasn't as concerned with the numbers, which is ironic since although we ended up calling it 0-60 we rarely use performance figures!"

There was an additional element that he wanted however. "A lot of us grew up modifying cars" he says, clarifying that "we might not all mod to the same level but we all speak that language. That's not something you see in the buff books. They're all about OEM, and the manufacturers themselves look at aftermarket as a different world. But look at Subaru - you can buy half their aftermarket parts over the counter. I have friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and the first thing they do when they buy a car is upgrade the suspension. So we're trying to blend that aftermarket feel and tie it in with OEM, so we're not Super Street mag, but we're also not Car & Driver."

The results are obvious, and Scotto and his team aren't afraid to make sacrifices in the name of quality. "There's been features that have come back with average photography and we've had to kill the story - we have a certain level of quality that we try to maintain" he says. "You've gotta make sure you have the best photos and that you use the best paper and we put a lot of attention on things like that."

Something I was eager to get Brian's take on was how he feels about the role of print media in a world dominated by the internet, and it was clear it's a subject he's thought about in depth: "Take the last two years, with sites like Jalopnik, you can get news way quicker than you ever can with a magazine, but if you look at the front of Motor Trend or Road & Track, they still spend a lot of time on news. It works for them, but because our readers are so much more focused than the average buff book reader, they've read it all before. And because we're a quarterly it's even less appropriate. This meant that we had to focus on storytelling. The article on driving the STI to the Arctic was 4100 words - there's no way you'd have read that on the internet, it gets a little tiring reading that much on the screen. So we realized that print media needed to be rethought, and to complement what you can get from the internet. We really just want to write great stories, like the Arctic feature, where you don't just report, you actually create the story. Funnily enough, that came out of Christian [Edstrom, Rally America co-driver champion who works as a copy editor on the magazine] and I watching Ice Road Truckers, and I said that we should go there and Christian said 'I fucking dare you', so next thing I know I'm on the phone with Subaru and we're looking at the date the road freezes, and we left the day after Christmas."

By now you're probably wondering what an interview like this is doing on a racing blog, but from reading the mag I was pretty sure that these guys would be mad racing enthusiasts. Turns out I was right. "In the first issue we did a feature on the Nurburgring 24 Hours" he began. "We stayed up for the whole thing and just soaked up the atmosphere. Then we headed up to Scotland and met up with Colin McRae before going down to France the next weekend for the Le Mans 24 Hours. So when we got back we had one month to print and we had to decide how to cover all this stuff. We could have gone the way of reporting about what happened, who won, that kind of thing, but anyone who really cares about the race will already know all that. So we took a different approach and asked ourselves about the culture behind the event. People build these massive viewing platforms and barbecue and bring their families, so we tried to capture the essence of what goes on, the things you don't normally see or hear about. We're not trying to compete with Racer or F1 magazine. This is us taking motorsports from a more lifestyle point of view."

They kept up the motorsport focus for issue two, when 0-60 looked at what makes the Mitsubishi Evo so special. Scotto notes that "we talked to all the people involved like Tommi Makinen and Ralliart's Andrew Cohen, and we also looked at the 1995 Safari Rally, which was the event that really put the Evo on the map. So we just tried to take a different look at it than a simple test drive."

Brian's words rang very true with me when he said "all of us are into motorsport here and in a way that's not limited to just following the results. Some people follow motorsport like kids in the States follow baseball, they know all the stats and details, but I think I think we realize that motorsport is the reason why we all get cool cars." Covering motorsport has not been easy for them however and Scotto and his team have had to constantly justify racing content to their publishers. "They ask us why there's so much racing in here and ask if this is a racing magazine. I try to tell them that I don't see racing as something separate from fast cars, it's part of everything we do and it's what makes all the great cars." It was great to hear Brian say "we try to remove all the politics from racing and focus on the bare essence of racing and what makes it awesome." Wise words Mr. Scotto...

So, what does the future hold for Brian and his band of petrolheads? The good news is that they'll be increasing the frequency of publication, moving to a bi-monthly or 8-per-year format. It's something he's looking forward to: "It's tough to work on a quarterly where if something doesn't work out it's dead, as opposed to changing things around and using it in the next issue like you would on a monthly. It also means that there's a greater chance that what you do won't get old on the news-stand." That very problem hit home for 0-60 after their very first issue, which featured an article about Colin McRae. Scotto had visited the ex-WRC driver, taken a ride in the infamous helicopter and spent a terrific evening listening to the Scot's tales of the WRC. The resulting story starts with how the photographer was so nervous to get into a heli with McCrash, and the photo that goes with it was Colin in his helicopter. It was all in good fun, but one month after the issue hit the streets Colin was killed. It was a tough situation: "Those who knew the issue had been out already saw it as the last ever story on McRae, but others who didn't thought we were just sick. The cover line was 'Crashing at McRae's' because we stayed the night there but the British media were furious because they didn't realize the timeline. It was a dark cloud on the first issue, but looking back now we just think about how special it was that we got to hang out with him."

It's nice to hear the editor of a US-based car magazine talk with such respect and reverence about someone so valued in the world of motorsport, and is further evidence that 0-60 is something that those of us who are in the USA and into racing would want to read religiously. If you need any other reason to dash down to Borders to pick it up, know that their upcoming occasional series of articles on homologation specials (think Porsche 959, Escort Cosworth, M3 etc.) is titled "Omologato Mr. Rubato"! Classic...

1 comment:

paul said...

I'm picking up a copy today. Thx for the scoop.