The Bard of Car Culture

April 2011

My relationship with cars has never been passionate—the tip-off being my succession of econoboxes that have all the style of a Soviet-era Lada—but I’m fascinated by Orange County’s vibrant car culture. And since this is the birthplace of automotive icons such as the Mazda Miata and the original dune buggy, I went looking for someone to write a monthly car-culture column when we set out to relaunch Orange Coast nearly three years ago.

I found Preston Lerner, who has the reporting skills of a first-rate journalist and the prodigious curiosity of a 5-year-old. Since his Drive column began, he has written about O.C. as the nation’s go-karting capital, and the peculiar Zen of car washing; about those loathsome red-light cameras, and the cool new police cruisers; about the wisdom of Zipcars, and the inexplicability of gourmet food trucks.

In May 2010, he wrote a column titled “Crash Dummies” that challenged the prevailing notion that a computer-chip problem was making Toyotas run amok. “I don’t believe it’s an epidemic,” he wrote. “And the numbers bandied about by so-called safety advocates—hundreds of accidents causing dozens of deaths, mostly self-reported and never reproduced through independent tests—are either misrepresentations or outright lies.”

It takes an experienced and gutsy writer to directly confront conventional wisdom or hysteria, and he did so when others were joining the torch-toting mob. Many were surprised in February when tests done by the federal Transportation Department and NASA confirmed Lerner’s conclusion.

But we weren’t. And neither were this magazine’s readers.

Life doesn’t always reward the righteous, but we’re proud that Lerner is among the five finalists in the best criticism category for a national City and Regional Magazine Association award. His accolade follows last year’s CRMA finalist honor for our restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurz, who produced this month’s cover story. Click here.

CRMA award winners will be announced in Chicago in early May, but to us the final result is moot. Orange Coast readers already have won because Lerner and Kurz are exceptional voices of authority, and we’re privileged each month to bring you their insights.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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