(Sam Moses and The Bandit hit the Portland International Raceway.)
By: Sarah Glass @SASzilla
Sam Moses, author and racecar driver, has been an icon at Sports Illustrated for the last 17 years, from being involved in assignments that would rival any at National Geographic, to getting inside a racecar himself to compete with the rest of the country, it is easy to see how Sam Moses and his award-winning journalism has taken him all over the world.
Recently part of The Bandit’s team at the Portland International Raceway, I sit down with team engineer, Dave Wimsett, at The Busy Bee Restaurant in Springfield Oregon, for some vitals and insight into Sam’s remastered book and most recent races before Sam and I connect via telephone, from his home in Washington, where he fills me in on all exploits past, present, and yet to come.
“Rule One of Racing: Race cars blow up,” Dave bellows, as-a-matter-of-fact, fork in hand, gesticulating as he talks over his plate, hands hovering, maybe coincidentally, or maybe as tale of his trade- around the ‘ten’ and ‘two’ o’clock position of an invisible racecar wheel. “Rule Two: There’s no way to alter Rule One.”
Sam Moses disagrees. Still in disdain over his failed race in Portland over the 4th of July, he declares – and quite tenaciously- “I won’t talk about it.” Mid-interview, the tale diverged, he admits one way to avoid Rule Number One is to maybe listen to your engineer.
“I didn’t know I was abusing the thing,” Sam insists , talking about his notorious vintage 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass and racecar, The Bandit. “Dave told me what the rules were. He told me ‘you can’t break the gearbox, Sam.’ I should have believed him.”
I ask Sam the obvious, which came first,racing or writing. In his book, Fast Guys, Rich Guys, and Idiots, it’s easy to tell Sam Moses wasn’t raised watching his dad picking at a typewriter, it was racing he watched his dad do, starting as far back as the summer of 1957, the year, Sam claims, “the speed in his [own] young blood was lit.”
Four years in the Navy, Sam took to writing his family about his exotic surroundings when he found he couldn’t sleep and there was nothing else to do. As a result, Sam took up journalism for a brief time at Penn State and The University of Miami before, given the first opportunity, he left to immediately become a nomadic journalist, following motorcycle circuits throughout the desert for the bi-weekly motorcycle magazine MotorCycle Weekly, where a measly $25 dollars covered both the expenses and wage for his first article.
“You have to get in wherever you can at first,” Sam advises me about writing, “Even if it doesn’t pay. If you’re any good at all, someone will notice you.”
Now Sam can say he’s brushed shoulders with them all, from motorcycle champion, Kenny Roberts to Dale Earnhardt. He’s witnessed over 40 years of motorsports culture and history, and Sports Illustrated has taken him all over the world. His remastered version of Fast Guys, Rich Guys, and Idiots, due to be released this September, is a compilation of stories taken from the best of over 200 of Sam’s own pre-1984 Sports Illustrated articles, as well as from a motley of personal racing experiences.
“I treated it like a vintage racecar,” he says, smoothly, of his pending new release, “I avoided calling it ‘revised’ or ‘edited.’Remastered is what musicians used to call their old albums made with new technology, and that’s what I did. …The original version was printed twenty years ago, before the internet, when… I had to have a hard copy of it sent away just to be turned into a word document. This version has more racing in it, and it’s written from the perspective of a veteran motorsports writer, not the self-involved kid I used to be. Also, it’s way better researched, and I know more now about the characters than back pre-1984.”
“I met Hunter S. Thompson, once, in Key West,” Sam reminisces, “My wife and I were driving a white, 1987 Z-28 Camaro across the whole of the U.S., from the furthermost point in the west to the furthermost point in the east. I asked her to marry me coming down the hill into Pueblo, Colorado at 90 miles-per-hour, during a thunder and lightning storm.”
“When we got to Key West, we went to the Sam Woody Creek Tavern. We were just having a good time, telling everyone there how we were planning to go to Nevada the next day for our marriage license, when there’s Hunter S. Thompson sitting right there in the corner. I didn’t really know him, or that he hung out there — I mean sometimes we covered the same events — but he must have overheard us because he stands up suddenly, says something like, ‘Oh!’ and runs out to his truck. He rummages around out there for, it seems like a while, and then he comes back in with this thing in his hands like a huge, million-watt spotlight, that I guess he had to spotlight things at night with.”
“I said thank you.” Sam doesn’t forget to mention of the oddity, “Couldn’t tell you where it is now, though.”
Of course, Sam Moses never had to be bought with a red Ducati left in his driveway by such as Cycle World , as Hunter S. Thompson self-admittedly did. No, Sam needed no persuasion to indulge the speedster lifestyle and translate his experiences back to the world. That desire came on its own. He had the guts and the ability. It was only a matter of time beforeSports Illustrated gave him the opportunity, and the keys.
Now, after over 40 years of observing motorsports history, and with a new chapter on the horizon, “The friendships endure,” Sam says, of his career with Sports Illustrated, racing in general, and of his time with The Bandit, Still, always the perfectionist, and never slowing down, Sam tells me he’ll race The Bandit at least once more time next year in September before passing on the torch. Still agonizing over the broken gearbox from his last race, he insists, “I can’t quit on this note.”
When I ask Sam what’s next, he admits, “My future is in Australia.” Maybe he will write another book out there, without a doubt he will continue kite-surfing, but the keys to The Bandit are to move on, as even now wheels are in motion for it to be auctioned off next year in Monterey.
Will this be the end of his partnership with The Bandit? Sure. Yes. Most probably, but it doesn’t mean the end of the Sam Moses legacy. As Sam so delicately puts it, “What does a guy really need with two race cars anyway?”
For more, check out Sam’s webpage and blog at http://papamadre.com/index/.