I’m not really sure as to how I feel about 2019, if I’m being completely honest.
It wasn’t a bad year by any means, just a different one by Speedhunters standards. The continued responsibility for the editorial side of the site occupied far more time than I would have liked, which I suppose is the biggest part of the reason that, as I write this, I no longer hold that responsibility.
I spent two years as Editor in Chief here, and was responsible for the publication of hundreds upon hundreds of stories during that timeframe. I don’t think I was ever so immersed in the Speedhunters experience before, and it has only strengthened my belief that Speedhunters is a truly special place.
To have the opportunity to live vicariously through the rest of the team, and in such detail, was very much bittersweet. To read stories from all corners of the world, about the trials and tribulations of being a car enthusiast, was on one hand such a pleasure. To not have the time to get out and find my own stories to tell, was much the opposite.
It wasn’t until almost the end of April earlier this year that I got my first chance to get away from the desk and use a camera in anger, at the 77th Goodwood Members Meeting. It’s a very long drive from Dublin to Goodwood, but it felt just like the early days of my Speedhunters life, road-tripping across the UK in a VW to hunt speed.
I’m not sure there’s a better event on earth to photograph than the Members Meeting. Some might suggest The Revival, also held at Goodwood, but the Members Meeting just about pips it for me as it’s not quite as hectic. There’s a more enjoyably pace to it, and more of a focus on the cars and racing. Less airplanes, though.
With fellow Speedhunters Jordan, Ryan and Mark in attendance as well, it was just nice to hang out with real people again, rather than communicating over VOIP or messages. It also meant that I was free to create my own narrative from the event, and to shoot it at my own pleasure. It was such an enjoyable weekend and something that I really needed at the time.
It’s not really a bad thing that most of my Speedhunters adventures this year revolved around Project GTI. There hasn’t been any updates on it since I returned from my pretty much perfect European road trip, because there haven’t really been any changes of note. When I said it was finished earlier this year, I really meant it.
The journey from Ireland to France, then across the continent to the Nürburgring, Porsche, Mercedes, and back to Reims before exploring Normandy for a day before sailing home was a proper bucket list adventure and something I will absolutely treasure for all of my days on this planet.
The whole point of Project GTI was to build a car as best as we could, with as little compromise as possible to its usability. That I can now just get in and enjoy the car whenever I want is something I’m hugely proud of, although there’s an itch starting to form for a new project to keep me sane.
I just can’t bear the idea of letting the GTI go…
Around two weeks after arriving back from Europe, I was on a plane back towards the same region I had just left behind. This time, instead of taking my own car around the Nürburgring, I was heading towards Spa to watch the World RX teams instead.
This was my first proper RX event, something that I had waited years for, and it did not disappoint. It’s without doubt the most intense and action-packed motorsport on the planet. How it’s not more popular is absolutely beyond me. There’s more excitement in one corner than in entire Grand Prixs.
Much like the Members Meeting, this World RX event was another subtle reminder of how much I missed being trackside on a regular basis. It was now May, and this was just my second event of the year.
An unexpected bonus of my Spa trip was being able to squeeze in a quick visit to Minichamps, in nearby Aachen, Germany. When I originally emailed the company to see if they would mind if I came by to take a couple of photographs of their museum, I never expected a response from their COO, followed by a personal guided tour of the whole company.
It’s really worth taking a look at the story linked above to get an idea of the amount of work that goes into creating just one miniature replica, and then to consider the thousands upon thousands that Minichamps have created over the years. It’s a wonderful place.
Wörthersee. If there’s one event I fear on missing out on every year, it’s this.
The original plan was to drive Project GTI to Austria, but two family weddings right in the middle of the (not) event put an end to that plan. Instead, I cashed in every air mile I had and booked a flight to Munich, followed by taking a hire car the rest of the journey. It’s the cheater route, but it at least gives you a tiny taste of the adventure that is the road to Wörthersee.
I did arrive slightly later than I would have liked in 2019, and as such seem to have missed a lot of the mayhem which resulted in the heaviest police presence there yet. Still, even a quiet week in Wörthersee is unlike anywhere else on earth.
While my poor Volvo hire car was no match for 2018’s Audi Ur quattro, the most important thing for me was that I made it there, regardless. Maybe 2020 will be the year I make the full journey again, but we’ll have to wait and see.
There was maybe only a month between returning from Wörthersee and setting off again for Players Classic, but it felt like an eternity. The Northern Hemisphere summer is always peak Speedhunters season, and watching the content roll in from all corners was both a blessing and a curse.
Thankfully, there’s no better tonic than Players Classic, which is the best show of its kind on the planet. With action spread across two days (soon to be three days in 2020), I could feel a lightbulb starting to flicker into life above my head. Taking the day off on Sunday, and just enjoying the show, was another sign that something needed to change.
What might raise an eyebrow or two was that this 49hp Golf was the most enjoyable driving experience I had in 2019. There’s a lot to be said for being able to use every last horsepower available, all of the time, just to get to the shops and back.
To be able to take the time to enjoy a local car show that same weekend, whilst being completely blown away by what’s tucked away in this country made for a very enjoyable time, and a good reminder of what cars should be about.
What came as a surprise this year was an actual, non-car related vacation (which my significant other unknowingly won on a pack of Doritos, I shit you not). Still, being a Speedhunter isn’t something you can ever switch off, and despite only being armed with a small point and shoot digital camera, I got my kicks where I could.
My favourite of these was a treasure trove of a small diecast store hidden away within the maze of twisting medieval streets. That, and a seemingly abandoned E12 BMW outside a nearby hotel. Still, I managed to read six books. Fantastic times.
At the end of August, I was fortunate enough be home in time for the now annual 86 Fest Ireland, my sixth event of the year. My fondness for the AE86 seems to be growing at approximately the same rate which they are increasing in price. I’m still not sure I would buy one, but part of me is glad that they are just out of reach for the time being.
Certainly, watching them being used and driven as intended has the tendency to ignite a warm feeling inside which feels dangerous to my bank balance.
It would be the guts of another month again before covering for Jordan at Drift Masters in Mondello Park. It was the final round of the championship, and my first professional drift event since Formula D Long Beach in 2018. Needless to say, it had been a minute.
Three days of action in all weathers made for maybe the most challenging and rewarding event that I’ve ever photographed. I was honestly relieved that all my gear survived the deluge (my 35mm needed a couple of days before coming back to life). Despite being soaked through to my skin, that soggy drive home was one of the happiest of the year.
I knew what needed to be done, and it just happened that the powers that be had the same realisation at the same time, which made for quite a funny phone call. This was my last event as EIC, before I was officially freed from my desk and aimed towards the trenches again.
I would always have it known that I would do anything for Speedhunters, and this remains the case. If there wasn’t someone as reliable and utterly brilliant as Brad to takeover, I’m not sure what the outcome would have been. Knowing that the site was in capable hands (and certainly more experienced than mine) made this transition completely painless, at least for me anyways.
I don’t regret a second of my time as EIC here. It was a challenge which I didn’t even know I needed, but have come out the other side all the better for it. It has taught me so many things, not least an appreciation for those around me.
Walking into the Juicebox BBQ as a free contributor once again was a real reawakening, and an event which I enjoyed immensely. It reflects so much of what I love about Irish car culture, and has properly earned its reputation as ‘Ireland’s Finest’. It’s a gathering that I get the pleasure of enjoying with my friends, while meeting new faces with the same passion at the same time.
It might not be Japan, Southern California or Wörthersee, but it makes me proud to show the world what we’ve managed to carve out for ourselves in this part of the world.
Exactly 10 years ago, I was working in a Blockbuster trying to cope with the Christmas rush and impending sales, not knowing what the future had in store for me. Sure, I was contributing part-time here and other outlets, but I always thought that’s how it would always be – part-time.
So much has changed over this last decade, but I still consider myself extraordinarily lucky to make a living photographing and writing about cars. Heading into 2020, I feel like I’m starting all over again in some respects, having gone from management back to the contributor pool once again. It sounds like the complete opposite of what most people want their career path to be, but I have to say, I’ve never been more excited to face into a new year of the complete unknown. Knowing that I will be able to chase any story I want next year is hugely exciting.
Is it scary not having the dependability of a salary? Absolutely, but if it was easy and risk-free, everyone would do it. I hope this is just the beginning of the next chapter in an ongoing saga which I get to live everyday.
See you next year, folks. Thank you for reading.