• Ross Ballot

Reflecting on cars, life, and 2020

2020 is finally coming to a close. When the calendar turned we hardly expected the year to be what it became. The start of a new decade; the ushering in of new opportunities. Promises of adventure and forward progress. Reality hit, and so did COVID-19. Soon after the ball struck midnight, humanity faced a worldwide pandemic. Quarantine and social distancing became buzzwords, vaccination and flattening the curve the talk of the town. The world suffered this year, and suffered badly. It seemed that all was dark, that hope was largely lost. But for us who partake in this crazy automotive thing we call a hobby, a pastime, and a way of life, through all the difficulties shone a glimmering light. Even through 2020, the car community, car culture, and car enthusiasts persisted.


Coronavirus affected everything, and everybody, in 2020. The car world was not immune to this. Manufacturer auto shows were cancelled. Countless events like meets and niche car exhibitions were postponed, sometimes indefinitely. Companies both small and large struggled to stay afloat. Racing, professional and amateur alike, scrambled to change schedules, scrapping situations which could have been hazardous. And yet, when the health of the general public took a swing for the worst, the car community adapted. Manufacturers and people made necessary changes to keep the wheels turning. Model unveilings set for major, international release became hyped-up, wildly-overproduced online reveals. Many autocross events diverted from regular back-and-forth shifts to a split, two-group model. Off-road events capped groups at ten vehicles. In every corner of the automotive world, changes were made to keep things going.



I realize there’s more to the world than cars. Lives were lost this year for a reason that was, to an extent, avoidable. Not entirely, but somewhat so. I’m not here to talk about that though; it’s not the right place or right time and we at Everyday Driver strive to avoid political discussions. What I do want to do is focus on reflection, on the way the year has developed, and how cars played into a year unlike any other.


For many, myself included, cars were a source of light, a brightness in the difficulty surrounding the toughest year of many of our lives. On one hand, two major trips that I had planned were cancelled. A life-goal, Mecca adventure to Utah with my brother, cousin, and best friend was one. The other, a vacation with my wife to Iceland, sights set on driving a Suzuki Jimny across the F-roads. Even some local experiences had to be opted out of. Off-roading, always difficult in the Northeast, became more so with private parks closed due their non-essential status. Autocross events, when I was actually available to go, were few and far between. 2020 was the first year in which I didn’t participate in an AutoX event since 2013.



On the other hand, a week with a Land Cruiser provided reason for escape and an opportunity for my wife and me to revisit our beloved college town. Later on, a meticulously planned and executed beach trip with a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon proved the only real travel of the year. A few ATV trips with my father, brother, and even wife (much to my surprise and joy) kept us excited about upcoming weekends, rather than just hollowly meandering through the new normal. Then in the final leg of the year a new-to-me project has been a great distraction from the once-again worsening COVID positivity rate, sadly coinciding with the impending dark and cold winter season.



Filling the gaps between each small glimmer of happiness has been time spent on Discord interacting with the inimitable Everyday Driver community. Conversations about motorsports and personal car debates have brought smiles and laughs, and, again, diversions from the nonstop outpour of bad news from the outside world. It doesn’t stop there for the role EDD has played in 2020, at least for me. Whereas podcasts and YouTube videos were once a piece of the puzzle of life, simply filling the voids, they came to serve as vital pieces of diversion from reality, reminders or normalcy. As did regularly contributing to the website.

Despite much of life coming to an abrupt halt this year, the world of automotive media never stopped. Videos, podcasts, written pieces, and so on. It goes further. With the ability to see friends squashed, I restarted (and am still working through) the back-catalog of Top Gear once again. The dynamic between the trio is a reminder of happier, lighter times, and of what that kind of friendship is like. It stands as a forever-standing reminder that though cars bring us together, it’s the people that make things what they are. What they’ve been. What they need to be.


Out in the altered reality that was 2020, things, and people, came together in ways that had never been done before. Socially distant car shows became a thing, as did the Cars & Coffee knockoff COVID & Coffee, creating an atmosphere like that of the past but with a six-foot mandate keeping the germs apart and people safe. Speaking of, in a part of the year which seems like decades ago, we witnessed parades, rallies, and caravans showing support for essential workers and emergency responders. The same went for birthdays and graduations, weddings and funerals. Amidst the agony and misery, there was a poetic beauty to the world this year. Negative and positive forces battling, struggling to stand victorious. Like we were faced with our mortality, up against an unknown the likes of which posed an unfamiliar threat of an unknown degree. Through it all, we came together, and auto enthusiasts helped get each other through the rubble.


Not that there was any icing to go on the nonexistent proverbial cake, but later into the year than normal, Formula 1 took shape. Just before the lights went out and racing resumed, Netflix’s excellent program Drive to Survive introduced the sport to many and gave us a dose of what felt like a familiar normal. Until we saw a glimpse of the grandstands. Remembered the lack of fans present. Looked around and came to, realizing that the same cars were running on the same tracks with the same teams and drivers and yet despite the seemingly normal on-track battles, nothing was the same.


The F1 season provided another dose of pulling on our heartstrings. History was made with Lewis Hamilton becoming the winningest driver of all time. Moments like Romain Grosjean’s high-speed, fiery crash at Bahrain reminded us of mortality and what it’s like to hold your breath awaiting news of life. George Russell got a chance to drive the sport’s best car only to have the sport’s best backing team let him down. And simultaneously, Sergio Perez claimed his first victory after 190 races in the sport. With so little else going on, Formula 1 captivated fans all over the world in a way it never had before.


Manufacturer news fared similarly. Despite the lack of auto shows, automakers delivered a slew of new offerings aimed squarely at enthusiasts. Buildup to Ford’s new Bronco was a captivating saga that made it as far as mainstream news. Meanwhile, Ram figuratively and literally launched a Hellcat-powered Ram. Jeep announced plans to build a 6.4L, V8-powered Wrangler 392 alongside their hybrid Wrangler 4xe. They’re also now building a Hellcat-powered Durango. Nissan brought out the 400Z “concept” which we expect for production sometime next year. C8 Corvettes hit the streets in numbers as did the Supra and ND2 Miata. Acura has reinvigorated itself. Honda improved its already-impressive Civic Type R, and Hyundai made the Veloster N even more accessible. There’s a new (horribly ugly) M3/M4 and Cadillac announced a supercharged V8 with a manual transmission for its upcoming Blackwing cars. Overseas, Toyota’s GR Yaris has received absolute acclaim and on our shores, Subaru finally gave us a new BR-Z. VW has a new GTI and Golf R. And, of course, Porsche continues to do Porsche things. Contrary to what can be said for the rest of life, and the rest of what’s happened in 2020, it’s been a good year for new car news.

And yet, it only matters so much. This is all future product talk. Cars, at least the enthusiast kind, are not essential. Certainly not in what we’ve come to know the term to mean this year. But somehow in 2020, cars proved their importance by way of being a constant, always present distraction. They were vital not in their place in society, but in that of the mental health of enthusiasts. So much downtime provided the perfect opportunity to hone in on what’s important in life. So much time to reflect, especially in a time when it’s joked that time itself has no meaning, has helped us hone in on goals and what’s important. Finding and deciphering what you love. This may sound like blasphemy, but cars themselves are not inherently important. It’s the experiences, adventures, escapes, friendships, bonds, and memories that make them so. Cars, though they are ultimately inanimate objects, are invaluable. Along with the uplifting emotions brought by partaking in a hobby, one largely infused with communal experiences and adrenaline and excitement, cars have reminded us of what’s most important. And what isn’t. Cars in of themselves are simply large lumps of emotionless material. But what can be extracted from them is irreplaceable. That has never been more present than this year.

My wife, social distancing on the beach during the first wave

With that in mind, we look to 2021. Though some good came of 2020-- people bonding together, mainly-- it was largely a strenuous, exhausting year. I myself have big plans for 2021, namely exploring some sectors of the automotive world even further and in tandem continuing my academic pursuit in beginning my MBA degree. On that note, this marks my final installment of regular contribution to Everyday Driver. Todd and Paul have kindly allowed me to stop by whenever I have something to share. If nothing else, a few of us in the Discord are already planning a meetup. I’m hoping to be there, and hope to meet some of you all there as well. Thank you to the EDD team for having me on board. And to anyone who has stuck around to read my words and ramblings. Serving as part of this team has truly been a joy as has writing alongside my co-authors. And with my parting words, I leave you with this: Keep trying new things, keep learning, keep helping others, and keep driving. Let’s work towards more happiness, more car stuff, and more of the good that comes from the car community in the coming year.


And on that bombshell, it’s time for 2020 to end. Thank you all for your hospitality. It’s been a pleasure. Here’s to the future.


Signing off,

Ross


Me, year unknown, probably sometime around 1993/1994. Thank you to my brother for digging this up.

Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an ever-improving amateur autocrosser. I currently own an NC3 Miata Club PRHT and a 2005 4Runner Limited V8 (my third 4Runner in five years; yes, I have a problem).

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