Life lessons learned from 30 years at GRM

David S.
By David S. Wallens
May 29, 2024 | Blog, Columm | Posted in Columns | From the May 2024 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

It was a weekend of light bites and an open bar at $350 a head, a poolside spread presented by smiling faces, and locally caught seafood that practically melted in the mouth. Even the lunch in the media center looked fairly deluxe. 

The one meal that I actually chewed during the recent Amelia Island concours weekend? A Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich eaten in my hotel room around 11:00 at night. By the glow of my laptop, I got to savor every bite–no answering questions, no grabbing photos, no rushing to the next item on my agenda.

[How to enjoy The Amelia with your classic car]

And at that moment, a light went off: Perhaps I should slow down a tick and just take a few extra moments to chew my food. 

In early April–or was it late March?–I will have celebrated 30 years here at Grassroots Motorsports, nearly all of them heading up the editorial department. That’s a lot of files proofed, captions written and assignments assigned. 

As I have been approaching that milestone–apex? zenith?–several things have been on my mind. Maybe sharing that list will help the rest of the class–or at least allow my brain to fret over something else now that these have been expressed. 

Chew your food. Okay, we covered that. 

Put the audience first. When I started here, the scene was awash with magazines. We had the class-leading buff books staffed by all the Cool Adults plus a slew of specialty titles employing the nerds that I partnered with at press events. Today, we’re one of the last titles left. 

Something that I think helped us remain relevant? Keeping the spotlight on the audience. If you do that, everything else–circulation numbers, advertiser base, inner peace, etc.–should fall into place. We’re no different than our readers, J.G. often jokes, but just with access to press cars. 

Don’t put off things that annoy you. When I rebuilt the engine in my Porsche some 15 years ago, I went with a “stage 1” clutch from an advertiser. Gotta keep everyone happy and involved, right?

Guess what? That clutch has sucked since that day: It’s either on or off and, oh, it also chattered. I just went back to a stock unit–finally–and it totally transformed the driving experience. Just as life’s too short to drink bad wine, it’s also too short to drive around with a miserable clutch. If you have the means, take the time and spend the money to fully dial it in. 

Maintain a proper work/life balance. I continue to totally miss the boat on this one, and my apologies to friends and family. 

Surround yourself with good people. Sarah recently asked what has kept me here for 30 years. The people, I told her. Look at the names on the masthead. Many have been there for decades. 

Be nice. I’m going to quote Colin here: It costs nothing to be kind. Personally, I know I can do better here. (Also related: Never stop working to improve.)

Learn something new. I have been serious about my photography since middle school, so in round numbers, let’s say the past 40 years. Yet I still learn something every time I pull the camera from the bag.  

During the past year or so, I have been working with some local models on my people photography skills. The photos that I made of Rick, my Porsche mechanic, while swapping in that new clutch? I’ll be honest: I’m stunned. The David of even a year ago wouldn’t have come up with that composition and lighting. The images are less about Tab A going into Slot B and more about showing a craftsman working in the zone. Enough technical documents exist. It’s time to tell the story. Take the extra minute to get the lighting right. 

Walk the course three times. Two times isn’t enough, and four will make you tired. What are the cones trying to tell you? On the third walk-through, all will be revealed.

Simple fun is still fun. A friend and I had plans to attend cars and coffee today. Then his car wouldn’t start. Could I bring over a jump pack? Truth be told, I enjoyed that little adventure more than making small talk with people I didn’t really know. Then we got Waffle House. A perfect outing. 

Pay it forward. Whether I finish second or third at a local autocross doesn’t really matter anymore. The F1 scouts have stopped sniffing around. Helping the novices–our next generation–provides more personal reward. Breathe, eyes up and smooth inputs. Good luck and have fun. 

Last life lesson: Spoil your family, spoil the dog.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Blog and Columm articles.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/29/24 12:50 p.m.

I love your work.

I know I've commented before that I always read the editorial content first, and that the editing is especially good. I have an eye for grammar and punctuation. It's extremely rare to find something that slipped through the editing process. 

That said, I consider myself fortunate to know you and be able to share our time together. Spreading kindness is also something you do well. I'm proud to know you. 

Wonderful column.



John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
5/29/24 1:30 p.m.

GRM board wisdom:

Don't get it (bedliner paint) on your hootus.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
5/29/24 3:13 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

Be nice. I’m going to quote Colin here: It costs nothing to be kind. Personally, I know I can do better here. (Also related: Never stop working to improve.)

I really try to remind myself of this at least once a day. I always feel it's important to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

Andy Hollis
Andy Hollis
5/29/24 3:39 p.m.

David (and Sarah) are the ones that make my drivel sound interesting and not like some engineer wrote a tech sheet...which is exactly what's happened.

It's amazing how just a little wordsmithing can totally change the voice.

Thanks, David!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/29/24 4:47 p.m.

Thank you for the kind words. The editing, planning and proofing might not be the most exciting parts of what we do, but they keep things moving along with a consistent voice and message. 

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) MegaDork
5/29/24 4:54 p.m.

I literally just came in from torpedoing my own wheel sale to a guy and read this post. He wanted my wheels for his DelSol , which they wouldn't fit, and I told him to refurbish his current wheels , as they'll be nicer and cheaper for him. He was all apologetic for wasting my time. I'm retired and have all the time in the world, nothing to apologize for. Besides, I met another "car guy" , saved him a few bucks, and now I know how to properly pronounce "Nguyen". Life is good if you let it.

Edit: ...and hanging out with the people on this website certainly helps.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
5/29/24 4:57 p.m.

Congrats on 30 YEARS at GRM, David! As always, excellent story. Keep up the great work! 

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) MegaDork
5/29/24 4:59 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Well done, Sir.  Since I've been reading the magazine since 1986ish, and I'm too lazy to go dig out an old copy from the basement, who was editor before you came along?

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/29/24 9:24 p.m.

In reply to DeadSkunk (Warren) :

Someone you might know and love: JG. 

PlutoE210 GRM+ Memberand New Reader
5/29/24 9:30 p.m.

I don't chew my food, I aspirate it. But I won't get into Amelia island with that behavior.. 

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners