As a boy growing up in Laurel, Miss., Ed Hinton would lie in bed on Saturday nights and hear a horrific noise emanating from somewhere beyond the backyard trees. Hinton now refers to the heart-pumping, ear-piercing sound as "my siren song," but when he asked his parents, James and Alice, about the noise, they made it seem more like the imprecations of the devil. "They'd say it was from the stock car racing at the fairgrounds and that I could never, ever go there," Hinton recalls. "They said old sorry people went there. Looking back, I suppose it was that taste-of-sin thing that attracted me to car racing."
Our introduction this month of INSIDE MOTOR SPORTS, written by Hinton, now an SI senior writer, focuses on stock car, as well as Indy Car and Formula One, racing. The column, which appears this week and will be published 11 more times over the next eight months, provides motor sports fans with the lowdown on drivers and owners, dirt from the pits and perspective on, well, some of the sorry developments on the various racing circuits.
In 1957, as a nine-year-old member of Cub Scout Pack 38, Ed finally made it to the Laurel Fairgrounds Speedway. "My parents figured if the Scouts were going, it was probably O.K.," he says. There he witnessed an onslaught of colors, sounds, smells and personalities that, to this day, remains vivid, and he was hooked on car racing. Hinton, who graduated from Southern Mississippi in '70, saw his first NASCAR event at Daytona in '74 and began covering motor sports for The Orlando Sentinel that year. He moved on to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National before joining SI six years ago. Today he's regarded as one of America's foremost experts on the subject. "I've been waiting a long time for this," says Hinton, who lists son Tyler, 9, as his personal motor sports reference source. (For Halloween, Tyler is dressing up as driver Mark Martin.) "Getting SI up to speed with motor sports is a great thing."
Senior editor Steve Madden, 34, who oversees our motor sports coverage, is as fascinated by auto racing as Hinton is, but his infatuation with the sport isn't as deeply rooted. "I came to racing later in life," says Madden, who grew up in Boston and never attended a race as a kid. "But I did learn to drive in Boston, which in and of itself makes you a fan of trading paint." Still, he cared little for the sport until eight years ago, when M magazine assigned him to write a profile on driver Emerson Fittipaldi, of whom Madden knew nothing. "I tried hard to get out of doing that story," Madden says, "but after I'd been at the track for 10 minutes, I thought auto racing was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I was flat-out sold."
Madden went on to cover the auto industry for FORTUNE and then took the wheel at SI in 1996. He points to NASCAR's single-day crowds this year—300,000 at the Brickyard 400 and 150,000 at Daytona, to cite two examples—as proof that, more than ever, INSIDE MOTOR SPORTS has an audience. "When I was a kid, SI always had those motor sports covers," he says. "It's nice to go back to those roots."
Who knows? Maybe even Ed's parents would have agreed.