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Forget luck, forget Santa: It's all up to me

Dear Santa

Christmas was last week, and once again, there was no Lotus sports car under the tree. On the upside, you did leave me some socks and that nice carbon-fibre video-camera tripod.

But Santa, I do feel that our relationship has gone downhill, car-wise. The last truly boss automotive present you gave me was that wicked slot car set with the Monza Wall and Cheetah race car. That was in 1967. Maybe time is different up there at the North Pole, but down here, 44 years is a long time.

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So Santa, it has to be asked: What have you done for me lately? I think you know the answer.

Now 2012 is upon us. And my New Year's resolution is this: Carpe Diem, with an emphasis on Car.

I'm going to forget about Santa. I'm going to forget about luck. It's all up to me. If I want a sports car (or another Monza Wall) I have to get it myself.

The life of a car buff involves a lot of waiting. You wait for Santa. You wait until you're old enough to drive. You wait to get through university so you can buy a car. You wait to get a real job so you can buy a cooler car. Then the kids show up, you buy a house, and you're just as broke as you were before, only with more paperwork and complications. So no cool car. Then you wait again, until the kids are raised and the house is paid for (unless you live in Toronto, where your mortgage follows you into the afterlife, but you get my point).

As Martin Luther King once said, 'Wait' means 'never.'

So now I'm done with waiting. Four decades have passed since I got my driver's licence. The kids are mostly raised. So this year I am going to knock off at least three of my vehicular ambitions.

The list includes (but is not limited to) buying a sports car, driving across Canada from coast to coast again, breaking the 200-mph mark (322 km/h in case you were wondering), rebuilding my garage, doing Mulholland Drive in a fast car instead of a rental, going to the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race, driving a Formula One car, meeting Mario Andretti, driving to my little brother's grave site in the Black Forest, lapping the Nurburgring, visiting a Formula One engineering shop, and touring the Porsche, BMW and Ferrari factories. (I would also like to cure the front-end wobble that has plagued our 2002 Honda Accord, but this may be too much to ask.)

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Never mind – by this time next year, at least three items will be crossed off my list. Which items get done will depend on a few details (time, money, my wife's schedule, etc.) – but I guarantee that the list will get shorter.

Years ago, I came to the conclusion that life was like running across a river on broken ice – you have to keep moving, or the piece you're standing on will sink beneath you. That's what pushed me to become an auto mechanic, then a writer, have two kids, buy and rebuild a house, learn welding, photography and scuba diving, study literature and economics, ski the mountains I read about as a little boy, learn how to use a table saw without cutting off my fingers and, most important of all, make off with my roommate's girlfriend back in 1983 and marry her.

There was lots more of course. You know how it goes. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a writer and working on machines (cars, airplanes, etc.) But I didn't know how. At 19, I suddenly realized that I had to approach each year like Napoleon studying the map of Europe: I had to keep moving ahead. New territory had to be acquired. And I had to avoid a Russian campaign.

Looking around at my friends and acquaintances today, I see two camps: those who studied the map of Europe and ran on the ice, and those who didn't.

The map-studying ice-runners have done the best. Some of them have sports cars, some of them don't, but all of them achieved something. My friend Bill Lishman became an artist, invented a lot of cool things, and pioneered flying with migratory birds in an ultra-light airplane (he teaches them their lost routes south). My friend Dan got rich, raised three nice kids, bought a bunch of Porsches – and stayed married to the same woman (which isn't always the case when it comes to Porsche guys).

I'm not in the same league as Bill and Dan (or most of my other friends, for that matter). But I did keep running across the broken ice, and some good things happened as a result. I got paid to write. I got to go free diving in the Caymans with the world's best. I flew an F16 and the Red Bull race plane. I met Madonna and James Brown. I got three miles high in a hang glider. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan and came back alive. I raced motorcycles and left the sport without needing crutches. I got to dedicate a National Newspaper Award to my dad before he died. And I stayed married.

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Those things may not be that big a deal to most people, but I'm happy about them (especially the F16 and staying married). And I'm already older than many people thought I'd get to be (an early demise was predicted thanks to my penchant for fast cars, hang gliding and free diving).

So far, so good. But it's new year, and there are still a lot of roads to drive. There is a son to get through three more years of university and into law school. And there is a sports car that needs to get installed in my garage. Here's to 2012 – and to keeping the pedal to the metal.

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About the Author
National driving columnist

Peter Cheney launched his driving column after 25 years as an award-winning feature writer, investigative reporter and news correspondent. His writing steers clear of industry jargon to focus on human experience and the passion of driving. More

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