• Matthew Hansen is a staff writer with the Herald's motoring section, Driven.
Where do we begin? Last Wednesday's Herald sported, perhaps for the first time, a Holden VL Commodore on the cover. Wedged between a promo for Viva's wellbeing issue and yet another story about an actor sentenced for sexual assault, the Commodore image was fronted by the words: "Let's deflate boy racers".
A few pages in and there's the opinion piece, by Rachel Stewart. It has also been published online, where it has taken a very wide range of motoring enthusiasts and put them into a neat little box.
"Day after day, and night after night, snotty nosed, pimply faced little males in hotted-up pieces of predominantly imported Japanese junk drive at speeds that would make Rocket Lab sit up and take notice," reads the most vitriolic passage. "These imbeciles drift sideways up and down the road, tyres smoking, stereo pumping, beer cans flying. On occasion, they wipe out and I am left to repair my fences. They always leave the scene before I can get to them.'
Can BMW or Audi drivers not be "boy racers" too? I didn't know the label was socioeconomically exclusive.
The gist of the story is that the author lives on an intersection in Whanganui that attracts "boy racers". This is then linked to the increasing road toll, as well as the lack of action from authorities. Yes, a very familiar story.
Let's get this out of the way early - "boy racer" is a ridiculous and outdated term. Much of the country's modified car culture is propped up by the middle-aged, and by women. We're a world leader for female involvement in motorsport.
The "boy" aspect isn't exactly prevalent in the New Zealand Transport Agency's numbers for road deaths either. In the past 12 months, 379 drivers have been killed, and the three biggest age groups represented are those from 25-39 (103), 60-plus (91), and 40-59 (91). By contrast, deaths for those aged 15-19 number 25, and 52 for 20- to 24-year-olds.
I'm no rocket scientist, but those numbers are smaller. So why empower an outdated, incorrect term like "boy racer"? Apart from making it easier to shoehorn stories like this into a "them and us" binary, it plays off an idea that has followed car enthusiasts around like a bad smell for decades.
Then there's the photo at the head of the story. The author didn't choose the image but after a little bit of cyber investigation (my generation's only true skill), I found the person. His name is Brett Kenny.
Brett's nose isn't snotty, nor is his face painted with pimples. Brett is actually a significant part of the movement to give drivers an outlet where they can lay rubber on to pavement in safety.
He is part of the crew that runs the New Zealand Burnout Champs alongside Jenn and Ricky Ireland. If you know burnouts, you're probably very familiar with Ricky Ireland's bright green Holden HZ ute, a vehicle that is probably as far from being "Japanese junk" as is measurably possible.
The elephant in the room, as always, is the implication that speeding is inherently dangerous. That's a Pandora's Box of its own and perhaps a topic to be revisited on another day.
If there's one element of the piece I can agree with, it's the author's criticism of an apparent lack of action from the police. "I've called the police but, every single time they've said they don't have enough manpower to deal with the situation," she said. "If the local council doesn't care, and the police won't accept video evidence of dangerous driving that risks both life and limb, then what can we do?"
We in the car community are not here to defend the people who use their cars to terrorise public streets. They aren't car enthusiasts, they're morons. And if there's anyone who hates their behaviour more than local residents, it's us.
As far as offenders are concerned, the police should be more than capable of giving them a tune up. Loss of licences, seizing of cars - all options should be on the table. Just don't let misinformation spread. The motoring community is welcoming, multi-faceted and packed with some of New Zealand's smartest and most knowledgeable people.
"Boy racer twits"? That's the language of the uninformed.