How and Why to Become a Road Test Driver

The road test is a mandatory part of the driver’s license application process in all fifty states. This can be the most stressful and nerve-wracking step to take, but it will help you become more familiar with your vehicle. The article provides tips on how to prepare for and pass this long-anticipated moment.

The “test driver salary” is a job that has been around for years. It’s an important job, and it can be rewarding to those who have the skills. If you’re interested in becoming a road test driver, there are many factors to consider.

In Canada, Arthur St. Antoine is testing a Reynard Formula 3000 racing vehicle.

We’re back with another installment of our So You Want My Job series, in which we speak with guys who work in coveted positions and ask them about the realities of their employment as well as tips on how men might achieve their goals.

Do you like going on adventures? Would you want to be compensated for taking one? Do you like driving? Do you like driving them at high speeds? Would you want to get compensated for writing about having fun and driving fast?

Does it seem too good to be true? Arthur St. Antoine, for example, holds such a position. Mr. St Antoine has a James Bond-like background, since he is a seasoned race driver, pilot, scuba diver, and photographer. Instead of employing his espionage abilities, he uses them as an explorer, writer, and Editor at Large for Motor Trend, where he tests and evaluates 150-200 automobiles each year.

Whether you’ll ever get to drive a Ferrari for a day at the workplace or not, Mr. St. Antoine’s advice on landing your ideal job is spot on. Thank you very much, Arthur, for this fascinating and inspirational interview!

Check out Arthur’s blog, “The Asphalt Jungle,” at Motor Trend to discover more about him and read more of his work.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What is your age? (Which school did you attend?)

On the eve of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, I was born in Washington, D.C. on Pearl Harbor Day, 1960. As a wide-eyed young lad, Washington was an inspiring place to live—especially during the time I was there. I recall going to the old Smithsonian and seeing some of the first Mercury and Gemini spacecraft not long after they’d flown in space—they were still hot from re-entry. It had a long-term impact on me.

Later, my family relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan (my father was a law professor and, for seven years, dean of the Michigan law school). I went to the University of Michigan myself, albeit I didn’t do very well academically. I was able to get an English degree. My younger brother and two younger sisters went on to acquire post-graduate degrees from Ivy League schools. Me? I went to race-driving school after college.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career as a journalist, road test driver, or road test editor? When did you realize you wanted to do it?

I can’t claim I’ve always known “what I wanted to be.” I still don’t believe it. I’ve always been interested in literature, adventure, exploration, and unusual machines. “Jacques Cousteau’s Undersea World” transformed my perception of what’s “out there” and what’s achievable in life when I was a kid. When I first saw Cousteau, I knew I wanted to live like him—to travel, explore, discover, and challenge myself to develop new and uncommon abilities. Of course, I had no idea how I’d go about it. The 1969 moon landing, which I saw live on our worn old Zenith, was also a surprise for me. While I never considered becoming an astronaut, the daring of Apollo 11 and the subsequent missions definitely inspired me. Since then, I’ve earned certifications as an advanced scuba diver and a licensed aircraft pilot.

 

Automobiles, especially Formula 1 racing vehicles, also piqued my interest. I was captivated on the 1966 film “Grand Prix” after seeing it on a Saturday afternoon when I was a teenager. In areas like Monte Carlo, modern-day knights in little cigar-shaped rockets were fighting at astonishing speeds. It wasn’t enough for me to merely see such romance and spectacle from the sidelines; I knew I wanted to participate myself sometime. As a result, I paid a visit to a race-driving school after graduation.

3. Many guys would salivate at the prospect of working for you. How did you come to be in this position?

Take every work, no matter how minor, seriously. It instills professionalism in you. And you have no way of knowing what relationships you’ll create or what examples you’ll set for yourself. I worked at a high-end Ann Arbor restaurant during the summers (and some evenings during the school year) serving tables and performing catering duties. After I graduated from college (and quit my restaurant job), the restaurant catered a party for Car and Driver magazine, which is also located in Ann Arbor. “You know, we have a former employee who likes your magazine and loves automobiles,” my ex-boss suggested to one of the C/D workers. In fact, he’s on his way to racing school.” “Really?” said the Car and Driver representative. So, send him on his way. “We’re on the lookout for a summer intern.”

It was like catching lightning in a bottle. I had a foot in the door at a blue-chip enthusiast newspaper without understanding how I’d ever leverage my passions for writing, vehicles, and adventure into a profession. Within a year, then-editor in chief Don Sherman, to whom I will be eternally grateful, promoted me to associate editor—a full-time position producing road tests and news stories—and gave me my dream job. I was promoted to managing editor two years later. The ME job was more of a desk job than I wanted—I was mostly editing other writers’ work and running the magazine’s production—but I accepted it because I knew it would be good preparation for the future. I left my job as managing editor after three years to pursue a full-time freelance career, with Car and Driver as my primary client. Fortunately, I had a supervisor (C/D editor in chief William Jeanes) who understood and supported my ambition to pursue a career as a writer.

After relocating to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, I began writing for magazines such as Men’s Journal, Marlboro’s Unlimited, Los Angeles, and others, focusing on adventure and automobiles. I’d come up with some crazy idea—climbing icebergs in Alaska, hanging out with NASA astronauts at Johnson Space Center, scuba diving on the wrecks where James Bond movies were made in Nassau—and then sell it to a magazine and get them to pay for it.

I worked as a copywriter in the advertising industry for a few years in the mid-1990s, always freelancing on the side (many nights I didn’t sleep!). Around 2002, I “swapped team flags” and became Editor at Large at Motor Trend magazine in Los Angeles. I write a column, road tests, features, and blogs for Motor Trend, but I also have the opportunity to explore outside topics like my adventure writing. In that regard, I’m quite fortunate. Personal liberty has always been at the top of my priority list.

 

4. What should a guy do if he wishes to follow in your footsteps? When a magazine or corporation hires a road test driver, what exactly are they searching for? How crucial is it to have personal contacts with individuals who are already in the industry?

Being a vehicle aficionado, of course, is quite beneficial. My encyclopedic knowledge of Formula 1 back when I first started in the business helped me land a full-time job (“Hey, Art. “Who won the 1961 World Driving Championship?” says the narrator. “Phil Hill,” says the narrator, “mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I was really enthusiastic about it, and it showed. I could also write. It’s not enough to just like automobiles. You must have good journalistic/English abilities, which you may get via college coursework, working for a local newspaper, or other sources. Of course, I’d saved up for performance-driving classes on my own before my first auto-magazine job and have continued to do so throughout my career. I’ve now attended 12-14 racing/high-performance driving schools in North America and France, and I’ve raced in classes ranging from Showroom Stock to Formula One. Nothing improves your driving abilities like getting some track experience (and, no, performance driving is a skill that cannot be learned on public roads).

It also helps if you know how to use a camera. In junior high and high school, I spent a lot of my leisure time taking photographs with friends and working in my own darkroom. Even if you don’t wind up taking images yourself, understanding what the photographer requires in terms of lighting, placement, and other factors may be quite beneficial during stressful projects.

Industry relationships are unquestionably important. In fact, each link has the potential to provide unanticipated advantages. That is why I often tell people that no task is too minor. You may be painting a guy’s home and he’s extremely thrilled with your work, and it turns out he knows someone who works at the office you’re trying to break into and is willing to put in a good word for you. Such a personal connection gets you beyond the stack of résumés on an HR representative’s desk. When you’re writing for publications, the process is the same. One editor knows another, and they refer you to them, and you find yourself with additional work. It always astounds me how casually some individuals approach excellent possibilities. Guys have landed internships at the automobile publications where I’ve worked, only to squander their opportunities by failing to listen, being haughty, driving carelessly, or just not trying hard enough. You’re either a trustworthy professional or you’re not. There is no such thing as a midway point.

Arthur St. Antoine in front of land rover in snowstorm. During a Land Rover adventure in Iceland, we were caught in a snowstorm.

5. What is it like to take a road test? What’s the best way to get down?

There are several misunderstandings regarding road testing, the most common of which is that you just get in the vehicle and stomp your right foot on the floor. A road test, in reality, is a highly rigorous process that combines painstakingly obtained scientific fact with perfectly honed human perceptions.

 

The different manufacturers often provide test vehicles to us from their nationwide press fleets. Alternatively, if a model is being unveiled for the first time, we’ll go to wherever the press conference is being held—which may be anywhere in the globe (manufacturers usually pick locales with great driving roads or scenery that will show well in photographs).

At Motor Trend, we aim to confine instrumented testing to one or two individuals who conduct it on a regular basis, which helps keep the findings consistent. We’ll drive the automobile to a test track (in Southern California, we utilize the drag strip at Auto Club Speedway or the old El Toro Marine Air Station runways), where we’ll do acceleration, braking, Figure 8, and other maneuvers. Weather correction has been applied to all data. I’ll often perform an acceleration burst or a few laps around the Figure 8 course after our driver has completed his instrumented runs, simply to get a feel for the vehicle when it’s pushed to its limits. We also hire racing circuits (such as Willow Springs in the Mojave) where we may do laps at high speeds while being somewhat safe. Pushing a vehicle to its limits tells a lot about its personality, but it’s not something you can do on the road.

There is also a lot of far more sedate on-road driving in road testing. What is the car’s ride like? What is the status of visibility? Is there any peace and quiet on the highway? How easy is it to use the different gadgets and controls? You learn what to look for after a time (I’ve been road-testing for almost 25 years), and you build up a library of experience from which to evaluate various kinds of automobiles. That’s why we attempt to drive and spend time in every new vehicle that comes out; it’s the only way to accurately compare one car’s strengths and flaws to those of another. Every year, I probably drive between 150 and 200 different automobiles.

After you’ve completed all of the actual test driving and photography (photography takes the most time), you sit down to write the review, generally including notes and comments from other coworkers who have also driven the automobile.

6. What is the coolest automobile you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving?

We drive practically every automobile available for sale in the United States—and more—as I said. So if you throw a dart at a car catalog, chances are I’ve driven it. But there are a few moments in my career that stick out.

In the 1980s, I had the opportunity to drive a 1931 Bugatti Royale, one of just six manufactured and the world’s most expensive automobile at the time (it was purchased for $8.1 million by Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza fame). It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but all I could think about the whole journey was the possibility of colliding with a hummingbird or anything else and causing $500,000 in damage. The motor did overheat a little and steam escaped from the radiator, which was alarming, but the vehicle was alright.

 

I’ve driven Ferraris on the Italian manufacturer’s own racing circuit (Fiorano), rode in an original Ford GT40 LeMans race vehicle with three-time world driving champion Sir Jackie Stewart, and recently raced a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 against a Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter plane. There are several remarkable instances in this work.

In 1998, I even conquered my own personal Everest by taking a test drive in a real Formula 1 Grand Prix racing vehicle. Of course, the vehicle was incredible, but it was the overall experience that was nearly overpowering. I was in the driver’s seat of the ultimate racing vehicle, the sort I’d dreamt about since first seeing “Grand Prix” more than 20 years ago, and I was really throwing it around a racetrack. My eyes were a little watery towards the conclusion of the exam…

7. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

Certainly, the automobiles are a part of it. It’s like becoming a military test pilot: you can’t get your hands on the stuff we use anywhere else. You won’t get to drive a prototype sports vehicle six months to a year before it’s available to the general public, regardless of how wealthy you are. That’s rather unique.

Travel has its highlights, such as when aircraft arrive on schedule and the destination is memorable. Over the years, I’ve met some really remarkable people: champion racing drivers, world-class pilots, authors, explorers, industrial titans, and smart engineers.

But the best part is putting it all together into a tale, the creative outlet, the writing. It may be both excruciatingly unpleasant and very rewarding.

8. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

Deadlines! In addition, the hours might be long—during comparative testing, for example, 12-14 hour days in the scorching desert are common—and the trip can be exhausting. I’ve been to Germany three times in the previous two months, the last time returning late Friday night from the Nürburgring racing circuit and leaving early Saturday morning for the desert and the Motor Trend Car of the Year competition. Jet lag is not an option.

9. How do you strike a balance between job, family, and personal life?

Being away from my wife and kid (she’s nine) is the most difficult aspect. I miss a lot of my daughter’s school activities, and despite the fact that she’s been taking tennis lessons since last spring, I’ve never seen her play. That has an effect on you. When I’m at home, I try to spend as much time as possible with my daughters—we’ll go on a Malibu walk, to the beach, to the Getty Museum, or just hang out. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful wife who not only understands the demands of my career, but also keeps our home operating while I’m away. I couldn’t have done it without her.

I’m always homesick, but I simply have to push it out of my mind. The truth is, this is how I make a living. You can’t be an explorer while sitting at a desk.

 

10. What is the most common misunderstanding about your job?

Ferraris, Ferraris, Ferraris! Yes, we drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and other exotic cars, but we also drive Hyundai Elantras and Toyota Corollas. It’s like the old legend about test pilots with their silk scarves and bravado; in reality, the work entails a lot of tedium, careful observation, and extensive note-taking, much like test flying. Besides, for every hour I spend driving a nice vehicle, I probably spend 15-20 hours doing road tests, features, or blogs on the internet.

11. Do you have any further advice, recommendations, or anecdotes to share?

Make an effort to do things that terrify you as frequently as possible. That does not imply that you should jump out of an aircraft every day. It may be a work change you’re hesitant to make, an activity you’re curious in but frightened to undertake, or just asking that attractive lady out on a date. The things you didn’t do are the ones you’ll regret the most later in life. I saw a couple of my heroes die in racing accidents when I was younger (Gilles Villeneuve’s death in the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix was a huge shock). Then I made a promise to myself: “Push, Arthur.” The time is running out. I don’t want to look back at 70 and think, “I wish I’d…”

I had intense bursts of terror when I first soloed in an airplane—I’m all alone, and I’ve got to bring this thing safely back to earth all by myself. It was horrible, and I had to intentionally convince myself to stay calm and land. I could have gotten off the plane as soon as I got back to the runway. I, on the other hand, did not. I was alright the second time I flew alone, which was a week later. Most “dangerous” things, I’ve discovered, are frightening only because you don’t understand them—and you can only comprehend them by first pushing beyond your ridiculous worries.

I’ve always maintained that “complacency” is the worst word in the English language.

 

 

The “how to become an automotive test driver” is a process that can be difficult. It requires a lot of time and effort. However, it’s worth the work in the long run.

Related Tags

  • how to become a test driver for ferrari
  • test driver jobs
  • how to become a test driver for porsche
  • what does a test driver do
  • prototype car test driver