Brendan McAleer writes stories about cars, but it was his photography that recently won the Agassiz-raised auto journalist praise from his industry.
McAleer won first place in Pirelli’s photography prize for published images, an award of the 2015 Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s (AJAC) annual journalism awards.
“Photography is just something I learned to help fill out the writing side, as I’m often out on assignment by myself,” he said.
Good writing is what the Vancouver-based storyteller is most proud of, but “the best pieces are of course those that incorporate both,” he added.
The photo that won McAleer the award is a sunset silhouette on the racetrack at the 30th Nismo (Nissan Motorsports) festival at Fuji Raceway just outside of Tokyo.
“They were positioning the cars after a couple of victory laps, and I happened to turn, catch the fading light just right, and line up the track marshall, the car, and the 30th anniversary Nissan banner,” the young journalist said, though he credits some luck as well.
McAleer started writing for community newspapers about 10 years ago and worked his way up to work with Postmedia publications, including the Vancouver Sun and the National Post.
He also contributes to Road & Track and various Canadian and U.S. automotive websites.
And though McAleer loves cars, it’s the people that make the stories he tells.
“Cars are only interesting because of the human element, and this year I’ve been lucky enough to tell a couple of great stories,” McAleer said.
He listed some of his favourites from 2015: how Jack Lord’s stunt double ended up with the Mercury Marquis from Hawaii 5-0; how a little Honda Civic helped a Japanese woman become a new Canadian; how a couple of English hot rods represent a pair of brothers (one near the end of his life); how a Datsun 510 embodies the service-minded spirit of the veteran who sold the most poppies of anyone in Canada; and how Terry Fox’s support van still survives today.
McAleer grew up with British cars in the family—a Land Rover and an MGB—that they were constantly needing to “wrench” to keep them on the road.
“Two cars like that, you either get the automotive bug or you buy a Prius and never look back,” he said.
That interest has grown into a successful career for McAleer who said it isn’t easy to get paid for auto journalism.
There are plenty of publications that will take free work, but it takes time to earn a living from the craft.
Some of his former peers have even left journalism to find work in product planning for the big automakers, working on behind-the-scenes kit McAleer and his like have to wait to write about.
But he enjoys doing what he does, and credits his success to a work ethic inspired by his father’s words: “chance favours the prepared mind.”
McAleer recognizes that hard work produces the kind of “luck” that aligned all of the elements of his award-winning photo.
“Getting the award was great, the accolade from my colleagues, but it’s more important to me to get a short email from a reader saying nothing more than ‘good job,’ he said. “It’s a privilege to have an audience, and that’s something I try to remember.”
He hopes that audience will one day see a feature article with his byline on the cover of Road & Track. He’s been a reader of the magazine since his childhood in Agassiz, where he said there might still be a few Hot Wheels buried in the backyard of his family’s old house.