Choosing the right words
David Bull, a proud and dedicated publisher of the most gorgeous automotive publications ever to grace a bookshelf or coffee table, died April 17. He was 59.
I almost never met David. In 1997, fresh from earning my undergrad degree in print journalism, I arrived in Phoenix and promptly interviewed for a slew of different newspaper gigs. At the same time, David posted a help wanted ad for an assistant at his relatively new publishing company. I was ready to take one of the staff writer positions offered to me and cancel my interview with David, but followed through out of curiosity, mostly. Next thing I knew, I was explaining to family and friends why exactly I’d temporarily abandoned my lifelong goal of working in a newsroom to make car books. I knew very little about publishing. I wasn’t even remotely into motorsports. But it sounded like a challenge. David’s enthusiasm and vision were infectious. I figured I could be a part of something different.
If you ever laid eyes on one of David’s books, you’d understand. He had a passion for his work, a keen eye trained on each and every stage of the project. He developed strong relationships with subjects, writers and vendors. He drilled down on every last detail with printers. He knew line edits as well as he knew the inside of an engine. He valued evocative images as much as the written word. Even the captions—heck, perhaps especially the captions—were worked and reworked until they helped tell their own story. All together, and with the help of his handpicked ace designer Tom Morgan, David published a slew of critically acclaimed books that set a benchmark in the industry.
I was only there for a part of it, but my three years working with David provided a ton of life lessons and indelible memories. We got behind the wheel with Rusty Wallace. We rubbed elbows with Jay Leno. We listened to Junior Johnson tell moonshine stories. We interviewed Richard Petty at an uncomfortably early hour; The King greeted us at the door of his infield trailer while still in his pajamas, but wearing, of course, his signature black hat and shades.
The personal moments meant even more and there are too many to mention. Weddings. Holidays. Otherwise mundane days at the office that turned into shittalking or deep life talks. We met each other at much different but similarly pivotal moments in our lives, both recently removed from back east and left to find our way in the desert. I had no idea what I was doing and he provided guidance. David knew how to make a stunning book, but building a company was new, and I’d like to think I did enough to help ease that burden.
About 10 years ago, David suffered severe injuries as the result of a motorcycle accident in California. He would never walk again. Against all odds, he persevered. He continued with the company. He kept up with life. He was surrounded by a team of doctors and therapists, and a loving family. But the effects of that crash eventually took their toll.
We stayed in touch over the years with occasional visits, phone calls and emails. I think it’s normal to wish those connections had been more frequent, especially after his crash. But when we did connect, no matter how much time had passed, it was easy to catch up. I always looked forward to hearing David launch into a story. It’s been said before, but the man had a way with words. No, not like that. Yes, he was eloquent. But it was how he spoke, and the care he took with choosing each word, that could turn an otherwise simple anecdote into an epic tale. He’d get good-naturedly teased about it, imitated, and wouldn’t care. I think it was important to him, no matter the medium, to tell a story in precisely the right way, even if that took a little extra time. I respected that careful attention. I never minded the pauses. In fact, I think I’ll miss them, and the stories that surrounded them, the most.
Image from Shelby Mustang GT350: My Years Designing, Testing and Racing Carroll’s Legendary Mustangs, published by David Bull Publishing.