A Quick Drive Down Memory Lane…
Wow. Look at that kid up there. He was 23, it was his third year running an independent automotive news website, and he was driving the coolest car of his life: a 2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Not his, of course, but the memory of that day remains strong. To him, it was the catalyst that pushed him from blogger to professional. From passenger to driver.
If you haven’t guessed yet, that guy in the driver’s seat is me, Chris Berke. Back in 2012 I founded a little blog called Sioux Falls Auto Reviews (SFAR) fresh out of college. Social Media was still in its infancy, Tumblr was hot, and WordPress looked to be the wild west of internet possibilities. During my senior year I had enrolled an Online Marketing course taught by some adjunct grifter that barely had a grasp on what Facebook could do. I should thank him, though, because what he failed to teach inspired me to start this website and, ultimately, my career as a professional web designer.
If I remember correctly, my first post on SFAR was about the upcoming Subaru BRZ; a brand new coupe from the company that made my then dream car the WRX STI. I downloaded some pictures from the Subaru press kit, regurgitated all the specs in paragraph form, and clicked publish. Then I did it again, and again, and again, and thought to myself, “Wow, this is so easy!”
But easy is lame. I quickly learned that I wasn’t original and I wasn’t unique. In other words, I was boring. So I picked up the ol’ point-and-shoot camera, went to a dealership, told them who I was and what I was doing, they gave me a funny look, and ultimately let me drive a 2012 Fiat 500 (under supervision, of course). This small and meaningful success was the exact spark I needed to evolve SFAR into something new.
*Note to any aspiring car reviewers: You can do this too! Just ask people/dealerships to drive, shoot, and review their cars. Be sincere. The worst they can say is no.
Enter Short Shift
Though I love my hometown, “Sioux Falls” is too limiting. I didn’t want anyone visiting the site to feel like the content didn’t pertain to them. So I made a decision. I ditched “Sioux Falls Auto Reviews” and bought the domain “Short Shift”. Dotcom was taken, but dotco is fresh and hip I tell you! Along with this change came a new logo, a website overhaul, and a new vision for the future.
First thing’s first, I needed a better camera. If I was to be taken seriously I had to look serious. Then, every weekend I would reach out to a dealership or a friend who had a new car. My excitement must have been infectious because this proved to be fruitful. I soon found myself behind the wheel of a new Volkswagen CC, a Dodge Charger SRT8, a new BMW 3-Series, and eventually that same Subaru BRZ I had so blindly copy/pasted about a year prior!
Then, in late 2013, I was driving my first supercar: this Maserati GranCabrio. Holy cow did that fulfill some internal checkbox in my dreams. The sound, the speed, the style, it was everything I had imagined. This was the moment where I felt like I had hit my stride and my validity as an automotive reviewer could no longer be questioned, ha!
A Grand Tour
I learned quickly that cars are literally everywhere and that I could take this show on the road. Anywhere I traveled, I shot cars, which fueled the popular section on this site: Spotted. I liked seeing unique cars out in the wild, so why wouldn’t other people? Well, much to my wife’s dismay, I often had a double-motive on vacations. When we were visiting Chicago in 2014, I had also made plans to visit the Chicago Auto Show and Mancuso Motorsports where the owner Rob happened to be in the office and took me around downtown in a brand new McLaren 12C. Since there are only two seats in a McLaren, I was in heaven, my wife was not.
*Rob, thanks for being so generous to a young guy like me. It meant a lot!
The world truly became my automotive oyster from there. I’ve shot pictures of classic Alfa Romeos in Italy, Maseratis in Nice, Lamborghinis in Florida, and even a Ferrari F40 in London. I attended Minnesota’s Cars & Coffee, the Chicago and Twin Cities Auto Shows, both the Central Crown (I think just “Crown” now) and Polar Run Rallies, and nearly every automotive event Sioux Falls had to offer. Short Shift was worldwide, baby!
The People You Meet Along The Way
I could not attribute any of Short Shift’s success to myself without the help of Connor McIntire and Steve Miller.
Connor, who still has a few articles floating around, helped out a ton back in the SFAR days. He was a good friend who was also passionate about cars and digital media and wanted to be involved with the only guy in town doing the same. He quickly grew out of the “volunteer car blogger” role and at one point even worked for Twitter. We still stay in touch. He lives in San Francisco now and is thriving.
Then there’s Steve Miller: my pal, my homeboy, my good-time boy. He reached out to me in 2013 and said, “Hey, my dad has a Range Rover, want to hoon around in the snow and do a review?” The answer was yes.
Steve opened a lot of doors for me and I (hopefully) have opened a few for him. He provided me with extra manpower that literally couldn’t be more custom tailored for an auto review website. He had owned something like 30 sports cars by the time he was 30, he was an engineer on the Formula SAE team at St. Thomas University, he was heavily involved in the Minneapolis car community, and he is an all-around great guy. Seriously, check out all of the stuff he’s done for Short Shift.
And that’s not to mention Pete, Bob, Brandi, Jason, Clint, Dustin, Kalli, Casey, Jake and all the other people who let me around their cars!
The CCSL Years
In 2014 I went to my first Cars & Coffee of Siouxland (CCSL) in Sioux Falls. It was at the Recovery Room—which I still to this day have not been inside—across the street from Sanford Hospital. I want to say maybe 20 cars showed up and there was a definitely a tiny demographic of participants: i.e. retired, wealthy, and had a car from the 70s or before.
When I got home, I reminisced about the Minneapolis Cars & Coffee and how wild it was. Could I also accomplish that? Could Short Shift sponsor it? It took me weeks to hunt down Bob, the former owner, and he said, “Yes, gladly!”
Next I had to find a parking lot that could sustain a pot load of cars without causing disruption in the heart of Sioux Falls (If you’ve been to a big city C&C, you know exactly what I’m talking about). I found a property manager at a bank that told me yes as long as after we left there was no trace we were ever there. Deal.
But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I went to a Starbucks inside a grocery store, ordered two of those cardboard “traveler” boxes, grabbed some cups, some donut holes, and headed to the lot on April 9, 2016. It was cold. Really cold. But I got more than 20 cars to show up: a variety of Porsches, two Nissan GT-Rs, and even an 80s Ferrari! Shivering, I knew the new CCSL was in business.
From 2014 to pre-pandemic 2021, I watched CCSL grow from 20 cars to nearly 200 at some shows (weather permitting). I ran CCSL entirely on donations and always used that money to improve the next show. With the help of the Sioux Falls automotive community I was able to provide better coffee, better donuts, and even orange cones to help ferry traffic.
Throughout the CCSL years I met two more great friends, Pete Hunstad and Clint Brunner. Pete helped me run the show, directed traffic, was an all-around friendly presence for the guests, and even honored me as a groomsman at his wedding (Congrats again!). Clint, as many local Sioux Fallsians know, has an extremely rare and unique collection of cars and knows them all inside and out, down to the smallest bolt. A true grease monkey and a major artery in the body of our local car community (Thanks for fulfilling multiple dream car experiences for me!).
In my entire time running CCSL I never had a single incident except for one motorcycle owner who decided to get cute and do a burnout. However, witnessing Pete run at full speed and banish the guy with great aplomb was worth the trouble!
Taking The Next Exit
Which brings me to today. With a heavy heart I am writing my final words for Short Shift.
It’s not that I don’t care about cars anymore—I do—just not in the same way I used to. I will always marvel at Koenigsegg’s next engineering breakthrough, or how angular and wedgelike a Lamborghini can truly get, but I find myself leaning in a different direction when I personally consume automotive news nowadays. I want to know how efficient we can make a 4-cylinder engine, I want to know the policy changes to bring electric cars to the masses (not just the wealthy), and I want to know how we can decrease the impact the automotive and oil industry has on the environment. Going fast is cool, yes, but so is living on an Earth that can still sustain ours and future lives, and Ford announcing a brand new V8 Mustang just doesn’t feel like the right direction to me—Especially when we know how damn fast the Ford GT’s turbo 6 already is!
But I digress. 2022 was a big year for me change-wise. I handed of CCSL to Shulte Subaru of Sioux Falls (which is going quite well!), I published my second novel (and started my third), and I’ve taken on a larger role at The Premiere Playhouse at the Orpheum Theatre Center (Come see a show, they’re great!). On top of that I’ve started a self-publishing LLC (SoDak Publishing), received a grant to help other local authors, been more involved with gardening and tailoring my backyard for optimal hangouts, playing video games with friends who live all over the country, and revived my hobby of frisbee golf.
I guess what I’m trying to say is life solidifies in your 30s. You learn the necessity of balancing your hobbies, your work, and your free time. That sometimes means sacrifices need to be made, especially when they aren’t getting the attention they deserve. I had a great run with Short Shift, and 10 years feels like the perfect time for me to (metaphorically) close the doors, take a step back, and just be proud of what was accomplished by a couple of dudes in the Midwest.
Don’t worry, though. I’m still in Sioux Falls. I’m still driving my 1981 VW Rabbit. I’m still hanging out with Steve. This website will still remain live. And I’ll still see you from time to time at CCSL.