On September 11, 2001, Sharon Silke Carty was working for Dow Jones Newswire in a building across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center.
“We could see everything happening,” she recalls via Zoom. “The whole building shook when the first tower fell. We had to evacuate. It was terrifying, obviously.”
One week later, Silke Carty’s husband, Jim Carty, also a journalist, got a call from the Ann Arbor News, offering him a job as a sports columnist. They had an infant daughter and “thought it would be a good time to get out of Dodge for a while.”
The move steered Silke Carty’s career in a new direction: automotive journalism. After a series of increasingly responsible jobs, three years ago she became the first woman to edit the country’s biggest car magazine, Ann Arbor–based Car and Driver. “I never would have seen myself ending up here,” she marvels.
She may not have planned on a career in the business, but Silke Carty, forty-nine, always loved cars and driving fast—traits she inherited from her Irish-born dad, Patrick Silke.
Back home, she says, he had run “illegal road rallies” in Minis. A summer job for a Connecticut company called Galway Crystal brought him to the U.S., and he ended up as chief operating officer of New Jersey–based Waterford Wedgwood USA.
Her mother, Helen Silke, followed him from Ireland. They married here and raised their daughters—Silke Carty has a younger sister, Tara—in Midland Park and then Freehold Township.
The family cars were nothing to brag about. “I mean, we owned a Gremlin at one point,” Silke Carty says. “We had an Oldsmobile wagon for a long time.” But when her father took her and her friends places, “he was always driving alarmingly fast. For them. To me, it just seemed normal.”
She learned to drive from him. She didn’t know much about cars then, she recalls, but “I loved just getting into a car and driving, especially late at night just to kind of clear the brain.”
In high school she was “super uncomfortably, awkwardly shy.” But when she left for Rutgers, she was determined to “really put that aside and work on being the person I wanted to be.” She worked on the student paper and graduated with a double major in political science and journalism.
After graduation, she interned at the Courier-News in nearby Bridgewater. She and Jim met there and married in 1997, a year after her father died. “We bought a house and had a baby in 2000.”
Her job dovetailed with Jim’s as a sportswriter, since she worked days and he worked nights. “That seemed to work out” for them, she says—but then came 9/11, and Jim’s job offer in Ann Arbor.
Silke Carty transferred to Dow-Jones Newswire in Detroit, where she “dove into” automotive reporting. “I started learning the industry … everything I could, talking to everyone I could.”
She moved on to USA Today, where the auto beat became “all-consuming” during the 2008–2009 financial crisis, when Chrysler and GM went bankrupt. She recalls a crowded press conference when Tom LaSorda was named CEO of Chrysler.
“Everyone was trying to ask him a question—a very pointed question—essentially it was sort of ‘what makes you good enough to be a CEO?’
“I don’t remember how I rephrased it but I said, ‘Tom, what everybody really wants to know is how you go from being the warehouse guy to CEO of the company?’
He gave a very good, clear answer … ‘I’ve been able to cut through the BS.’ ”
But as a woman in a macho industry, she also had to deal with aggressive sexual overtures and overt hostility. Once, at press conference, she tried to sit down next to a group of male German reporters. She was obviously pregnant and there was an open seat, but they moved to block her.
“The men wouldn’t let me sit down!” she recalls. “It was really bizarre.”
After USA Today she worked for Autoblog and Yahoo Autos before joining Automotive News in 2016. Then, in 2019, Car and Driver reached out.
“At first I didn’t think I was going to be a great fit, because I was a bit of a late bloomer in learning the automotive passion,” she says. “Many of the people there have been into cars since they were two or three years old. But the challenges have to do more around journalism and writing and media.”
During her two-and-a-half year tenure, Silke Carty writes on LinkedIn, she “reorganized staff to focus on print and digital products simultaneously,” and won more female readers. But the job, she says, “was really all-consuming. I’m still kind of an introvert at heart, so it left me at the end of the day just really wiped out.”
In December, she moved up to oversee content strategy and audience development for all three of Hearst Magazines’ automotive titles—Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Autoweek. She’ll concentrate “on new media parts—video, podcasting, newsletters.” It’s exciting, she says, to be in a job where “there’s a lot of things that need to be thought out and worked out.”
When the Ann Arbor News cut back in the late 2000s, Jim Carty went to law school—he’s now an attorney with the Department of Justice in Detroit. Their daughter, Sabina, a U-M senior, is at home this semester, along with their high school freshman son, PJ. Middle child James is in the Marines.
To Silke Carty, her career seems like it happened by magic. She just wishes her father had lived to see it. He died at forty-eight, a year younger than she is now.
“One of my biggest sore spots is how much fun he would be having with me in this job,” she says. Consciously or not, though, she channels him when she’s at the wheel.
“I took some readers around for our ‘Ten Best’ [issue], and I thought I was just driving normally. But I was kind of getting from them the kinds of looks my father would get from my friends when I was a kid.
“One of them said I was the fastest woman he had ever driven with. I took that as quite a prize.”