A note about the hats

So there’s this hat thing going around (a hat movement!) where people seem to want JeffGluck.com-branded hats.

It started as a sarcastic Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweet, and others joined in on the fun. He later continued the prank — a well-executed troll job, to be sure! I thought it was pretty hilarious.

But now I’m getting a lot of tweets along the lines of: “Hey, that was funny, but we actually do want hats. When are the hats coming?” On top of that, no less than nine people (some very reputable!) have already reached out in the last 24 hours with offers to help me create and produce hats.

That’s all very nice, and I’m certain many of you are serious that you would actually buy JeffGluck.com hats. Super cool of you to be so supportive!

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel totally comfortable with selling hats. Or T-shirts. Or any merchandise, for that matter.

Look, I’m absolutely THRILLED people are so pumped about my new adventure, and it’s going amazingly well so far. At the same time, though, I’m still a journalist covering your favorite sport; I’m not in the sport.

As a media member, I’m supposed to be a go-between linking you with the drivers, so you can find out more information about them and get insight into their personalities. My job is to observe the show, not to be part of it.

I know at times that line has been blurred — especially after the Las Vegas fight video put me in a brief spotlight — but the mission with this site remains a journalistic one more than a business one. I want to have fun with you while watching everything unfold together.

So for now — and I say this despite much respect and appreciation for your wishes — there aren’t going to be any hats. I don’t want to rule out merchandise at some point in the future, but we’re only two months into this whole thing and I want to keep building the website/podcast in a respectable way — not cheapening it with JeffGluck.com coffee mugs and keychains.

Help from an unlikely source

A lot of you might not have heard of Patreon until I started talking about it a couple weeks ago, so I wanted to share how I learned of the site in the first place.

I’m a huge fan of the Survivor podcasts hosted by Rob Cesternino (his podcast is called “Rob Has A Podcast;” his website is RobHasAWebsite.com. Rob has this fun-loving tone to his work (which also extends to many other reality shows) and it’s clear he has a true passion and enthusiasm for what he does. His friendly nature also makes you feel like you could be buddies, which I love.

Anyway, Rob sometimes mentions a link where listeners can go to “learn about the benefits of becoming a patron.” That piqued my curiosity last year, so I went to the site he mentioned: His Patreon page.

I signed up for $5 a month — I get enjoyment from his podcasts and wanted to support them — and initially didn’t think much more about it. But when I found myself in a situation where I may need to change jobs, I started thinking about whether Patreon would work for supporting other kinds of journalism.

But Rob wasn’t just the inspiration for my move. He actually took time to help me with it.

I wrote Rob an email in early January and told him about my plan, thanking him for unknowingly introducing me to a potential new career path.

To my surprise, he not only wrote back, but suggested we hop on the phone.

A few days later, Rob took more than 30 minutes out of his day to help a complete stranger learn more about Patreon and talk through some of the pluses and minuses of the site. And before hanging up, Rob highly encouraged me to start a podcast in addition to just writing on this site.

As a fan of Rob’s, it was a total thrill for me to get advice from someone who is doing it right in the digital world — and feel like I was on my own personal episode of RHAP at the same time. So I wanted to publicly thank him for all his help in getting me started.

Thank you, Rob!

By the way, if you’re a Survivor fan and you don’t subscribe to Rob’s podcasts…what in the world are you doing? His weekly “Survivor Know It Alls” with Stephen Fishbach during the season are absolute must-listens for every Survivor fan (they immediately break down the strategy after the show) and his exit interviews with booted castaways following each vote always shed light on what really happened on the island.

Seriously, I talk my friends’ ears off about what I learned each week on the podcast (ask poor Alan Cavanna). So listen to them; I promise you’ll be a more informed Survivor fan.

Screenshot from one of RHAP’s Survivor Know It Alls episodes. Rob and Stephen live-stream the episodes on YouTube and then post them for podcast listening later.

So, about that name…

As you might have heard, I’m now “Jeff Gluck from JeffGluck.com.” And people seem to be getting a kick out of the name.

For example:


It sounds funny and it IS funny. I’m laughing along with everyone else, and people sort of grin when they ask me if I’m keeping the name.

The truth is, I tried to come up with a bunch of different names before launching this new venture. None have worked out so far, but I figured you might get a kick out of the backstory.

At first, I thought I hit on a good name: Starting40.com (get it? Forty cars in a NASCAR race?). I bought the website domain and then even convinced the dude who had the Twitter name @Starting40 to give it to me for free (although I sent him a $25 gift card to Amazon because I felt bad).

But then I realized there was a big problem: It looks there might not be 40 cars in many Cup races this year! So that would be pretty dumb if I used it and it was really a starting 37.

Next, I thought of a really cool website name that involved the word “restart” in it (I don’t want to say what exactly it is). It would be appropriate because I’m restarting my career and there’s an obvious racing connection to the word, too.

So I looked up the dude who owns the site (which doesn’t have anything on it) and emailed him out of the blue, asking if he’d consider selling it. I got a reply saying it was his wife’s site and he needed to talk to her about it.

A couple days later, some good news!

Hi Jeff,

I talked to my wife and she is ok potentially selling the domain so if you like please name a reasonable price and see if we can work it out together. I was super pumped about this, but I wasn’t sure how much to offer. How much does a website name cost? I dunno.

I wrote back:

That’s very kind of her, please tell her thanks for considering it. I’ve actually never done this before and, embarrassingly, have no concept of what would be an appropriate price. Is $100 in the ballpark? No offense intended if not, I just really don’t know.

Well, apparently that was an insulting offer, because I never heard from them again despite following up several times. Damn.

Then I came across a site called OnTheTrack.com, and I thought that name was semi-cheesy but not terrible. And the site actually had a form on it where I could ask for sales info.

Sweet!

I filled it out and sent it off, with fingers crossed for a reasonable price.
Then I got this email back:

Hi Jeffrey,

My name is (Redacted) and I’m a Domain Broker with (Redacted). We represent the current owner of onthetrack.com.

I discussed this with my client and based on many criteria, their expectations are $19,000.00.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to make an offer. Thank you for your inquiry.

LOLOLOL … WHAT??? I couldn’t believe it. $19,000 for a website name? Who pays for this stuff?

Anyway, I went back to GoDaddy and tried to come up with a non-lame name that ends in a .com (I don’t want a .net or .info, personally) and struck out.

With time running out before my site launch, I realized I was stuck with JeffGluck.com for now.

My media friends have been very encouraging so far and keep telling me to say it in news conferences. “Own it,” they say. But instead, I’ve only said things like, “Hi, Jeff Gluck, over here in the middle” after initially mentioning it in the format changes presser.

Anyway, hopefully I can either come up with a good idea or enough money to buy a good name at some point.

In the meantime, we can all laugh together.

What’s Next

Dear Friends,

When I told you on Friday it was my last day with USA Today, there was a lot of speculation about why and what was next. Well, I’m here to give you those answers.

It might seem surprising/crazy/borderline insane to leave a great job voluntarily, but that’s what I did. Ultimately, it came down to this: USA Today needs a NASCAR writer in Charlotte, but I might not live in Charlotte for much longer.

My wife, Sarah, is trying to become a Child Life Specialist (someone who works in a children’s hospital and helps sick kids and their families). She’s currently doing an internship in New Mexico, and she’ll be able to look for jobs after she’s finished in May. It’s a no-brainer for me to support her career and I need to have the flexibility to relocate, because who knows where we’ll end up?

It also seemed obvious that it would be a jerk move to leave USA Today hanging in the middle of the season. What if Sarah gets a job at the start of the Chase and I leave them shorthanded? That wouldn’t be very professional, so this was the right time in order to give them a chance to replace me before the season.

So where does that leave us? Believe it or not, right here. This is my new home for NASCAR coverage.

Let me explain:

My plan is to start a reader-funded NASCAR website and podcast. I will work directly for you, write only about what I think interests you and won’t waste your time with things that don’t. There won’t be any clickbait because, if this works, my income won’t depend on pageviews.

— You can help me by giving small contributions through my Patreon page. Patreon is like a GoFundMe site, except it’s monthly; it offers a chance for people to support someone’s work by becoming a “patron.” So if enough people pledge a small amount (say $2 a month, the cost of one USA Today), I could keep covering NASCAR for a living and hopefully still travel to races.

— This will not be a subscription site. I thought for a long time about this, but I don’t want to put my NASCAR coverage behind a paywall. That would punish the people who might not be able to afford to pitch in, and I’d rather you just be able to give what you’re comfortable with (even if that’s nothing). However, I tried to offer some modest rewards which I hope will express my thanks to you for investing in me (you’ll see those on the Patreon page).

So there you have it. There’s no magic job waiting for me. As Carl Edwards said in his retirement news conference: “There’s no life raft I’m jumping onto — I’m just jumping.”

I’ll be honest: This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done — I gave up a solid income, health insurance, travel budget, etc. — but it’s also the most exciting. I’m totally comfortable with the decision and it would be an absolute dream to make a living while remaining independent.

I don’t know if this will work, but I guess we’ll all find out at the same time!

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep me employed and watch a video I made about all this, please visit my Patreon page.

A note to all of you: Thank you!

My first tweet, like many others I’ve posted over the years, didn’t say much:

It’s embarrassing to look back on some of my earlier tweets now. Many are lame, others are cringe-worthy stupid and a few come across as arrogant or egotistical.

And that’s just last week!

Seriously, though, I’m bringing this up because I passed 100,000 followers today and just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you who continue to stick with me. I know it’s not easy at times.

Of course, not all 100,000 followers are actual people. There are hundreds of accounts which seem to be spam or perhaps people who once sent a couple tweets and lost interest, never to use Twitter again. In that sense, 100,000 isn’t exactly accurate.

In reality, I’d guess far less than 50,000 are actual people who are engaged and paying attention. If it’s any more than that, I’d be shocked — after all, the shortened bit.ly links I tweet to my USA TODAY articles usually only get a thousand clicks on average.

But no matter what the actual number of followers is, the point is this: I owe so much to all of you.

I’m thankful for those who created Twitter and established the medium, but it’s really about the users. My career would be completely different if Twitter hadn’t come along, and there’s a decent chance I might not even still be writing about NASCAR had it not existed.

Some of you already know this part, but I was laid off from NASCAR Scene magazine in 2010 and had no job prospects. After texting my mom that I lost my job, the next thing I did was tweet (to about 3,000 followers at the time) and ask if anyone knew of any other jobs. I then got a call from SB Nation, then in its infancy, to see if I was interested in helping start up their NASCAR coverage.

That allowed me to stay in racing and keep doing a job I enjoy.

But in all honesty, by far the best part about this job is the interaction I have with you guys. Whether it’s Twitter messages or tweetups or even the friendships I’ve made (more than a few of you have my phone number or have hung out away from the racetrack), I’m deeply appreciative for all of you.

Yes, I’m even grateful for the trolls. It’s so cool to work on a story, tweet it out and then see immediate reaction to it — good or bad. Imagine if you worked on an English essay in school and turned it into the teacher, only to have it instantly graded.

That’s what keeps this interesting, and that’s what keeps me motivated — trying to give you something you’re interested in reading, trying to give you a reason to keep following.

So yeah, even though 100,000 followers doesn’t mean there are really 100,000 people out there reading my tweets, the number still means something to me. Thanks.

Anyway, you know plenty about me by now — especially the ones who have been around since ’09. But who exactly are you guys? Thanks to Twitter analytics, here are some insights:

— 90% of you are interested in NASCAR racing. (Duh, right? But who are the other 10%? I feel sorry for them having to see my feed.)

— You are 74% male, 26% female. That surprised me because I feel like the replies are about 50-50.

— 61% of you are married and 77% of you own your homes. 55% of you have completed high school; 33% have completed college. It’s worth noting all four of these categories are higher than the national average.

— The biggest shocker: Despite its series title sponsorship, only 16% of you use Sprint as your wireless carrier — the same as the national average. 40% of have Verizon and 36% have AT&T.

Anyway, thanks again for following along. I know we won’t always agree on everything, but I truly value you and fully understand I wouldn’t have my job without you reading my stories and clicking the links.

I look forward to seeing everyone at a tweetup sometime soon.

Sincerely,

Jeff

October 17, 1989: The Earthquake

I can still vividly remember the moment it happened. The rest of my memories from that day are just fragments, little bursts of images strung together.

At 5:04 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 1989, I was sitting into the second-to-last row of the upper deck at Candlestick Park with my mom. We were getting ready to watch the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s – my preferred team as a 9-year-old – play in Game 3 of the World Series.

If I close my eyes, I can remember it so clearly: The terror I felt while gripping the armrest of my seat as we were jolted back and forth, the sound like a train roaring down the tracks. When it stopped, we were uninjured; but as it turned out, that moment changed the course of my life.

This might sound weird, but I’m a sports writer because of an earthquake.

(Above: A picture taken from the upper deck walkway on the way up to our seats. Note the clock says 4:50 p.m.; the earthquake hit 14 minutes later.)

—————

I grew up in Los Altos, Calif. – about 40 miles south of San Francisco – and would go to both Giants and A’s games with my dad. But I preferred the A’s, because they had the “Bash Brothers” (Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco), a nickname which was appealing to a kid.

My dad somehow scored World Series tickets from his boss, but he had to fly to Japan on business. That left my mom – who had never been to a game at Candlestick – to take me to the World Series.

We got to the game pretty early, and I remember the excitement of pulling into the stadium parking lot. The Giants’ theme song that year was “I Feel Good,” and it played on the car radio; because of what happened later, it still triggers a brief second of nervousness for me today.

My mom and I got to our nosebleed seats, and settled in for the game. How could we have known we’d never see a single pitch? I pulled out my pencil and program to keep score, but the tip was broken; I pleaded with my mom to let me go buy a new one by myself, but she said no — we could go together later. I’m glad she refused, because we would have been separated at a bad time.

That’s when it happened.

My mom doesn’t remember this, but right before it hit, I looked up to the right — in the direction of the Bay — and saw a flock of birds suddenly flying over the stadium, shrieking. Then the rumbling started – like rolling thunder at first, then like a jumbo jet taking off. Our seats began shifting from side to side – hard.

Earthquake.

I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted – it seemed like forever. I just remember wanting it to stop. It was a rough one — being up high in the upper deck probably didn’t help — and it really tossed me around in my seat.

In writing this post, I asked my mom what she remembers from that moment. At first, she thought everyone in the stadium started stomping their feet.

“I put my arm around you,” she said. “I looked over your shoulder and where the stadium (roof) met, there were two walls that came together at a 45 degree angle — and they were moving in complete opposite directions back and forth.”

Then it slowed down — CHUG, CHUG, chug, chug, chug — and stopped. Strangely, everyone burst into cheers. My mom remembers jubilant people raising their fists up to the sky in triumph. It was like: Heck yeah! Now let’s get this game started!

We didn’t share their enthusiasm for the game. My mom wanted to get downstairs as quickly as possible — was the stadium going to collapse? — so we excused ourselves past the people remaining in their seats and headed for an escalator.

The power was out, but hundreds of people were still streaming up to their seats — we had to squeeze past everyone to reach ground level. The game wasn’t canceled yet; maybe we thought the quake was worse than it was?

My mom spotted a couple guys with boom boxes listening to the radio, and we gathered around to hear the news reports. After realizing the earthquake was pretty serious, my mom decided we should leave.

We walked out of the stadium gates and ran into two guys who asked my mom if we were going to use our ticket stubs as a rain check to come back. At the time, my mom either didn’t realize the significance of the stubs or just figured there was no way we’d return even if it were somehow rescheduled. Anyway, she gave our tickets away.

Someone else in the parking lot asked us if we’d heard the news: The Bay Bridge had just collapsed. What?! We were stunned. We hurried to the car and flipped on the car radio, which blared the Emergency Broadcast System signal – only this was not a test. My mom realized we needed to get back to my sister, who was at home with an elderly babysitter.

We didn’t have to cross the bridge to reach Los Altos, but my mom didn’t know how to get back to the highway from where we parked – and she took a wrong turn. I remember us driving through a neighborhood and looking at the glass on a bus shelter as it trembled with an aftershock.

By the time she figured out where we were, officials had called the game and we got stuck in all the traffic leaving the city. At that point, we had no communication with anyone – my sister, my dad, our other relatives and friends. Remember, this was in an era of no cell phones (yes, there was such a time).

Fortunately, we were in my dad’s car and he had a first-generation car phone, mounted in the center console with a handset. All the circuits were jammed, though, so we couldn’t call anyone.

1989_10_October_17th

(Above: I showed up at Candlestick Park that day to see my favorite two teams play each other. I had no idea what was about to happen.)

Peeing in the car

When the earthquake hit, my dad was in Nagano, Japan showing customers around at a Fujitsu plant. It was mid-morning there, and he got an urgent call from a co-worker.

“He said, ‘Turn on the TV, the Bay Bridge is down, the Marina District is on fire,” my dad said. “I knew you and Mom were OK because they said nobody was hurt at Candlestick. But I said, ‘Los Altos must be leveled.’ I thought Laura (my sister) was gone. I was panicked.”

He called our neighbors but couldn’t get an answer for awhile. Finally, someone picked up. They told my dad everyone in our neighborhood was fine – and that my sister was sitting in the elderly babysitter’s car in the driveway, since that’s what the woman remembered her mother doing during an earthquake in the 1930s.

My dad figured we might be in the car on the way home, so he called the car phone. It went through, much to his relief.

Mine, too. I had to pee so badly at that point, and we were stuck in standstill traffic with no end in sight. I asked my dad if it would be OK if I just peed in his car.

He said yes. What a dad! So I pissed in my pants, right there on the front seat.

When we finally pulled into our neighborhood, it was dark — no one had power — but I remember seeing people barbecuing in their front yards.

Fortunately, our house had very little damage. Everything came out of the cabinets, of course, but structurally it was OK. We got lucky compared to some of our friends; one of my classmates broke his arm when a wall fell on him as he was trying to run out of his house.

That night – and for most of that week – my sister and I slept on mattresses in our front hallway, right next to the door. I refused to go upstairs to my room or even to take a shower because I didn’t trust the ground and an aftershock could happen at any second. What if that was the one that made our house fall down?

(Above: I slept in the hallway for several days because I was too scared to go upstairs in case of an aftershock.)

The fallout

That week was the first time my mom let me watch the news. And for months afterward, I was obsessed. Not only did I watch the TV news, but I listened to the all-news radio station (KCBS in San Francisco) in my room. All the time.

My dad said when we took a trip to see friends in Minneapolis a few months later, they picked us up from the airport and asked what kind of music we wanted to hear.

I asked them, “Do you have an all-news radio station here?”

That’s one part of the reason I’m in journalism today. Here’s the other: The earthquake triggered a chain of events which led me to NASCAR. This is sort of confusing, but bear with me:

1) My mom, spooked by the earthquake, told my dad that we should move to another state. She decided she couldn’t wait around for the Big One to hit. After all, the ’89 quake wasn’t the Big One – it was only a 7.1. Another one, 8.0 or larger, was predicted with a 90% chance in the next 25 years (how’d that work out?). Anyway, my dad eventually relented and we moved to Colorado.

2) Since I had only lived in Colorado for a relatively short time, I wasn’t tied down to the state for college. So I picked a school on the East Coast instead – the University of Delaware — since I figured I’d already lived in the West and (sort of) the Midwest.

3) At Delaware, a professor named Bill Fleischman encouraged me to try sports writing. I’d never thought of it before taking his class. If I hadn’t met him, I have no idea what I’d be doing today.

4) I got my first sports writing job at a small newspaper in Rocky Mount, N.C. – and my editor sent me to cover NASCAR (I’d never seen a race before that).

So to recap: If the earthquake had never happened, we would have never moved from California, I would have never gone to school and met my professor or become a sports writer and I might be a salesman or lawyer or Starbucks barista in the Bay Area instead of a NASCAR reporter living in North Carolina.

Got it?

Anyway, that’s how the Loma Prieta Earthquake changed my life, 25 years ago this week.

1989_10_October_17th_10-17-89__World_Series_Game_#3_provides_a_lifetime_ofmemories!_The_aftermath_at_home_1_(1)

(Above: My dad’s home office looked like a bomb went off after the earthquake. Below: Earthquake prep materials spooked our family into moving from California.)

1989 10 October 18th  What life was like after 10-17-89 (2)

1989 10 October 18th  What life was like after 10-17-89 (1)

Miguel Cabrera sparks personal treasure hunt

This week’s news that baseball megastar Miguel Cabrera signed a record $292 million contract extension with the Detroit Tigers sent me on a treasure hunt of sorts.

It wasn’t the kind of treasure any of Cabrera’s millions could buy (though I certainly wouldn’t mind that), but just an old copy of the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram stuck between the fading stacks of newspapers in my garage. After about 20 minutes of sifting through old stories about high school sports and college basketball, I found it: Cabrera waiting for the call from June 4, 2003.

The Telegram was my first full-time newspaper job, and I viewed living in rural eastern North Carolina as a training ground for what I hoped would be my eventual gig as a Major League Baseball writer. I was all about baseball at the time (I’d just finished a spring training internship for the Philadelphia Phillies) and I dreamed of traveling the country covering ballgames.

So the Double-A Carolina Mudcats, located in nearby Zebulon, seemed like a really huge deal to my 22-year-old self. It certainly didn’t hurt knowing the Mudcats were full of big-time Florida Marlins prospects in 2003 — and I was covering them about once a week.

Cabrera, an unbelievably talented 20-year-old, was the team’s top prospect along with pitcher Dontrelle Willis. Cabrera had already been labeled as a future star, and there was talk the Marlins might call him straight up from Double-A to the big leagues later that year.

Since Cabrera was starting to get attention, the team scheduled a media event at the North Raleigh Hilton’s Skybox Grill. I was dying to go, so I made a deal with sports editor Ted Newman: Let me go talk to Cabrera and I’d promise to get back to Rocky Mount in time to cover the city’s 8-year-old girls softball championship game that night.

Ted gave me the green light, so I drove to Raleigh (about an hour away) and waited my turn to sit with Cabrera on bar stools at a high-top table.

I don’t remember that much about the interview, other than it mostly sucked. Cabrera spoke broken English and I asked him broken questions. He brought his then-girlfriend Rosangel with him (they later married) but she didn’t speak much English, either.

The result was a ho-hum article about a future star who said he was “very excited” about the opportunity to play in the big leagues someday (breaking news!) and said it would be “the best day in my life” when it happened.

It wasn’t very good, but the Cabrera interview was still better than one I did for our big sports story of the day. An 8-year-old girl ran away from me crying when I tried to interview her after the softball championship game, so I settled for interviewing the coaches instead.

The June 4, 2003 sports section of the Rocky Mount Telegram.
The June 4, 2003 sports section of the Rocky Mount Telegram.

Anyway, I would have never guessed that just two weeks later, Cabrera would be called up to the Marlins. The game where he made his MLB debut was somehow on TV, and we all watched in the newsroom that night while we put out the paper.

It was surreal for me, almost magical. I wasn’t experienced enough at the time to wrap my head around suddenly seeing someone on TV who had just been playing in front of a few hundred fans at a middle-of-nowhere ballpark.

And then this happened:

Yes, Cabrera had arrived. Baseball fans might already know the rest of story. Cabrera and the Marlins went on to beat the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs (the Bartman game!), then toppled the New York Yankees to win the World Series.

I figured I’d interview Cabrera again someday if I made it to the big leagues myself. But instead, I discovered NASCAR, became a racing writer and ultimately lost interest in baseball altogether.

Somehow, that change of plans has turned old articles like the Cabrera one into personal treasures. It might be just an average story on a piece of newsprint to anyone else, but it’s a souvenir from a past life to me.