How I Got Here with David Groseclose

Courtesy David Groseclose

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: David Groseclose, director of tire systems and unified testing for NASCAR.

Can you tell us what you do now and what your job entails?

My title is director of tire systems and unified testing, so I have a lot to do with the tires, with Goodyear — I’m kind of a liaison between Goodyear and NASCAR. I go to all the tire tests. I’m the NASCAR representative there, along with Jerry Kaproth who handles all the logistics for the testing. We also do the friction testing with our new friction testing machine we just purchased last year. We also do track surface scanning — that’s part of my job that’s not really in my title, but we’re gradually going toward that sort of thing. We’re getting more scientific with the data we collect; we’ve got more qualitative stuff. It’s really good for Goodyear, because they’re getting all this data and it can help them make the tires better every weekend.

So pretty much anything related to the tires or track surface, especially in regard to each other, falls under your purview.

That’s right. Tires, wheels, any of the testing we do — rookie testing for Xfinity and Trucks, organizational tests for the Cup Series, the tire tests, new organizational testing for new organizations that are just starting to try and build up their speed. That helps them a lot.

How did this all start for you? We’re sitting at Bristol Motor Speedway right now and it sounds like you have quite a history in this area.

My first race here was when I was 5 years old. My dad likes to say I went to sleep during my first race, and that’s the truth — they’ve got a picture of me sleeping in my Harry Gant outfit. I was a big Harry Gant fan. So I went to sleep during my first race, but from there on out, I paid attention to them a lot and really enjoyed the racing.

We would come out here on the Tuesday before the race and my dad would park the camper. Even though we lived 10 miles away, we would still camp out here. He would park the camper on Tuesday. The rest of us would come on Thursday. We’d go to school from the camper on Friday, then we’d come back and we’d spend all weekend. We had a bunch of friends we camped with at the track and had a good time with.

David Groseclose, pictured here as a young race fan, stands next to a Goodyear tire buster around 1985. He went on to work with tires in NASCAR. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

My dad had a block of 32 tickets we had for a long time. I still have the tickets — not all of them, we’re down to six tickets now — but we’re still coming to the race.

So I always loved racing and wanted to get into racing. I kind of took a different path than a lot of people you’ve interviewed — a lot of people start out at the bottom and work their way up in motorsports. But I really started out as just a fan. I came into it later in my life — I’ve been in it five years now.

I went to high school here at Sullivan Central (in Blountville, Tenn.). I met my wife in high school. Then after high school, I went to Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. Got a degree in mechanical engineering.

At the time, what are you thinking you wanted to do with that? It sounds like racing wasn’t on your radar yet as a career.

I knew eventually I could get into racing with something like that, but it wasn’t a focal point for me. I wanted to get into the automotive industry, and with a mechanical engineering degree, it’s pretty diverse, so you can get get into that industry.

While I was in college, I did a co-op for Bridgestone. That was dealing with big truck tires. I’d go on tire surveys, I’d make a lot of PowerPoint presentations looking at tire sections. That kind of got me started in the tire part of it.

After college, I went into the Navy for seven years. I was in the nuclear power program as a nuclear engineer; I was on a surface destroyer for two and a half years and a carrier for two and a half years with school in between.

David Groseclose and his wife, Susan, aboard the USS Harry Truman in 2006. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

I kind of got away from (tires) there. But after I got out of the Navy in 2007, I was looking at jobs in the automotive area because nuclear power wasn’t something I wanted to pursue any further.

So I was looking at jobs, applying for jobs. I actually applied for a generic job listing and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was with Bridgestone. I applied for it, got the interview and when I got the interview, I found out it was with Bridgestone — which was pretty much perfect for me, because I’d already worked for them before and knew a little about tires.

So I got that job. I worked in Wilson, North Carolina for seven years at the tire plant there for passenger tires.

And then in March of 2013, I was on Jayski or or something and saw a listing for a position with NASCAR. I clicked on it, and it was for a tire engineer. I was like, “Well, that’s pretty neat.”

I showed my wife, and she was like, “If you don’t apply for that job, I’m going to divorce you.” (Laughs) Because I’d been a fan all this time. With this (Bristol) race, starting from the time I was five years old, I can probably count on one hand the number of races I’ve missed — and most of those were when I was in the Navy.

So I applied for it and didn’t hear anything for awhile and kind of forgot about it. It was September before I heard back from anybody. Someone called me from NASCAR and said, “Hey, this is so-and-so from NASCAR.” I said, “Who?!” They said, “We want to get a phone interview with you.” And it was with Brett Bodine.

David Groseclose (boy with glasses on the right) stands with Brett Bodine in 1986. Bodine would later become Groseclose’s boss at NASCAR. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

You must have been pinching yourself.

Yeah. So I did an interview with Brett Bodine and they liked me enough that they brought me in for another interview with Brett and Gene Stefanyshyn. So I ended up getting the job, worked under Brett for a couple years (as a tire engineer). Got promoted a couple times and now I’m in charge of tires and testing for NASCAR.

So you’re definitely living the dream, it sounds like.

Definitely living the dream. A lot of times, I don’t feel like I have a job. Going to tests, talking to drivers, talking to crew chiefs, it’s a lot of fun. It really is. And the testing part of it is pretty good, too, because it’s a lot more laid back than the race weekends. You can talk to everybody and they’re not on a time crunch or anything really and it’s really good to get to know everybody.

Once you get into the grind of it and in the industry, it’s a lot different. How have you been able to hang onto the enjoyment of it? Because it’s different as a fan versus working in it.

As a fan, you obviously don’t see every aspect of it. I don’t see every aspect of it either, because I’m not in every meeting all the time.

But really, it’s just looking back and trying to see why I got into it. Because I love it. I love the competition part of it, I love the camaraderie of it. It’s kind of a small group, a small community, and I love being part of it.

It can be a grind, but I don’t go to all the races. It’s not like I’m there every single weekend. So that’s a part my wife likes, too, because I’m home on a lot of the weekends and just traveling during the week to the tests.

David Groseclose, right, with Davey Allison. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

You mentioned being in the Navy for seven years and I’m sure during some of those deployments, you’re out at sea for a long time. How did that experience translate to the rest of your career in NASCAR?

I’d say just dealing with people. On the carrier, I was in charge of a division of 25 guys. We worked on the diesel generators that are backup for the nuclear reactor if it goes down. So working with people, knowing how to talk to people, having that experience leading people. I don’t lead a whole lot of people here — I’ve just got Jerry under me right now — but that’s a big part of it.

You’re on Twitter, so sometimes you see the negative at times. I’m sure it’s frustrating for you with your background as a fan, you want the same things these people on Twitter want. Is there anything you wish people understood about your job a bit better or that you all want the same things they do?

Yeah, I think that’s true. I think NASCAR wants the same thing the fans do: We want good racing, we want close competition. As a fan, you don’t see every little part that goes on. You may think, “This would be great if we did this,” but you don’t see all the other stuff behind the scenes that can cause that not to be a good idea.

You also have to look at cost for the teams, driver feedback, team feedback, owner feedback, everything. That’s why we’ve got all these councils we have now, because everybody needs to be involved when you’re making a decision like that. When you’re talking about packages or tires — having Goodyear involved in that, and getting driver feedback and team feedback on that, and then also looking at the data and saying, “Well, is this the best tire?” You can’t always go solely on driver feedback and you can’t always go solely on data. You’ve got to go somewhere in between.

David Groseclose with his family, including three of his four sons (the youngest is not old enough to come to a race yet). (Courtesy David Groseclose)

How I Got Here with Bob Decker

Bob Decker monitors qualifying on pit road at Watkins Glen. Once the hauler is at the track, Decker has various other duties with the team. (Photo: Shari Spiewak)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up this week: Bob Decker, hauler driver for Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 team.

Can you tell us what your job entails?

The easy part is driving the hauler. Once you get to the racetrack, you set up according to points and you park the truck. It’s usually a day early before the team gets here. We usually park the trucks at night, so we have to unload the tool boxes, unload the truck and get everything squared away for the next day when the guys get here.

What do you do once cars are on track?

I pretty much maintain the trailer, take care of everything that needs to be done on the trailer, set everything up — like the observation deck. Then when the race practice starts, I’m in the garage. I help change tires, I run the cool-down unit, I run fuel, weigh the fuel for each practice, get the ice. Pretty much a little bit of everything — keep it organized.

How did this all get started for you? Did you grow up as a race fan?

When I was 5, my next-door neighbor was the manager of Orange County (Fair) Speedway in Middletown, New York. He used to throw me in the car and sit me in the grandstands. From then on, that’s where it all started.

Did you think you wanted to have a career in racing? Did you just enjoy it?

I was always a car nut. I was pretty lucky — once I got of age where I could afford to do this myself, I had my own dirt race team in New York for 14 years. I ran a Big Block Modified there. Did pretty well. Won a couple races, got Rookie of the Year. After that, I got married and had a kid and started a trucking company. I worked for Horseless Carriage running my own truck from coast to coast.

Being a race fan, I traveled with the Outlaws and helped Joey Saldana out. It was pretty much an easy truck driving job because I got to make my own schedule, where I wanted to go. So I picked the races and followed them around quite a bit.

After that, a friend of mine called me in North Carolina — he was with the Outlaws — and asked if I wanted to get a job in NASCAR. My daughter was moving to North Carolina to go to college, so he said, “You want to go to work for Roush, driving a hauler?” I said, “Hmm…NASCAR?” Racing is in my blood, so that’s pretty much the top of the line racing series, so I jumped at the chance.

What hauler did you start driving?

I started with Carl Edwards on the 99. I was with him for five years and we won 16 races together. Had a good time. It was pretty awesome.

And then did you go from there to Front Row?

When the Petty/Roush merger deal went together, they wanted me to go over with Kasey Kahne on the Petty side. Unfortunately, Kasey only stayed one year. But I was with the Petty deal, so I was with Marcos Ambrose for four years. So that was pretty fun.

You’ve gotten to work with some fun drivers.

It’s a good opportunity I’ve had so far in racing. I couldn’t be any luckier. There are a lot of guys in the business who have never won a race. I won my first year here. It was pretty cool.

If we can back up to your own racing career for a moment, you said you owned the team for 14 years. Did you drive that entire time?

Yes. There were three owners and I was the driver and part-owner.

You said you won some races. Why did you give it up?

Basically got married and couldn’t afford it anymore. (Laughs) That’s pretty much what happens to everybody.

Do you miss it?

I still drive. We’re pretty lucky — we’ve got guys who are ex-racers and we go to different tracks, and they give us their cars and we go out and race them. It’s pretty awesome.

(Motor Racing Outreach) used to put on a race at Black Rock (near Watkins Glen) before they changed the schedule to a two-day show. And all the Cup guys would go over and race. They happened to need a driver one time because a driver didn’t show up and they knew I drove a car. So they said, “Do you want to race?” I said, “Sure, I’ll take a shot at it.” I hadn’t sat in a seat in 12 years. And I went out and won the race. So that was pretty cool.

Bob Decker is responsible for keeping the coolers filled during race weekends. (Photo: Shari Spiewak)

Is it true you also did some military service at one point in your life?

Yeah, I was in the Army. I was only in for three years. My dad owned a tree business, and once I did my time in the military, I was stationed in Fort Ord, California. I got out and basically got back to work with my dad.

Why did you want to be in the military during that time?

Believe it or not, I went in when I was 17. You know, I was a child with no father. My father was a boss. (Pauses, tears up.) So basically, I went in (to the military) to take care of my mom.

Was that hard for you to leave home during that time?

Yeah, it was pretty hard. My mom was a single mom. (Continues to fight off tears.) I’m sorry. But it was a good experience. I’m glad I did it. Served my country, got out and basically went back to work again.

Were you able to do any racing when you were in the Army?

I was too young. Like I said, I was only 17 when I went in. I had a motorcycle and raced motocross. But that was pretty much it with my racing.

I didn’t start real racing until I was 27, because I didn’t have the money. We basically scrounged everything together and got a couple guys and threw a car together and from then on, we got pretty good.

We got a couple sponsors — I was sponsored by Wendy’s, so that was pretty good. A couple other big sponsors. A friend of mine hit the lotto for $7 million, so he helped me out quite a bit and kept us going. So we did pretty good for what we had.

If you hadn’t gotten the call to come do NASCAR, what direction do you think your life would have gone?

I’d be in racing somewhere. It’s in my blood. When I’m 80, I’ll still be at a dirt track. I’m a dirt racer. I never raced on asphalt. I’m a true dirt racer. I love NASCAR and everything, but my heart and soul is in dirt racing.

I’ve had people ask me how to become a hauler driver. If someone out there was reading this and wanted to drive a hauler in NASCAR, what advice would you give them?

First of all, you have to have a good record and a good license. Nowadays, they’re trying to get the younger crowd in here. It’s pretty much luck of the draw. If you know somebody, it’s a plus. Keep trying, keep your resumes out there. Show up. Show your face, because nobody knows a piece of paper. That’s with any job. Carl Edwards used to hand cards out and say, “You need to hire me.” And he was right — look what happened to him.

Any final thoughts on what it’s like to be you?

It’s pretty good. I’ve been so lucky in my career. I’ve always had a good job. I’ve got a great family. Beautiful home. (Gets choked up.) I came into NASCAR and they used to have a truck driver challenge. They had the Pilot challenge and the Freightliner challenge. You drive your truck through chicanes and stuff. And I’m the only one so far to win both of them in the same year.

How I Got Here with McKenna Haase

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their career path and journey to where they are today. Up this week: McKenna Haase, a 21-year-old sprint car driver, team owner and college student. Haase is the first female to win a race at the famed Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. This interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

I understand you grew up in Iowa. Were you a race fan growing up or anything?

No, I wasn’t. My family was kind of your typical ball sports family. We grew up in Des Moines, but I went to school in a small town called Carlisle. We played like every sport, especially softball was big in my family.

When I was in third grade, we went on vacation to Tennessee and we were walking through a shopping mall (the Opry Mills Mall in Nashville) going to dinner and we ran into Kasey Kahne. But I didn’t know it was Kasey Kahne at the time.

I knew he was famous, because all these girls were around him wanting autographs. Being a third grader, obviously you want to see what’s going on. But we almost didn’t go over there, because it was kind of out of our way to see what was going on. Finally, I reluctantly went over and there was some lady there and she said, “Sorry, this is this is over. Kasey is done.” And so I’m like, “OK. I didn’t come here to see him anyway.”

So we left and we were walking back to our parents and they said, “Turn around.” Well, (Kasey) had followed us, because he thought we didn’t get his autograph.

He starts talking to us and asking us about racing in Iowa and all of this stuff, and it was really awkward because I had no clue what he was talking about. But I was trying to act cool. I was trying to read this sign with his name.

McKenna Haase, right, meets Kasey Kahne at a Nashville mall. It was a meeting that would change her life. (Courtesy McKenna Haase)

So we left the mall and I was stoked. My parents just thought it was a fad, you know? Like, “Oh, she met some famous guy in this mall. Now she thinks she’s a fan.” I eventually got his T-shirt and I wore it like every day. And I just became obsessed with not just Kasey, but just following racing.

In the meantime, I had a cousin who lives in Arkansas who started racing micro sprint cars. I went on vacation to watch him and I like fell in love with the idea that kids could race. And in between that time period, I went and watched Kasey race.

What kind of race did you see him in?

K&N, actually, at Iowa Speedway in 2008. And at Iowa Speedway, they had a display for Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville (a slick track). These cars looked like my cousin’s and they were sprint car-style go-karts. The guy who was working there was like, “Well, you can drive one.” And I like died, you know?

So we came to Slideways here in Knoxville and they just go like 20 miles per hour and it’s just like a little track. But I took it really seriously and I started going out there every weekend and I’d put in like 200 or 300 laps. Months went by, and there’s about 15 different cars there. So I would memorize all the cars, the way they handled and the different ways they were set up.

I was 11 years old at the time and in the midsummer/fall they had a kids league on Thursday nights. I really wanted to join that, so I begged my dad. We went down on a Thursday and they were like, “We’re sorry, but no other kids showed up for the league.” So I was super disappointed. They said, “But there’s a men’s league and you could do that instead.”

I look at my dad and he’s thinking “No way,” because I’m just this little girl and there were like 30 men here to race these go-karts. But I decided to do it and I ended up doing that every Thursday for two years. I would always get the trophy for youngest participant at nationals and stuff like that. And it was just really fun.

McKenna Haase (the only girl in the photo, toward the right side) raced in a men’s go-kart league for two years. (Courtesy of McKenna Haase)

In the meantime, I went to watch my cousin race and died over the fact that kids could race. I was just just mesmerized. This dirt track I watched my cousin at was in Oklahoma. So my parents lied to me and they told me the only dirt track in the world was in Oklahoma. So I could never be a race car driver because it was too far away.

So I became obsessed with this racetrack and the drivers — like I idolized these kids. You would have thought these were NASCAR drivers. I memorized every kid who raced there, their background. I memorized the rulebook. I memorized the prices of all the cars and I tried to come up with this financial plan to go race in Oklahoma. I’m 12, and I re-crunched the numbers like 100 times and there was no way, because micros were $6,000 and the gas to get there, there was no chance.

Like I said, I grew up in a small town. I was going to school there, and there was a local sub shop/ice cream shop that’s really popular. So I start going in there, and lo and behold on the counter was a picture of a sprint car-style go-kart — like what I’d seen my cousin race. But it looked a little bit different from my cousin’s. And so I freak out.

I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Surely there’s a racetrack in Iowa, because this race car is on dirt and this sub shop is in Iowa.” Side note: It was a picture of an Outlaw Kart, but I didn’t know that at the time because my cousin raced micro sprints and this was an Outlaw Kart. All I knew was it looked like a funny looking little sprint car, you know?

This was before like phones and smart phones — for me, anyway. So I would memorize a sponsor a day on the race car. I’d go to the sub shop, look at the picture, memorize the sponsor and go home and Google it to see if it would lead me back to wherever this car was. The name on the car was too small. The name of the driver, so I couldn’t read it.

You would think I would just ask the owner, but he was friends with my dad and my family wanted nothing to do with me being a race car driver. So I was always going behind their back to do this.

So you’re sneaking a peek at this picture without letting on that you’re actually quite interested.

I mean, my parents knew I was obsessed with all this stuff, but they were kind of trying to keep me from it. My parents knew about Knoxville Raceway — they went here in the 80s.

Oh, so they definitely knew.

They knew. They just…lied. (Laughs) So in late 2009 I went to Slideways with my grandparents one day and they were bragging about my cousin racing micros and all this stuff. And the guy working at Slideways goes, “Oh that must be like the cars those kids race at English Creek Speedway.”

I paused and was like, “What did you just say?” He’s like, “Yeah, you know — English Creek Speedway, that go-kart track south of town.” And I freak, because this has been like months and months and months now, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh. This must be the place.”

So I’m memorizing it. Again, I don’t have anything to write it down on or a phone to look it up. I’m like, “English Creek Speedway. English Creek Speedway.” And I go home and I Google “English Creek Speedway” and lo and behold, up pops this car in the sub shop! I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” And so I freak out.

They just didn’t look like sprint cars. They were like funny-looking little cars, because Outlaw Karts weren’t popular at all at the time. I showed it to my dad and my dad was basically like, “Those cars look dumb and we’re not going to watch them.” Finally, I talked him into it and we went and watched. And of course I’m just freaking, because this is just like the track in Oklahoma, and I’m like, “There’s more than one! And it’s right here in Iowa.” Obviously, I come to find out years later there’s thousands of dirt tracks. But at the time I’m thinking, “This is a gem.” And so I took him there as much as I could talk him into it.

So in 2009, I found Knoxville. I came here in May of 2009 for the first time and we came to the 360 Nationals and were walking around town and there’s a shop here that sells Outlaw Karts. So I go in with my mom — not my dad — and I meet the owner of English Creek Speedway in this go-kart shop.

He’s trying to explain Outlaw Kart racing to me, but everything he would start to say, I would finish the sentence. So he’d be like, “The 125 class…” and then I would finish the sentence and say, “This is the age range.” Because I had memorized the rulebook at this point.

He would just kind of look at me funny, like, “Whoa…how do you know all this, kid?” And I was like, “I read it on the Internet,” and he’s like, “That’s crazy. Well here’s my business card. My grandson races box stock. If you ever want to get in his car one night after the races and drive it, you can.” So I’m just freaking out, you know?

And at this point in time, this kart shop where they sell go-karts, it was my dream to buy a firesuit from them. Because I knew I was never going to be a race car driver, so if I can’t be a race car driver, at least I want to own a firesuit.

Just the suit?

Just the suit. And so if you look back at pictures of me racing at Slideways, I had the same outfit I’d wear every week. It’s all-black — long-sleeve black shirt and long black pants and then black wrestling shoes. That was the closest thing I could get. I thought I was a stud walking around in this.

And so I run home with his business card like, “Dad! Dad! This guy gave me a business card and he said I can drive one of these cars after the races.” My dad looks at me and he goes, “McKenna. You’re not doing that. That’s only for kids that might be race car driver someday and you’re never going to be a race car driver, so you’re not doing that.” And I’m crushed.

So I kept his business card forever, and we keep going back to watch. You can read in my diary, I talk about about taking my dad to the races and one of my favorite lines I wrote was, “I think Daddy really likes this deep down, he just doesn’t want to admit it.” And then I wrote, “He said I can’t be a race car driver because only the kids with nice equipment win and only the kids who have parents that know how to work on race cars win.” And my dad doesn’t know how to work on a race car.

So I start saving my money. My parents said, “When you’re 16, you can get an Outlaw Kart. When you can drive yourself there and drive the car there and pay for it yourself.” So I came up with this financial plan on how I was going to have enough money by the time I was 16. An Outlaw Kart is like $3,000.

So I start saving my money. Now I’m 12, and so I have this plan set up for when I’m 16. I have $800 saved, roughly. And finally it’s almost the end of the season at English Creek and my dad agreed to let me get in this kid’s car. It was only because this was my second year at Slideways and I could run like second in the feature — but I was so tiny, I couldn’t beat the guys because like they weighed more, so they went faster. No matter how good I could drive, I could never win. It just got to the point where we were constantly fighting every night coming home; I would just cry and cry, like, “I want to be a race car driver.”

What do you think was his biggest hesitation? Was he worried about safety?

At the time, I just thought he was being a mean dad. Looking back, I think it was because even though my dad didn’t know much about racing, he’s a smart guy in general and he knew enough to know that it was expensive, that it was dangerous and that we knew nothing about it. It was risky and just something he didn’t want to put me through.

He was trying to save you essentially from getting your heart broken or physically hurt or something, right?

Right. And also at the time, we had a couple of family tragedies at this time period, too. So it really wasn’t the best time to be asking, also. It was very risky on my part to be pushing for this so hard at the time.

So you were saying you were about to get in this kid’s car?

Yes. So we bring my helmet and we go to the race and I get in this car and I’m nervous. Because here I’ve been begging now for years and this is my shot. I had no choice but to be fast, because otherwise my dad was going to say, “No, you’re not good at this.”

I remember the kid’s dad pushed me out there and I was like, “OK, what line do you want me to run?” He’s looking at me like, “Just figure it out, kid. You can take it easy. It’s not like the Daytona 500 here.”

I had watched like a million YouTube videos — in-car cameras — and memorized them from inside the cockpit. I was just going to mimic exactly what they did. So they fire the engine up on the straightaway and I just like take off and I was just on the fence — about scraping the wall. The kid later on — the driver — said, “Man, I thought you were going to wreck that thing.” So I went for forever. I kept going and going. Eventually, the car ran out of gas.

I didn’t know this, but my dad was standing in the infield. Apparently, the dad looked at his son and said, “Well, son, it looks like I found myself a new driver.” We’re good friends with his family now.

But yeah, the car runs out of gas and I pull in and I was like, “Did I do it right?” They’re like, “Yeah, you did fine.” At that point, I look at my dad and it’s like, “Well now what?” And a week later, I heard him like on the phone with some people.

I had every single go-kart that was for sale in the nation memorized by heart. I checked every day, all day, the classifieds. Had every price memorized. I still have the ones I wanted saved on file. I have newspaper clippings in my house with highlighted trailers that I was going to buy for sale, little flatbed trailers that I got in a local newspaper.

So I had this all planned out. I gave my dad my documents. Remember, I idolized these kids, and there was a girl who raced there and she had my dream go-kart. And it was for sale for like $2,800 and my dad called them.

I came home from school — I was playing volleyball at the time and hated volleyball, and I’m ticked after practice. My dad was like, “Let’s go get in the car. We’re going to go look at this go-kart.” I was freaking out. So we went and bought it and I gave my dad $800 cash I’d saved and he helped out with the rest. And we went racing.

So there’s those cars at Slideways that I’d memorized all those years, and I’d memorized the setups and the way they drove. The fastest one was the 55. So I picked the number 55 — and to this day carry the 55.

McKenna Haase won another sprint car race in July. (Courtesy McKenna Haase)

That’s so cool.

Seven years later, I went to Victory Lane at Knoxville on Slideways Karting Center Night and put the big 55 in Victory Lane. So it kind of all came full circle.

Now I have my own driver development team — box stock and Outlaw Karts — and they carry the number 55.

That’s so crazy. So you’re in school now. You’re at Drake. And are you a finance major?

I was finance. Now I’m business studies with a concentration in finance.

So you’re basically learning on the job and at the same time completely turning this into a business for yourself while raising funds to compete. How do you juggle that? What what all goes into that?

I would say that’s probably the number one thing most people don’t know about me in racing is they kind of see me running the race team and they think that comes from what I’ve learned in racing, in a sense. Long before I was into racing — since the time I could talk — I was going door-to-door selling whatever I could find to sell.

I fell in love with the stock market in third grade and was into investing ever since. I fell in love with Warren Buffett around middle school/high school and he became my idol. So when I went to college, I became a finance major on an investment track as an analyst — which really has nothing to do with racing. But learning how to sell and learning numbers and finance did give me the ability to sell sponsorship. I was never into marketing and never really interested in that, but I would sell hand sanitizer at sports complexes when I was a kid for a quarter a squirt and make $70 a weekend.

Wow! That’s amazing.

Yeah, stuff like that. I didn’t really like people that much when I was younger; I didn’t like talking to people. My parents used to say that one of their arguments against me being a race car driver was, “You just want to be a race car driver so you can get down in that little cockpit and shove a helmet on your head and hide from the rest of the world and never talk to anybody.” And then I get into racing and I’m like this bubbly, outgoing, talkative person. I think that’s just because I found my place.

But in terms of selling, I learned how to sell. I went banging doors down trying to get sponsors. I moved from Outlaw Karts to micros, micros to sprint cars. And that’s what allowed me to be able to do that, and to do it ethically is huge for me.

Which means what?

Paying sales tax. Keeping good records. Trying not to backdoor anybody else’s sponsors or hopefully not step on anybody else’s toes and deals. Providing sponsors with the services that I promised. Same thing on the merchandise side — having good customer service. Hopefully giving discounts where deserved. Stuff like that and following through with that.

Behind the scenes in motorsports, the business side of it can be pretty nasty and pretty unethical. So (ethics are) something I try and integrate into my business, and a lot of that stems from Buffett, for me. Buffett was big on that as well.

So what all falls under your umbrella right now? Obviously you’re driving, and that has to be the number one thing.


You’re getting sponsors yourself.


And you’re doing the deals with them yourself. You’re handling the finances and the books of the team. What else are you doing?

Yeah, so THR — Team Haase Racing, LLC — is the sprint car team. I do operate that. Like you said, I do all the sponsor acquisition. I do the accounting. I have an accountant and I have an attorney that I work with, but I do most of that. And the sales tax and stuff like that.

I process all the merchandise. I do all the ordering for the merchandise. I process the orders in my basement and mail those. Obviously, the appearances. Obviously, I drive the car. I used to work on the car lot more than I do now, but now I’ve hired a full-time crew chief. I had to get to the point where I was able to do that.

And then I also own Compass Racing Development LLC, which is my driver development program. So for each kid, I kind of coach/mentor them. I help them with their funding, I do their marketing presentations. I do all the graphic design also, by the way — I forgot that — for the marketing presentations. The website, I keep updated. I run all the social media — nine accounts total on that.

And then I go to college at Drake. I’m the president of the Drake Investment Club. I’m in the American Marketing Association, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the College of Business Leadership Council, which also entails the service committee.

And then outside of kind of all that, I have a job. I work at a promotional products company. And then outside of that, I do ninja warrior training, as well as I’m a second degree blackbelt in martial arts and Krav Maga. I don’t do all that full-time anymore; I do ninja warrior full time as an athlete.

How do you sleep or do anything, ever?

You know, I get asked that a lot and I don’t want to sometimes I hate sharing how much I’m involved in, because I don’t want to promote the sense I’m higher than anybody type of thing. You know what I’m saying?

I believe in living a life that’s simplified and having quality happiness in life and I think the world is too stretched. I think there’s too much tension. And so I don’t want to try and promote that.

But I think it comes down to what you can handle. For me, it hopefully comes down to not me. Compass is a great example of something that’s not about me and I don’t want that to be about me. I don’t want thanks. I don’t want anything in return. I want that to be me giving back to the sport.

Same thing with the investment club. That’s not really for my benefit. I just hope to share and educate others on investing. Do I really have the time for it? Probably not. But I try and make time for things that involve other people and impact other people.

So with the investing in the stock market, you’ve done well enough to help support yourself with the team and your funding efforts? Is that correct?

Most of the investing has been with my personal money. There is a way to invest in terms of actual stock market with an LLC’s funds. And I’ve been looking into that more going forward. I’m huge on asset allocation and profit maximization — that’s very big for me with this sprint car team. And in motorsports in general, I think that’s the biggest thing I focus on.

Where do you go from here? You’re still so young, but you’ve accomplished a lot. You’re starting to live your dream. You have accomplished more than you probably originally thought you were going to. What’s next?

I got my first win here in Knoxville in 2015. That was in a 305 sprint car (which means it had a 305 cubic inch engine). I won three times in the 305. And then this year, I won in the 360 also and I did that twice.

I mean, no chance was I ever going to be a sprint car driver — let alone win. And so those were big accomplishments for us, and if I died tomorrow, we’d be proud of that. But I don’t feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished everything I’m supposed to accomplish.

As far as what’s next, you can never be 100 percent sure. I want to race professionally and I want to impact the world in the most significant way possible. I think the race car is just the medium and the platform in order to do that. I’ve always said the goal is NASCAR. That would reach a lot of people, and I’d like to have a larger voice and a larger impact and I think that would give me a medium to do that.

If that’s not in the cards and that’s not part of God’s plan for my life, then maybe it is midgets and sprint cars professionally. But regardless, I want to be behind the wheel. I know I’m involved in a lot of things in life, but being behind the wheel of a race car has always seemed right no matter what.

A couple more follow-ups here. First of all, Kasey Kahne — I’m sure he knows the story by now? Have you talked to him about all this?

Back in 2014 was the first time I’d seen him since. And I gave him my driver resume, and it had the story inside along with a little newspaper article. And I just gave it to him and I’ve never talked to him since.

So it is funny after all these years — I probably say his name every day or every other day in my life because I get asked all the time, “How did you become a race car driver?” I think I’m his personal marketing assistant in that regard because I do talk about it all the time. But the funny thing is is I’ve never talked to him about it.

That’s funny. And second, I assume once you started getting more into it, your parents are fully on board now and happy to see you doing this?

Yep. So my dad and I ended up learning how the cars work. He and I worked on my race cars all through the Outlaw Karts, all through the micros. And then the first year of sprint cars, it was kind of still him and I, but we had some help and some people teach us the ropes.

It wasn’t until last year that I hired a crew chief for the first time. That was the first time my dad wasn’t the head guy. It was really cool to see my dad go from having nothing to do with it to being so knowledgeable about the race cars.

And then my mom, she still really didn’t have a lot to do with it up until my sister graduated and moved to Nashville, and now my mom doesn’t have to spend as much time with her traveling to softball games and stuff. My mom has been a big help with the merchandise and not necessarily the racing, but helping me do other things in life so that I can focus more on racing.

Does my mom like sprint car racing? No. Or at least she doesn’t like me doing it. She likes NASCAR. She likes IndyCar. But she supports me and I think they’re both proud. They’re both still nervous. We do still fight about decisions in racing and my mom still tries to get me to quit.

But deep down, I think they want to see me achieve all my dreams, you know? And they want to see all my hard work pay off, because they’re really the only people who have seen what I’ve truly gone through behind the scenes. When it comes to just the darkest of days and the depressions and the losses and the heartaches, they’ve seen all that. And I think they want to see that pay off.

When you look back at it now, if you had never gone to the mall and gotten hooked on racing, are you the type of person who is going to get so obsessively focused on something and so driven about something where there would be something else to replace that? Or was it racing that brought that out of you?

I think all the stars had to be aligned just right — not just even in the mall, but so many times in my career. I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time. And I truly believe that’s a God thing. I do ask myself a lot: “What would have happened if you wouldn’t have walked over there (to see what the fuss was about with Kahne)?” Because I was standing in the doorway of the restaurant and I left. I’m like, “What if you just walked into a restaurant?”

I think my cousin racing also had a lot to do with it. So I feel like I would have found it either way. But without Kasey, I just don’t know.

I also think my sister, by the way, had a lot to do with it in the sense of I never wanted to do anything like her. She was a softball player and cheerleader and she was really good at all that stuff, and I never wanted to do anything like her. So when I found racing, it was the one thing nobody in my family liked or wanted anything to do with, and I was bound and determined to prove them otherwise. This was going to be my thing and I was going to have something special in my life. Because (sister) Makaila’s softball was really a big thing for my family.

I had a lot of activities I was involved in also. But I think if my parents wouldn’t have been as resistant, I don’t know if I would be where I am today, because I was bound and determined. I was so stubborn and I was going to prove everybody wrong.

In the beginning, even with my friends — nobody in my school raced or knew anything about racing. (They thought) it was lame. And even when I started out, I was 13 or 14 and racing Outlaw Karts against little kids. So it wasn’t cool.

Now people see (the success) today, and it’s hard to take them back to that time and say I kept fighting. I would walk out of school. I did leave school twice at least, just from getting bullied about being a race car driver, wanting to be a race car driver, how lame it was and stupid. I wouldn’t wear race shirts to school.

When I graduated high school, I saw kids wearing my race shirts to school. So to persevere despite all that resistance, I think there’s no doubt today. Sometimes it’s hard (not) to second guess and to doubt and say, “Man, am I really supposed to be doing this?” Like, “Who do you think you are, McKenna?” But then you look back to that, and it’s like, “There was something there.”

Ten years after I met Kasey in the mall, I went down for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine. And there was a hurricane in Daytona, so we had to drive in instead of fly in — and we went through Nashville, Tennessee and stopped at the Grand Ole Opry shopping mall, 10 years from the time I met Kasey there.

It’s just little things like that. I feel like I probably still would have found it, but there is definitely something special that happened in that mall that night.

How I Got Here with Jose Castillo

Jose Castillo and co-host Amy Long on the NASCAR Trackside Live stage. (Courtesy Jose Castillo)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to explain their career path and how they reached their current role. Up next: Jose Castillo, track emcee, “entertainment captain” and host of NASCAR Trackside Live.

First of all, why do you say, “Keep it spicy?”

It started years ago when I got a little habanero light bulb over my head as this logo. I love spicy food, first of all, but my friends were always like, “Jose, you’re always coming up with spicy ideas and everything.” So I just started doing “spicy.”

I love that. It’s your catchphrase, and every time I see you I’m like, “Yes. He keeps it spicy.”

That’s the plan.

So Jose, people are probably familiar with you from seeing you at the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and on the screens at a lot of these SMI tracks. What is your role right now in the NASCAR world?

So I’m a host for NASCAR Trackside Live, which we brought back last year — we’re going on a year and a half of that. And then for the last 12 years, I have been a host and emcee up on the big screen at a lot of the SMI tracks. I started at Bristol and went to Charlotte and then I’ve done Kentucky and Las Vegas and Sonoma. So I’ve been up on the screen being an interviewer, and my job is to help the fans have fun — which is why sometimes I go by “entertainment captain.” It’s a good role.

I like “entertainment captain.” That’s a very good job description. So obviously this probably wasn’t on your radar when you were growing up, to be an entertainment captain, I’m going to assume. So how did this all start out for you?

So it’s funny you say that it wasn’t on my radar, but looking back, I’m like, “This is totally what I’ve done my whole life.” I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. My dad is from Mexico, my mom is from Florida; I was born in Philly but grew up in the South. So I’ve lived in Tennessee pretty much my whole life, it’s where I grew up. In Knoxville, I would come out in front of the big plate glass window in front of the dinner table and I would fall over and make jokes. I’ve always wanted to be on stage and help people laugh. Like that’s my job. My job, if I can make people have a good time and help them enjoy themselves, then I’m doing what I love. And so it kind of progressed from there.

I gave my senior high commencement speech to 5,000 people, and I gave this talk and I remember it like it was yesterday. And at the end of the talk, I was like, “Wow, I may have inspired somebody to do something through this talk and I really like this. This is what I want to do.” And somehow I figured out a way to do jobs that involve that.

Jose Castillo interviews Luke Wilson at Sonoma in 2016. (Courtesy Jose Castillo)

So you get out of high school and you have this realization. Sounds good, but getting people to gather and listen is a whole different story. What was your next step?

It’s hard, because a lot of people see somebody on stage or up on a screen and they’re like, “I want to be that person.” So there’s a lot of people that want to do that.

I think there are some people who go through the “work hard” route — which somehow, I managed to do that route. Other people it’s the “you become famous overnight” (route) and I think a lot of those people don’t necessarily deal with it well. I have a lot of respect for the folks that work hard at it over a long period of time.

I went to Berry College for a very brief, glorious semester and did stand-up comedy. So I was the opener guy. I would walk up on stage and kind of warm up the crowd and then introduce the comedian who came out. And that for me was a job where I was like, “OK, I can’t be a stand-up comedian because that’s such a hard job to just bare your soul every night. But I like this idea of being an emcee, a master of ceremonies. The spotlight’s not on me, my job is to help other people have a good time, to help the event go well, to help the experience happen.”

So I think for me, it’s not about having the spotlight; it’s about making sure the event, the experience goes well and people are having a good time.

How nervous were you when you started out doing this kind of stuff? Obviously, you’ve been doing this long enough now where it’s normal for you. So how did it evolve over the years to where you’re comfortable enough to be in your position?

I think there are some people who are born with a natural ability to feel comfortable in front of a crowd. Jerry Seinfeld said it best, where he’s like, “The number one fear in the United States is standing on stage in front of a group of people. The number two is dying. So people at a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” That’s how most people view public speaking, having a microphone in front of a crowd.

And I think, for me, it was always very natural. Do I still get nervous? Sure, there’s times where I get butterflies or whatever. But I think it’s how you look at it.

I think a lot of people look at it and they go, “OK, I’m nervous,” or they can say, “I’m excited.” Guess what? It’s the same thing. Excitement is the positive side of looking at it, going, “What’s going to happen?” Something could happen, something cool, something bad, I could fudge a line, we could have a great moment — but I’m excited about it. Other people, they look at it in kind of a negative way and they go, “I’m nervous. What happens if I screw up, what happens if we fail?” So I think positive people that look at it that way are more likely to get up on the stage and be like, “This is exciting, we’re going to do something fun.”

So after college, what was your first step in the real world?

I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years. Fortunately, both my dad, grandfather, and even on my wife’s side of the family, they’re all entrepreneurs. It was very hard for me to hold down a steady job working for somebody else. And so I always looked at things of, “How can I push out on my own and try things?”

Man, I had a lot of failures. I ran a commercial recording studio for a while that didn’t do well. I tried to do a speaking career very early on and I had no base to start on to do speaking. That didn’t go well.

And eventually through all that, landed on a blog. It was and I started this blog — this was maybe 15 years ago — and started doing some public speaking and some videos, recording videos of people and being the emcee, like the man on the street. And that was really kind of my first, “OK, I could get paid to hold a microphone and talk to people.”

So it started being successful enough where you were making somewhat of a living off of it?

No. I was not even close to making a living off of it. (Laughs) It was just one of those moments where I’m like, “OK, this is something I could do.”

It was really 12 years ago when Bristol Motor Speedway, they called me — I knew a couple friends there — and they said, “Jose, we’re going to do something a little different.” They were really the first track, I think, to do social media right and to do engagement with the fans right. And they said, “We’re going to make our screen something for the fans. We’re not just going to show country music videos, we’re not just going to show commercials. We want our fans to be up on the screen.” So they said, “Jose, will you come out to the track and interview?”

I’d been to one NASCAR race before that. And I liked it, but it was just kind of one of those things on the side. It was like, “Yeah, that’s cool.” But I had no idea what I doing. So they said, “Jose, you come in, we’ll give you somebody, and you go out in the campgrounds and just film people, hang out with them, and we’ll make them the stars up on the screen.” And I was like, “Heck yeah, I’m in.”

So I showed up to my first race 12 years at Bristol Motor Speedway. They had a camera crew, producer, a director and they’re like, “Alright, here you go. Go have fun.” And I’m like, “Alright, let’s go.” And so we jumped on a golf cart, went out to the campgrounds and started cooking with people, hanging out with them, showing them partying and having a good time, playing games with them up in the stands.

We filmed a lot of it, we did some of it live, and we started putting that up on the screen. And people loved it. People love seeing themselves up on the screen. That’s why we have Dance Cam, that’s why we have Kiss Cam, that’s why we show crowd shots. People love seeing themselves up there because it makes it part of the experience. So that was my job, was to come in and help those fans be part of the experience.

Were you essentially using some of your experience, whether it’s the stand-up comedy stuff or the speaking stuff you’d done or the man on the street stuff?

Yeah, and a lot of it was the fact that we had no budget, we had no script. We had some guidelines, but Bristol was so great about saying, “Jose, we trust you to just go have fun with our fans and make great content and tell stories.” And then it grew from there.

We started seeing other tracks going, “Wait a minute, there’s a guy up here helping fans have a good time. Can he come to our track and help us?” And so it really started to grow from that, but it was about taking all those things that I’d done up until that time and using them as part of that experience to help the fans have a good time.

And you’re right, it was kind of like, “Oh yeah, I learned this game over here doing this, we’re going to play this little game with these fans,” or “You know what, it’s OK to be relaxed and realize you’re going to say a wrong word. Yeah we’re live on the screen, but there’s only 150,000 people here, that’s not a big deal.” (Laughs)

So you mentioned other tracks saw what you were doing and wanted to be part of this. So because you’re part of the SMI family, was it easy for you to go about sort of on loan to these other tracks, or did they have to come to Bristol and ask permission? How does that work?

Here’s the deal. Bristol is always my home track. That’s where I started and they gave me the opportunity to be where I am today. And for a long time, I didn’t actively seek other tracks. I was like, “Bristol is special and unique and I want to stay a part of that.”

But there came a point where I was like, “You know, I could do this as a career.” Like at that point I was still doing marketing work, I was still doing other things and running my business, and I was like, “This is an opportunity that I feel like if I don’t step into, I’m going to miss it.”

And so it was really a combination of everybody. Basically, I’m a contractor — I work for myself — but the tracks hire me or NASCAR Productions hires me, whoever it is, and so I’d gotten enough calls that I’m like, “I’m going try this and see what it looks like.” But I definitely stepped out also saying, “I want to respect the people that brought me to the dance.” And we’ve been able to work through that and so far, it’s been really good.

Because here’s the deal: All the SMI tracks, they show each other love on social media, they’re helping each other out. It’s really one big family, and so it’s been fun to be a part of that. And even NASCAR on the bigger scale is this big family of people. I’ve never worked in something like this where everybody knows each other, and for the most part everybody’s like, “Come on, we want to help make each other better.” And that’s something cool. That’s part of the reason why I love doing it.

You mentioned a year and half ago I think now is when the Trackside Live stage started back up. It’s still at SMI tracks and you’re hoping to eventually expand to all the tracks. How did that start up? I’m sure that didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. And are you pleased with how it’s been going so far since it restarted?

First of all, it’s been amazing and I’m super humbled I got asked to be a part of it. Like when they asked me, I was like, “Really? Are you sure you guys want me to come?” And they’re like, “Yeah, we think you’d be a great thing for the fans.” And I wanted to make sure that I was going to be something that was a good fit and that the fans were going to have a good time. And so when they asked me, I was like, “Yes,” and so far there’s been an amazing response.

This idea of bring back NASCAR Trackside Live — it’s funny because it was four or five people and organizations’ ideas coming to the same realization at the same time. There were people actively inside NASCAR Productions who had said, “Hey Jose, we’re going pitch this idea for a show.” Then there was Marcus Smith and SMI going, “Hey, we need to give more to the fans beside the track.” There was NASCAR going, “Hey, we need to do more for the fans beside the track and do these experiences.” And so all that kind of came together at the right moment where they’re like, “You know what, we’re going to try it.”

It really was the ignition of Marcus Smith saying, “OK, I’m going to step out and push this and let’s see how it goes.” And so last year we launched it at Bristol. It was kind of our inaugural show, and it a little weather-y and there were some other things. But it was a great show. We had Goldberg up on the stage throwing stuff through a tire with his son, and the fans were up there playing games with the drivers and celebrities and guests, which that doesn’t ever happen.

So we’re like, “We keep making these little moments happen where the fans go, ‘Wow!’ and we’re going to win the day.” We had a couple sponsors come on board and we’re looking already on how this can grow and go to other tracks and we’re excited. I think it’s awesome.

When you’re up there, what’s the interaction with the drivers like? How does your relationship with those guys work? I feel like you’re able to draw a lot out of them when you’re up on the stage and I don’t know if it’s just your personality on the spot or because of relationships you have. How do you do it?

It’s a combination of things. So one is, and this is a note for anybody who wants to get into this, is do your homework on questions. Really digging in and finding out what’s going on in their lives, what’s unique, etc.

The second thing is being in the sport long enough. I’m not at every race every weekend, so when we started this, there were a couple drivers kind of like, “OK, I think I know you, I’ve seen you.” But now doing the show for a year, now it’s like high-fiving some drivers and saying hi, talking to each other at other events, on social media, etc. So there I think is a comfort level from the drivers going, “OK, this is not a journalism show, this is not a ‘Hey we’re going to get you with questions,’ this is just a chance to go have fun and play some games.”

And even some repeat drivers like Ty Dillon coming back on and saying, “Man, I’m looking forward to whatever game we’re gonna play.” Or Kyle Larson being like, “Dude, I’ve won every game I’ve been on the show, I want to win this game.” It’s hilarious. So I think they’re responding really well to it.

Let’s say there’s somebody out there reading and they’re like, “Man, Jose has a freaking cool job. I’d love to be on stage with these drivers, trying to bring the personality side out to the fans and having fun interacting with the fans.” What advice would you give to people who want to try to break into the industry?

We live in a time right now that is unprecedented for the amount of content and stories that you can tell with very little equipment, with very little money, with very little access. So if you want to do this, take out your phone right now and turn it around and hit the record button and start telling stories and start giving your opinion and start capturing things that are unique and different.

I think on the one side, anybody can do this. They really can. Does it take a special personality or a special gifts born in to help make it better? Yes, for sure. But I genuinely believe we live in a day and age where anybody can create their own show, anybody can create their own content and push it out there.

The other side of that is it’s got to be unique. It’s got to be something different and it’s got to be from the heart. People know if you’re trying too hard, and if you’re not having a good time, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing or if you’re trying to push it or you’re trying to make it into something it isn’t, they’re going to see right through it.

So I’ll encourage people, if you want to go watch this video…I did a TEDx Talk called “The Wheelbarrow Story.” It’s a story my dad told me about how you can have fun doing anything. And so much fun that it’s infectious, that other people want to come have fun with you.

That’s what I think is why people gravitate to myself, to other people like that, is because we’re having fun. The secret is, we’re just having a good time. So if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, then turn the camera around and help other people have a good time and enjoy it together and you’re going to be successful.

Let me ask a follow-up before we close out here because every time I see you, you’re always smiling, you have this energy, you’re super positive. There’s a lot of times when the world’s not so positive or maybe you wake up and you’re tired or something. What advice would you give to me or other people who sometimes you just feel like, “Ugh, I just don’t feel it that day. I wish I had the energy and felt more positive but I don’t.” How would you answer that?

First off, I have bad days. You can call my wife and daughter up right now and I guarantee they’ll tell you a time when I have not smiled. So I am not perfect. And nobody is.

But I think there’s a joy that comes from wanting to help others genuinely. If you look at the people who want to serve other people and who are genuine about doing that, there’s a joy. There’s a fun there that even if they’re having a bad day, it still kind of shines through.

My mom was always like, “If you’re having a bad day, go help somebody else.” And all of a sudden you’re not having a bad day because you’re helping somebody else. You’re focusing on serving somebody else and helping them have a good time and you start to forget about your own problems.

So I think that moment we get into, “Oh man, this sucks, woe is me,” whatever, find somebody else and help them out. It’s that simple, and I think you’ll find joy and you’ll find excitement in seeing other people having a smile on their face.

How I Got Here with Steve Matchett

Steve Matchett is now an analyst for FOX Sports’ coverage of Formula E. He’s seen here doing this interview during the recent NYC ePrix in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of FOX Sports)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Steve Matchett, an esteemed racing TV commentator who is also a well-known author and former championship-winning mechanic in F1. Though this interview is strongly recommended as a podcast, it is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

Being relatively late to the racing world, I’ve only known you as a broadcaster, but you were a mechanic in Formula One. Was racing and working on cars the goal for you? Was that your boyhood dream?

No, it was most certainly not. I grew up in the middle of central England — not very far away from the Donington (Park) racetrack. So we had a racetrack that was very close to us, but my family had no involvement or interest in racing or all. And I never went to a motor race for many years.

What got me involved in the automotive industry was a school friend of mine. We were both trying to decide what we would do when we left school. Back in England in the 1970s — it seems strange now in comparison to the United States — but college and university were foreign words to us. We had no introduction to university at all. It was not long after the end of the second World War — ’70, ’75 — and the comprehensive school education in England at that time was all pushing people toward the trades. You were going to be a plumber or a mason or something to do with electronics. Or you would end up in the automotive industry. It was just a very different time. You could tell the whole push of the government was to get people working again.

So a friend of mine had an interest in cars and mechanics. And he had one of the original Austin Minis, one of the late-50s Minis. One day he said, “If you want to come down to the house, I’m going to be working on the car. Come see what it’s all about.” And that kind of caught my interest. But before then, it was a completely foreign subject to me.

I became an indentured apprentice. I looked around for opportunities to be a mechanic, because I wasn’t really sure what to do. You’re young, you’re 16, you’re not really sure what the world is all about, right? So this was a profession. It was something to do.

We were very fortunate nearby the down I grew up to have a Ferrari dealer. There were about three in the country at the time — one in the north, one in the south and one in the heart of the industrial midlands, which is where I was. It was called Graypaul Motors, which has now become a very prestigious Ferrari dealership.

I used to work at a little Mazda dealership literally just down the road from the Ferrari dealer, and enjoyed the work as an apprentice mechanic very well. To remove ego out of it, I was actually very good at it. The theory side of it and the practical side of it gelled with me very easily. All of the sudden, I thought, “You know, I kind of get this.” In a way, it was like most things in life — I’m really self-taught in most things, even being an indentured apprentice. To get to grips with the theoretical side, I would just take more time than some of the others. I just enjoyed doing it. I enjoyed the study side as much as the practical side.

Anyway, to go back full circle, there was the Ferrari dealer and I applied and applied and applied to them, and eventually I think they just got bored with me and gave me the opportunity. So I started working on Ferrari.

How old were you around this time?

About 26. I’d been around for awhile and I’d worked for a BMW dealer as well, but it was really Ferrari that caught my attention. I just loved the idea of those V-12s, those European exotic cars. As a young kid, it was obviously very appealing — and as a mechanic, even moreso.

It’s like Aladdin’s Cave. You go inside a Ferrari dealer and Ferrari owners have no shortage of cash. You can keep working on their cars and they seem quite happy with the bill at the end of it. Because back in those days in the 80s by that time, the car had increased more in value than the money we’d spent on the servicing end of it. So it was kind of a win-win situation.

I became very interested in doing restoration work on Ferrari and service work on Ferrari, and I cut my teeth on 308s, the carburetor cars and the injected cars and the 328s that came after that. The Testarossas, the flat-12 boxes. To take an engine out of a Testarossa — just to change the cam belts — was a fairly surreal experience, but it was all part of the servicing program.

So that got me involved in automotive engineering. And of course, from there you can see the connection to F1 — Ferrari’s F1 team. I knew I was never going to join Scuderia Ferrari’s F1 team. But that got me interested in Formula One. And then I just started applying to teams until one of them gave me a position — which was Benetton.

So you’re sitting at the dealership and thinking, “I’m pretty good at this and could potentially work on race cars.” It was just a matter of someone giving you a chance at that point?

I’ve always been a big believer in if you’re sensible, practical and have common sense — which a surprising number of people do not, as videos on the internet are a testament to — and you have a desire to do something, I’m a firm believer all of us are capable of doing whatever we want to do in life. I really do believe that.

So I was never afraid of undertaking bigger and bigger challenges at the Ferrari dealer. Whenever the next rebuild came around, I would volunteer to do it. I don’t mean that to sound egotistical, I was just keen to do it.

I had the same thought about Formula One. I had no race experience, but by this time I understood how engineering worked, how cars are put together. And it just seemed to me you’re always looking for the next step in life. And having reached Ferrari in the road car world, it was “Where do you go next?” Then you’re just taking sideways steps or you put the wrenches down and move into the managerial side of it, and that didn’t really appeal to me.

But working on F1 cars did appeal, and it comes with the added attraction of world travel — which is all very glamorous when you’re a young man. So what was wrong with that? Nothing.

I applied to every team that was English-based — which was pretty much all of them.

Just sending resumes out?

Just sending them out. I just laid it out that I’ve not had any racing experience but I’m very keen on working with Ferrari. I’ve had transfer gearbox experience, which was just breaking into the world of F1 back then. And to cut a long story short, Lotus offered me a position — which I turned down because Benetton offered me a position. I just looked at those two companies. Lotus are a huge name, obviously a very worldwide famous name in motorsport. But I just got the impression Lotus were on the wane and starting to go down, and it looked to me like Benetton were just starting to come up. I thought it would be more of an exciting chance to see something grow.

So Nigel Stepney, who was the chief mechanic at Benetton, took me on as a position of working on gearboxes in the sub-assembly department.

So you get hired there and get your foot in the door. At that point, was it a matter of proving yourself to get more responsibility?

To a degree, it was. But like I said, I’m always prepared to try something new. Carbon brakes were just getting started in Formula One. They were really ramping up; all the teams were seeing the performance advantage of having these very lightweight brakes on the car. Carbon brakes were not just about the brake efficiency, they were also light. So when you’re dealing with unsprung weights, there’s a great advantage to that.

The technical problem with the brakes was at that time, they tended to crack. Very small fissures would start to appear down the material. You had to keep your eye on them. They were terrific, but if you didn’t watch them, they would eventually lead to a brake failure.

Nigel, as chief mechanic, was looking after the carbon brakes as well as all his other responsibilities. He was finding it just too much. He wanted to have somebody from the factory take that over from him and look after the carbon brakes on the race team.

Well,  you could look at that in one sense and say, “This is a pretty minor position on the race team. It’s looking after the brakes. How exciting is that?” But for me, I figured this is a way to get onto the race team! It’s the next step. And the guys I was working with were adamant they didn’t want to be working with brakes — they wanted to be gearbox mechanics.

Nigel asked everybody else of seniority over me whether they wanted this position, and everyone turned it down. I put my hand up and said, “I’ll have a go of it, Nigel. Nobody else is going to do it. I’ll help you.” And I think Nigel really liked that. He liked the idea I was prepared to have a go, even if it was looked upon as somewhat of a menial position on the team. He liked I was prepared to try it. So instantly, I went from being factory-based in England to joining him on the race team.

And I went around the world. I looked after the brakes, and I had a few cross words with engineers who were insistent the brakes were OK when they were clearly not OK. Nigel was impressed by the face I wasn’t going to be trampled underfoot by their seniority, and he appreciated the work I did for him in that first year, in 1990. At the end of 1990, they were looking for a race team mechanic on one of the cars, and Nigel offered it to me. So it was just step after step after step. Great, good luck and good fortune. Most of my career has been based on that — accidental good luck. So now I was working on one of the cars.

So it was just four years later that you won the Constructors Championship?

We won that in ’95. And we won our first Drivers Championship with Michael (Schumacher) in ’94. We really should have had the Constructors in ’94 as well, but that’s a whole other podcast for you.

So yes. It was hard work, but I loved it. I loved the teamwork. I loved the idea of being part of something bigger than oneself. Working with the guys, working with the team, traveling with the team under pressure and the all-night work — yes, it’s exhausting, but you realize you’re working toward something bigger. I enjoyed all of that.

But at the same time, I was already looking toward the next step within myself. I’ve always been a big fan of literature. I’ve always been a big reader. And I always wanted to write. But as we just touched on at the start of our interview, with the lack of comprehensive education and not being pushed toward a university, nobody was giving me any encouragement to pick up thy pen and write. It just wasn’t going to happen. But I still enjoyed doing it.

I was writing little diary entries and stories. I was keen to keep writing, keep reading. Working on the race team, it was an epiphany: Nobody is writing about what’s happening within the teams. All the books in motorsport and F1 are about the drivers. Nothing wrong with that — journalists write about what they have access to, and journalists have access to the drivers and the drivers are the heroes of the sport.

But I thought there was an unexplored niche about what was happening behind closed doors. Who was the chief mechanic? Who are the mechanics? What do they do on a daily basis? So in ’94, while we were fighting tooth and nail with Williams for the Drivers Championship, I write my first book — Life in the Fast Lane. I have no idea how I had time to do it now, looking back at it. I was exhausted to begin with. I’d write this book from midnight until 3:30 in the morning and grab a couple hours of sleep. But when you’re a young man, it’s a whole different thing, right?

I managed to get a publisher and got the book published. And then I moved onto the next stage.

Cover art from Steve Matchett’s first book, via the book’s Amazon page.

What year did you leave the race team?

It was ’98.

And at that point, you figured you were going to be a writer and that was going to be your life?

Yes. That’s pretty much exactly how it was. I was enjoying myself on the race team, but I also realized this was a young man’s profession. I realized there were two options: Make Formula One work for you, or Formula One will eventually kill you. It’ll force you out of the industry out of exhaustion and fatigue. I didn’t want to be around forever doing Formula One. And we’d won the Constructors Championship. What do you do after winning the Constructors Championship? Sure, you can go for two or three or try and eventually beat Ferrari’s 16. But that’s an entire lifetime spent in the pit lane.

I very much enjoyed writing. My first book was published, and I was being offered more and more magazine work through Autosport, F1 Racing, On Track in the states. So I made the decision to quit Formula One — retire — and try to make a career as a freelance writer. I really wanted to be an author, but I knew when it came to paying the bills, magazine work pays infinitely better than writing books — unless you happen to be J.K. Rowling.

So I looked around and pondered what I should do. I realized England was too expensive to go from a steady salary to nothing. But France, at the time, was much more economical in terms of housing. So I did the Peter Mayle thing — which was the classic romantic image of going to France — and bought a rundown farm. It hadn’t been lived in for 40 years and had no running water, no electricity, no drainage — it was effectively a barn. And I started restoring the house. I had bought it for next to nothing. Even the locals in the little village didn’t it, because they thought it was too far gone. When I arrived as a stranger in this village, they looked at me like I was from another planet. I would spend all day banging away at this house — trying to repair the roof, trying to repair the walls, trying to install rudimentary plumbing, rudimentary electrics. And at the same time, I was writing magazine articles and working on my next book — The Mechanic’s Tale.

So once you were writing for awhile, how did the opportunity to be on TV come about? Did you ever picture yourself as someone who would be on TV?

No. Absolutely not. It was never in my future to work in television. My future, in my own mind, was to finish the restoration on the house, finish Book 2 — The Mechanic’s Tale — and then hopefully work on Book 3 and Book 4 and Book 5 while staying in France. It was a very remote corner of France, between Cognac and Bordeaux — so it had obvious appeals to be there. Cognac is famous for one thing and Bordeaux is only famous for wine. Beautiful country, but very remote and quiet. But for me, I loved all that. My childhood was spent in a very quiet little English village, so that sort of isolation was always appealing to me. I always had a very romantic idea of France — the wine and the cheese and the sun and the relaxed life — so I was living that.

It was a very sort of hand-to-mouth existence; there wasn’t an awful lot of surplus (with money). I can remember selling a magazine article and being so thrilled, I went out and bought some wood for the fire! It was that sort of existence. But it was fun.

So how did I get into TV? Mr. Frank Wilson, who was at the time working for Speed Vision, he managed to get ahold of my email address from On Track magazine. He was stuck for an announcer in 2000 for the Canadian Grand Prix. David Hobbs and Sam Posey were going to be in Le Mans, and that left Bob Varsha on his own in the booth. So Frank Wilson, who was a producer of the Formula One coverage in the States, was scratching his head and thinking, “What are we going to do about this?” He’d read my first two books and some magazine work I’d done. And he said, “You know, Steve offers a different perspective. We’ve never seen this side of the sport covered like this before.” Typically, motorsport announcers are former drivers. It’d been like that seemingly forever. But there’d never been anyone who said, “Well, the cars are built this way for this reason” and “Look what’s happening now on the pit stop” and “That’s a bad pit stop because this happened.” That kind of got glossed over.

So one dark and stormy night in the middle of nowhere in France, I was tapping away on the laptop and an email pinged onto my screen from Frank — who I didn’t know at all.

Wow! Just out of the blue?

I thought it was a joke. I thought it was some old friend from Benetton winding me up. But Frank said, “Hey, we’re stuck for an announcer. Would you mind flying over? Would you consider helping us out for one race?” And as we’ve touched on several times now, I’m not afraid to try something new. So I said, “Sure. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?” If they didn’t want to offer me any more work, I’d go back to France. So that was it. I went over and helped them out for that one race — and here we are 20 years later, having a chat.

Steve Matchett, right, was part of SPEED’s great F1 broadcast team along with David Hobbs (left) and Bob Varsha. (Courtesy FOX Sports)

That’s remarkable. But you had to Charlotte from France at some point to do this. Was it tough to give up that lifestyle?

That first race I did was from their Stamford (Conn.) studios. But I was still living in France. So every race, I would fly across the Atlantic — commuting. That soon became a long and tiresome commute. Because thinking back a bit now, it wasn’t just the length of the flight — which was six or eight hours. But from door to door, from leaving the hotel in Stamford to opening the door of my old farmhouse in France, was 23.5 hours. Because I was in the middle of nowhere, so it wasn’t just a matter of catching the flight to London or Paris and commuting down. I’d disembark in the north of Paris, catch the Metro through Paris to get to the south of Paris at Montparnasse train station, wait four hours for the next TGV — the next fast train — to take me down toward Bordeaux. (Laughs) If I knew I was going to be working in TV, I would never have moved to this remote part of France. But life doesn’t work that way, you know?

So after a period of years, Speed Vision was acquired by FOX and FOX wanted to relocate everyone down to Charlotte for the NASCAR connection. I spent the next 12 years or so working down in Charlotte. At one point, I said, “Enough. I’m going to buy some property over here.” So I had to sell the property in France.

It was a tough time to do it, but there comes a point where you just know life is leading you somewhere else. You come to a series of crossroads in life, and it’s “Do you turn left or right?” And I’m very happy I do live in the States. I love the life here. I certainly miss the life in France, but I love the life here and Charlotte is a great place to live. It’s getting busier all the time and more and more people are moving in. There was a time when there were no road jams, but Charlotte is getting very busy.

You mentioned you’re someone who has constantly challenged yourself. Is there a next thing at this point, or is life good and you’re enjoying doing this?

Well, life is good. But I’m getting older; I’m 56 now and beginning to slow down. I enjoyed working with FOX and Speed Vision and I very much enjoyed the five years I was covering Formula One with NBC. If the deal with NBC hadn’t have expired and gone to ESPN, I’d probably still be working with NBC covering Formula One now.

But that’s come to its natural end. And as soon as it did come to an end, Frank Wilson was on the phone to me saying let’s go out for a beer. He said, “We’ve got this interesting new thing we’re doing — Formula E. Come have a look at it.” Hence here we are today. And I like this. I like what I see from Formula E. I still enjoy the technical aspects of the cars as much as the racing. As long as the guys are happy for me to indulge my passion of looking around cars and speaking to a camera and telling that story, I’m happy to do it.

But at the same time, I continue to write. I’ve just written Book No. 4, which is a selection of short stories called These Desired Things. It’s the first deliberate move away from motorsport writing. I feel that side of my life is beginning to come to a close; it’s a natural phase. I’m not upset by it. It’s just the way life works.

I’ve also been doing audiobook recordings of the earlier works as well — and I love doing audiobook narration. I like that work very much. I’ve just recorded The Mechanic’s Tale with Tantor Media up in Old Saybrook, Conn. Had a blast of a time doing that with the guys up there and they seemed very happy with the finished product. We had a chat and I said, “Hey, if anything else comes up where you need a guy with an English accent, I’d be more than happy to consider doing more audiobook narration.”

So when you ask me what does the future hold, I think that’s where it’s going. I still like to be around motorsport and I’m more than happy to help Frank Wilson out — Frank has been a huge inspiration and help to me over the years. I adore writing, so I’ll still continue to do that. And the audiobook narration work, if that continues, I’d be a very happy man.

How I Got Here with Nigel Kinrade

Nigel Kinrade, seen here speaking to Jeff Gordon, is a familiar face in the NASCAR garage. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to explain the career path to their current position. Up next: Nigel Kinrade of Nigel Kinrade Photography. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

You’re quite an established guy in the racing industry. What do you do now with your company?

My company is Nigel Kinrade Photography — or NKP as it’s known within the industry — and we’re a photo agency. We attend every Monster Energy Cup Series event, and all the companion races that run with them apart from ARCA, we’ll shoot that stuff. That will be the Trucks, we shoot some K&N stuff and the Xfinity Series.

We always attend every Xfinity Series (race), including the standalones, and every Camping World Truck Series event. So top three series, we’re at every one of them.

We have a staff that we can pull on of about nine or 10 shooters, including myself, and we always have four of us here at the big events. Maybe the Daytona 500, we’ll bring in an extra couple of people for just the needs we have for satisfying our clients.

Our clients, we do Monster Energy — we’re the entitlement sponsor photographers. On the team side, we do Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs. Xfinity stuff, we do Kaz Grala’s stuff. We’ve done all the KBM stuff on the Trucks side. We do Cody Coughlin over there as well.

So we keep very very busy. We do all the stuff with Ford Performance, all their photography, and a bunch of sponsors — Interstate Batteries, Arris, we do the FedEx stuff for FedEx.

We also do a lot of stuff with NASCAR. We shoot the K&N Series for NASCAR if it’s a companion event. We shoot some of the Modified stuff we’ve done for them as well. And we do a lot of the meet and greets with celebrities and stuff and their (NASCAR) Foundation stuff. So we do a lot of stuff with NASCAR as well, which is very pleasing and rewarding. So it’s good.

That’s pretty amazing. I didn’t realize you guys had that much on your plate. Obviously you didn’t always have this much on your plate, so how did this all get started for you? Obviously people can probably tell from your (English) accent you didn’t grow up in Georgia or something.

Well I have grown up in Georgia. I have! The last 27 years! Yeah, I’m a Southerner now.

No, I actually grew up on a place called the Isle of Man. It’s famous for the crazy motorcycle race they have there every June. So that got me interested in motorsports, photography and stuff like that.

That’s the super dangerous one, right?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s 37 miles, guys on 200 mph superbikes, dodging telegraph poles and walls and edges of houses and cows and livestock and all that sort of stuff. It’s absolutely crazy.

It was the norm for me growing up until I moved to the states. And now a couple of times I’ve been back in the last 10, 12 years, I go back and watch it. I go, “God, these guys are just nuts. What is going through their minds? It’s crazy.” It makes what we do here look like kind of child’s play. I shouldn’t say that, but…

Well, you’ve got people dying there every single year.

Yeah, absolutely. Your protection over there is a helmet, a set of leathers and boots and gloves. That’s it. You come off (the bike), you’re just hoping that you don’t die. It’s crazy.

Thankfully, it makes our sport look a lot tamer and that’s in part to all the safety implementations we’ve had made over the last 17, 18 years since we had some bad accidents. But yeah, kudos to NASCAR. We’re pretty safe over here. Even some of those wrecks we saw last night (at Daytona), everyone kind of just walks away.

Yeah, so I grew up over there and moved to the states in 1991. My wife was a foreign student. She went to Georgia State University and we applied for our residency, so we got our green cards in ’91. And we moved here.

The first-ever NASCAR event I went to was October ’91 in Charlotte. I had never been to a NASCAR race before, so I’m in the middle of this infield in Charlotte and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what have I got into here?” And I’m looking around and it’s just the infield culture was totally different. Mind you, that was Charlotte — and Charlotte’s pretty cosmopolitan!

So I thought that was pretty wild and the culture in the infield there was like, “Wow.” It was something I had never ever seen before. And then I get to go to places like Martinsville and Pocono and places like that. I realized Charlotte’s not that bad. So the first time I was immersed into NASCAR, it was like, “Whoa.” It was an eye-opener.

How did you get that assignment? I assume you were there to work.

Yeah, so growing up in the Isle of Man with the motorcycles and stuff, I shot a lot of that kind of stuff and I ventured out and I did some Grand Prix racing in Europe and stuff at MotoGP, that kind of stuff. It was called the 500cc World Championship Grand Prix motorcycle racing back then. Now it’s MotoGP. So I did a bunch of that. I did a couple of F1 races and stuff like that.

So I had a lot of contacts over there, and when I came over here, I contacted my contacts over there and said, “Hey, do you want some pictures? I’m going to start going to a couple of these NASCAR races and see what happens and how it progresses and stuff.” And they said, “Yeah, send us some stuff. We’ve always got people looking for NASCAR. We can’t ever find any.”

So a couple of British agencies, I started sending some images to them. You had to take slide film and process it and put them in slide pages and mail it off to them. So that’s how it all started, and here we are like 27 years later. I’ve got a staff of nine or 10 guys I can pull on and call them any time.

It’s all digital now. It’s all online. Everything we shoot is online. The servers and stuff like that — we have a guy in Virginia who actually builds servers and our server is also online in Virginia. But we’ve also branched out and built servers for online databases for Penske, Hendrick, Gibbs, Ford Motor Company. So a lot of their stuff is housed on our servers. It’s not just taking pictures anymore.

And we have to caption. I had to learn how to type! I’m a photographer. I didn’t know how to type. I had to learn how to type captions on pictures and upload them and stuff. So yeah, it’s pretty technical. But we’ve come a long way.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus pose with Nigel Kinrade (center) and his staff of photographers after winning the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series title. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

How did you know that you were any good at photography? I mean, anyone can just stand by the road in the Isle of Man and shoot, but you have to be good at it in order to make a living out of it. Were you self-taught?

Yeah. I’ve never been to college for photography or anything. I went to college for engineering. And I didn’t like that. Photography was a hobby, and fast vehicles was a hobby, so it was just natural that both combined.

It’s just a lot of practice. It’s practice, practice, practice. Nowadays you can pick up a camera, a lens, a laptop, whatever and you can go out there and practice and practice and practice and it’s all on a compact flashcard. You can put it on a computer and look at it and go, “Oh, that didn’t come out nice. I know what I need to do, I need to go and do something different with that.” So I’ll go back out and do it.

In my day, you put a roll of film into the camera and you shot something and you had to remember how you shot it, and then you’d take it to the lab and get it processed and maybe three or four hours later you’d get it back and you’d look at it and go, “Oh.” But three or four hours later, it was like, “I don’t feel like going back and trying that again.”

But now everything’s on the fly. You can look at it on the back of your screen on your camera and see where you are. Back in the day, there was nothing like that.

So I’m self-taught, but I went through a lot of film. And it was expensive. Film was expensive to process. So nowadays, it is easier. There are less steps involved. But yeah, it’s just practice. The more you practice, the better you get.

We’re also lucky in the fact a lot of our races are 400 or 500 miles long. So they take a lot of time. It’s not like a sprint race, or a MotoGP event where it’s 40 minutes. We’re out here for three, four hours. We get a chance to get out there and experiment and try different things and so we get a lot of practice.

Do you think that the way you came up, having to use the film and understand the techniques of what made a good picture a good picture back then helps you now? Like it was easier for you to adapt things quickly?

Yeah, it probably was. I always pay attention to backgrounds and stuff like that. Shooting qualifying here in Daytona, you get down low and you just try and frame the driver where you can see the tower in the background. Across the back of the tower you’ll see “World Center of Racing.” So that’s a unique look that you get here. You don’t see it anywhere else because you try and show where you are, try and implement some sort of structure that’s at a certain track or something else.

Like at Indy, you would try and frame a driver possibly with the pagoda in the background or something like that. So each track has its own little identity, physical buildings or whatever, you try to sort of incorporate it into the frame.

You’re always looking for a clean background, you’re always looking for something different. Or if you’re shooting for a sponsor, you’re always trying to get that logo alongside the driver or something like that. They’re covered in sponsor logos, but if you can get the car element and him together, it’s ideal.

Every time I pick up a camera, I learn. Even after 27 years of doing this, I’m still learning. You put a different lens on your camera, you get a totally different perspective.

So why NASCAR? You came up in some of these other sports and obviously NASCAR is a big form of racing in the United States. Was it just as simple as you’re living in the United States so this is what you’re going to be doing? Why did you stick with that over the years?

Part of that was we moved to Atlanta, so that’s in the Southeast, so it’s just like, “What’s around here? Well there’s some IMSA racing, there’s some drag racing, some IndyCar” — back in the early 90s. There was AMA Motorcycle racing. I’d go and shoot some of that stuff and it was cool, I enjoyed it.

But the NASCAR thing, the agencies kept on coming back looking for that. They’d say, ”This NASCAR thing, it’s cool. We’ve got open-wheel racing over here. We’ve got motorcycle racing over here. We’ve got endurance and IMSA-type racing over here. But we don’t have that stock car thing. So just keep sending that to us.”

And back then, I think there was 29 races in a year, which was an easy schedule. So 29 races in a year, and a lot of them were in the Southeast. We still had two races at Darlington, we still had two races at (North) Wilkesboro. We still had two at Rockingham. And they were all drivable, so expenses were minimal then. So I just kept doing that.

And that was when a lot of those huge corporate sponsors were coming into the sport, the tracks were expanding, the schedule expanded, we were racing at Kansas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Fontana, all these places were coming online. Homestead. So it just made sense to stick with that.

So far, so good. I’ve been lucky.

Nigel Kinrade speaks with Kyle Busch. (Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade)

And those teams are looking for images to give to their sponsors. NAPA comes on with Hendrick and they’re like, “We want pictures of the NAPA car on the track, we want pictures of Chase Elliott,” things like that, I assume?

Yeah. The most important thing — and I tell this to my guys and girls that work with us — is what the client wants every week. We get emailed a list each week. And the most important stuff on that are the meet-and-greets. Appearances. The meet-and-greet at the car on the grid with the driver.

Because like NAPA, they have honorary pit crew members. So they bring in a couple of people — local distributors or store owners — and they’ll put their name on the quarterpanel of Chase’s car, a store number and a name. And they’ll deck them out with a shirt.

So they’ll do a meet-and-greet with Chase at his bus, probably two or three hours before the start of the race. Probably before he goes to the driver meeting, which is two hours before the start of the race. So we’ll do a meet-and-greet there. Then they’ll come to the car on the grid and Chase is all decked out in the uniform and we’ll do another photo there.

That is NAPA’s way of giving something back to their clients, all their store owners and stuff. So there is the most important thing we do each week. That’s what I tell my guys.

The car’s on track 36 times a (year), or however many times NAPA sponsors it, and it’s on track for practice, qualifying and the race. So we have that covered for the actual event.

But it’s the other stuff, the behind-the-scenes stuff the average fan doesn’t see unless they’re lucky enough to get inside the driver/owner lot or on the grid. So yeah. That’s the number one priority for us.

I often get people sending me DMs or emails or tweets saying, “I think I can shoot race photography. I do it as a hobby. I’ve been to this track. I really like to do it. How do I get involved?” What advice would you give people who would like to be the next Nigel and break into the industry? Is that still possible today?

Yes, it is. The industry’s changing a lot now, though. It’s expensive to travel the circuit and a lot of corporations now are watching how they spend their dollars and stuff. So it’s a lot tougher now.

But the best thing to do is just practice, practice, practice. And go to your local short track. They’ll gladly let you in if you’re willing to let them have some images. And on social media, you get into a local short track and they have a social media platform, you just bomb the heck out of their social media — just mention them, hashtag them or whatever. That way, hopefully they take notice of you and they say, “Yeah, come on back. We’ll pay you to do a shoot or do our victory lanes” or whatever.

It’s just practice and finding the right connections. I’ve been in this industry now 27 years, so I have a lot of connections here. And it’s funny how people in this industry will be from one corporation and then they’ll disappear, and then five or six years later, they’ll be back working for a team or something. You’ll get a call: “Hey, we need some photography. You’re the first person I thought of.” And it’s like, boom. ”OK, let’s sit down and talk.”

But you’ve just got to go out there and practice and earn respect of other people and just work hard at your craft. It’s easy to do. Well, it’s not easy to do, but it’s not as complex as you think it is. You’ve just got to put you mind into it. And that’s probably my best (advice).

Once you’ve done some short track stuff, you can venture out, get credentials to come to a NASCAR race and try that. But for the majority, going to a NASCAR race, you need some sort of like legitimate media outlet like that to vet you or to write for your credentials, you know.

We’re lucky in the fact that we have hard cards and we’re connected with a lot of the teams and stuff like that. So it is easier for us to get into the NASCAR events. But we pay for our credentials as well. We pay for our hard cards. We also pay for commercial licensing with NASCAR so we can do commercial work here. So that’s kind of different from somebody coming in just to take pictures for a media outlet.

And that way it can be used in an ad?

Yeah. So we are licensed to sell commercially, but we pay up front each year to NASCAR for the privilege to do that.

(Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade, who is on the far left in this photo)

How I Got Here with Bronson Butcher

Bronson Butcher in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season. (Action Sports Inc.)

Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Bronson Butcher, mechanic and tire specialist for GMS Racing and a part-time driver. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

What do you do right now with GMS Racing?

I’m the tire specialist and mechanic on the No. 23 Xfinity car for GMS Racing.

People may have just picked up right there on your accent. It’s not the stereotypical Southern accent people hear in NASCAR. Where did this whole thing start for you?

I’ve kind of lost my accent by now, but I was born and raised in Australia — a small country town in Australia. There wasn’t much racing heritage in my family, but my parents were always rev heads and we’d go to the V8 Supercar races, the dirt racing, drag racing, all of it when I was a little kid.

I decided I wanted to get into racing myself and started racing go-karts when I was 8 years old. Just been doing it ever since then.

My first trip to America was in 2006. I went to Phoenix, Arizona, through a series of events. I won a state championship in dirt racing in Australia, kind of got invited to race in Phoenix and that was the first time I ever got the experience of NASCAR. Until then, no one had ever heard of it in Australia. It was kind of an unknown thing across the pond. From the first time I watched the Cup race in Phoenix in 2006, I knew that was what I wanted to do ever since.

When you first started with the go-karts there, what’s the karting scene like in Australia? Are there tons of people doing it? Is racing a big sport there?

It is. It’s just as serious as it is here in America. Everyone takes it real seriously. But the kind of tradition there, especially when I was growing up racing, everyone wanted to make it to F1 or V8 Supercars. It’s all road course racing. There aren’t any asphalt (oval) speedways. If you want to do speedway racing, you’re in dirt, sprint car stuff, which is really big in Australia too, but I was always into asphalt.

Since I first saw NASCAR in Phoenix there, I just knew that was what I wanted to do. It was actually the same year Marcos Ambrose made his rookie season in Trucks, and so kind of until then, no one had ever been to America to race NASCAR. For the next few years, 2008, ’09, and ’10, I raced, I’d come over to Las Vegas, raced Legend cars with T.J. Clark and his Spencer Clark-driven race team, and it kind of just snowballed from there.

What about NASCAR appealed to you that you’re like, “Wow, this is really cool, more than V8 Supercars and sprint cars?” Why NASCAR?

I’ve never seen racing that was so close, like two-wide, the whole field was nose to tail. Just the whole experience, the fans, I’ve never seen that many fans at a racetrack before. The motorhomes, tailgating as far as you can see.

That’s just something you don’t get in road course racing, really. It’s all about once they get through the first lap, they all spread apart and the race kind of settles that way. But yeah, NASCAR is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, just cars racing that close. They’re so competitive, especially back in 2006, those 15 guys racing within tenths of a each other, racing for a win. Any one of them could have won. So that was really impressive to me and a real eye-opener.

You said you would come over and do Legend car stuff. Was that with the intent of, “OK, I’m gonna get better on ovals and learns how to do oval racing?” Or at that time, what were your career goals and where did it go from there?

I’ve always — and still do — want to make a career out of racing. Cup racing is obviously the pinnacle there. So while I was finishing high school, I dabbled around in Legend car racing and Late Models. Raced a few Late Model stocks at Irwindale Speedway and the Bull Ring in Las Vegas, and when I finished high school in 2011, I packed up and moved to Mooresville, North Carolina.

The opportunity wasn’t there for my parents to move just with the whole visa situation — it’s not simple. But kind of got my start in racing with GMS Racing. I obviously needed a job to pay the bills and all that and started work there as a mechanic and just tried my hardest to find sponsorship, find a ride, just get my foot in the door, make sure people knew my name.

And so you’re still doing racing, as you mentioned, when you can. Obviously I’m sure this has to come first, your road life. When do you find time to race and how’s that going?

So for the last few years I built my own Legend car and I’ve raced all across the country the last two seasons. I got the pole at (U.S. Legends Asphalt) Nationals last year and was leading the last lap — but didn’t lead the last lap. I sold the Legend car and GMS Racing, they have a Super Late Model we built for Spencer Gallagher to run the Snowball Derby two seasons ago, and since then it’s been sitting in the shop. (Team president) Mike Beam came to me one day and said, “If you want to get this car ready and find a way to get to the track, we’ll let you race it.”

So my first race was the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park last year, and we finished second. Had a bunch of the guys from the Truck teams and the Xfinity teams come help me that weekend. We had a lot of fun and Mike gave me the chance to (race) anytime I can make it to the track this year.

So I did a race at Cordele (Georgia), the SpeedFest at the beginning of the season. Was having a good top-10 run and got caught up in a mess on the restart. And then had a fifth-place run at Concord a couple weeks ago.

But obviously, it’s like you said — the road life is what pays the bills so I’ve got to keep chasing that and hopefully we have a few off weekends towards the end of the season and we’ll go racing more.

You mentioned the visa situation. It’s obviously a little bit harder for you and your situation to just pack up and fly across the globe essentially and leave your family behind. What were some of the difficulties in doing that and has that been hard for you still to this day?

It is difficult. Obviously I’ve got a few more barriers than a lot of people to cross when it comes to living here and trying to make a living. The visa and immigration stuff isn’t easy, but it hasn’t really slowed me down any.

It’s funny, it comes up in conversation with my dad every once in awhile — when I was first trying to race in America and trying to make it over here back in 2008, 2009, we never had broadband Internet. We were still using dial-up where your phone rings when you try to connect to the Internet. Those times were miserable, it’s like to load a webpage was five minutes long. It’s funny what we managed to do with the limited resources we had back then. So right now it’s not so bad.

I tell a lot of people, whether you’re from Australia or California or Ohio, we all get on the Internet to talk to our family. My plane ride’s just an extra 10 hours for most people. It’s really not that bad. It’s a small world of technology these days, and we’re able to make the most of it.

When you first came to Mooresville, did you know anybody? How did you end up at GMS at that time?

When I was racing Legend cars in Las Vegas, Spencer Gallagher was my teammate, we raced for the same team. And T.J. Clark, who was the team owner at the time, he was the mentor for Spencer, and kind of helped move Spencer to Mooresville and start up. At the time, it was ARCA racing and the K&N East Series. So when I decided I moved over here, I called up Spencer and TJ.. and told them my plans, and they’re the ones that offered me the job and I kind of got my foot in the door.

Wow, that’s amazing. It would be one thing if you had grown up in Las Vegas or something, but just the fact that you happened to be racing there and then met them, that’s pretty cool.

Yeah, it is amazing. With racing, it’s just how much of a tight-knit community it is. Everybody knows everybody and everybody’s helping other people. It’s really cool.

Do you feel like with the situation you have now with the racing stuff, you’re going to just keep trying whenever you can to drive and get that racing opportunity as a driver? What’s your plan with it all?

I’m definitely not giving up on the driving thing yet. For this season, I’m going to do as many races as I can in the Super Late Model and balance that with the Xfinity Series stuff we’re doing. GMS Racing is doing a lot with helping develop future drivers, getting them through Trucks and up to the Xfinity ranks. I think I’d like to be on board with that and possibly if I’m not driving, help other kids come through and possibly help them race with a Super Late Model. I’d definitely like to see other kids come up, kind of give them the opportunity I had, too.

If somebody else was reading this and they’re in the situation, they’re like, “I really don’t want to give up my driving dreams yet, but maybe I need a stable income while I’m still trying to do it.” Would you say that it’s still possible to find a career doing both where you’re able to balance them?

Yeah, it’s been very difficult, but the one thing’s that got me through and got me the opportunity to drive the race car is the hard work that it took. It’s a full time job trying to do the mechanic stuff in the Xfinity and Trucks Series. But I’d still work on my Legend cars late at night, and I think the GMS Racing gang and Mike Beam saw that and saw how bad I wanted it, so they’ve given me this opportunity for no other reason at all, really. So I always believed and heard that hard work pays off at the end. You might not always see it, but it definitely does, and I think if anyone has that dream and ambition to keep driving, just keep chasing after it. You don’t know where it will take you.

I never thought I’d end up here when I was 10 years old racing go-karts in Australia. And I might not make it to the Cup level, but I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of good experiences along the way.

I understand what you’re saying about losing your accent since being over here, but I can still hear it. Do your family and friends in Australia say, “What’s happened to your accent?”

Actually this offseason is the last time I’ve been home in five and a half years, and so everyone there thought I sounded like an American. I tried to go home for a month and try to get my accent back a little bit.