How I Got Here with Greg Stumpff

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up next: Greg Stumpff, founder of helmet painting company Off Axis Paint.

You design helmets for a variety of drivers. Who are some of the drivers you’ve worked with?

Well, Martin Truex Jr., Cup champion. We got him a couple years ago. Honestly the whole Truex family, we do them. Justin Allgaier has been with me for a long time. Ryan Reed. Joey Logano was part of it for awhile.

We do 30 to 40 drivers between the three series now. And we’re very personal, so it’s a lot of personality and things to remember about certain individuals. Because when I do these, I don’t want to just throw a sponsor on the helmet. I want to make it something the driver loves and is part of them. They don’t really get a whole lot of say in the firesuits or the cars or anything else, so the helmet is kind of the one thing these drivers can be part of. So I try to make it very personal. That’s why I’m at the track a lot of times, because it’s cool to see your friends run and to see your stuff on the track.

I visited your shop, and you have a nice, big place where you make the helmets, and you guys even pull all-nighters to make these helmets sometimes.

A lot of times. It’s right there in North Carolina, in Mooresville, and it’s right next to a bunch of race shops. When things happen very quickly, which they do in NASCAR a lot — “Oh, we need this sponsor on a helmet by Friday” — we can usually pull that off. And there’s not a lot of shops that can do that, so that’s kind of our blessing and our curse, I guess. It’s a lot of long nights, but we can crank out helmets in our shops because I have a great group of guys who love doing what they do. As long as I keep the work coming in, they’ll probably stay with me.

Your success didn’t just happen suddenly. How did you get your start?

It’s kind of weird, you know? It’s not really one of those occupations where you take a test in high school and it says, “You’re going to be a doctor” or “You’re going to be a veterinarian.” Helmet painter is not really on the list. So honestly, I didn’t really know it was a job until early in high school, when I started looking at designers like Troy Lee. Even then, I didn’t know there was a career path. Those guys were so big and it was so far out of reach, (I thought) there’s no way I could ever make it that far.

This is when you were in Missouri?

Yeah, I was in Missouri. Dirt central. That’s why I’m good friends with Allgaier and Tyler Reddick, because I come from the same dirt background.

Out of high school, I worked on a dirt Late Model team. I traveled all over the country. Like every dirt track — you name it, I’ve probably been to it and scraped that mud off the car. There was a lot of downtime when you travel like that, so I started taking some helmets home on the weekdays and I’d them back on the weekends and make a little side money. I was like, “Alright, this is not bad.” Then I started realizing sponsors will actually pay to get this stuff done; it’s not just the drivers.

I literally got on Facebook — Twitter hadn’t really taken over yet — and I just started messaging every driver on there. I got one hit: J.J. Yeley. And he said, “Hey man, I want you to paint my helmet. I’m in Talladega.” We were actually there racing a dirt race, so I went over and met him. I was like, “Wow, this is a Cup guy. I’m big time now.” And he was like a start-and-park back in the day, you know? But I was just pumped to even see my driver’s name on TV.

So you essentially didn’t have any contacts at all and were starting completely from scratch?

Zero. I was going to websites and looking through every roster of K&N, ARCA, Trucks, Cup and finding their website, finding their Facebook. Back in the day, a lot of drivers ran their own personal Facebook because the (social media) PR hadn’t taken off yet. So I would get messages back like, “Hey man, I’ve already got a guy who paints my stuff” and Yeley was the first one who actually messaged me back and said, “I want you to paint my stuff.”

And your offer was, “I’ll just do it free for exposure” or what?

Free, or paying for materials. I wasn’t asking for a lot. “Give me credentials into the racetrack so I can meet more people.” Then I met my buddy Skip Flores — he changes tires on (Ryan) Blaney’s car. He was working at Stewart-Haas and running the Field Fillers (group of racing friends who raced karts) back then. So that’s how I got in with (Corey) LaJoie and (Brandon) McReynolds and all of that group back in the day.

They were like, “Why aren’t you in North Carolina?” I looked into it, and there’s no real helmet painters in Concord or Mooresville or anything like that. I’m like, “That’s not a bad idea. There’s nothing holding me back in Missouri. The dirt program, I don’t really want to scrape mud off Late Models my whole life.” I love dirt racing, but it’s not really a great career path for a worker. So I put all of my stuff in a U-Haul, moved 15 hours out to the East Coast and never really looked back.

Painters demonstrate some of the process at Off Axis Paint. (Courtesy photo)

So where did you live once you arrived? Where did you work?

A friend of mine had a bedroom with a couch, basically, and she said, “I’ll charge you $100 a month to live there.” I said, “That’s perfect. I’m never going to be there if I have a shop.” I met a hauler driver and he’s like, “I’ve got a storage unit and it’s a pretty good size. I’ve got some cars in there. Just move some stuff around and you can paint.” So I had no paint booth or anything — just a box of paint, and I made it work. And it was in Troutman, so it wasn’t even close to Mooresville.

I didn’t know anyone there, so it was pretty easy to work all hours of the night. I was going to these race shops and acting bigger than I was. Like they had no idea I was working out of a storage unit, spraying with plastic hanging around a little box.

But I kept on doing stuff. People loved my work and the more I traveled to the track, the more people I met. I kept getting bigger shops, adding more people on (to help paint). I would start getting way too overwhelmingly busy — kind of like we are now. I never really put out, “Hey, we’re hiring” or “bring an application,” but I just found these guys along the way. And it’s actually worked better that way, because they’re coming to me and wanting to do the job.

We’re a very tight group of guys. I get paint shops asking all the time, “How does your shop work? You have the perfect formula.” Honestly, it’s just because I have the best guys in the world working for me.

There’s a great chemistry, it sounds like.

So a lot of helmet painters — not to name any names — you see one guy at the forefront of the business but there might be two to 10 guys back at the shop painting all these helmets. They don’t get the recognition I think they need. So my guys, they do a helmet from start to finish. It never gets passed around. One guy will start it and finish it, and then he’ll put his signature on the back.

Say John Hunter Nemechek or Matt Crafton comes in. Well, the same guy paints his helmets every time. So you actually get a bond with the driver. That’s something we do because we’re in North Carolina. People don’t just email back and forth, they can physically stop in and talk to us, and it makes our job a lot easier.

You give your guys a lot of responsibility and are building them up. You’re not threatened by the possibility they might want to start their own thing?

Honestly, it’s a lot more work to start a helmet shop than people might realize. There are certain state laws you have to abide by with the paint, and paint is just expensive by itself. To have all the best equipment and any tool you need at your fingertips like at our shop, that’s key. If they were to go out and start by themselves, it would be a lot of work to try and come up to our level, I guess.

I’m not stopping anybody that wants to do that, but with the guys and how we work with our chemistry, I don’t think anybody would want to do that. Hopefully it doesn’t happen.

I’ve always wondered about people moving to North Carolina and starting a shop down the street or something, but that’s why I’m so personal with everyone. Loyalty is a big thing with these younger drivers, and if I can keep them from K&N to Trucks, all the way to Cup, then that would be really cool to see them go through the ranks like that.

A painter works on a helmet in the Off Axis Paint shop.

It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about the personal touch. What else learned from being a business owner and a boss?

I feel like I’m still learning. I never went to college for business or anything like that. I have a lot of good mentors on the corporate side with money and invoices and how to do certain things, talk to certain people. I’m really lucky to know the owner of Bass Pro (Johnny Morris) because he’s from my hometown, so he gives me a lot of tips. He built his business from a bait shop in the back of a liquor store to the empire it is now.

So when you have guys like that in your corner, or somebody like Sam Bass, who talks to me quite a bit on the art side of it, you can’t really go wrong. You’ve got all-star people who are a dial away on your phone.

I’ve learned a lot. Made a lot of mistakes. But those guys help me to say, “I made this mistake 20 years ago. Don’t make it.”

So you can’t be afraid to ask for help or humble yourself in that way, I suppose?

Not at all. I call Sam quite often to go to lunch with him and say, “Let me run this by you.” He’s kind of in a position now where he’s not doing as much artwork and he can take the time to help us out. I think he sees a lot of himself in us — starting out and really being passionate about artwork. It’s not just a business to me where we’re making money painting helmets. I really enjoy watching Tyler Reddick beat Elliott Sadler at the line in Daytona and going to victory lane. Like it’s the coolest thing in the world to see your friends win races and have your helmets on.

So you’ve said the shop is basically a family with the drivers. How much have those tight-knit relationships played into your success?

I’d say that’s 100 percent of it. It’s not just doing good artwork, it’s the personality side of it. I joke around and say we have a KBM/TRD day care, because all those kids will come in there. They either go to the go-kart track or come to Off Axis. Which is cool with me, because I enjoy hanging out with those kids.

There’s not a lot of people in this garage who can probably walk into any hauler they want to and sit down and have a conversation with anybody without going through a PR person or whatever. So that’s really cool. I just feel like they respect me as somebody they can talk to.

Honestly, I get the most text messages after races of (drivers) wanting other drivers’ numbers, because they know I kind of know everyone and I won’t be afraid to give it out. It’s either “I want to congratulate that person” or “I’m angry at that person,” so I kind of learn from that and stay out of any drama I can.

What advice would you give others who have seen what you’ve accomplished and want to be the next you?

Just come work at Off Axis. We’ve got plenty of helmets to paint. If you’re good, come on over.

Honestly, keep doing it every day. I go back to my old high school a lot and talk to art kids there, and they think it’s the coolest thing in the world when I bring in a helmet and say, “This thing won Daytona and it’s been on TV.” They think, “There’s no way I can get to that level,” but I was in the same spot as them — barely graduating high school and not knowing what I was going to do with my life after leaving that place.

So anybody young, just pick up an air brush or markers or a pottery wheel — whatever you’re into — and just put your head down and keep doing it. Don’t worry about what other people say — like “Oh, you suck.” I still don’t think I’m that good, but I wasn’t good at all when I first started. So that’s just from working long hours and perfecting your craft. It’s like any of these drivers: They didn’t start out in NASCAR, they started out in go-karts. As long as you’re moving forward and getting better every day, I think you can do pretty much whatever you want to do.

For creative types, what’s the most important element about the job?

In NASCAR, it’s deadlines. That’s the biggest thing. We have never missed a deadline, and I’ve been in North Carolina almost six years now. You might have two days to get a 40-hour helmet done, but as long as you make that deadline, you are gold to any of these teams. Having the shop right there in North Carolina and not having to ship stuff back and forth, if you can get it done quick and have it look good, that’s the biggest thing.

Don’t be lazy. There’s a lot of helmet painters who give us a bad name and say, “Oh, you don’t wake up until noon and start your day late and that’s why you work until 2 a.m.” No. We start the day at 8:30 or 9 every morning and we leave when we’re done. We don’t just clock out at 5 and say we’ll do it tomorrow.

In NASCAR, it never stops. People think we have three months off for the offseason, but honestly that’s when we work the hardest. Before Homestead is even over, we’re already starting Daytona stuff.

Any final words or advice for people reading?

Just hard work, man. As long as you work hard and are passionate about what you’re doing, then you’ll make any goal you can put out there for yourself.

How I Got Here with Josh Jones

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up next: Josh Jones, KHI Management’s director of business development.

Can you describe your current job?

It’s mostly around Kevin Harvick, between Kevin Harvick’s personal racing stuff and life, to KHI Management, the management company he founded a couple years ago, to the Kevin Harvick Foundation. But I would say KHI Management is about 70 percent of my job with all the different clients I have through that management company. It keeps me on my toes.

You are one of the busiest guys that I know. I always see you quite busy walking around. I don’t think it’s for show, I think you’re legit super busy.


But you weren’t always this busy, so I would like to find out how you got to this point in your life. You were once a kicker in college. How do you go from being the kicker in college to this crazy path to where you’ve gotten today? Where do you even start?

I had a great internship program after college that I had to do to graduate, and I worked at a company called Keystone Marketing out of Winston-Salem, N.C., which was one of the first sports marketing firms in NASCAR. I worked for them and I was an intern, basically doing all the dirty work, everything you had to do from press kits — what we used to call press kits, you’d print all the papers, you’d put them in files and you bring 50 little folders to the track.

I used to have a lot of those folders.

Yeah, so I used to do that. I also had to do work for the sponsors that were there, so we had Planters, we had Oreo, we had a lot of different ones. And I had to, as an intern, be the Oreo.

And one time in 2001, when I was doing my internship, I was the Oreo for my boss today. Kevin Harvick won the race, and I was the Oreo. He had won a couple times, but I was the Oreo that year. And that photo was there.

So the photo’s taken back in ’01. Fast forward to 2018. I’ve come a long way in 17 years, but honestly I always tell people it’s true when they say you start at the bottom to get to the top. I’m not totally to the top yet — I want to do a lot more stuff in my life — but right now I’m feeling very fortunate for what I’ve done.

Was your head poking out of the Oreo?


So you were in a full Oreo costume.

You can’t see me. It’s my arms. I’ll admit it, it is me. Kevin has a photo of it from victory lane. But yes, that was me, and to this day I still get cracked on about that. I mean, it was only part-time. I was only an intern, it was wasn’t a job or anything, I just did it to help out because we didn’t bring people to the track, so that’s what I did.

Josh Jones poses with a Mr. Oreo costume similar to the one he once wore in victory lane. (Courtesy of Josh Jones)

So how many years into your relationship with Kevin did you say, “Hey, by the way, I was actually in victory lane with you?”

I kind of kept it silent. I didn’t start working for Kevin until the end of ’05. I was working for the agency for a couple of years while I was playing Arena Football, going back and forth between both of those positions. Kevin had a New Year’s party at his house in 2006 or 2007, and somehow it came up. I don’t know if it was my wife or if it was me or somebody slipped up and said that. And then from then on out, it’s been, “Oh yeah, Josh used to be the Oreo.” But I was. I’ll admit that I was. But I was an intern, and if you were an intern in your lifetime, you understand you do anything you’re told.

So after the Oreo and after the internship, what was the next step? I mean, you don’t just show up at Kevin Harvick’s door one day and be like, “Hey, I’m going to be guiding your life for the rest of your career.”

No, and I’ve had a lot of people along the way that have guided me. But I took a job full-time with Keystone Marketing after the ’01 season. I worked there from 2002 to 2004, midway through 2005. So about three and a half years. (CEO) Roger Bear and his team worked on many different accounts from Stacker2 back in the day to the Army account — which they had a big presence with Joe Nemechek — to all different stuff.

But I landed my feet as the PR guy for Reese’s at the end of ’04, beginning of ’05. Basically I did all the ’05 Reese’s races between GM Goodwrench and Reese’s. After that was done, I was approached by Kevin and team about coming over and joining the KHI team, Kevin Harvick Inc. at the time. Roger Bear, who was ultimately my boss at Keystone Marketing, was not gonna let me turn it down. He wants to (move) everybody up, so he was very nice and gave me that opportunity. And so about halfway through ’05, I agreed to do it and here we are 13 years later on that side of it and I’m still with Kevin.

So I started as a PR rep, kind of went into the marketing side, still doing the PR, then I went into doing just all of Kevin’s stuff about 2008, 2009, and then kind of rolled out to where we are today.

Over the course of your career, how much of it has been on-the-job training? It seems like you’ve done so much that just sitting in a college classroom can’t possibly prepare you for this. So it as to be a lot of experience that you’ve gained.

Honestly, when I joined KHI, DeLana (Harvick) and Kevin and a gentleman named Fred (Lekse) who’s our company president, the three of them kind of took me under their wing and kind of got me to where I am now. They taught me the fundamentals. The one thing that DeLana and Fred always said is the people skills. You’ve got to have good people skills to survive in this sport. You’ve got to know how to talk to sponsors, gotta know how to talk to drivers, gotta know how to talk to NASCAR and all that. So I’ve learned a lot from those three; not gonna lie, didn’t do it myself.

I’m still learning today. I actually have meetings with Kevin and DeLana and Fred about every week, and honestly I learn something new every week. So I’m learning it as we go.

We have a lot of clients. I have a lot of golfers that I represent now. Kevin and DeLana and Fred have given me the opportunity to branch out to other sports, which has actually helped Kevin both on and off the track with sponsorship and with a lot of opportunities. So I’m learning as we go. I’m still not where I want to be yet. I’m still growing. I want to get bigger, and I want to make KHI Management hopefully down the road one of the biggest agencies out there, not just in NASCAR but in other sports.

When you’re in territory that’s not familiar to you, like say golf or MMA stuff, obviously you can’t show up and you know everybody. It takes time to meet people, even in NASCAR. How do you do that? Is it just a matter of going in there and saying, “Hey, I’m so-and-so,” and shaking hands and stuff?

Yeah, 100 percent. It’s literally that, but you also do a lot of research beforehand. For instance, with the golfer that we have, his name is Jason Gore, been with him for a long time. A couple of years ago, he took me to a golf tournament and introduced me to the right people. He said, “Hey, this is my guy. If you need anything, this is who you call.” Slowly but surely, it transferred; we became a pretty big name in golf and we’re working on signing more golfers. We’ve got three right now, on our way hopefully to four or five.

But when sponsorships start landing on those guys’ collars and shirts and sleeves and you see Michelob Ultra and you see E-Z-Go and you see all these big sponsors, it starts to open doors with guys saying, “Wait a minute, these sponsors weren’t in the sport ever before. Where did these come from?” And then they just started asking questions, and then the phone starts ringing.

It’s the same way in the UFC. We had one UFC fighter that came to a NASCAR race, knew nothing about NASCAR and fell in love with it. But the thing he fell in love with the most was the sponsors that Kevin had on the race car: Budweiser, Jimmy John’s, all this different stuff. And he was like, “I need some of this NASCAR sponsorship.” He had a management company, and when their contract was up, he called us. His first fight, we put major sponsors on his shorts for the UFC, and then all of a sudden UFC champion Miesha Tate was calling and all these people were calling, and it was like, “Wow.”

So it’s not just NASCAR. Whatever sport you’re in, sponsors drive everything. That’s basically it. So that’s how we’ve been fortunate enough. Now we’ve got motocross, we dabble our feet a little with some sponsorship with country music singers and then the NASCAR stuff and the golf stuff. So I mean, it’s incredible, it’s impressive.

But it doesn’t matter what sport we’re in; any independent sport which has an individual athlete — football or NASCAR, golf, UFC, motocross — they’re all in there for the same thing: They want to be seen outside of whatever their sport is, and we’re doing that by bringing sponsors to the table and help activating it outside the ropes or track or anything like that.

How do you earn people’s trust and faith in you? Is it by just showing with your actions and your work?

No. The one thing that we learn and the one thing I’ve learned through the time, through the Harvicks and through anything like that, it’s opening up. So when you go after new clients, you introduce them to your (current) clients, introduce them to your sponsors. They’re not gonna say anything bad — hopefully not. But you tell them what you’re doing for them. So on the golf side, I just say, “Hey, contact our golfers, talk to them,” and they get blown away, like, “Wow, these guys aren’t just in it for the money,” because we aren’t just in it for the money. We want our sponsors in NASCAR and other sports to have other platforms to activate around. So when we can bring more different sports in, it makes it a diverse program for all our sponsors.

Josh Jones with PGA golfer James Hahn, a KHI Management client. (Photo courtesy of Josh Jones)

So in some ways, you’re saying it works for both parties. You want your clients to benefit, but then the sponsors, you’re trying to offer them different opportunities. So instead of just taking their money and saying, “Hey, put the logo on here,” you’re trying to give them something in return?

Correct. I mean, if you look at it, look at Kevin’s car, Jimmy John’s does way more than just racing with us; they do motocross, they do a lot of different stuff, they do Brock Lesnar’s shorts in the UFC, or now WWE. Busch beer, Anheuser-Busch corporate, all their sister brands kind of come through us and we do some golf stuff here, we do some motocross here, some UFC stuff here, whatever it is.

But my point is, that’s how we branch out. Same way with Morton Buildings, Hunt Brothers Pizza, E-Z-Go, which is Textron Off Road, which is Cessna, selling airplanes in the garage. We try to open it up to a little different area, and it works.

I mean, we’re very fortunate — not to mention our driver’s a wheel man. But we also have Harrison Burton, who’s coming up through the ranks. If you look at some of his sponsors, he’s sponsored by Hunt Brothers Pizza, he’s sponsored by Morton Buildings, he’s sponsored by all these different things. At the end of the day it’s Kevin (who sparks interest), we know that, but we need other sponsors and other athletes to see that it revolves around them, too, it’s not just one person. We open them up to everybody.

People might see you and they say, “Oh my gosh, I want to be that guy. I want to be the next Josh Jones.” Where should people even start? What do you recommend that they get for a first job? What should they study? How can they get to where you are?

People call all the time looking for jobs, and it’s hard to get a job right now in the sport of NASCAR, because everything is coming to a size where it needs to be. The sport got huge really fast, we know that, and just like the stadiums and racetracks that you see, they’re downsizing to the right number, whether it’s 60,000, 80,000, whatever that is — not 160,000. We’re narrowing it down to the good people. Everybody still has a job, and you want the best there is for that position.

If I lost my job right now and I wanted to get a PR position, these PR people would kill me. I’m not a PR person anymore. I was 15 years ago, the old way. The pit notes, the programs, the stuff like that, that’s how we did it, the press kits. It’s totally different now. It’s social media based. If you don’t know social media, you’re not gonna be a PR rep. That’s basically it. You’ve got to learn it all, and it’s a lot to digest.

So I tell people if you’re gonna do it, try and get an internship. NASCAR has a lot of internships here and there, teams have internships. Because that’s the way you get in. I started as an intern and got hired. Didn’t think I was gonna get hired, and they offered me a job, and went from there. Never honestly thought I would get hired by the Harvicks when they first talked to me, but they brought me in and they saw potential and like I said, I owe it to Kevin, DeLana and Fred to get me to where I am today. Now I hope that I can continue growing and get bigger and grow a bigger company for the Harvicks and get more clients and get more sponsors and get more employees and go from there.

Kevin gave you an opportunity, but he’s given other people opportunities probably in his career and they didn’t deliver the same way that you did. So what did you do or what is your attitude to make sure you come through and don’t let these people down?

In my email, I’ve got a thing that says, “If you can’t do big things, do little things in a great way.” So what I like to do and I tell people is don’t have enemies. You don’t want to have enemies in the garage, you don’t want to do all that stuff, you want to be nice to them and kill them with kindness. Everybody always says that, face it. But what I like to tell people is, look to the future. Don’t look behind you, because if you look behind you, you’re gonna fall behind because everything is changing.

Like I’m 40 years old, I’m on social media. I got off Twitter for a long time because me and Kevin, it used to just be me and Kevin four years ago, and we used to go at each other and have fun. I’ve seen a lot of negative stuff (toward) Kevin lately on the social media fronts (after the Las Vegas penalty) so I took it as, “You know what, I still have a lot of followers there on Twitter, and people are seeing this.”

Kevin’s actually a really good guy. What happened (with the penalty) was what happened, I’m not gonna get into all that. But what I’m saying is, I wanted to post that to show people that two hours after the race ended and he won the race, these kids were screaming his name for two hours, and he went over there, high-fived them, shook hands, took pictures. I didn’t get to show the whole video, but the kid was jumping up and down for like five minutes and basically followed us all the way to the hauler until security stopped him, (saying) “You’re the greatest, Kevin!” That’s the stuff we need. It’s all about the kids.

So I’m telling you right now, look forward or fall behind. These kids that are PR guys now, these kids that work for these other management companies, they’re young, they’re gonna be a lot smarter than I am 10 years from now because they’re going to all these seminars and seeing social media. I didn’t know what Snapchat was two years ago, or a year ago. Everybody was like, “Snapchat!” and I was like, “I have no clue.” Now I have a basically teenage son that’ll be 12 here coming up. He does it. I’m like, “Well, I better get on this because I’m gonna miss the boat.” I can follow the drivers, see Kevin, see my fighters.

So these kids that are coming through the ranks right now, they either need to get an internship, start at a local level, go work for the NBA basketball team or local hockey team, minor league hockey team, get that sports job behind you before you start (your career).

I get resumes all the time. People send me notes all the time, and when I look at their resume, it was unfortunately, “Worked at Kohl’s” or “I was a sales guy for AT&T,” which is great, but I actually just hired a guy a while back who was a sales guy for the (Charlotte) Hornets. He already had that professional experience. He knew what it was like (in sports), so we hired him. The other people looked like they had great resumes, but it’s all about the experience.

And it’s hard to get in. It’s hard to get in the sport. I know a guy, mutual friend of my family, kid’s 27 years old, he’s been trying to get in for four years. I’ve been trying to help him, but he’s got no experience. But now he’s finally doing an internship with a local racetrack in North Carolina. That’s his in. Do a local internship, meet people, meet people, move on up as much as you can. So it’s tough.

Do you think it’s still possible to break into this industry if you want it bad enough?

I think the industry right now has kind of leveled off. I think we’re in a good level off period. The TV numbers have been about the same for the last year, which means it’s basically leveling off, up or down a little here and there, which is good. This is what we need to do. We can only grow. They’re making a lot of changes, everything’s starting to go in the right direction.

I think it will get back to where we can get more jobs and more PR people and more marketing people, but right now, you have to have experience every place I’ve checked. I’ve called race teams for buddies of mine looking for jobs, and it’s like, “Hey, has he been in the sport before?” And I’m like, “No, he hasn’t.” And they say, “We’re trying to find someone that knows the garage.” It’s so funny, the word “know the garage.” I hear that all the time. He’s gotta “know the garage.” It’s tough. Unless you’re an intern or you’re very, very new, it’s hard to get in.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your whole career path has been super interesting, so I appreciate you taking the time to do that.

Started from the bottom, that’s all there is. To get to where you’re at, you gotta start from the bottom and everybody needs to do an internship in some way, shape, or form to learn what it’s like.

How I Got Here with Jordan Anderson

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up next: Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson.

We’re in your trailer that made it all the way across the country to Las Vegas. People followed that on social media as you drove it out here yourself.

This is it. You hear the quote, “If homes could talk, the stories they would tell” — and if this trailer could tell stories on all it’s been through, it’s crazy.

I bought this trailer back in 2009 when I was racing dirt Late Models, so this trailer’s seen two years of dirt Late Models, it’s seen two years of asphalt Super Late Models, some K&N races, and then a full year of the Truck schedule back in 2015, a full schedule last year in 2017 and we’ve got it back on the road again this year. So it’s pretty cool to be sitting here. I’ve got my guys here, I’ve got Dan (Kolanda, crew chief), Dylan (Corum, car chief), and Cody (Barrett, mechanic) that rode out here with me (from North Carolina to Las Vegas), so I’m very fortunate to have some cool guys that don’t mind riding in the dually for 48 hours like we did coming out here. 

One of the first times I heard of you, I was doing an interview with Carl Edwards at Bristol, and he’s like, “You know who you should go talk to? You should go find this Jordan Anderson guy. He has a really inspirational story. He’s just making it. He’s willing it to happen.” I don’t know a ton about all your background, but it seems nobody’s handed you anything. This is all stuff that you’ve really had to work for and fight for. So how did this whole dream get started?

It’s cool that you mentioned Carl Edwards, because Carl was one of the first guys that I really met and got some advice from. I was probably 13 or 14 years old and racing Legend cars, and I gave him one of my business cards and saw him a year later and re-introduced myself. He’s like, “Yeah, I remember, I got your card sitting on my desk there.” So that was cool, and Carl always gave some great advice.

But it’s been a journey. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to pursue something that I love. I think I first told my mom and dad at 4 or 5 years old that I wanted to be a race car driver, and being from Columbia, South Carolina, that wasn’t really a big thing. It wasn’t a hotbed for any racing, and nobody in my family had any involvement in racing.

Mom and Dad took me out to a go-kart race when I was probably 7 and we went and sat next to a family. We got talking to this kid, he was four or five years older than me, and his name was Nick Hutchins. He’s actually working at Stewart-Haas now on that 98 Xfinity car. He’s the car chief over there.

But Nick was racing go-karts at the time, had a broken arm and was out of the go-kart, and we got to talking. He basically goes, “I’m getting my cast off next month, would you like to come try out one of my go-karts?” And before Mom and Dad could say no, I said yes, and we were headed out there.

So I got one of his go-karts, and I think I was 7, 8 years old around the time we started racing in the WKA series, and we had no idea what we were doing. We would show up with a truck and like a long trailer and go race go-karts.

I still remember somebody told us that our toe was out. We looked down at our shoes, thinking our toes were out. So we had no idea what we were doing.

But it’s one of those things that we’ve been able to do together as a family. We’ve been through go-karts and Bandolero cars and ran Legend cars for five, six years, won the pro championship out there at the Charlotte Motor Speedway two years in a row. I think it was ’07 and ’08. We never really had the funding to go out and run the best of everything, so we really had to work to build a relationship with the sponsors and people to help us out.

This Fueled by Fans thing that we had (a Truck sponsored by fans) kept our season alive last year. But back in 2007, I lost the sponsorship that I had. We lost one of our bigger sponsors that we planned on coming through and the deal kind of fell through. So I painted my Legend car white. I don’t think I even had a driver’s license at the time, so my dad helped me drive around town on this open trailer, and for $100 people could sign my Legend car with a black Sharpie and become an official sponsor of Jordan Anderson Racing. That’s where the initial idea first came from.

Going through dirt Late Models and Late Models, I always owned my own cars and had to work on it and had a lot of awesome people help make this journey possible.

So being able to be the owner/driver this year is something that I’ve kinda done all along the way. We may have one of the smallest trailers here in the garage, but we have some of the hardest working guys that help make this all possible.

And that’s what this whole journey is about: It’s not any one thing I’ve done, it’s all the people that have helped out — sponsors and people that come by who have 9-to-5 jobs, but they come by our shop at night and help work on the truck.

We had some sponsors that stepped in to help buy a transmission over the offseason, or we had some people just help buy our first truck and put things together. I was showing you our dually out in front of the trailer, we had John Bommarito from the Bommarito Automotive Group, bought us a dually to pull our trailer after ours broke down. And when our old dually broke down in two-month period between when we got that new dually, we got another guy who owned a towing service and let us drive his dually all across the country. So it’s been so cool to see people that we’ve met that have made this journey possible.

No doubt there’s been a lot of generosity involved. But people aren’t going to help just anybody, so there must be something about your story or your personality or what you’re trying to accomplish that has encouraged so much generosity. So what is it about yourself or your driving or your passion that you think has helped you get all these breaks? 

It’s been quite a journey. Nothing was ever easy. There were plenty of late nights and struggles and I’m very fortunate for Mom and Dad, they sacrificed a lot. My dad, he’s been on more late- night road trips than I’m sure he wants to admit to helping me out and going to the racetrack.

We had some wins in Late Models and had a lot of success in Legend cars and dirt Late Models. But one of the things I always go back to is no matter what happens or what kind of adversity we’re faced with or we had to persevere through, we all kept our faith — we kept strong about that — and we never gave up. No matter what was against us, we never gave up.

Much of it was the people who we met who kept us in their prayers and thought about us, that encouraged us, that would support us, that would buy T-shirts and come hang out with us after the race is over.

It was all people, and it’s kind of a throwback. One of the first owner-drivers that I got to meet that was in NASCAR was Marvin Panch. I met him back in probably 2009 and got to know him pretty well. He came to my Late Model shop and I got to hang out with him some and listen to all his old stories of how racing used to be.

You know, I love this sport. I grew up as a huge fan in the ‘90s, and I was a big Jeff Gordon fan growing up. But I always loved to read about the smaller teams and the guys that were making it happen and sort of were in the position we are now. I think it’s so cool, because it kind of gives people (someone) to pull for, the blue collar worker who is working to pay his rent and keep groceries on the table. We’re doing the same thing; we’re doing whatever it takes to grow this team.

And that’s what’s so cool about this year, is having the opportunity to jump up. We had some help buying the Ilmor motor, we got some more trucks this year. So that’s the biggest thing that’s so cool, is we’re not plateauing out. Last year, we ran that one truck the whole season and we’ve got the opportunity now to get some motors, get some more trucks to build it better.

So that was why Daytona was so cool for us (when he finished ninth last month). To come out of the box in our first race as a new team, to almost get a top-five, to spin out across the finish line backward and still get a top-10, that was almost a dream come true for us.

To see all the hard work pay off — it’s not a job for any of us. We love this sport and we love NASCAR, there’s something about it that we love and we’re just so happy to be here.

When people hear me talk about interviews and stuff like that, I’m not talking about the car’s tight or the car’s loose, I’m talking about, “Alright, this is all we’ve had to go through to get here,” and we had to fight through all this stuff, and hopefully people can relate to that a little more as they follow along on what we have going on. 

I know you’re still on the way up and there’s so much more of this story left to be written. But I’m guessing there had to be times during some of the struggles when nothing’s coming easy and you had to ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” or “Why am I doing this?” What about it made you keep going through that?

I think the biggest thing was that failure wasn’t really an option. I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I feel like over the years that God has opened doors to allow me to be in this sport. I can sit here for another two hours and tell you things that have happened that shouldn’t have happened, doors that have opened that shouldn’t have opened. People have helped us out, the timing on things, the way things have happened. A lot of it doesn’t make sense, but you just look back and you’re like, “Alright, that’s an affirmation that you know where you’re supposed to be and God has opened these doors, so here we are. I’m just gonna keep digging and make it happen.” And I look back on that.

I mean, the first time I went to Daytona in 2015 with Mike Harmon, I basically gave everything I could to go down there. We missed the show. We go to Atlanta the next week, we finish 18th. The deal with Mike at that time was, he’s like, “You put this truck together, we go run Daytona, and we’ll see what happens.” We didn’t make Daytona, he said, “We’ll go to Atlanta. Just don’t wreck it.” So we go to Atlanta and then we went Kansas and that turned into me running for him for the whole year using the same truck and trailer here. And it’s just been so cool.

People that have stepped up and people that have come into our life to help us, that’s why Daytona was so big. It was special for me, but it was special for all the people that have helped us get to this point. Hopefully that’s the first of many other things that are coming. Hopefully this team continues to grow.

We have this trailer here; down the road, maybe we can get another trailer where we can haul a second truck, or haul more equipment and do more things. But it’s exciting to do this.

What keeps us going is never giving up. I mean, failure is not an option, but we love to be here, we love to keep things going. And the biggest thing for us is, it’s an adventure for us, and the stories and memories that we make, the way we do this is you can’t put a price tag on them.

We left our shop in Mooresville at 1 a.m. (after turning the truck around from Atlanta). There’s a little shower there. All of us cleaned up, hopped into the truck at 1 a.m. and we came straight out here. We’re stopping at truck stops, we came through snow in Arizona. We had a bunch of crazy things happen out here. We have a good time with it.

So I think you go back, and if you would go ask anybody that raced in NASCAR back in the day what they went through and what this sport was founded on, they did a lot of the same things that we’re doing now. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to us that we’re at a disadvantage, it’s that we love what we do and the opportunity to be here. 

Why is everybody here with you? Why do they want to come out and be with you and be part of this team?

My dad actually just brought up, this was a text that I had. John Bommarito had texted me back at the beginning of the year and I’d forgotten about it. My dad just pulled up the text and showed me because I shared it with him and I want to read it to you.

It says:

Jordan, it’s all good. When you help others achieve their dreams, the feeling is overwhelming with joy. One day, you too will be in the same position to help others. The key is never forget where you came from when it happens. And trust me, I know it will happen for you. Take it one day at a time and continue to be safe and enjoy the journey. I’d give anything to be your age and do it one more time. All our love and trust, now go out there and make it happen in 2018. The Bommaritos.

That’s pretty cool. This is a guy who’s got 40 dealerships and 850 employees, and he and I will text back and forth at 2 o’clock in the morning after a race at times. I think that’s the biggest thing, is people are hopefully drawn to what it is that we stand for.

I know there’s a lot of small teams in the sport, but everything that I do, I try to do with integrity. At the end of the day, it’s all people. We couldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the people that made it happen. So people are the number one thing, making sure that I take care of my guys, take care of people that take care of us, the vendors that we deal with back home. Make sure everybody stays paid and doing the right thing. This kind of golden rule that we all grow up with the kids, is treat others like you want to be treated. That’s the things that we want to do. We want to build this team and do it the right way, build it on integrity.

You ask why is everybody here. So Dylan (car chief), he’s been with me since 2015. Actually, how Dylan came to help us, it’s a funny story. We were doing the St. Louis/Iowa deal back-to-back, and he thought we were just going out there for St. Louis and then coming back afterwards. We got halfway there and said, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna stay out here until Iowa.” He said, “Well I have another job I have to go back to.” I said, “So I guess you’re officially part of the team now.”

Cody (mechanic), his family helped sponsor us at the first Texas race last year, and he came and hung out with us in the pits. He’s like, “Man, I really like this, I want to be a part of this.” He’s up in school in North Carolina pit training at Xcalibur (Pit School) up there —he’s our jackman.

Dan (crew chief), who’s back here, he helped me back in 2015, he retired at the end of the year. I told him what I was doing this year, and he was like, “Man, that’s exciting. I want to come back and be a part of it.”

So that’s why Daytona was so cool. People don’t expect us in this little trailer with only two or three trucks back in the shop to go to Daytona and run top 10. And we’re really working on our intermediate program to come out here and run better (he finished 17th at Las Vegas last week).

That feeling you get when you out-perform what people expect you to do, it’s kind of a feeling deep down that you feel a sense that all the hard work and staying in the shop until 2 o’clock is all worth it.

Some people believe that anybody can do anything they set their mind to, and other people think that’s just too much of a pipe dream and you shouldn’t tell people that and things like that. Where do you fall on that? Do you believe that anybody can really achieve anything they put their mind to?

I think so, and that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned on this journey. If you compare to who I was as a person back in 2014, 2013 and who I am now, it’s almost a 180. Just from a sense of having empathy for people and this journey that we’re on and caring about what we’re doing and how we do things.

Who I was back then as a driver, I wanted x, y, z. At certain times in life, people have these expectations and ideas of how things are supposed to be, and a lot of times if you base your self-worth and things off of that. When you finally do accomplish it, if it’s not exactly how you want it to be, you’re like, “Ah, I wanted this (instead)” — and then this cycle begins of you’re never happy about it.

With this, it’s like, “Alright, we love NASCAR. We’re here every week. We get to race. Ever since I was 4 years old, I wanted to be a NASCAR driver, and I’m here racing every weekend. I’m getting to do what I love to do.”

That’s the biggest thing I hope people can see, because when I was a kid growing up racing Legend cars, everybody said unless you get a $4 million or $5 million dollar sponsor, you’re never gonna get to go race.

I remember going and talking to a K&N team one time and they were like, “Oh you can come drive for us, you just gotta write a check for $100,000 a race.” I’m like, my dad has some rental properties in South Carolina and my mom’s a hairdresser. I guess that’s never gonna happen, you know?

So it just was so cool when opportunities presented themselves to go racing, and I learned more about the sport and learned how to do things on our own. We may not have what the big teams have, but we can do it, we can do it right, we can make sure the truck stays together, and we can build on it week after week.

I’ve never had a million-dollar budget or anything like that, but we’re here. We’re here every week. I finished top 20 in the points the last three years. We keep showing up and we keep getting better. If you look at where we were three years ago and where we are now, we’ve gotten better every single year — slowly, but we’re definitely getting better.

That’s the thing for me that’s so humbling, is people are following this journey. I have kids that are racing Legend cars and Late Models and are like, “Hey, I was kind of in the same boat you are. I don’t have this, I don’t have that, but what advice do you have?” So hopefully the journey that we’re on (helps others).

The way the Truck Series is going, I think you’re going to see more Late Model and grassroots people come up and compete at this level, but I think it’s cool to hopefully give some motivation and encouragement to people to do this.

The whole Fueled by Fans thing, that’s what was so special to me when we did that deal. There was a lady who messaged me when we first did it and she said, “Hey, I gotta pay for rent and get groceries, but I’m gonna send you $20 and buy a T-shirt.”

When that crash happened at Atlanta last year, I honestly thought my season was over. That was it. When I told people our season was over, that was really gonna be over.

And the fans stepped up and we were able to raise enough money to build a new truck and get another motor and we did the Fueled by Fans thing for a couple of years and that’s what kept our whole season going.

If it wasn’t for that last year, we wouldn’t be where we are now. That’s what’s so cool, is when you look back on things and how events happen and how doors open, they align to keep moving forward.

How I Got Here with Jay Pennell

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up next: Jay Pennell, manager of communications and content for Richard Childress Racing.

Can you tell us what you do with Richard Childress Racing, and why you were in victory lane at the Daytona 500?

I am the manager of content and communications for RCR. I primarily work with Daniel Hemric in the Xfinity Series and the No. 21 team. We’ve got a great partner with South Point Hotel and Casino on the car this year and we’ve got a great group over there.

I also handle a lot of our website stuff, help with our social media, and just kind of anything that really needs to be done. So luckily I was able to stay over on Sunday for the Daytona 500, I worked on some content and some videos and things we were putting out for our website and our social media outlets, and was doing that until about 50 laps to go.

Then we kind of sat down (as a PR team). We don’t typically put together plans or anything like that, but a group of us talked about, “Hey, if this does happen what are we gonna do?” Thank God we did that, because lo and behold, Austin Dillon won the race.

There was that initial, “Oh man, this is actually happening,” but then it was, “OK, we still have work to do.” So it was cool to go to victory lane, it was a lifetime experience and something I would have never imagined would be a possibility.


You talked about a lifetime experience. Was this always a path for you? Did you grow up as a race fan and say, “I want to work in NASCAR someday?” How did you even get started?

It was always something that was in my life for as long as I can remember. I grew in a town called Delanco, New Jersey, but my mom’s side of the family raced at Mobile (Ala.) International from about the 1940s until the mid-1990s. So I went down there as a kid when I was 3 or 4 years old and went and saw a race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola (Fla.), went to Mobile and watched my family work on the cars in the garage and stuff.

I would have loved to have been in the driver’s seat or working on the cars, but that separation between New Jersey and Alabama was just a little bit too big. So every weekend we watched as many racing programs and races as we could. I taped every race on VHS. We had NASCAR Scene, NASCAR Illustrated, Stock Car Racing magazine — all these magazines and newspapers and outlets that my parents got me to really get me interested in it. I was definitely the kid that a lot of people made fun of for liking NASCAR in New Jersey.

I went to my first Cup race in 1991 in Dover, saw Harry Gant win in part of his Mr. September run, and I’ve just been hooked ever since. I think I’ve gone to at least one race every year except for maybe 1998, and just lucky to have had good people in my life that have supported me and encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing. Just a lot of drive and determination to kind of make this now my career.

So it’s one thing to say, “I’m a huge race fan, I would love to work in NASCAR someday, it’s my passion,” and it’s another to make that happen. Out of all the people that I’ve met in all of NASCAR, you might be the one that really willed it to happen the most and made it happen without any sort of help whatsoever. So you had no journalism background?

Not at all. I went to Queens University in Charlotte, I got two degrees in history and American studies. I studied German history and American subcultures and countercultures and things like that, and really honed my writing skills and learned how to think and ask questions and just be very observant about things.

I still loved NASCAR and I’d still go to the races, but my interest had kind of waned a little bit. And then when Rusty Wallace was retiring, he was my favorite driver, so I really got back into it again.

When I got out of college, I worked at Ben & Jerry’s scooping ice cream and I had a bunch of other jobs, but I found an internship with the SportsBusiness Journal working on the resource guide and fact book. And when I found out that I was on the same floor as NASCAR Scene and Illustrated, it was one of the greatest things that had ever happened to me. (Longtime racing writer) Steve Waid was down the hall, Kenny Bruce was there, Bob Pockrass, yourself, there were a lot of people that I really followed and grew up reading that were on the same floor. And I just happened to have their email addresses now.

At the time, social media was such a new thing. I realized you could really utilize MySpace and social media to get your stories out there and tell other people who you are. So I decided to make another MySpace page dedicated solely to writing and to NASCAR. And so I would just take what I had grown up doing — which was watching racing and knowing everything I could about racing and trying to absorb it all — take these races and apply the writing skills that I had learned in college and put it together into some sort of race recap. And I would just e-mail blast every single person at NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.

It really worked, because I was able to go to Steve Waid and get some critiques and get some advice on how to take a four-hour race and make it into a 200-word story. It was really one of the greatest experiences and just kind of a luck of the draw deal. So it was really that first step I needed in this path down this career.

People reading are probably thinking, “Well, then that led to some job.” But it didn’t. Nobody helped you there in terms of, “We’re gonna give you a chance,” so you had to make your own chance, which involved unpaid writing for small websites.

While I was doing the MySpace blog, I went to the groundbreaking of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I was sitting there, taking notes, and I think Robby Gordon was sitting in front of me or something. This guy happened to be sitting behind me, watching what I was doing, and after everything went on, he came up and talked to me. His name was Ray Everett, and told me, “Hey man, there’s your interview right there.” So I went to talk to Robby and did all that and came back and talked to this guy and he said, “Hey, I’m starting this website, it’s called, we haven’t launched yet, but if you’re interested, I’d love to have you come on.”

So I did that and helped them design the website and planned out how we were going to do coverage and initially we did a lot of stuff, sort of like Jayski used to do — where we take other people’s articles and post them on there and give them credit and link back. And then we started writing our own stuff.

It was really before you had citizen journalists (being welcomed in NASCAR). We got denied credentials at Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol, Darlington. We were really trying hard to get into these racetracks so we could have coverage and we were not a reputable source, so we were getting turned down. So that made our jobs pretty tough, but we just kept at it and kept at it and eventually we found a spot in the sport. NASCAR came out with the citizen journalists media corps, and they really kind of provided help that we had already gotten ourselves. So it was kind of nice that we had already done all that leg work and really didn’t get a whole lot from them. What would have been helpful is like sponsors and things like that, but you know, it was what it was.

I moved on from there to and and I think at one point I’d raised my hand in the media center and had three different outlets I had to say. There were people who helped, but I think one outlet — I won’t say which one it was — I wrote almost every day, I edited at least twice a week and I got a check for like $75 at the end of the year.

So by this time, I’ve got a family, I have a child that was born, I have a house, so I’m working basically as a full-time writer, traveling to races when I can and still have at least three or four other jobs on the side. So it was a lot.

I remember the days, you were at Ben & Jerry’s at Charlotte. You’re scooping ice cream for customers and trying to write a story when you were helping me at I’d be talking to you and say, “Oh, can you write this story?” And you’d be like, “Yeah, I just got a couple of customers right now.” From what I could tell, you literally had the laptop there trying to write between scooping ice cream. Is that right?

Yeah, very much so. I was the manager there and I worked at Ben & Jerry’s for about 10 years, but I would open up my laptop and I would keep TweetDeck up and I’d have my email going and I’d be writing stories. There were actually times where I’d have to close the door and lock the door (to keep customers out) because I had a phone interview to do. So I’d have to go and I’d pull out the phone and I’d do my phone interview, and I’d record it and I’d go back and open the door and I’d have to sit there and write it.

It was a cool experience. I’m sure it would have been a lot easier to do it other ways, but I loved what I did and it just shows that if you have a passion for something and you really want to do something, you’re going to find a way to work hard enough to make it happen.

The funny story about the Ben & Jerry’s deal is, at one point, I was managing the Ben & Jerry’s in Gastonia, North Carolina, so it’s not very far from Belmont Abbey College. Belmont Abbey College has a motorsports program, and these kids would come in all the time and talk to me about racing, because I guess they knew who I was through SB Nation and Twitter and all this other stuff. Well, I’d say about four or five of those kids are now PR reps in the NASCAR series. One went to victory lane in the Duels and one went to victory lane for the Xfinity race.

And you remember them from when they were students coming in the ice cream shop?

So Ian Moye, who now works with Ryan Blaney, I knew he kind of looked familiar and he reminded me a couple of years ago. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s really cool.” There’s a really big group of them, so it’s funny. Small world.

Along the lines of you not getting paid, you’re also not getting paid travel-expense wise. So how were you getting to these races and covering so many races? What did you have to do to get there?

Go in debt. (Laughs) I would drive my car everywhere. I called it the Hotel Kia, so I would drive my car to the racetrack. We’re here at Atlanta, and you go out the tunnel and there’s a parking lot right across the street from the tunnel and I’ve slept there four or five years covering race weekend. Slept in my car during Talladega. One time I drove all the way from Charlotte to Homestead, slept in my car down there just for a day or two.

Luckily, places like Talladega, if you have a race ticket or way into the track, you can camp for free, so a lot of camping, staying with friends, staying with other media folks who were nice enough to let me stay there. Luckily, I could write this stuff off on my taxes a little bit in terms of milage, but a lot of it was out of pocket. The money side, it’ll come eventually.

But that was probably the biggest actual sacrifice, was I had these day jobs. I was lucky enough to make my schedule or work with the people who I was working with to have the time off.

The real impact came paying for car repairs. I think one time, I was leaving Talladega and the alternator died. I’ve had flat tires before (during race travel). It’s a big expense, but it’s totally worth it if you want to make it to where you want to make it.

How many years of covering racing was it where you were sleeping in your car before you started getting your travel paid for?

I think it was from 2007 until the Chase started in 2011.

So at least 30 races total — probably more — where you slept in your car the whole weekend?

Yeah, and you make a lot of friends out there in the parking lots and the campgrounds and things like that. It really kind of connected me to the fans, it gives you new perspective. It was always nice when somebody like Old Spice came to Talladega and gave away a bunch of deodorant. You’re like, “This is great!” It’s those little things like that you take advantage of.

But every time now we fly out every weekend with Victory Air and we’ve got a wonderful travel agent, Ms. Leslie at RCR, and you definitely don’t take those things for granted when you’ve slept in your car for years and years and years.

What was your big break? How did you get from sleeping in the car and being totally on your own to where you were finally being welcomed in as a professional?

I think when everything ended with SB Nation, it ended so soon to the start of the season that I was kind of out of options and I really didn’t know if I was going to continue. I really kind of didn’t want to go back to sleeping in my car and doing all this stuff because it was a lot of work and a lot of time away from the family — not only traveling like we do all the time but then also doing the regular jobs. I think I started my own blog at that point and just tried to do that.

Luckily, my sister found this job someplace on some job board and it was for GMR Marketing to do social media for the Speed Channel. I luckily went in and interviewed and had some good references and somehow landed the job. And so I started the first race of the Chase in 2011 — thrown to the wolves, you know. I remember I got to fly down and stay in a hotel. It was great!

So I did that for a couple of years and helped run Speed’s social media. We covered obviously NASCAR stuff, but we covered Barrett-Jackson and sports car stuff. It was really good experience because it got me into a corporate kind of atmosphere to see you have to go to an office and you have a desk and you’ve got co-workers. That was all kind of new to me. You have a salary. You have insurance. Those are things where you were struggling and you were worried about, but now you have them and that it was really nice.

So then, that becomes FOX Sports and then you kind of just ended up on there. But then that ends, and it looks bad for you yet again because it’s like, “Oh no, now has my path ended?”

I will say that when the Speed stuff ended, I was lucky enough to go work on the Miller Coors account with GMR. So I spent honestly, it was maybe a month or two on that account and then one of the folks over at FOX called me and said, “Hey, we’d love to have you come on.” And that initially started as somebody to help with social and upload stuff to the website, and that morphed into writing, and then the next thing you know I was writing with Tom Jensen as probably the No. 2 NASCAR guy on that website.

That had to be a pretty unbelievable time at that point in your life.

It really was. When your name and your byline is on the front page of, it’s a pretty cool deal. You feel like, “Man, I’ve really kind of made it.” And during that time, I was lucky enough through (veteran writer) Ben White, who’s somebody I grew up reading and really admire, landed a book deal and was able to write a book (Start Your Engines: Famous Firsts in the History of NASCAR). That was a really cool part of my life and a really cool time.

The way the media had changed at that point, and the way that we were covering things, I wanted to do something different. I’d go out in the garage and spend a lot of my weekend working on a story. I’d write it and pour my heart and soul into it and I’d post it and then nobody would read it. And then we’d write something about social media and it’d just catch on fire. So I was getting a little frustrated with that and wanted to do something different.

I had something else lined up, so I left FOX, the other thing fell through, and then here I am again, up a creek without a paddle trying to figure out what I’m going to do.

Luckily through all the hard word I’ve had through the years, hooked up with, did some freelance stuff up there, rewrote a lot of the content on the NASCAR Green website. And while I was doing that, I found out that RCR was looking. So, talked to folks like Jeff O’Keefe who’s now with Toyota and Traci Hultzapple who works with Ryan Newman on our team, and just gave them my resume, sent in my resume to the folks up there.

At the same time, I was talking to IndyCar about doing their social media. And their first question was, “How soon can you move to Indy?” Which is a big move. So I had about four or five interviews with IndyCar, and that would have been a cool experience, but I really wanted to stay in Charlotte, wanted to stay in NASCAR. I told RCR that. I interviewed one day and later that week they offered me that position, and next thing you know here I was again.

This has been a whole crazy experience, and it just goes to show that certain doors will open at times you don’t think they’re going to, but you gotta work hard to kind of kick them in every once in a while.

You’ve been at RCR for a couple of years now, and ultimately you started this season in victory lane at the Daytona 500. Did you take any time while you were there to sort of reflect and say, “Wow, not too many years ago I was sleeping in the parking lot here in my car just trying to get a chance?”

It’s really incredible. I mean, as many times as I’ve been to that track, I never thought that would be a possibility. I could remember as a kid, I had this VHS tape and it was like the highlights at Daytona. It starts with this little kid running around these with little Matchbox cars on the ground. Next thing you know, he’s running Late Models and next thing you know he’s in victory lane. It’s kind of what I thought about. Like man, this is cool, because I remember I used to get so hyped about the Daytona 500 on race day when I was like 8 years old, and here I am standing in victory lane.

You think of folks who are no longer with us like my grandmother, my aunt, my mom’s cousin, folks down in Alabama, and just like, “Man, this is really cool.” You also think of folks that helped you get there, folks like yourself, like Ray Everett, Joe Donatelli who helped me with All Left Turns and hooked me up with Playboy to write an article about NASCAR. It’s just cool that all those people got you to where you are, and helped you along that way.

I think I had one of those moments last year too with Hemric when we were going for the championship in Homestead. Like I probably couldn’t talk to anybody on the grid at Homestead because it was just like so emotional. Like, “Man, we might win a championship here.” So that was really cool.

People are reading this and they’re thinking, “Man, I’d love to do it but it’s not in the cards for me, I just can’t make it happen.” What do you tell those people? Can anybody who really wants to who’s reading this work in NASCAR and make it, in your opinion?

I think so. If you think you can’t make it, you’re not gonna make it. You have to just never take no for an answer. It’s funny that we’re doing this at Atlanta because this was actually the first racetrack I came to to work at with HardcoreRaceFans, and Curtis Key, who owned a Truck team at the time, hooked us up with Truck passes so I could only be here until Friday. I used to have to sneak into the media center, and one of the things that Ray Everett told me then was, “Just walk in like you own the place.”

And so it’s kind of how I’ve carried myself through this whole deal. Sometimes you gotta kick doors in, sometimes you’ve gotta be patient to let somebody else open it. You just have to work hard. I don’t think that’s just NASCAR, I’m thinking of just in life: You have to work hard for anything that you want, and never give up on your goals. If you do that well enough and you’re good enough to people, you’ll make it happen. It might not be what you envisioned it would be, but you just gotta take whatever opportunity comes your way.

How I Got Here with Mike Joy

This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up next: Mike Joy, the longtime NASCAR broadcaster for FOX Sports.

Could you tell me how you got started and how this whole thing came to be?

I was in college and it was right after the dawn of college FM radio. We had a very progressive station, and it was all progressive rock, drug-infused music at night. But the station had a mandate to do live sports of all the university’s teams. So I had done football and basketball play-by-play. The sports I didn’t play in college, I broadcast them and learned my trade from other students who had experience doing it.

And it was fun. I got to doing news for the station and that was no fun. We had a UPI teletype machine at the station — donated, of course — but you were forbidden to rip and read: Rip a piece of copy off the teletype and read what those professionals had written. All stories had to be rewritten.

Why is that?

Because reading off the printed page, you weren’t learning anything. I didn’t want to bother with that — not because I was lazy, it just didn’t challenge me. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy writing all that much.

But I found that I could look at one of those news stories and rewrite it in my head and rebroadcast it as I went. People started telling me that’s a very useful skill, along with broadcasting live sports.

My goal, I wanted to be the next Dan Gurney or the next Mark Donohue. I wanted to race. But I didn’t have any money to find out if I had any talent, and there weren’t the junior racing series and cars like Bandoleros and Legends. There were Quarter Midgets, but they were few and far between. There just wasn’t that opportunity. Even Darrell (Waltrip), Darrell got in his first race car at age 17.

So in college, we were running road rallies and autocrosses — which is pylon racing in a parking lot — but we didn’t have an opportunity to really race. So we would run these autocrosses, and one place we ran was a quarter-mile track in Massachusetts — Riverside Park Speedway. They would run stock cars on Tuesday and Saturday nights, and we would have the track Sunday for our autocrosses.

Well, the track announcer, the PA announcer, was also an author and a Shakespearean actor, John Wallace Spencer. I learned a lot from him, especially about timing. John wrote all his books about things that could not be disproven: UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, things likes that. And he was having to book tours, so they needed another announcer.

Well I was autocrossing one day and they said, “When you’re not running your car, would you go up to the PA booth and just fill in the people that might wander by?” Because the speedway was attached to an amusement park and they’re seeing what’s going on.

Like on the same night you’re running?

Yeah, on the same day. So in between runs with our car, I’d go do that. Well here comes Ed Carroll, a fiery Irishman who owned the racetrack: “Why are several hundred people sitting in a stadium watching one car go around cones instead of being out in the park spending money?” Well, they were being entertained. We were having fun. And I got offered a job Saturday nights as the assistant announcer for his stock car track.

Now, I was in college full time. Part time, I was busting tires in a Firestone store, which because it was a union shop, I was making $3.05 an hour while my friends were pumping gas or flipping burgers for $1.75, which was minimum wage. So I thought I was doing great. So when they told me they would offer me $25 a night to announce the stock car races? Boom! That was awesome.

But I turned them down. I said, “They’re no way. I’m a fan of Formula One and Trans Am and Can-Am, and all you’ve got is a bunch of jalopies going around the track in circles. They’re just turning left!” And the PR guy said, “Why don’t you come to the track one night, why don’t you come Saturday night and see?” So Saturday night, I’m watching the A consi, and it’s the last chance to get into the main event, and these two cars come off Turn 4 side-by-side, banging wheels, bouncing off the wall, one guy wins by inches and the 6,000 people there go crazy. And I went, “Hell, I’ve gotta be a part of this.”

So I’m the announcer at this quarter-mile racetrack, and for the really big events, they would bring in the New England legend — then, as now — Ken Squier, to work the PA. And that’s where I really learned a lot from Kenley about how to make heroes out of these everyday people.

I was really naive. I thought Saturday night racers, that was their job — that they were professional racers, that’s what they did. I didn’t realize that one ran a repair garage, one drove an oil truck, one was a long-distance trucker during the week and they just carved out time on Saturdays to race. So I had a lot to learn. But that was the start of it, and it was the notice from Ken that helped open a lot of doors.

So you’re observing Ken and working alongside with him. At what point did he come to you and say, “You’re good at this, you need more of an opportunity?”

It didn’t take long. Within two years, I was doing public address five nights a week throughout New England, New York State, Long Island.

Is this after you were done with college, or was there overlap?

There was a lot of overlap and some cold winters and eating a lot of mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches in the winters. But that’s OK, I really thought this could work into something.

In 1975, five years after this started, I went to work in Stafford with Jack Arute at his dad’s track, and we had a ball. We’d have Ken come down for some big shows and I think we honed as many announcers out of Stafford as we did top level drivers to go to Cup. That’s where it really took off.

Jack came down to Daytona at the end of ’76, and I followed him at the end of ’78. We worked for MRN full-time in the office during the week, selling ads, signing up stations, and then broadcasting on the weekends. And it was a tremendous education.

When Jack left, I ended up running MRN for three years. CBS was by now broadcasting, and I left MRN full-time, kept doing the races on the weekends, but left the full-time job because of an opportunity. And then as soon as I left, CBS called. They couldn’t interrupt what I was doing at MRN, but once I was no longer there full-time, they said, “We want you to come work for us in the pits.” And again that was Ken Squier.

In the meantime, I learned so much from Ken and Barney Hall and Ned Jarrett, and that kind of helped me craft what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be in this business.

I would imagine, though, that the transition from radio to TV — it seems to me like it can’t be easy at all. Was it natural for you?

In the pits, it’s very easy because you’re reporting. The difference is, instead of telling people what you’re seeing and having to flesh out the word picture, it’s show and tell. It’s when you move to the booth that TV becomes very different from radio.

Radio, you have to create the entire word picture of the event of the separation between cars, what the cars look like, not just the attitude, but the colors, the paint schemes, the sponsor logo, everything.

In TV, the best TV announcers let the picture do most of the talking and try to tell the viewer what they can’t see — how things are developing, whether intervals are growing or shrinking, and things that they can’t readily see. The more technology we put on the screen, especially with the new scoring pylon, there’s less of that information that we have to give and we can delve much more into the why instead of the what you are seeing.

If somebody wanted to get into it now, should they go straight TV or should they still start in radio and build their way up that way?

I think radio challenges your creativity much more than television from sitting in the booth. Television challenges your restraint much more than radio. On radio, I knew that when I was talking, there were nine other voices that couldn’t wait to get in and all they had to do was flip the switch.

The rule in radio that Ken started is two-fold: You lose your breath, you lose your turn. And if somebody interrupts you, you stop mid-sentence — because they respect what you’re saying, but there’s something of immediacy. If you interrupt, it better be the second coming or something. It better be important enough to interrupt the train of thought of what’s being said.

I always tell people new to TV: “One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, and I have a lot of them: ‘I never learned anything when I was talking.'” And so instead of talking wall to wall through the event, we need to be respectful and restrained. Let the cars go through the frame and listen to them. Let a battle develop. And even sometimes, let a crash unfold. Let the people see it. And then tell them what and why.

You don’t have to say, “There goes so-and-so up on his side, here’s so-and-so in the wall, here’s so-and-so on the roof.” But we do, because we’re reacting to what we see. So it’s very hard to exhibit that restraint and to let the picture and only the picture tell the story. Now, when you have three Type-A personalities in the booth, all of us having been vaccinated with phonograph needles, it’s very, very hard to have that restraint.

You were announcing on CBS, and then you ended up on FOX once the contracts switched over. But was it that simple? Was there any question you would go there?

Oh, there was. I joined CBS in ’83, and CBS at that time only did three races a year: Daytona, Michigan and Talladega. So I would do the rest of the season for MRN and that persisted for several years. And then I was just doing CBS and picked up TNN when they got into racing and did all the TNN races for five or six years.

But in 1998, I began a three-year run of doing Formula One for FOX with Derek Bell. And while Bob Varsha did the same job on Speed, it then wasn’t really part of FOX, it was kind of different. So that’s where my relationship with FOX started.

Many of the FOX management were former CBS people, because FOX Sports was started when they got the NFL contract from CBS, so they absorbed a lot of those people. So as 2000 rolled around, CBS pretty much assumed that I would move with the NASCAR property to FOX.

It wasn’t that easy. NASCAR had a play-by-play person who was, for lack of a better word, a company man that they really wanted there. There were only two jobs, NBC and FOX. NBC signed Allen Bestwick right away. That left the FOX job, and there were a number of us in there vying for it, and I got it.

But it was kind of touch and go there for a while. And I think what put it over the top was, they had hired Darrell, they were talking to Larry McReynolds, and I made sure through Ed Goren, that David Hill and the FOX execs had a tape of a late-season Saturday race that Larry, Darrell and I had done together at Phoenix. And they looked at that and they go, “That’s it, that’s the chemistry we want. There we go.”

Is it possible today to still follow the career path that you had? For instance, you were a pit reporter on TV. Well now FOX hired Regan Smith because he has expertise and these drivers are so good at talking. Can someone still follow the path that you did to become the next Mike Joy?

I think so. I think the entry level is much easier than it has ever been. Any one of your listeners and readers can buy a piece of equipment, go to their local short track, establish a blog and be credentialed as media and get something up there on the web. Anybody can do that. There are zero barriers to entry, other than the willingness to do it and the cost of the equipment. And then, the more you do, the more you get noticed.

If you’re doing this at a local track and the local track people are smart, they’ll hire you to do it, they’ll hire you to work the public address. There are positions. That’s how I started. Those jobs are still out there, still available.

There are two and a half radio networks covering NASCAR on a regular basis: MRN, PRN and then the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Network, which does their one race. So there are opportunities, and there are people coming through radio that could transition to TV, and again a lot of that depends on the focus of the network.

(FOX Sports president) Eric Shanks, who’s our boss, he really likes the idea of having boots on the ground that have been on the field — and that’s not just in NASCAR, that’s in all sports. He wants ex-players and ex-coaches and crew chiefs, pit crewmen, to do the reporting on the ground partly because they instantly know what they’re looking at and why. But also because they can add their own layer of experience into what they’re describing. I support that.

So no, I wouldn’t get a job as a FOX pit reporter now. And there are talented people that wanted that job that Regan Smith has, but he’s well spoken, he puts his thoughts together in a good, concise way, he’s gonna do a great job for us. I don’t think we’ll ever have all ex-athletes in the pits, but we’ll have a balance of them and I think that’s good. Just like I’m not sure we’ll ever have all ex-drivers in the booth. I see two that might be able to, after a couple of years as booth analysts, transition to a play-by-play role. I won’t tell you who; I’ll go talk to their agents first. You know who they are.

What else is left for you to accomplish in your career? What else do you want to do that’s on your bucket list?

The next one, the next race. I’ve called Major League Baseball for FOX. That was fun. Would love to do some more, but I respect that FOX has people whose expertise is 100 percent baseball, and so it’s not for me to meddle in that.

Sports television has evolved so much. When I started, ABC and NBC used the same three or four play-by-play announcers each for everything they put on the air. Jim McKay did everything, from the Olympics to Indy to Daytona — everything, because he was that familiar voice that was important to the network to project to the viewers. And if he was there, it was a big event.

CBS’s approach was different, they knew auto racing was a very different sport. They did not put it in the hands of Chris Schenkel — they did for a while, they tried that, and Brent Musburger, they tried that. But they knew the sport required the expertise of particular people who were immersed in it, and that’s how I got that opportunity. Same with Chris Economaki, with Dave Despain, with David Hobbs, Ned Jarrett — we were all immersed in racing, and because CBS believed that that was what was needed.

It was a combination of timing, opportunity, recommendation, maybe a little talent, a lot of ambition. But to get to this level would be much more difficult than it was. There’s only two networks doing NASCAR, so there’s only two top play-by-play positions. There’s a lot of undercard, and we now have a separate play-by-play for each national series of NASCAR, and another group doing the touring series now for NBCSN. So there’s opportunities there. Vince Welch’s son (Dillon) did the pits for the ARCA race the other day, which is great, because he really wants to be in this business, had the background, they gave him an opportunity. Wonderful.

So at the entry level, at the mid-level, there are a lot of opportunities. I know there’s a bunch of people hoping I retire real soon, and my intent is to greatly disappoint them. Greatly.

How I Got Here with NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell

This marks the debut of a new weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about their journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on Up first: Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

Before we get started, can you tell us about what is required of your job in NASCAR?

Day to day, I’m up in our Concord (N.C.) office and oversee our Research and Development and competition groups. So really it’s all the rules and regulations in the sport and kind of what goes on during the weekend. Then all of the marketing and sales and promotion would be obviously under a separate group with (chief global sales and marketing officer) Steve Phelps.

So it’s a great team of people. I guess I’m tasked day to day from the poll that goes out from Jeff Gluck on if the race is good or not — that’s how I’m judged — and then safety, and then really the relationships with the industry.

I understand you grew up in Egypt, or at least for a time — I listened to Nate Ryan, he had a great podcast with you last year and you talked about that. How did you get to this point in your life?

A lot of twists and turns. I was in Egypt for high school and, candidly, wanted to play college baseball. I ended up at Rollins College, a small school in Winter Park, Florida, and obviously got to know NASCAR a little bit more being in Florida and being near Daytona. I really wanted to be in sports and wanted to figure out how do you do that. And I ended up working in minor league baseball and over at the Citrus Bowl, and saw that NASCAR was really taking some roots.

I started out in the marketing department (with NASCAR), so I was the victory lane guy, I was the hat guy (who hands out various sponsor hats to the team for photos). I did a lot of the pre-race ceremonies, got to know the drivers, the contingency program. So that’s where I started out, and that’s where I probably learned the most and got to meet the most folks as well. That was kind of my entry point into NASCAR.

So you helped with the hat dance? Is there old victory lane footage of you and we can spot you if we go back?

If you want to look around, you would I think find from 1996 to 1998, you’ll find a number of times, Jeff Gordon in victory lane in Pocono — I was the guy and got sprayed with champagne for sure. And I got yelled at a few times. But it was cool because you got to know people. Most of the sponsors obviously are in victory lane. And then the pre-race ceremonies, coordinating with the track, it was good and bad.

What they told me when I started in NASCAR was if you’re a somewhat decent person, you’ll survive in this job because you’ll get to interact with all levels. If you have a big ego, you’re probably out in six months because word gets around. So it was a good experience for me.

Are there any incidents from then that you’ve stuck in your mind? Like do you go back to somebody and say, “I remember when you yelled at me that time, and now I’m Steve O’Donnell!”

I’ve never done it that way. (Laughs)  But I remember way back in the Gatorade days with Ed Shull. Ed used to run the Gatorade program, and NASCAR used to have a program with them. One of the tasks was when that car drove into victory lane, the Gatorade bottle went on the car.

We were in Indianapolis, and Indy does it a little differently. So I’m in victory lane, and the head of the track sees me with my Gatorade bottle and he says, “If you put that on the car, you’re out of here. I will throw you out of victory lane.” And Ed Shull tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re putting that on the car.” And so I did.

It was another Jeff Gordon win (1998), and I was summarily thrown out of victory lane. I was escorted to the hauler (to meet) with Mike Helton. And at the time, I knew Mike, but not that well. It was me and I think the senior track guys and Mike, and luckily Mike defended me — which was great.

Steve O’Donnell (arm visible in upper right) places a Gatorade bottle on Jeff Gordon’s car after the 1998 Brickyard 400. O’Donnell was doing his job but got thrown out of victory lane by Indianapolis track officials (Screenshot from YouTube).

Another one was way back in the day at the Milwaukee Mile. Steve Bird was the crew chief and I was getting the driver ready to get out of the car and he said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m with NASCAR,” and he said, “Get the hell out of my way.” He kind of shoved me out of the way.

So I’m on the plane with Mike Helton, and I’m relaying this story. He said, “Birdy pushed you?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “We’re fining him!” And I said, “Oh no, no, no, I don’t wanna be part of this.” It was funny back in the day.

Overall, how many years have you worked in NASCAR now?

This is my 21st year. I’ve spent about 12 years probably on the marketing side and then three or four — I did all of our weekly racing series, so similar to minor league baseball, and I traveled to all of our short tracks. We had 100 at the time, and that was part of my job managing that and the touring series. And then (working) straight competition, probably the last four to five years I would say.

At what point did you want to make the switch? I’m sure you have an appreciation for the marketing department, but obviously there was something about the competition that drove you to that side. What was it?

I always liked the operations part and what went on from the track and how we put on events. And then I loved what happened on track, and I knew I didn’t have the full engineering background, so I didn’t push for a lot of that. But I knew I was pretty good at managing people and a team, and was candidly given the opportunity to get into the racing operations side — which was more working with the team owners on some of their agreements, just what we’re doing day in and day out with the track. It was not necessarily the rules and regulations of the sport. But Mike Helton and some of the guys gave me a shot to do that with the R&D Center and that really evolved into, “Hey, can you manage this group of people?”

And I said, “Well, that’s new for me from an experience standpoint. What if Jeff Gluck asks me some in-the-weeds questions?” And they said, “That’s OK, we’re gonna hire the right people, it’s more putting a good team together.” So I think that gave me an opportunity to get more into competition, which, candidly, I love. At the end of the day, it’s all about what happens on the racetrack. That’s the aspect I love of this part of the job.

What would you describe as the big break in your career and who gave that to you?

When (former chief operating officer) George Pyne worked here, we had NASCAR’s 50th Anniversary and we were gonna look at “What do we do? How do we brand this? How do we really make this a celebration of NASCAR?” I was kind of the victory lane guy and I sent George a note and said, “I’m looking at getting involved in some more things. I don’t have experience in licensing or some of these other things, but put me to work if I can be of help.”

(Pyne) created a committee and kind of threw some stuff at me more and more, and it kind of evolved to where he trusted me. It became an, “As we have opportunities, Steve’s the guy we may want to look at.” And that helped me get to the weekly racing series and then from there, I worked hard. Every manager I’ve had has been great. Jim Hunter was a big influence on me and him and George helping me, so I would say that one project helped at least get on the radar internally. And then from there, it evolved to where you’re working with the (France) family and hopefully doing a good job.

So did you ever envision yourself in this role? Could you have dreamed of that when you first started with NASCAR?

No. But I’m not a guy that came into a job and said, “I wanna be the XYZ of NASCAR.” Don’t get me wrong, I have ambitions and want to work hard, but I just liked what I did, and I wanted to continue to do that and as more things came in front of me. I was like, “OK, I’ll go after this and hopefully do a good job and if not, I’m sure they’ll tell me and I’ll be on my way.”

But I love the sport, I love the people and felt like if I could contribute and could continue to be part of that, I was happy to do that. There’s been some times, candidly, where I was like, “Am I over my skis a little bit? This is new to me.” And I think the industry has really has been good to me to help out. What I found is as long as you talk to people and listen, you can get most good ideas just from listening to people and trying to corral where we’re all trying to go.

What’s next in your career? Obviously, you’re still fairly young. You have a long career with many years ahead of you. Do you see yourself doing this the rest of your career? What else do you want to accomplish for yourself?

I’m a big family guy and I think part of the one challenge of the job — and I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining — but I had young kids when I started. I was away a lot.

I’ve got a son now who’s a sophomore in college and a daughter who’s about to graduate (high school), and a wife who’s like, “What are we gonna do?” So I think it will also be an opportunity where — she’s a big race fan as well – maybe wants to come to some more races.

I try to be at every baseball game and did pretty well at that, but I think I’ll have some more time to get up (with people) on a social aspect, go to dinner with a driver, spend some more time with a team owner and try and make maybe some more informed decisions. Some of the times you make a call and you haven’t maybe talked to as many people as you would have liked to.

I love what I’m doing. I think for me the key is setting NASCAR up for the next generation. We’ve got Scott Miller, we’ve got Gene (Stefanyshyn), we’ve got John Probst who just joined us — but who’s that next group of people so that we put this company in a (good) position?

(In the past) NASCAR was a place on the competition side where if you came from a race team, you were probably on your way out or retiring, and it was just, “Hey you don’t wanna go there, you’ll be out of the loop.” And I told Scott Miller if we could ever make this change, that we can get people from a race team (who) actually want to go work here and feel like they can go back and forth (between NASCAR and a team job), we will have succeeded. We’re not there yet, but we’re starting to see that. That’s really my focus, is to just continue to get the right people that everyone in the garage trusts and it’s a place where we’re all working more together.

There’s some famous career advice out there where to find your dream job, find someone who’s already in that job and then try to understand how they got there. If someone out there is reading and is like, “I’d love to do what Steve O’Donnell is doing someday,” how should they get started? Is it something where they should go to their local track and start, or should they try to get into NASCAR in the ground level? What’s the ideal path to get to where you are?

I’ve had people who gave me a shot, so I’m not gonna sit here and say, “Hey, he’s the most skilled person ever.” I’ve been really lucky people believed in me. But for me, what I’ve always seen is internships show that someone really cares and they’re taking the initiative. If you’re in college or whatever and you’re saying, “I’m gonna spend my summer and I’m gonna go try and work here.” — forget even grad school — for me, when I look at a resume, I’m like, “That person took initiative.”

And then when I look back at my career, I was afraid maybe to call some people (because I thought) “They don’t wanna hear from this young person.” I would say, anybody who’s in a position of where I’m at who doesn’t call back someone who took the initiative to reach out for a job is an absolute jerk. Because we were all there.

So I would say make that effort, and don’t be afraid; if it’s a friend of a friend and you’ve got a shot, use your resources. Because at the end of the day, it’s gonna be, “Jeff Gluck knew John Smith and Jeff thinks this person is a good person, so I’m gonna give him a shot and talk to him.” So I’ve always found that that’s a big part of this.

And then the other part is, don’t let people say no. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, stay after it, because people will see that. And if you hate your job, get out, because it’s a long life, hopefully. I did some jobs before NASCAR — I was a sales guy, I’m selling long distance door-to-door in New York City for a year. It was a tough job, got yelled at a lot, learned a lot, but I knew, “I hate this and I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” So I went and did unpaid internships and it worked.

So you already had started your career in some ways and then to reset, you said, “I’m just gonna completely start over?”

I graduated from college and I didn’t know you could even work in sports, but I kind of heard, “Hey, you might be able to work in minor league baseball, it doesn’t pay a lot.” But I was like, “Wow, this could be great.” And went out to (a seminar in) El Paso, Texas, and it’s all the general managers of the minor leagues, and I looked around and it’s 40 people looking for a job.

And at the end of the seminar, they gave everybody the microphone and they said, “You have one minute to say why we should hire you.” I think I did OK to get an unpaid internship in Iowa, but I didn’t have money (to accept it) at the time, so I ended up moving back home.

I was in New Jersey, and I got a sales job literally selling long distance to businesses. So I would cold call, go in, and then I’d get the, “Are you an f’in sales guy? Get out!” But I grew up quick, so it’s like, “Gotta make some money here and try and figure this out.” You learn about people a little bit, and I ended up getting an unpaid internship down in Orlando. I was like, “You know, I’m gonna try this.” I made enough money to kind of survive in the summer and did that, and I turned it into a couple more gigs and then led to NASCAR.

So when the media comes to you with some difficult questions, it’s nothing compared to being yelled at by some New York business guy?

No, I think I actually enjoy that part of it. I know in that role, it’s part of what we’ve gotta do. And I also learned, you know, I know sometimes I can be defensive with some drivers and it’s hard — I wear my emotions on my sleeve and sometimes I don’t even know it. Our communications people are like, “You looked really ticked during that.” I’m like, “What? Really?”

So I enjoy that part. I watch a lot of press conferences of other people (and observe) how they handle things. When you think, “Boy, that guy looked really mad,” from a media person, I’d write, “That guy’s a jerk!”

You (reporters) have a job to do and I respect that. You’re not asking me because, “I’m gonna bury this guy.” Sometimes you may have to, but I respect that that’s your job. And my job is to do the same: Try answer as honestly as I can.

That’s one other thing: No one in this industry has ever gone away. You can be a jerk and try to win that one argument, but two years later, you probably need something from that person — and then (the previous argument was) not worth it. I think you try and work hard, but here’s some advice: Work hard and be nice, because at the end of the day, people will hopefully respect that.