Sunday, November 12, 2017

Talking to current Cup drivers

I was just looking at the Phoenix finishing lineup, and it occurred to me that winner Matt Kenseth is one of the few current NASCAR Cup drivers I've ever talked to.

I've been in a press room with several drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., but I never talked to any of them one-on-one.

I've interviewed Kenseth a few times on the phone; he did a wonderful job. I remember asking points leader Kevin Harvick a question or two a few years ago during a Media Tour stop at Richard Childress Racing.

I talked to Jimmie Johnson once when he was a rookie back in the day. The Phoenix driver I knew the best was Derrike Cope, who finished 32nd today. In 1990, we were at Charlotte, and I talked to Cope near his trailer. He'd lucked into a Daytona 500 win that year, so I asked about it. He had plenty to say.

Cope said that, one day, he was going to whip their butts and show them what he could do. I didn't need to run his interview that weekend, so I saved him until the next week, Pocono. Naturally, he won running away, whipping their butts, and I looked good.

Those were the only two wins of his Cup career (so far).

Also, a bunch of us, including Derrike, once had dinner together at Darlington. The waitress was named Angel. Derrike was a good guy.

• Good timing for Derrike Cope


Sunday, October 29, 2017

A career in auto racing (so far)

I've written about motorsports for lots of publications since 1980. My first racing stories were about a guy who raced his Peterbilt truck. I was disappointed when he gave up racing; I was enjoying writing about him for the Seneca (S.C.) Journal.

My next racing stories were about guys who raced at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Easley, S.C., and the paper was the Easley Progress. I wrote about Charles Seay, Donnie Bishop and Gene Morgan, among others.

Most of all, I learned a bit about short-track racing.

The sports editor at the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News wasn't interested in me writing about auto racing, since he didn't think his readers cared. Then when I moved to the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, the sports editor wanted me to cover car owner Hoss Ellington.

That's where I really got into racing.

Hoss's driver then was the famed David Pearson, by then in semi-retirement. David and I didn't hit it off then (we did about 20 years later), but I got along fine with Hoss's other drivers: Davey Allison, Sterling Marlin and Brett Bodine.

My racing career took off after I became the racing writer for the Charleston (S.C.) News & Courier (later Post & Courier) in 1990. I covered anywhere from six to 10 Winston Cup races a year, and I got to know Richard and Kyle PettyDale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd and others.

I wrote four comic-book scripts from 1991 to '92, and I frequently wrote for Winston Cup Scene and occasionally wrote for Speedway Scene, Racing for Teens and other publications. I wrote the cover story on Earnhardt for the inaugural issue of Beckett Racing Monthly and continued to write for BRM until it changed its format in the late '90s.

When Beckett decided to do three stories on racing artists Jeanne Barnes, Garry Hill and Sam Bass, Beckett racing editor Mark Zeske had me do them. (I started writing this post after I thought of Mark this morning. He was one of my favorite editors.)

I later wrote for another friend, David Green, who worked first for a web site and later for a slick magazine. My last feature for David was on the "next" Dale Earnhardt. They were meaning a dominant driver who was a little bit of a bully on the track, but obviously the "next" Earnhardt would be Dale Jr.

I've written a bunch of racing stuff since I left Charleston in 1998. In 1999, Beckett had me do a book on Racing Families. In 2001, I wrote a coffeetable book called I Remember Dale Earnhardt for Cumberland Publishing out of Nashville, and in 2007 Cumberland asked me to update the book, edit it and add about 20,000 words, and it became Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Then in 2012, Triumph Books was looking to update a book called Then Junior Said to Jeff... Jim McLaurin (my long-time friend) and the late David Poole had written the book originally, and I added about 20,000 words with more of the greatest NASCAR stories of all time.

I occasionally wrote about racing for the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, sometimes covering Bowman Gray Stadium racing. I covered the opening of the Winston Cup Museum in 2005, and I remember doing a feature on a young female drag racer.

From 2011 until '14, I wrote features and notebooks for the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record. It was mostly about current drivers and such at Hickory Motor Speedway, but many of the stories were about all-time great drivers (Ned and Dale Jarrett, Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and others) who had raced at HMS. That was a blast, since I got to interview people I knew (among them Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Jerry Punch, Chad Little, Wally Dallenbach Jr., Hut Stricklin, and more).

Most of my recent racing stories have been for Winston-Salem Monthly magazine, including ones on the motorsports program at Forsyth Tech in Winston-Salem, the reopening of the Winston Cup Museum, the Zack Reynolds racing exhibit at the museum, and a profile of famous gas man Chocolate Myers.

I wonder what my next auto-racing story will be about. Any ideas?