CONCORD, N.C. — As SPEED SPORT celebrates its 85th anniversary, I realized I am celebrating an anniversary of my own.
This is my 10th year as part of the SPEED SPORT family, an achievement that when I was 20 years old seemed so far beyond my reach that I never considered it a possibility.
In 2009, I was a 24-year-old copy editor at The Shelby (N.C.) Star, still fresh out of college and looking for my career path. I’d always been interested in racing — I can still remember listening to the radio with my dad as Bill Elliott won the 1994 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway — but I felt a career in motorsports was only a dream.
The town I grew up in (Sunny View, N.C.) is so small the only stoplight in the town is a flashing red at the intersection where the gas station and restaurant are located. To say expectations for kids coming out of that area are limited would be an understatement.
My parents pushed me and my two brothers to get out of Sunny View and go to college. I ended up at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where I got a degree in Mass Communications. I had no idea what I was going to do with that degree other than work at a weekly newspaper, but it was a start.
After graduating in 2007, I landed a job as a copy editor at The Shelby Star. The hours sucked, the pay was not great and I didn’t feel like I was living up to my own expectations.
Eventually, I pestered the sports editor, Alan Ford, for an opportunity to do some writing. I started writing occasional stories about NASCAR and I landed a front-page story about a local high school football star who ended up on Furniture Row Racing’s pit crew.
I thought that moment would be the highlight of my career. I was very wrong.
In 2009, a former co-worker at The Shelby Star, who had moved on to another job, informed me that National Speed Sport News was looking for a full-time editorial staffer.
I tracked down the job posting online and sent in an application. While I didn’t believe I had enough experience for such a job, I was surprised to receive a phone call from a man who I would come to know as a great friend and mentor, SPEED SPORT editor Mike Kerchner.
From there, I spoke on the phone with Corinne Economaki, daughter of Chris Economaki and publisher of NSSN, and I was then invited into the NSSN office for what turned out to be a test run.
I passed the test and was offered the job. I was over the moon. Here I was, at 24 years old, getting the chance to do something I’d only dreamed about.
Taking the job was — second to marrying my wonderful wife Anne — the greatest decision of my life.
Fast-forward 10 years and it’s been a hell of a ride. There were some rough times, like when National Speed Sport News ceased publication in 2011 and I was laid off. For a time, I thought my dream job was finished.
Thankfully, a new group, spearheaded by Joe Tripp and Ralph Sheheen, revived the brand under the SPEED SPORT name. With Kerchner back in the saddle at the editor’s desk, I returned to oversee website activities.
My favorite moment of these past 10 years, however, has nothing to do with racing. One day early in my career Corinne Economaki called me into her office. I had no idea what I’d done to warrant the summons, but when I walked into her office I was met with a very stern voice.
She told me that we needed to talk about how I dressed. Remember, I grew up wearing jeans and sneakers in a country town. Dressing up was not something with which I was comfortable. She informed me that my wardrobe needed an upgrade and she’d be taking me to the local mall to do some shopping.
That’s exactly what happened. We met at the local mall and she took me shopping in Belk, where she purchased me new dress shoes, slacks and a few dress shirts. I went from wearing baggy shirts and polos that didn’t fit to actually looking like I knew how to dress. So, thanks to Corinne Economaki, I learned what it meant to dress to impress.
That’s just one of hundreds of stories that I and the other SPEED SPORT staffers could tell. We hope we’ll be able to keep telling them for a very long time. Thanks to our readers for helping us reach 85 years. We couldn’t have done it without you.