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By LORI WORLEY
Working at Bristol Motor Speedway, there are lots of questions you hear over and over from friends or acquaintances. Like, “Who’s your favorite driver,” or “Can you get you get me some tickets,” or “How do I get hot passes?”
And then there’s the “How long have you been in racing?”
The answer to that is that I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t involved with it in some form or fashion.
As a kid, my parents brought me and my brothers to the races here all the time. We lived just up the road and it was the perfect thing to do for a family outing. We’d load up the station wagon with blankets, drinks and snacks and off we’d go – not to the track itself but to the farmer’s property just up behind Turn 4.
Back in those days the track was much different. The grandstands weren’t high at all so the farmer would open up his back pasture, charge a dollar or two, and let cars come in and park because you could see the entire track from there. Trust me, it was a heck of a great spot from which to watch.
And because my Daddy was a Richard Petty fan, I was a Richard Petty fan. I can still see that ol’ No. 43 Petty blue Pontiac barreling around the turns and my brothers and I screaming for The King.
Little did I know that one day I’d actually be writing about my hero. And Dale Earnhardt. And Darrell Waltrip. And Jeff Gordon. And lots of others.
I had always loved sports, always loved to write, so it seemed natural that I become a sportswriter. So that’s what I did. And about a year into it, the guy who had been covering motorsports for the Bristol Herald Courier quit. I didn’t have any seniority so I knew there was no chance I’d be awarded the beat -- until everybody figured out that of all the people on the staff, I was the only one who’d ever even been to a race.
So that’s how I became a motorsports writer. Pure luck. Or destiny. Whatever you wanna call it.
The funny thing about those days at the paper is that we really didn’t travel to cover the races. It was Bristol and only Bristol. Spring race and August race. That was it.
Well, that didn’t really sit well with me. I loved the sport and it was so much fun to write about so I begged my editors to let me go to other tracks. They finally relented but under one condition: due to budget restrictions, I couldn’t spend the night anywhere so if I wanted to go I had to drive there, cover the races, write about them and drive back.
I was young. Enthusiastic. (Maybe, in retrospect, a little dumb.) So, I started covering races at Charlotte and Martinsville. Those drives weren’t that long so it wasn’t really all that tough. But then I wanted more…so I started going to Talladega and Darlington.
A typical Talladega trip went this way: I’d get up at 3 a.m. Sunday morning (after leaving work around 1 a.m. Saturday), leave around 3:30 and begin my nearly seven-hour drive. I usually got there well before lunch was served (always important if you’re a sportswriter) with enough time left over for a quick trip through the pits. I’d cover the race, then write my lead story, followed by a column.
More often than not, I’d leave ‘Dega around 8 p.m. I’d drive straight home, making it to my driveway, typically around 3 a.m. And yes, if you’re counting, that’s 24 hours. An entire day.
I did that for years. And I’d do the same thing for Darlington, which wasn’t a much shorter drive.
Crazy, that’s about the only way to describe it. But at the time it sure never entered my mind that it was anything other than fun.
Eventually, a few years before I left to come to work at BMS, the newspaper actually budgeted for me stay a night or two at some tracks like Indy and Texas. And yep, ‘Dega and Darlington too.
I came to work here in 1997. My last race as a sportswriter was the very first race at Texas Motor Speedway in April of that year. And my first race as a public relations representative for BMS was The Night Race in August that year (Dale Jarrett’s first and only Cup win here).
The rest, as they say, is history. I just celebrated my 15th year at BMS, so if you figure up all those years I came to races as a kid, then as a sportswriter, and now as a PR rep… well, the answer to that question “How long have you been in racing?” is… pretty much from the drop of the green flag.