Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: 7 Golden Rules for a Rookie NASCAR Columnist

The NASCAR season is an unrelenting, unremitting grind. It doesn’t matter who you are – whether you’re a driver, complete with your private planes and entourage of “handlers,” – or you’re a pit crew, one that travels countless thousands of miles and spend weeks and months on the road away from their family, friends and loved ones. But it’s not just the men and women who ensure the cars turn left as quickly as is humanly possible, the NASCAR season is also a grind for the weekly columnist.

Like everything in life, you can only do your best but over the course of what is essentially a 40-week stretch, you might just come up short every now and again. Thinking of and writing a cogent column of around 1,000 words is not that easy… and it’s especially the case since I’m still a rookie NASCAR reporter. I don’t have a bank of reserve columns or a string of topics to wax lyrical upon. So, with the All-Star “break” upon us already, here are my seven golden rules for a rookie NASCAR columnist.

Whatever you say about Dale Earnhardt Jr., someone will disagree…

It truly doesn’t matter what you write or how rational you are about NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver – not everyone will like what you say. It is, in fact, as close to a cast iron guarantee as you can get that someone will disagree, and likely, it will be a vehement opinion to the contrary. You can also rest assured you will hear about it in the comments section; but what you can also be sure of is that someone else will oppose the initial commenter, and it all then tends to spiral out of control from there.

Of the 20-plus columns I’ve written for Frontstretch so far this year, none have provoked the ire and indeed the fire of the NASCAR fans like the one I wrote on Junior. One reader wrote to me to say that I was obsessed with the man from Kannapolis, N.C. – in fact, he went so far as to proclaim: “Important message for the Mooresville Police. Be on the lookout for a stalker at Dale Jr.’s house. Danny, you have set new records here regarding hero worship.” Quite how I did that is unclear to me; but oh well. I have been warned.

No one is interested in Jimmie Johnson

Or so it seems. My column on the back-to-back champ elicited almost zero response, which is always a little upsetting for a rookie columnist. In fact, one of the only two commenters suggested that I shouldn’t write about Jimmie winning it all so early or indeed, anyone but Dale Jr. being likely to win the championship. For a column that I thought turned out really well, the response was disappointing.

If you’re going to be controversial, then go all out…

It took a few weeks of articles before I was prepared to stick my neck out over the proverbial parapet. My first risky subject was a column on Toyota’s first win at Cup level (“Rowdy” Busch at Atlanta). Predictably, the comments on essentially “hating” Toyota flew in from all corners of cyberspace. There was also this classic comment (which I doubt will ever be topped): “As for your view Mr. Peters, if it wasn’t for ‘all Americans’ you would be German now not British.”

Now I’m not going to get into a history lesson here, but it was a viewpoint that came right out of left field. One reader even wrote to me and said it’s the job of a Frontstretch columnist to be controversial; so I’ll continue to be that way.

Don’t be afraid to write back to people who leave you comments…

Even the people who leave the most stringent of dissenting opinions will write back to you if you get in touch. In fact, I’ve heard (offline) from one gentlemen who saw racing on Daytona Beach in the 1950s and another who is a professor in Connecticut and ex-motorcycle champ. NASCAR fans come in all shapes and sizes, I’m quickly learning; and of all the people I’ve written back to, he’s the only one who hasn’t replied, which is a pretty good average all things considered. One final point on this – at least your friends will jump in and support you when the insults fly, something which is very much appreciated.

If you have an idea for an article, write it yesterday…

A couple of weeks back through a contact at NASCAR, I got the chance to interview a young driver called Paulie Harraka. He’s part of the Drive for Diversity program and is competing this year at the All-American Speedway for Bill McAnally Racing. We did the preliminary interview and then planned to do a second part of the article based on his performance in the first race of the season (a race he won, incidentally). But two days before that race, I was scooped by a NASCAR.com columnist. My own fault, really, for delaying and definitely a lesson learned for a newbie writer.

The website www.racing-reference.info is your best friend…

One of my loyal regular readers (Hi, Dad) asked me how I’m able to include so much historical and general background factual information all the time. The answer is really simple – racing-reference.info is my friend. What a site this is, with detailed race results for every event run in all three of the top series. Plus, there are comments sections on each of the races, so you can always sense check what you’re writing against those as well. In short, I couldn’t have written so many columns without the help of this fine site.

Don’t rush to judgment when picking your article topics…

Three races is not a sample size, and my column that was fulsome in praise for the early-season form of Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler looks ludicrously premature. And about two weeks after I suggested Juan Pablo Montoya’s “Chase or Bust” season looked like a bust, he skipped back into the top 12. The season is a long, winding road and anything can happen, so it’s important not to rush to judge drivers and situations with more than 20 races to go.

So, those are my seven golden rules. Like all rookies, I’m sure I’ll continue to make the odd faux pas over the rest of the season; but rest assured, I’m trying my best each week and that, as I said earlier, is all you can do, really.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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