Media Profile and Podcast: David Poole Hometown: Gastonia, N.C. Date of Birth: March 14, 1959 Family: Wife Katy; sons Matthew and David; daughter Emily; grandson Eli. Alma Mater: University of North Carolina (Class of '81). Degree ...
Media Profile and Podcast: David Poole
Hometown: Gastonia, N.C.
Date of Birth: March 14, 1959
Family: Wife Katy; sons Matthew and David; daughter Emily; grandson Eli.
Alma Mater: University of North Carolina (Class of '81). Degree in journalism.
First Job: City editor of the Gaston (then Gastonia) Gazette. Joined the staff late in the summer of '81. Spent two years in this role. David first worked for the Gazette -- "the birthplace of NASCAR writers," he says -- while in high school, then during his college weekends and summers.
Next Job(s): Sports editor of the aforementioned Gazette for six years. Joined the Charlotte Observer on April 1, 1990. David edited copy, laid out pages and wrote a television-radio column until January 1997 (see below).
Current Job: NASCAR beat writer for the Charlotte Observer since January 1997.
David succeeded the Observer's long-time beat writer Tom Higgins -- a sort of blindsided succession, he says. Higgins retired following the 1996 NASCAR season, a decision that coincided with the Carolina Panthers' second season and their first trip to the NFC championship game.
Consumed by football, editors simply forgot to hire a successor, according to David, who just happened to be off on the January '97 day when a boss called desperate for someone to attend that year's NASCAR media tour.
"And a month later I was in Daytona at the 500 as the Observer's beat writer and to this day, I'm not sure how that happened," says David, now in his 11th season. "That was 10 seasons ago. And the woman who is now my wife -- she and I were just friends at the time -- I told her about the opportunity and she said, "Don't do it!" And she reminds me of that about three times a week now."
On succeeding Tom Higgins: David's predecessor was well-known in the sport. Carving one's own niche at first took a back seat as David scrambled to orient himself. Using Higgins' contacts helped, but didn't substitute for on-the-job savvy, even though David says he knew names, faces and storylines thanks to having edited Higgins' copy.
"The first six weeks or two months was just overload," he adds. "Meeting people, learning -- I didn't have a company credit card when I got this job and now I spend $35,000 a year of the company's money traveling. That's how unprepared we were. I had to buy luggage -- that's how bad it was."
What it's like to work for the Charlotte Observer: With most NASCAR teams based in the metro Charlotte area, the Observer is the paper most likely to be stuffed in owners' and drivers' mailboxes. Which is great -- sometimes -- David says. Early in his beat work, he recalls four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon leaving a press conference following a race he'd won.
"And Jeff said, "Look forward to reading your story in the paper in the morning,'" David says. "And that was kind of a jolt because you think, 'Yeah, my paper's the one he'll see in the morning.' "
Example No. 2: Following the 2000 season-opening Daytona 500, David compared Bobby Labonte's pit crew to the Keystone Cops in a notebook item. When he visited Joe Gibbs Racing to research a feature on Labonte's championship later that season, the notebook resurfaced.
"There must have been seven copies of that hanging up at various spots in their workroom with yellow highlighter, and big, ugly circles and arrows pointing to it," David says. "And I thought, 'You have to be careful, a little cognizant.' If you feel like you're right, you still can say it, but you have to at least be aware. You don't get many free shots at these guys working for the Observer."
How the NASCAR beat has changed: David's description is "complicated."
"It's amazing how the sport's grown," he says. "The drivers have so many more people pulling at them. There's a lot more people like me watching everything they do. The relationship has changed."
So has his industry. Once a straightforward, daily-deadline environment, today's beat work involves 24-7 deadlines, sometimes across many mediums.
This season, David also co-hosts a daily morning show on Sirius Satellite Radio and participates in taped and live appearances on ESPN. He and co-worker Jim Utter, who shares the beat, constantly feed the Observer's web site -- www.thatsracin.com.
"NASCAR was one of the first sports to really get covered on the web better than it was covered in a lot of places in the newspaper," David says. "If you're a race fan living in Minot, N.D., or Dubuque, Iowa, chances are you're going to get a lot more news on the internet still than you do in your local newspaper. That's not necessarily true of any other sport."
How he does the job now: Utter takes digital photos while David tapes radio and television segments. The latter predicts it won't be long before they both haul video cameras around the garage with their notepads.
"All those things are conduits to get information," David says. "And I think the media companies that survive long-term will be the ones that understand, A, that that's the way it is, and B, how to manage and make a buck out of that."
He admits the juggling sometimes gets wearisome.
When former series champion Benny Parsons died in February from complications from cancer treatments, David heard the news while in the midst of his morning radio show. Saddened, he got off the air for 15 minutes. Called thatsracin.com and asked personnel to post an obituary he'd written. Only then could he go back on-air and discuss the news.
"It's just like anything else," David says. "You just have to get the job done whenever you can however it can. There are times when there are obviously conflicts."
What's still cool about his job: David has witnessed nearly all of NASCAR's memorable events during the last decade. He cites short-track action at Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, and Dale Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 win as favorites. Also Kevin Harvick's and Mark Martin's sprint to the finish in this year's Daytona 500.
David remembers all the last-lap drama unfolding while realizing simultaneously that in an adjoining tower booth, race officials were making crucial, split-second decisions.
"Not everybody gets to be where I get to be to see things like that," he says. "So that's cool."
So are most of the sport's participants. David says NASCAR's "jerk quotient" is "ridiculously low" compared to other sports.
"There are a couple guys that I just have not ever really connected with and they're not my favorite people and I'm not their favorite people," David says. "And there's a couple of wives that want to kill me and that kind of stuff. But for the most part, most of these guys and me have a pretty good relationship and that's because they're, again, for the most part, all very decent human beings. Which is a great benefit to have in a job."
Who's his technical advisor: For many years, it was Hendrick Motorsports' head engine builder, the late Randy Dorton. Lately, Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Lenny Wood serves as one of David's backboards.
"I go ask him, 'Am I out of my mind, or this?' " he says. "There's some people in NASCAR. (NASCAR NEXTEL Cup director) John Darby is a very patient man, thank goodness. He's a terrific guy. And I think for the most part, you develop a rapport."
A soon-to-debut book David authored about Jeff Burton's team fostered relationships with several crew members, including engineer Jeff Curtis, nicknamed "Jazzy."
"Jazzy and I agree on about one percent of the things in the world," David says. "So it's good sometimes to go up there and bounce something off of Jazzy and let him argue with me. It helps me flesh out my argument."
Best story he's written: David's first choice involves the last day the historic Holman-Moody race shop stood before being demolished to make room for a Charlotte airport hangar. He spent time wandering the deserted structure, where he discovered an old wall calendar tattooed with phone numbers in owner John Holman's handwriting. One belonged to famed car builder Banjo Matthews, one of Holman's business partners.
"That was really cool because you knew that you were standing in a place where history had happened," David says. "And this is going to sound funny, but I had the same sort of feeling that I had the day I went to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Because you know that within these walls, that a lot of important stuff in the context of what they are, happened."
His other favorite story involves driver Ricky Craven, who heard on the morning of the August 2003 event at Darlington Raceway that his snowmobile shop in his native Maine -- which also housed much of his racing memorabilia -- had burned to the ground. Craven competed that Sunday, then flew north to inspect the damage. According to Poole, all he could salvage was a commemorative metal coin. Just months earlier, Craven had dueled Kurt Busch to the checkered flag in Darlington's spring event, winning via photo finish.
"He talks about every time he picks that coin up, he wants to throw it away, but he can't," David says of Craven. "And I got to thinking about how that's the way racing is sometimes -- it's two sides of that coin -- highest high and lowest low."
The story he'd strike: In March 2000, David says he described that season's early races as boring. Although he wasn't alone in his description, the memory of it echoed loudly after Dale Earnhardt's death the following February. David says he couldn't escape the thought he might have contributed to the overreaction in 2000.
"Some races are better than others and some races will put you to sleep," he says. "But when 43 guys are giving it all they've got, boring's not the right word. I've tried not to ever to use that word again and I hope I never have and I hope I never will."
On the NASCAR beat corps: As one of its longest-tenured members, David says he occasionally catches himself in a time warp. He remembers irritating several beat writers when he succeeded Higgins; now, tables sometimes turn.
"I have a job to do," he says of those early experiences. "And if it made some other people mad, I hate that for them. But that's just the way it is. And then now, I find myself going, 'Well, who does he think he is?' It's almost like it's the old thing about your parents. You hear yourself saying things that your parents said to you and you vowed you'd never say. Well, that's the way I am."
Sometimes David covers other sporting events for the Observer; he says he often hears sniping about what it must be like to cover NASCAR, and doesn't hesitate to defend himself and his peers, citing grueling travel, airport delays and bad food.
"There are days when I look around and go, 'These guys are idiots and I'm one of them,' " David says. "And then there's other days I'm very proud of what we do. I think there have been days when we've helped the sport."
While saying he'll continue to push for diversity in the sport, David also gives NASCAR its due as the industry's authority.
"They've done a lot of things right over the years," he says of leadership. "Obviously this sport wouldn't be as healthy as it is if they didn't know what they were doing. And you know, I'm never wrong. That's the thing about me. And it's because none of my decisions matter. When I say we should do this, this and this to the point system, there's no worry that I have that that's ever going to be put into place and then six weeks into it, I'm going, uh oh, this isn't going to work. NASCAR has to worry about that. I respect that."
Funniest thing ever seen at the race track: It's not funny, David says, but his strangest choice is a pre-race military parachute jump gone-wrong several years ago at North Carolina Speedway, thanks to blustery winds. Otherwise:
"Any time (track president) Humpy Wheeler puts on a pre-race show at Lowe's Motor Speedway you see something hilarious -- making the frontstretch safe for democracy and blowing up stuff," David says. "You see crazy stuff all the time. You see things you didn't think you'd ever see -- Earnhardt getting booed at Bristol when he wrecked Terry Labonte -- just booed heartily at Bristol. Stuff like that."
David also recalls Earnhardt's '98 Daytona 500 victory, when the seven-time series champion cut a "3" in the infield grass with his tires. After post-race ceremonies, fans swarmed out to retrieve chunks of sod as souvenirs.
"It was like they were going to Turin to get a piece of the shroud," David says.
"People ask me all the time, 'Why do these people care so much?' " he adds. "And if you have to ask, you don't get it, you don't understand it. And I can't explain it to you. And that's just all there is to it."
Most embarrassing moment: Several years ago, David wrote a column berating the Charlotte mayor for not attending the series' all-star event at LMS. The next week, while at an Eagles concert in Atlanta, he got a call confirming the mayor's attendance.
"I just said, 'Excuse me?' " David says. "I had been in a running battle with the Charlotte mayor about his support for NASCAR and I had basically just given him all the pies I could bake for him to smash in my face. So I had to spend the rest of the week just saying, 'I'm an idiot.' I had to go on his radio show -- 'You're an idiot. Yes sir, I'm an idiot.' When you get something wrong, you feel like an idiot. You just feel stupid."
What he does for fun: David used to play golf until he got carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, he watches golf. And occasionally covers it.
What he really does for fun: Play "Paw-Paw." When daughter Emily delivered her son Eli on Sept. 3, 2006, David and wife Katy became grandparents.
"He's my screen saver," David says of Eli, "and there's a little slobber running down his chin, which I thought was particularly appropriate. I told somebody, 'Six months from now, if he's any kin to me, that'll be barbeque sauce.' He's great. I told Jeff Gordon when he found out he was going to be a father, 'When that little thing looks up at you, you're done. It's over.'"