Monday, December 28, 2015

Goals and dreams for the new year

As 2015 winds down to its last remaining days, I wanted to say a few things regarding what this blog has meant to me and how I hope to carry it forward into 2016 and beyond.
If you haven't heard my story before, I am a former employee of a small daily paper in the southwest corner of Utah who struck out on his own in June in search of his next big adventure when new powers that be came into the place and basically gutted everything.
If you had real talent and a passion for auto racing like I did, it didn't matter to them. If it wasn't getting clicks -- and I can say with dang straight certainty several of my pieces had clicks in the hundreds -- just shut it down.
Well, I decided that 10-plus years of relationships that had already been well-established weren't going to be shut down on my watch. It's all about moving forward, not three steps backward.
I am employed on a part-time basis by the community weekly in my hometown, and they have been a wonderful backbone of support in allowing me to continue writing about auto racing, a sport I love to cover and have gotten pretty good at.
And I know the audience in my home state is there -- from north or south. Just check the infield parking lot at Las Vegas in March and you'll see plenty of Utah plates on the motor homes and RVs.
This blog was born -- actually an extension from what I had produced in print and online at the old place -- in June, and this is the 58th piece I've produced, an average of around 12 per month.
Some have resonated with you more than others, but all have drawn a consistent audience. I'd love if the audience were bigger, but around 2,500 total page views in the space of those posts isn't half bad for starting from scratch.
I know I can do more, though. I'd love a little bit of help.
I've appeared on the radio in multiple venues to talk up racing with great people. I was a weekly regular on Racing Fan Radio out of Salt Lake City on 1320 KFAN for nearly 15 months and still appear on the air occasionally. I was a guest on Press Pass on SiriusXM with PRN's Mark Garrow and my friend and colleague Jerry Bonkowski of NBC Sports three weeks ago.
That's a national audience -- seriously cool stuff.
I've appeared on the Happy Hour Garage podcast -- -- with friends Shannon Yochim and Maureen Kelly, and that feels like another good, logical step to help me continue building a brand as a member of the motor sports media.
The first essential need is some good podcasting equipment. I've learned that recording each show with no distractions or background noise is essential to the quality of the work, too.
I can work on the show details as each week comes -- journalists are masters of planning on the fly -- but don't want to break the bank in getting the show off the ground.
Any advice or knowledge is more than welcome. You can share with me on my Twitter, which will display at the end of this post.
As for the immediate future, I'm going to enjoy the offseason and let 2016 slide into place. I'll be around and return to full-on posting here as warranted through January, then hit the ground blazing as racing at the Daytona 500 gets closer.
Thank you all for reading this blog. I hope you and yours have an awesome, speed-filled season in 2016.
Followers and comments are more than welcome on Twitter @Tomzsports.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Surprise for Gordon caps memorable night at Sprint Cup awards

For the seventh straight year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion’s Week celebration happened in various locations around Las Vegas, from the FanFest on Fremont Street in the downtown area to the official crowning of Kyle Busch as the 2015 champion Dec. 4 at the Wynn Hotel and Casino resort.

I was blessed beyond measure to bring the moments from Champion’s Week to everything from social media to radio, and now to print for an inside look at my favorites, starting with the NMPA Myers Brothers Awards luncheon. It’s why making the trip, even on my own dime, is worth it every single time.
-Busch was given a 24-carat gold 1/12th diecast model of his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry. He gave credit to tire provider Goodyear, saying “it was a lot of fun to burn up and rip apart tires on the way to the checkered flag.”
Then came William Clement, who accepted the Champion Sponsor Award for the Mars candy company, primary sponsor for Busch.
After looking at the gold car for a moment, Clement turned toward the audience and said “the only thing better than one of those cars in gold is one made out of chocolate.”
Love the synergy that comes from something like that.
-One of the better underdog stories of the year came with Martin Truex Jr., who drives for the Furniture Row Racing team based out of Denver. Truex finished fourth in the final standings and spoke of how girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s fight against ovarian cancer shaped his attitude.
“With her determination, her fight and her spirit, she never let (her illness) get her down,” he said. “She never asked ‘why me?,’ never had a pity party. It was all about ‘what do I gotta do to beat this? I learned a lot from her that I was able to translate into making this season a successful one. Having a positive mental attitude is very important, and watching her go through what she did the way she did really helped me with that.”
-The red-carpet arrivals for the ceremony to honor Busch were loaded with celebrities, from show host Drew Carey (“The Price is Right”) to Sabrina Carpenter (“Girl Meets World”), Rachel Platten (who closed the show in awesome fashion with her hit “Fight Song.”) and even the red and yellow M&Ms characters.
Best wardrobe choice of the night belonged to Rutledge Wood of NBC Sports Network, who handled the pre-show interviews dressed in a red plaid suit with black-and-gold trim. It looked like something crossed between Bobby Knight’s 1970s wardrobe when he coached at Indiana to a test pattern on a TV screen.
I laughed openly when I got my first look at it, and that’s not a bad thing.
-As for the ceremony itself, the top 16 finishers from the Chase were all there except for Denny Hamlin, who is recovering from surgery. The favorite early highlight came from Clint Bowyer, who finished 16th.
“I’ve never finished last at anything in my life,” Bowyer lamented half-heartedly, calling the trophy a “participation award.”
When asked what he thought the family reaction would be like, good-natured humor was on the agenda.
“Even grandma’s gonna give me grief for this,” Bowyer said with a chuckle.
-Several Green Bay Packers fans are in the NASCAR garage, including Wisconsin natives Paul Menard and Matt Kenseth. As a Michigan native, Brad Keselowski counts himself – albeit quietly (a good call, by the way) as a Detroit Lions fan.
Following the Packers’ Hail Mary miracle on the final play Thursday night that beat the Lions, Kenseth related his reaction to it.
“I was looking at my phone and saw double-zero on the clock and thought the Lions had won,” Kenseth said. “My wife (Katie) came up to me and said ‘you know the Packers actually won, right?’”
Of course, Kenseth got to see the winning play soon after.
As for Keselowski, he described how he couldn’t find the CBS station that carried the game on the TV in his hotel room until he saw the fateful play.
“It was my fault,” he joked about the Lions’ loss.
-But clearly the biggest moment that made this ceremony so special came with the surprise introduction of Jeff Gordon by none other than actor Tom Cruise, who starred in a little racing movie in 1990 called “Days of Thunder,” two full years before Gordon had his first Sprint Cup start.
It was a moment to relish and savor. All that was needed was to see the tears in Gordon’s eyes and the genuine emotion that poured out in his speech.
At that point, the reality of the end of a sensational 23-year NASCAR Sprint Cup driving career settled in. We’ll always have Gordon’s 93 career wins – third on the all-time list – and four championships, but I got so much more from his work in the long-term.
There’s passion and joy that comes from bringing racing to readers each week. Racers like Gordon have helped make my passion come to life, and saying “thank you” for an amazing adventure in simple words isn’t nearly enough.
I may be writing in a small town for a publication that prints only once a week, but I know my heart for motor sports is in the right place every single day.
Thanks, Jeff. #24ever.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @Tomzsports.