I had a moment this morning on the way to the airport of sheer disbelief at what the last two and a half years of my life have looked like. On January 2nd, 2016 I landed in Los Angeles with three overweight suitcases and a heart full of hope for the second chance at a dream. The funny thing about dreams is we are all told to have one but rarely does someone tell you how to survive them. Just one year earlier from arriving in Los Angeles I was coming to the conclusion that maybe my dream in this lifetime just wasn’t going to happen for me.
In 2010 I moved from my home state of North Carolina to New York City with the dream of being a sports reporter. I worked for a sports agent during the day and waited tables at night in order to live there. It would take me almost two years to finally convince a digital college sports property in Chicago to hire me as as a production assistant. I loaded everything that I could fit from my apartment into the back of a rented minivan and convinced my best friend to drive 16 hours west with me to the Windy City. I lived on an air mattress for the next 3 months and eventually picked up another restaurant gig to help make ends meet. For my efforts behind the camera, I was awarded a few on-camera interviews here and there and in the fall of 2014 I landed my first sideline role with Time Warner Cable Sports covering High School Football Championships back in North Carolina. Shortly after, I signed with an agent and finally felt a bit more hopeful that this crazy pursuit of mine may actually come true.
In early 2015 my mom would suffer an unfortunate circumstance that led me to take a more steady sales job in Boston, Massachusetts selling meat from Maine to Maryland. By April we were both living together in a one-bedroom, 440 sq ft apartment as I sold Italian sausage out of our freezer. I can only imagine how crazy this story sounds to you... but I had truly moved into a good place of acceptance in putting my dreams behind me and was embracing my new career path and life in Boston.
Then the phone rang. It was July and a sports media mentor I had come across in New York City called to fill me in on opportunity that my skills may be a fit for- “What do you know about drag racing?” I can still hear the words. “The long, skinny things with the parachutes? Not too much.” Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina we were surrounded by motorsports. On weekends we would go up to 311 Speedway in Madison, North Carolina to watch super late models take to the dirt track or to Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem where I’d count down the minutes to the demolition derby, Piedmont Dragway is less than 2 miles from my Aunt & Uncle’s house in Julian, North Carolina but I had never been to a marquee NHRA National event.
I spent the next three months researching everything I could find about drag racing and in October of 2015 I flew myself down to Dallas to attend my first NHRA National event. In context, the NHRA’s then broadcast partnership with ESPN was coming to a close at the end of the year and the league was preparing to bring all production in-house for their 2016 season on Fox Sports. I had prepared two reports I wanted to present to my now boss- one on the 30th Anniversary of Texas Motorplex & one on Texas drivers competing in their home state. I interviewed the Pro Stock champion Erica Enders (who would go on to win the race), the 8-time Top Fuel World Champ Tony Schumacher & even got my first baptism by Nitro while interviewing former Funny Car driver John Hale in the pits as a warm-up was going on beside us. To say I was blown away by the event, the drivers, the fans, the competition is an understatement! At the close of the weekend, the NHRA invited me to the Finals in Pomona and to help our with their red carpet interviews at the Mello Yello Champions awards dinner. On November 16th, 2015 after my red carpet duties we over, I was offered a multi-media reporter position with the NHRA and a second shot at my dream.
Now into my third season with the National Hot Rod Association, I look back in gratitude on the risk the sport took on an unknown reporter with still very little experience who was at the time selling meat in Boston. When I tell you I have the best job as a reporter in sports, I am not embellishing on my words. There is no better feeling than at 11am on Sunday Eliminations. For the next 5 hours, the unpredictable chaos, shocking upsets, raw and vulnerable emotion will move us through 4 Rounds of racing until 1 winner in each category will raise a coveted Wally. It’s truly what dreams are made of and a honor to experience these moments alongside the best drivers in the world.
And like Sunday Eliminations my professional journey has also been one of unpredictable chaos. Trust your instinct, trust the process, be relentless, find the people who believe in you and show yourself some kindness along the way. While the path to your passions will be full of highs and lows I hope there is comfort in knowing we are all just trying to survive the dream.