Monday, June 27, 2011

Shifting gears

In 1990, I was the auto-racing writer in Charleston, S.C., and life was good. I was in Daytona Beach for the summer race; I'd written my lead story on Bill Elliott and my notebook lead on Darrell Waltrip starting his 400th career race, and I thought I'd head outside to get a few extra quotes. I was also freelancing for Winston Cup Scene (later NASCAR Scene), and you never knew what you'd find.

I walked outside and saw a plumb of smoke in turn four, white against a lovely blue sky. I hurried to pit road to see what was the matter — there was a clatter of activity — and there was the No. 17 car (DW's) sitting there with a mashed hood and smoke billowing upward.

Oh, oh! I could see my lead and notebook going up in smoke.

I hurried down there, found that Darrell and whoever he wrecked with (Dave Marcis, I think) were fine and got a few quotes.

I rushed back to the press center and made the Bill Elliott story my feature for Sunday. Naturally, I made the Darrell Waltrip piece my lead story for the next day, and I reworked my notebook so I had a lede (newspaper parlance for the lead of a story) note to replace DW.

As I recall, there was more to it than a wreck. I don't think they used radios in practice back then, and this wreck may have produced a rule that forced Cup teams to use radios during practice. Perhaps that came out while we were writing; maybe it came later. I don't remember.

I didn't rush, but within an hour and a half after I saw the smoke, the stories were done. I'd used my copy-editing skills to craft what I'd already written into something almost totally different.

The guys at the News and Courier (it would become the Post and Courier a couple of years later) probably had no idea what I went through, and they wouldn't have cared.

It was the first time I'd had to deal with something like that, and I found it exhilarating. I was dealing with "breaking news" of the sports kind, and I didn't mind the extra work at all.

It was a good weekend all around. Elliott and Waltrip both raced on Saturday, I filed my stories for Sunday, then stopped somewhere in northern Florida and watched "The Jetsons" movie. Then I ate somewhere and headed home.

I expected the extra work to be a pain in the butt. Instead, it was fun.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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