Published on Friday, January 24, 2014 by Alanis King
During last year’s running of the Snowball Derby – the most prestigious Super Late Model race in the country – I was simply a spectator. That’s more than most people can say, however, as the race isn’t televised and is therefore only truly accessible to those who make the trip to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida to watch it. But this time around, in the 46th-annual running of the race, I was introduced to a whole new side of the event, and of racing itself: I returned to Five Flags Speedway with a media credential and a crew that had bounds more experience with doing at-track race coverage than I.
I had no idea the extent of what I had signed myself up for. It was like being voluntarily thrown into the media-world fire. Everything produced by writers Matt, Aaron, and myself would be widely viewed and shared on SBNation.com’s motorsports page, no matter if I performed magnificently or if I royally screwed up – and believe me, there were people certain that it would be the latter. It was my first time covering an event, any event, as a media member, and I was significantly younger than anyone else at that racetrack who possessed a credential. Live media coverage was foreign territory to me. It was nerve wracking. It was not going to be easy. And not to mention, everyone’s eyes were on the rookie and how she would perform under pressure.
The first hurdle of the weekend came with composing pre-Snowball Derby coverage, meaning that my “weekend” actually started weeks before the calendar weekend did. The pre-race content I created was intended to educate the general racing population on the Snowball Derby, as it’s an unsanctioned event and tends to have different rules than typical NASCAR races. The pieces I prepared – a history of the track and event, an infographic, and a profile of the top race contenders – were meticulously done. Every single detail had to be checked and rechecked – I couldn’t risk jeopardizing my credibility as a media member before the weekend even started.
And though I thought the pre-race coverage was difficult, it didn’t compare to what I would encounter when I actually pulled up to the speedway.
Saturday morning began the true race coverage for the weekend, and also began what I expected to be my toughest challenge: my first on-camera interview – ever. If that wasn’t enough, the interview was with NASCAR veteran Jeff Burton and his son, up-and-coming Late Model driver Harrison Burton. The elder Burton had just recently announced his new deal with NBC Sports as a broadcast analyst, so not only was I interviewing a huge name in NASCAR, I was interviewing an experienced broadcaster as well. Talk about pressure.
After a fairly intimidating first video interview – which went very well, surprisingly – the broadcasting portion of the weekend was in full swing: pre- and post-race roundtables hosted by yours truly, other pre-race video coverage, and what I discovered to be the most difficult on-camera activity: post-race interviews.
I learned immediately that conducting on-the-spot interviews following the race is easily the best on-camera coverage to do when it comes to gaining experience – and I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Looking back, of course, it’s a good thing, but nothing can make a person more nervous than listening to a driver’s responses and formulating questions as he or she is speaking. The interviewer is accompanied by no notes, no structured interview questions, and no definite sense of what the driver may or may not say – it’s quite the adventure.
Fortunately, like the Burton interview, the post-race coverage went incredibly well. In all honesty, the media coverage for the entire weekend far exceeded my expectations. It certainly wasn’t easy; there were naysayers and doubters about the fact that an 18-year-old “kid” was participating in the Snowball Derby – the Snowball Derby – as a media member, but in the end, the experience I gained and the credentials I obtained were priceless. Not only that, but the friends I made and the times I had were unforgettable. So no matter how daunting a task may seem and no matter what anyone else says – whether they doubt or support you – chase your dreams. I promise you’re not too young to do so.