Hello all! I’m really deep in the process of getting this new book finished, with a publishing deadline staring me in the face, so I was in a quandary about how to maintain this blog while still trying to write two or three chapters a week.
And then I saw a social media comment from my friend, and former PR colleague, Elon Werner in which he mentioned “pinch hitting” for me if I needed a guest blogger. I couldn’t think of another person who could do this any better.
So here’s the deal. For the next few weeks, while I’m trying to crank out a few more critical chapters, my friend Elon is going to step to the plate and swing for the fences. He’s smart, he’s hilarious, and our paths to our eventual places in this world are uncannily similar. We both had master plans about our lives and careers when we were in college. We both ended up doing absolutely nothing even remotely close to those plans.
His stories are rich, and very familiar. He’s one in a million in terms of my favorite people. Just like me, he’s done stuff he never contemplated. And he has the memories of spending many years as the PR rep, handler, wrangler, and kitten rustler for John Force and his entire team. Our conversations back then always had my head spinning. I had the honor of working for Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson, two of the easiest guys in the sport to represent. He had the honor of trying to wrestle a tornado for all those years.
Plus, he has a fascination for all the credentials he’s ever worn in his PR career. I have every one of mine, as well. We’re kindred souls.
And, his story about being interviewed by Billy Meyer to work at the Texas Motorplex is an exact duplicate of how I found my way into the sport of NHRA Drag Racing. Bill Kentling, at Heartland Park, decided to hire a marketing guy and teach him about racing, rather than hire a racing guy who might be able to manage and market the venue. That was me. A life-altering moment.
Elon will be here for a few weeks. I hope you enjoy his ramblings and I thank him immensely for doing this. Enjoy!!!
I would like to thank Bob for letting me take the ball for a few innings when it comes to writing this blog. I know this is a huge responsibility and I hope this doesn’t turn into a Kevin Cash situation. I will do my best to entertain and inform.
Bob is an excellent set-up man but I thought I would spend this first blog introducing myself and offering a preview of things to come. Like Bob’s career trajectory, my route to my current position as vice president of sports publicity at Tony Fay Public Relations is not what you would call traditional or conventional, or even predictable.
I have a degree in Business Administration from Austin College. No, not Stephen F. Austin or Austin Community College. Austin College is a small liberal arts college in Sherman, Texas, chartered in November 1849, and it remains the oldest institution of higher education in Texas to be operating under its original charter. How official does that sound?
I enrolled in college with the idea of becoming the next Dr. Hawkeye Pierce from the sitcom M*A*S*H and Austin College had an excellent reputation of cranking out graduates who could have their pick of medical schools. Unfortunately, eight years of science classes, labs, and studying did not seem like a good idea once I got into the flow of my freshman year, which was more consumed by basketball games, parties and general socializing. I made the most out of my experience at a school of only 1,300 students. I ran for student body president with zero experience in student government, I joined the track team with zero experience throwing the javelin, I made the cheerleading squad on a dare. I met my future wife and generally sucked all the fun out of four years of a liberal arts education.
The absolute best thing that happened to me in college, besides meeting my wife, was ruining my shoulder in a nasty fraternity beach football game that effectively ended my walk-on basketball career as a Fighting Kangaroo. I was devastated but the athletic director who happened to also be my academic mentor suggested I join the student staff of the sports information department. This act of kindness changed the course of my life. Austin College was so small they did not have a full-time sports information director so a couple of students ran the office for all the sports, for a small stipend.
It was great. I was still part of not just the basketball team but also the football team, baseball team, women’s softball, track & field, swimming and soccer. I was an enthusiastic writer and promoter of the teams and some of our standout athletes, with the local Sherman media, and even got some stories in the Dallas Fort Worth media. I stepped in as the PA guy on games when needed and set up the press box every Saturday before the football games, lugging a hand-crank mimeograph machine up the stands while it poured purple ink down the front of my pants.
I had found my calling as a story teller and also a numbers/stats nerd. I kept the stats books for football, basketball and baseball and I also produced the media guides for all the sports as well as press release creation. I had no formal journalism or public relations training at the time and even now my grammar might not be perfect but I always hope my passion comes through in my releases.
As graduation closed in on me I realized I needed a job and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in sports PR or try the sports journalism route. Through an alumni connection I was given an informational interview with the Dallas Mavericks on November 7, 1991. Any NBA fans or LA Laker fans remember the significance of that date? I was just getting through the “Hi, how are you doing?” portion of my first sports job interview when the phone rang and Kevin “Sully” Sullivan, the Mavs PR director, picked up the receiver. I watched as the blood drained from of his face and he simply said “Unbelievable!” He hung up the phone and told me Magic Johnson was about to hold a press conference and announce he was HIV positive. In 1991 that diagnosis was considered a death sentence and Sully knew it would send shock waves through the NBA and the global sports community. He asked me if I knew how to use a computer and if I could get right to work. The next three hours were a blur of researching Magic’s stats versus the Mavericks over his career and also helping answer the phones, which by then were ringing off the hook. Before I knew it I was standing outside Reunion Arena wondering if I had even had a job interview. The next day one of the stat boxes I had compiled on Magic versus the Mavericks was on the front page of the Dallas Morning News beside a Magic Johnson story. I thought that was about the coolest thing ever.
Two weeks later Sully called me and asked if I could come to the New York Knicks game against the Mavericks. I wasn’t sure if this was a continuation of my job interview or just a ticket to a game as a thank you for not screwing up on the Magic deal. I dressed for success just in case, arriving at the arena in pressed khakis, a starched white dress shirt and tie, the standard PR guy uniform for the 1990s. When I went to the Will Call window I wasn’t handed a ticket but rather a media credential for the game with a note to come down to the lower level of the arena.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had been to maybe two NBA games ever and was in the nose bleed section both games. Now I had an official credential which, I found out, let me go just about anywhere on the court as well as the locker rooms. I was tasked with handing out stat sheets at the end of each quarter and just before the end of the game I was told I would need to get post-game quotes from the visiting coach and two players. I had to ask someone where the visiting locker room was and when I arrived there was a group of maybe ten writers waiting outside of the locker room for Knicks coach Pat Riley. I was nervous but excited and as soon as Riley exited the locker room he walked right into the middle of the scrum. No one said anything for what I thought was an eternity. I knew I had to talk with two other players so I just asked him about the game. He gave me an immediate death stare but then gave a succinct recap of their win and who he thought played well. I had been keeping some stats in the game and asked a specific question about a run the Knicks made in the third quarter to take a lot of the wind out of the Mavericks’ sails. Again, death stare from Riley and a couple of the writers were giving me serious side-eye but, once again, he gave me a great answer. I clicked off my mini-cassette tape recorder and went into the locker room. I got my two players and went about transcribing my interviews. We used typewriters back then and there were about six people all typing at the same time. I can still remember that sweet symphony of key strokes ricocheting off the concrete walls of the auxiliary press room.
At the end of the night I found out that the reason Riley was giving me a death stare and the rest of the media guys were giving me sideways glances was Riley had an established post-game routine. He would come out and formulate his thoughts then give the media a quick recap followed by maybe one or two follow-up questions. I had no idea about this routine and just jumped right in. I am thankful he answered my questions and didn’t make me look like an idiot. Over a decade later I was able to talk with him again after the Miami Heat won the NBA title in 2006 over the Mavericks. On the second go-round I was familiar with his routine but I did get two additional questions in.
That same championship season I was a part of one of the funniest post-game press conference moments with Dirk Nowitzki. After Game 1, Dirk was talking with the media and I was able to get the last question of the presser. The events leading up to that question are part of Dirk Nowitzki lore. See for yourself:
After the Knicks game I came back to work a few more games for the Mavericks that season before joining the staff as a full-time intern for the 1992-93 season. During my tenure with the Mavs I learned from two of the best sports media services people in the business; Sully and Tony Fay. That experience with the Mavs gave me the foundation of skills I would take with me into the world of motorsports.
As my time with the Mavericks was coming to a close a mutual friend heard there was a race track in Ennis, Texas that was looking for a PR director. She passed my name to the vice president of sales at the Texas Motorplex and also gave me his name. I reached out to him and was offered an interview a few weeks later. Again, the cliché holds up since it is not what you know but who you know. Louise’s kindness in terms of that referral provided me the opportunity to have a shot at a new adventure.
When I met with Billy Meyer, the owner of the Texas Motorplex, I did not know he was a former Funny Car driver and champion. I didn’t know that the Texas Motorplex was the biggest and best drag strip in the country. All I knew about drag racing was what I was able to find in one Sports Illustrated article on Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme, and I vaguely remember the silky smooth tones of ABC Wide World of Sports’ Keith Jackson talking about Big Daddy and Shirley Muldowney at the U.S, Nationals when I was a kid. Billy took one look at me and decided on the spot he had been hiring drag racing people and trying to teach them PR, but maybe he would hire a PR person and teach them drag racing. It was a match made in heaven and over the next ten years we did some amazing things at the Motorplex.
Those years were also my first introduction to Bob, Del Worsham, Dave Densmore, John Force and many, many more drag racing characters. My sports odyssey would extend from the Motorplex to Super Bowls, NBA All-Star games, to the inside of John Force Racing, to a quick stint with Heritage Auctions, and now back to NHRA drag racing. There are some interesting side hustles too, like running NFL No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston’s draft day event from Birmingham, Alabama, to working the inaugural College Football Playoff game in Arlington, to some press events with Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and my all-time sports hero Mean Joe Greene, leading up to Super Bowl XLV.
I will share some of the amazing stories from the road, in the pits and driver lounges, as well as personal reflections on sports, family and relationships. What I love about Bob’s blog is I get an understanding of how his life and experiences may not be exactly like mine but there are many similarities. I hope to carry on that legacy of intimacy and hilarity.
See you next week!