Fresh Out of the Trenches, Pits, and Paddocks: Looking Back at My First Year as a Motojournalist

I had been an avid fan and supporter of motorcycle road racing in the United States for nearly a decade. I had watched hundreds if not a thousand motorcycle races on TV, assembled an impressive library of recorded races, and had built up a fair amount of knowledge about the sport. But I always felt that there was something more I could do. I had had a notion for the longest time that I could take everything I had learned and everything my mind is capable of and contribute to rebuilding the image and popularity of the sport. In 2013, the year before the sport’s salvation appeared in the form of the KRAVE Group and its MotoAmerica brand, I tried to help the sport. I prepared a 60+ page strategic plan for how to turn the sport’s fortunes around. I will probably never fully know whether that plan made a difference in the sport’s direction. However, even then, I still believed there was more I could do. I still believed I had a bigger contribution to make to the sport that has given me so much.

Last year, an opportunity presented itself to make a bigger contribution. I had met Larry Ward and Roy Dyckman from iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show (TWPH) way back in 2009. It was sheer chance that we stayed at the same Super 8 in Greenfield, Indiana, which would become our annual meeting place for the next five years. The more we saw each other during our annual pilgrimage to the MotoGP weekend, the more Larry and Roy were able to see both my passion for and knowledge of the sport. Larry was even kind enough to give me airtime on the TWPH back in 2013 after I had mailed out my plan to the American motorcycle road racing establishment.

After I moved back to Ohio in 2014, Larry, Roy, and I began to see each other more often at motorcycle events, and eventually we hatched a plan to create a social media platform for the TWPH. As Larry is fond of saying, “Members of your generation probably cannot even find the AM band.” In an evolving world of media, I was able to assist the show in reaching new listeners and positioning it for future growth with a strong social media presence. It was a couple months after we launched the social media platform that the door opened for me to join the ranks of motojournalists.

That opportunity began with the cancellation of the MotoGP race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 2016. One of my friends and I were planning on riding to the MotoGP race at Circuit of the Americas in 2016. Both Larry and I realized the opportunity to cover the MotoGP event for the TWPH. We immediately found some airtime for me to acclimate myself with being live on-air, as well as obtaining media credentials for both the MotoGP event and the MotoAmerica season.

I honestly was not sure what to expect as a new motojournalist. I knew a couple of riders in the MotoAmerica paddock, and had been to a dozen professional motorcycle road racing weekends. However, aside from writing an occasional article for the high school newspaper, I had never “covered” an event in my life. Larry and Roy gave me a few pointers on what they normally did when they covered an event. I also talked quite a bit with my friend Natalie Liebhaber, who covered the old Champ Car World Series for years and continues to cover the college football scene. I figured it was going to be different from the typical fan experience at an event. I realized I was not going to be able to spend every practice session snapping photos from every corner of the track or be able to peruse the vendors on the midway. Little did I realize just how different it would be, or how much I would end up enjoying it.

The MotoGP/MotoAmerica event was probably not a great choice for my first foray into covering a motorsports event. Upon walking into the media center (which is also doubles as a conference/event center during non-motorsports events), I was overwhelmed by both the sheer number of media personnel there (several hundred) as well as the plethora of information available about media scrums, press releases, and lap time sheets. Just trying to find an open spot to set up my laptop in the media center was a challenge, as there were few seats left unclaimed. It was cool to be walking through the VIP/media area behind the garages and seeing the likes of Keanu Reeves just hanging out in a team’s hospitality center, or walking by Yamaha MotoGP team boss Lin Jarvis like he was just any other bloke. However, the entire experience was a bombardment of both the senses and the mind.

To complicate matters more, I has also elected to cover the AMA Pro Flat Track race that night, and had to rush over to the dirt track to pick up my media credentials in time. I texted Natalie at some point that day, and she helped me realize I needed to be selective about what I was covering. While I was at a MotoGP event, I realized I would primarily be covering MotoAmeriva the rest of the year. So I decided to focus more of my attention there. There were just so many riders I wanted to interview, people in the MotoAmerica paddock I wanted to see or meet, and places around the track I wanted to watch the action from. Another usual part of the CotA experience were the restrictions on where I could and could not go as a media person. At most MotoAmerica events, I am allowed to work the back of pit lane. I tried going out the podium celebration, and was kept back by security. It was confusing, to say the least. Overall it was a successful weekend from a media perspective, but I quickly realized that I had an awful lot to learn.

After CotA, I was able to settle into my role as a motojournalist. Without the overwhelming environment, I was able to get to know some of the other personalities in the MotoAmerica media community and eventually began to feel like I belonged. One of the biggest parts of my job was doing interviews. My graduate coursework in qualitative research methods really came in handy. A lot of the interviews I did I didn’t record. I realized this was my first year in the press box and I needed to establish my reputation with the MotoAmerica rider community. As the season went on I was able to do just that. At the end of the season, when Josh Hayes walks into the media center and knows you by name, that’s a big success. I was still able to get out and take some pictures like I did in my fan days, but did not have nearly as much time for it. While I miss it a little, I really enjoy the media work even more. I also spent a couple weekends honing my media skills by covering the Ohio Mini Roadracing League’s event at Circleville Raceway Park and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

One of the other things I had to get used to doing was being live on-air. It sounds cool to those who have never done it, having so many people listening to what you have to say. However, it is also live: there are no second chances. If your mind slips for a second or you are not prepared, there is no take two. However, eventually you get used to it and know how to prepare and keep things brief. Though, I have to admit, I still hate hearing the sound of my own voice on the podcasts.

The most important thing I learned about media work is the importance of working together. After all the racing was done, media people do not go back to their hotel rooms and lounge around. We would all be there late, writing press releases or daily summaries. We would be sharing information back and forth, answering each other’s questions and helping each other get out of the media center at a reasonable hour. Another important skill I was able to improve on was building professional connections. Among the people in the paddock I got to know this season were Richard Varner (who met on a paddock shuttle at CotA), Wayne Rainey, Josh Hayes, Cam Beaubier, Jake Zemke, Chris Fillmore, Jake Lewis, Caroline Olson, Valentin Debise, Ashton Yates, and Jody Barry. On the minimoto side, I was able to get to know Kent Klawon and Brian Conrad from the Ohio Mini Roadracing League.

Even though it was overall a positive first season, I have a number of things I want to improve on for next season. First and foremost is my pre-event preparation. I usually did not get to the events until Saturday morning. I did not give myself enough time to review the practice times from Friday, let alone the past performance of riders and teams at each track. Also, for example, I made a mistake asking Cam Beaubier a question about qualifying times. I had forgotten that MotoAmerica had switched to using a qualifying-only rear tire in 2016. I cannot afford to make those kinds of mistakes in media work.

I also need to get into writing more. Even though I am in the radio business, I am not on the air until Tuesday night, and need to be in the business of doing more reporting from the track. I also need to do a better job at getting photographs of the riders, team members, etc. who I get interviews from. I may also transition to doing more video interviews when possible.

My first season as a motojournalist would not have been an overall success without the help of several people. Chief among them is TWPH host and editor, Larry Ward, who gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. My other associates on the TWPH, Roy Dyckman and Bob Wentzel, also provided me with support and advice during me rookie season. Richard Varner, the CEO of MotoAmerica, took the time to talk with me about the direction of the sport, and I am indebted to him and the other members of the KRAVE Group for all the work they have done to revive the sport. In the media center, I could not have learned as much as I did without guidance and advice from Sean Bice (Yamaha) and Matthew Miles. I am indebted to both of them for showing me the ropes of media work. I am also indebted to photographer Michael Brock for giving me pointers on both media work and photography. It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Brian J. Nelson, whose photographic work I have admired for years. I also need to thank Natalie Liebhaber, whose counsel and media experience was invaluable to my development as a motojournalist. To all of you, thank you so much for everything you did to help me in my first season as a motojournalist. I owe each and every one of you, and look forward to continuing to work with all of you in 2017.

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