IN THE PITS

This month IN THE PITS is proud to welcome DENISE WOOD, assistant editor for RACING MILESTONES magazine. Denise first contacted me about IN THE GROOVE and over the course of several e-mails, I brainwashed, er, talked her into answering questions for IN THE PITS. Denise is a former PR rep for Roush racing and the author of NASCAR WOMEN: AT THE HEART FOR RACING (great book!), and so she has some fabulous insights into what it's like to be "in the pits". Enjoy! And thank you, Denise!

How did you get involved in racing?

Well, I was a sportswriter for the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia and my editor sent me out to our local Friday night short track to cover a race. He promised when he sent me that he wouldnít make me go ever again if I would fill in that night. After that night, I told him he could send me whenever he wanted. I just fell in love with the people and the atmosphere.

You worked in PR for Roush Racing, can you tell us what that was like?

There are two very different areas of PR work in the NASCAR garage. If you are working for a top team with a top driver, such as a Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr., you spend more of your time filtering and fine-tuning what their schedule will allow and quite frankly if the market is good enough, you have your pick really. In other words Sports Illustrated is calling you. At the other end of the garage you are calling Sports Illustrated and begging them to mention your driver and your team. You really have to come up with creative angles to sell your team and driver. I spent more time doing the latter, and I think I was well suited because I was a media member and I had a solid idea of what would work for them. But I missed writing.

I will also say, at the time this was back in the late 90s, I was so intimidated by Jack Roush and I was the one in charge of his schedule!

Currently youíre the assistant editor for Racing Milestones. Can you tell us a little bit about the job?

We are a monthly national NASCAR magazine and I work very closely with the editor to determine story ideas and assign freelance work. I get to pick the features I want to do, which I will say is a nice perk. I also ghost-write one of the driver columns. Then there is the usual editing and correcting that we do each month, we spend about week doing all of that.

What do you like most about being a journalist?

I do love to write, but really my favorite part is interviewing people and getting them to open up. Everyone has a story and I love hearing those stories.

What do you like least about being a journalist?

Oh gosh, honestly I canít think of anything I donít like, maybe trying to think of a catchy lead on deadline, but otherwise, this is what I have always wanted to do and I do love it.

You also wrote a book called NASCAR Women: At the Heart of Racing (and itís fabulous!!!) What inspired that project?

Iím so glad you liked it. The book was born out of a magazine story about some of the different jobs driversí wives do, like fuel mileage on race day or PR work, things like that. But when I started interviewing the women, it became much more than that and there is really very little about their jobs. It is about these women who are all very amazing and have great stories to tell.

Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to put that project together?

It was so much fun to do, although very overwhelming at times. Everyone was so open and free with their stories and their time it was amazing to me. I spent a lot of time with each woman, most of them in their motorhomes at the race track. I went to a horse show with Pattie Petty and Montgomery Lee and I hung out at home with Andrea Nemechek and Danielle Frye, so it really just depended on what everybody had going on. I took my time doing it. That was the first time I had ever taken on a project of that size, so I didnít want to rush it.

Do you have a favorite ďbehind the scenesĒ story to share about your NASCAR Women project, racing or just life around the track in general?

Iíve been around the garage for so long that is a tough oneÖIím terrible at thinking of stories when you put me on the spot. Iíll have to think on that one and then Iíll give them to you for use in your future books!

Any tips on how someone else can break into the racing industry?

That all depends on what area you want to be in. As a writer, there are no tricks, just be a good solid writer. I know with the freelancers we use to do the race reports, sometimes they try to get a little bit too cute and do too much word playing. Simple is the best route 99.9 percent of the time. On the PR front, most teams donít want someone who is a race fan. There is a fine line because you do need to have a passion for and an understanding of the sport, but you also need to respect that this is a business, a very serious one and if you want in so you can get a date with Dale Jr. forget it. And this is not a 9-5, Monday-Friday business. PR reps get very little time off, the travel is grueling and days at the track can be 10 to 12 hours long.

Whoís your favorite driver?

Tony Stewart.

Anything else you want to add?

I just want to say thanks for asking me to be interviewed and I wish you the best of luck with In The Groove.