You Have to Live It

For the past three years, I’ve told any who referred to my writing opportunities as a job that it was merely a hobby that was bringing me more memories than I ever could have dreamed.

I wouldn’t dare refer to myself as a journalist, and until as recently as this past weekend I would constantly downplay myself whenever asked about my position within the sport.

Not anymore.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a job. And I work hard enough to deserve to be here.

My change in terminology isn’t made out of a sudden distaste for what I do. In fact, it’s the opposite. What started as a hobby and way of interacting with the sport I love has slowly matured into a legitimate opportunity — a ‘job’ of sorts that I feel rewards me for each hour I pour into it, even if the spoils aren’t all monetary.

Given the hours and dedication I give to writing, this isn’t just a hobby anymore. That means I can no longer pretend to treat it like one.

It’s time for a change in mindset.

Going into this year, I made the leap to a site (Kickin’ the Tires) that gave me the opportunity to write as I found availability. Early on, that availability extended to covering the entirety of Speedweeks in Feb.

The those in my inner circle the plan seemed foolish. I “wasted” six of my 12 alloted vacation days for the year at my ‘real’ job, which I knew could prevent me from covering other races down the stretch.

I took the calculated risk of driving deep into the hours of the night on the opening Friday and ending Sunday of the week, all in the effort of saving vacation days and still covering every event of note through the trip. I also probably spent more money than I should have at the time to stay in Florida for a week.

On paper it was a terrible idea. But for me it was a mental test that I needed to pass.

I’ve wrote about NASCAR, the Verizon IndyCar Series and other forms of motorsports from home since 2014, and made occasional trips to racetracks to genuinely cover a race since July 2015. But in truth, until that week in Feb. I’d never lived the true journalist lifestyle — never taken a week to painstakingly follow the sport.

Sure, I was always active on social media. Sharing updates on Twitter was easy. I also wrote weekly columns, covered news stories a few days each week and did the occasional podcast. I created more content than most in my position, but I’d never fully devoted myself to writing.

There always seemed to be more days off of the sport than on it.

Going through the offseason last year, I did a fair bit of soul searching. One of the things I realized during that period of self-learning was that limiting my devotion to this sport was only hurting me in every aspect of my life. The inconsistency ate at me, and kept me from achieving any sort of legitimate, sustained foothold in the paddock.

Approaching motorsports with a part-time attitude wasn’t benefitting me nor anyone else. So a decision had to be made. I could either take this incredible opportunity seriously and approach it with constant passion and devotion, or I could throw it all away and watch the sport from a more casual, fan-like perspective as I once had.

In the end, I decided that I loved racing too much to not devote myself to it. But first I had to prove — to myself and others — that I had what it takes to follow the sport in earnest.

Enter the Speedweeks test.

While all of the regulars in the media center was catching up and trying to get into the swing of things, I went through Speedweeks eager to push myself as far as I could. I covered everything that went down at the Daytona International Speedway, all while making ventures over to New Smyrna Speedway with my friend Matt Weaver for Short Track Scene at night.

The concept was simple. If I could survive this week, then I felt I could make it through anything the sport threw at me.

Sure, I was nervous at first, unsure of how I would react to the week. But by the end I knew how I felt.

I loved it.

Speedweeks ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. By the time it was over, all I could think about was what I needed to write next, and when I could get back to the racetrack.

Ever since that week, I’ve done my best to approach my motorsports opportunities with as much dedication as I can. Yes, there have been good and bad weeks, but my overall output has increased threefold over what I managed in prior years.

I’ve covered as many NASCAR races this year as I managed in any previous season. I’ve created unique content to try to help fans understand the new points system, and have spent a fair share of time offering my own unique perspective and twist on the sport as well.

The effort hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been rewarded in spades.

My follower base on social media has nearly doubled over the past year, despite a trimming of the amount of people I follow. Engagement has at least tripled — in fact, it’s not uncommon for me to have more mentions during a race weekend now than I managed in four or five combined in previous years. (Note: If I don’t respond to every one of them, that’s why. I try to “like” every tweet so you all know I saw it.)

I’ve been blessed with opportunities to write and even provide feedback on pieces for people within the media center that I have the utmost respect for. In what’s been the strangest sensation for me personally, I’ve noticed a few drivers follow me on Twitter, and a small contingent of people even recognize me when they see me at the racetrack.

I lose sight of it at times in the moment, but the growth I’ve made this year has been tremendous. While a lot of that can be attributed to connections, luck, attititude and a bit of talent, I truly believe increased effort has been the biggest factor in my success.

I got the inspiration for this post from a few people that have reached out to me in the past couple weeks to ask for advice on how to gain traction in NASCAR or other forms of motorsport.

While I’m quick to point out that I’ve not yet “made it” with my writing in any official capacity, the advice I have for those of you asking is simple.

You have to live it.

In motorsports, much like with anything worth being a part of in life, effort is 80% of the equation. You may have to deviate a bit from your original plans along the way, but it is absolutely possible to make something of yourself in the area you love if you’re willing to fully devote yourself to it.

Assign yourself projects. Set deadlines. Win in the moments where others settle for less.

Don’t just let your passion be a hobby. Make it a job.

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