Writer’s Diary: The Click That Changed Everything

Alright, where were we?

Ah, yes. The click. (If you need catching up, go here.)

There I was on NHRA.com, hovering over the Careers button at the bottom of the page. It’s a weird feeling, standing with your toes over the edge, knees slightly bent, just about to jump into the next frame of your life. I had a wonderful career already, I worked with the coolest people ever, and I had a future at Hot Topic headquarters. But a distinct and growing discontentment, that pestering sensation of being out of alignment, forced my hand.

So I clicked, okay?! I jumped. I did the deed. I peeked ahead to the next chapter. I MOTHER-FRICKEN CLICKED.

The first job on the Careers page was for a Copy Editor position for National Dragster. It wasn’t quite right, but I knew I had the experience to do it, and I had literally said out loud to my dad that I would “push a broom at NHRA” just to get my foot in the door. That was how deeply I believed it was where I was supposed to be.

I applied for the job of Copy Editor. I sent in my resumé, and I waited. It didn’t take long to hear back – I didn’t get the job, but they thanked me for applying. They had already filled the position by the time they received my information, but they would “keep me in mind” for future openings.

Look at me, driving around through life like I know what the heck I’m doing.
Of course, I did what any human obsessed with working for NHRA does. I checked the website in the morning before I left for work, in the evenings when I got home from work, and once more before I went to bed. Then, one afternoon, my mom’s friend from NHRA accounting sent me a heads-up about an internal job posting that would hit the website soon if it wasn’t filled. The job was as an Associate Editor for National Dragster, I kid you not.

It was perfect. IT. WAS. PERFECT. Which made it super scary to apply for. Now I had something to lose. It wasn’t “almost right.” It wasn’t a foot in the door. This was it. This was my job – no, this was my future.

I applied, and a handful of weeks later, I received an email from Phil Burgess. You guys. PHIL BURGESS EMAILED ME PERSONALLY.

The
Phil
Burgess

(Am I coming across as too fan-girly? It’s cool, right? You get it. I mean, come on! He’s the editor of what I considered the Holy Grail of drag racing stats and stories. The wordmaker of all wordmakers. The boss of some of the best wordmakers of my lifetime. Phil Burgess, the guy I still struggle to just call “Phil.” Phil, is wordmaker even a word? Please advise).

I’d never known a world without a National Dragster next to my dad’s chair. That world did not exist. And now, I had an email from its editor in my inbox congratulating me on qualifying for the final field of candidates for National Dragster’s Associate Editor position.

I’m not a weepy gal, but let me tell you, I nearly shed a tear. Instead, I immediately forwarded the email to my dad, who was as stoked as I was.

In order to make it to the next round, the 16 candidates in the running (narrowed down from 60, according to PB’s email) were asked to write a 1,000-word article telling Phil and our potentially fellow staff members why we should be the newest staffer. I had three days to meet the deadline.

A super-secret look into the National Dragster issue archive (I took this with a Polaroid camera in 2008).
After emailing my dad and taking a series of deep breaths followed by a bunch of pacing around my house and yard, I started researching. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on in order to take my knowledge of drag racing to the next level, because let me tell you, I was NOT up to speed. I knew racing. I loved racing. But I didn’t know racing like Kevin McKenna and Brad Littlefield knew racing. I didn’t grow up in it, I hadn’t spent my teens and 20s devoted to it….. all I knew was that it was where I belonged.

I wrote the essay, sent it in, and held my breath. I soon received another email from Phil Burgess, and it went a little something like this:

“Congratulations … you’ve made it to the final Countdown to One for the National DRAGSTER Associate Editor position.”

If you want to read the essay I came up with, the one that somehow got me to the next round, the one that is appalling packed with naivete, it can be found at the bottom of this page.

The next round was a series of exams. There was a math test, and then an assortment of other tests, including a race report written only around stats and a quote, a full national event overview, a list of 10 potential features, and five ways I would make National Dragster better. I completed them all after a ton of research and reading, made my dad review them, then sent them off with very shaky hands.

More time passed, and then I received a phone call. I had again moved on (what the what!), this time to a round-table style interview with the writing staff of National Dragster.

This is what it used to look like walking down the hallway to leave National Dragster (photo from 2007)
This diary entry is getting rather long, so I won’t drone on and on about it – but just know that it was the most terrifying interview of my entire life. To summarize:

1. I didn’t know how to dress for it, and so I ended up looking (and, thusly, feeling) like a soccer mom

2. Candida Benson, the first female writer for ND, frowned at me so long and so hard that I thought she was trying to make me cry. Her questions matched the visual assault perfectly. I’m still pretty sure tears were her ultimate goal. (Ed. note: this is all a huge exaggeration)

3. I almost hugged Phil Burgess when he met me outside of the National Dragster offices. For real. My jaw still hurts from smiling so fiercely when I first saw him.

4. The whole writing team – PB, Candida, John Jodauga, Kevin McKenna, Steve Waldron, and Brad Littlefield, threw me questions for what felt like an hour. And then I left loaded down with issues from the last two years of National Dragster and was told to study.

I walked away very weighted down by said issues (remember when the paper was gigantic?) and the realization that I was in way, way over my head – and that these crazy-faces were probably going to hire me. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!

And that, dear readers, is where we shall pause the story today. If you would like to read more, I’ll be back next Sunday to gab about what happened when they realized I was more soccer mom than any of us realized.

p.s. Scroll down for the essay that got me to the second round of interviews for the Associate Editor position at National Dragster.

Alright, alright, here it is. The essay that got my foot in the door at National Dragster. I have not changed a thing; this is exactly as it was the day I sent it to Phil Burgess. And yes, those are double-spaces after the periods. Good god.

Here To Win
The Kelly Wade Story

The smoky, acrid smell of burned rubber always makes my lungs swell with anticipation. It kind of makes me want to laugh, actually, the same way a little kid might giggle at the tingle of drinking soda through a straw for the first time. It burns a little, but for some reason you can’t help wanting more. Receiving the request for this essay was like seeing Phil Burgess and the rest of the National DRAGSTER staff twirling their fingers around and giving me a wink – the international signal to “light ‘em up.” How could I possibly resist?

The year I was born, 18-year-old Jeb Allen became the youngest Top Fuel winner when he went up against Tom McEwen in the Summernational Finals and took home the trophy. Good ol’ Jeb burned up the track that day, much the same as Mike Snively who ran a 5.97, recording the first official 5-second pass at the Supernationals that same year. These guys each made their mark on the world in 1972. For me, though, the race to the show was just beginning.

To be completely truthful, the wood for the track was laid out well before I came into this world. My great-grandparents had the racing bug and wanted to share it with everyone they could, so they pulled together a little magazine called West Coast Auto Racing News – later shortened to Coast Auto Racing News. The mag covered speedway motorcycle racing and different forms of auto racing, from midgets to sprint cars and jalopy derbies. They covered the bigger events, too, like the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona, as well as events at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The really cool thing about it, though, was that they hired the drivers to work as reporters and printers so that they could support their respective racing “habits.” My, what giving people my great-grandparents were! Right about now you’re wishing you were in my family, aren’t you?

I grew up with a father that loved racing and especially loved telling stories. My ears were filled with supposedly true-life tales that included names like Junior Thompson, the Kohler brothers and Johnnie Parsons. My pop would regale us with stories of how Parsons and Ed Iskenderian (apparently quite a mechanic) lived with his grandparents before they became well known in the racing industry. Could this really be true? Honestly, I’m not sure. But rest assured, I promise not to mention it in National DRAGSTER without first checking facts.

One of my very first memories took place at the track in Pomona when I was about 3-years-old. We were walking around the pits when a dragster fired up near us – I landed straight in my Dad’s arms, my little heart pumping wildly and my eyes instantly welling with tears. It was a shocking moment, sure, but I never forgot that rush of adrenaline. It started the addiction.

Ten years later I was oddly compelled to watch Heart Like a Wheel way too many times on cable. I couldn’t stop; it was as though the story of Shirley Muldowney was a how-to manual for achieving my goals and dreams. It wasn’t just that she was a woman, it was that she was a person who knew what she wanted, and nothing was going to stand in the way of her success. Not only did she race, she won. Shirley Muldowney won the Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982, and she was the first woman to be licensed by the NHRA to drive a Top Fuel dragster. Instead of The Little Engine That Could, I see a pink dragster when I call to mind the phrase, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

Fast-forward ten years and I was waiting tables in Tucson. SIR had just been built and the track was swarming for test and tune. Late one night a group of guys came into the restaurant, and the younger one was particularly surly. “Don’t mind him,” said the gentleman seated next to the young guy, “He’s a driver. You know how they can get.” I looked at that kid and I felt for him, I really did. Imagine the pressure he must be under, I thought. It has to go right. He has to be “on.” That “kid” turned out to be Tony Schumacher, and 2 years later he ended up being the first to break 330 mph in his Top Fuel dragster. Pressure doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it can actually motivate you to do something amazing.

You can see how racing has shaped my life from an early age. I’ve learned a few important lessons that I carry around in my back pocket at all times:

1) Neither age nor gender should make a difference to your success.
2) Records were meant to be broken, and just when you think the car can’t go any faster, your crewchief will ignore the tune, reach into his gut and find another five thousandths. Be ready to give it all you’ve got one more time.
3) You might be a highly skilled and very clever driver, but without your crew you’re really just a sweaty guy – or girl – in a fire suit. Appreciate the team.
4) Never stand behind a dragster without the awareness that it may fire up at any time. That’s just common sense, man.

Why should I be your newest staffer? It boils down to this: I’m passionate about drag racing and I’m passionate about writing. I want to be part of something that I believe in, something that matters – not just to me, but also to people across the nation and the world. Just like my great-grandparents, I want to share this passion and infect as many people as possible with the bug.

A lot of fine-tuning has led to this day. The rubber has been laid, the tree’s been lit, and I’m fairly confident that I’ve made a pretty good pass. So, did my lane get the win light?

Comments

One comment on “Writer’s Diary: The Click That Changed Everything”
  1. Arlene Johnson says:

    That was “Awesome”!

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