Have a new story out today on Karsyn Elledge. She’s an 18-year-old race car driver who just happens to be the granddaughter of Dale Earnhardt. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
The only way a story like this comes together is with time. My editor, NASCAR.com’s Brad Norman, first pitched the idea to me in late January. It was the first assignment I agreed to take after my dad died. I called Karsyn in early February and, after about a 90-minute conversation, probably could’ve written up a half-decent story right then.
Luckily, Brad and his team had a little thing called the Daytona 500 to cover in February, and they didn’t need to rush it. They were so busy they damn near forgot about me, which was ideal. I talked to Karsyn a few more times over the next month, ate barbecue with her, watched all the old videos and searched through Nexis for old stories about when she lobbied to make NASCAR the official state sport as a little girl.
After one conversation, I asked her if there was one thing she wanted to come from this story, more than anything else. She said she just hoped it would be honest. She said she remembered one story on her uncle Dale that got him just right, flaws and all. She was pretty sure she was talking about my friend Tommy Tomlinson’s story in ESPN two years ago.
That brings me to another thing that happened today: ESPN The Magazine announced it will close later this year. I haven’t read the comments to see what people are saying, but I imagine there’s a mix of sadness and snark. It cuts to see the closure of publication devoted to thoughtful storytelling, and cuts deeper when you know some the folks who might lose jobs because of it. The news is bad for me as a freelance writer, sure, but more important than that is it’s bad for the people being covered.
Karsyn tweeted out the NASCAR.com story today and said it couldn’t have turned out any better; her mother, Kelley, tweeted a nice note about it, too. I was relieved. We’re not in this line of work to please every subject, not at all. But it’s important that our subjects see honest reflections of themselves — especially if they’ve given us a bunch of their valuable time. It feels good to know that you’ve met that measurement. But the fewer publications offering to pay writers to spend time with people, the less we’ll see those types of stories, the less trust we’ll have in media, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
I’ll have more on this later in May, when my first story with Charlotte Agenda goes online. I’ve been working on it for almost two months, with full backing and support of publisher Ted Williams. Yes, you read all that right. Our project should post sometime in mid-May.
In the meantime, here’s a picture from the story on Karsyn Elledge, a remarkable young woman who was just five months old when her Pawpaw Dale hit the wall at Daytona. And below that are a few other things I’ve had published in the past month or so.
A few others:
- For Carolina Public Press, a look at the fastest-growing county in North Carolina. Hint: It’s not Mecklenburg or Wake. Happy to see that the Raleigh News & Observer picked this one up. And if you’d rather just listen, I was a guest on the CPP podcast, The Kicker, to talk about the story.
- For The Bitter Southerner, I attended a two-day event called “Can We Talk?” The idea was to see if it’s possible to “disagree with grace,” as the program stated, in these polarized times. The resulting essay went in directions I didn’t expect, and contains way more cuss words than usual.
- For Garden & Gun, a feature story in their big homes issue they do every year, on a knockout house at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.
- For Charlotte magazine, my latest Along the Way is a follow-up to the ESPN story on Muggsy Bogues that ran in February. This spring, he’s developed a friendship with a girl in Lexington who was told she’s too short to shoot from there. Riley Elliott turned 11 on Sunday, and guess who surprised her at her birthday party.