In many sports, we tend to focus on the athletes most of the time. They are the stars, the ones who entertain and shock, the ones who people tune in to watch. With that spotlight, competitors become heroes, idols, and inspirations.
Fans may not realize those who portray these athletes in such a way, allow them into that defining spotlight. The key players -journalists and writers- entice their own audience with an award-winning talent and style no one can replicate.
Dustin Long, a respected Motorsports contributor to SI.com, the website for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and AthlonSports.com, has wanted to write about these stars since he was in Third grade, the inspiration being his uncle.
Now, even after years of covering various sports, adjusting with the times, and winning awards, Long still believes that engaging the fans, his readers, is the best inspiration he can convey.
1. When did you realize that writing about Motorsports was your calling?
I knew I wanted to be a sportswriter by the time I was in the third grade. I’ve always been a sports fan and looked up to my uncle, who was a sportswriter for The Miami Herald for more than 30 years and covered a wide variety of events including multiple Olympic Games. I grew up in the Midwest and was a racing fan. When I was younger, Indy-car racing was the biggest form of racing in the U.S. and that’s what I hoped to cover someday. Covering racing wasn’t a calling, though. I wanted to cover any and all sports. I’ve been fortunate to cover such sports as the NFL, NHL and college basketball, among others.
2. Are there any journalists you look up to, admire, or have been inspired by?
My uncle foremost. There are many great writers I’ve admired and not all of them are sportswriters. That’s a key for any journalist — read, read a lot and read things that aren’t in your main field. I read many more non-sports books than sports books. Mark Bowden, who wrote, among others the book “Black Hawk Down” is a great writer whose attention to detail puts you right in the middle of the scene. Gary Smith is an incredible writer for Sports Illustrated. His long-form pieces are some of the best writing out there. Wright Thompson at ESPN.com is another incredible writer. I had the fortune of working alongside Chuck Culpepper (now at SportsonEarth.com) during an internship years ago and have always followed his writing and enjoyed it. Those are just a few of the many great writers out there.
3. What has been the toughest situation you have encountered as a member of the NASCAR media?
I’ve been yelled at by competitors just like many other writers. I once had a driver, unhappy with my line of questioning, order me out of his motorhome. Everybody who covers any beat long enough has similar stories. You don’t relish those moments, but you accept them and move on and don’t let it impact your work.
4. NASCAR has evolved through the years. How has your job changed along with the sport?
The biggest change has been the Internet and now Twitter. It’s all about posting the info as soon as possible. Years ago, the Internet was looked upon with disdain and few made any kind of effort to put news on it because it was all about the newspaper or the magazine. Now, it’s all about the Internet and so the job has changed because of the demands that come with that.
5. Many young writers, including myself, are hoping to do what you do in the future. Can you explain what it takes to succeed in the business?
Work hard and be lucky. I’m sure it’s frustrating to hear that. There’s no magic wand that is going to get you the job of your dreams. I worked hard for years at smaller papers throughout the country and even then, without luck, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Twice I got jobs where I wasn’t the first candidate for the position but the person ahead of me declined the job. If I hadn’t worked hard and done all the little things to be as good of a journalist as possible, I wouldn’t have been in position to capitalize when the No. 1 candidate declined the job. So, it takes luck, but you can also make your own luck.
6. Is there one article or interview you view as a crucial moment in your career?
I broke a story while working on the college paper that went national and got my school’s paper mentioned in USA Today, Sports Illustrated and many other publications. Whether it was crucial to my career, I don’t know. Rarely is it one story that defines a writer but their full body of work. I’ve broken other stories since. I’ve gotten people to tell me things they had not said in interviews before. I’ve won awards for some stories but that doesn’t matter to me. To me, it’s always about doing the best job I can to give the reader as much information as possible. I want to enlighten and entertain them. If I don’t do that, I want to do it with the next story. If I do it then, I want to keep doing it.