“I use to hate NASCAR. I thought it was the dumbest thing ever.” Well, thankfully, Jeff Gluck’s opinion has changed over the years.
The USA Today Motorsports writer dropped all stereotypes of ‘just turning left’ while working for a small North Carolina newspaper back in 2004. He was on-assignment to cover the Rockingham race when he was changed. “I was surprised it was so open. You don’t get that with other sporting events. I was instantly hooked.”
Originally from California, Gluck didn’t have friends or family that were into the sport, which he says is how many people become fans. The only driver he might have known was Jeff Gordon due to local ties. He was blind to it all.
Until he attended Game 3 of the World Series in 1989. Just before the game began, an earthquake struck, shaking San Francisco and his mother‘s nerves. The event pushed the family to move to Colorado, where the teenager finished high school.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll go anywhere for college, so I ended up going to the University of Delaware.’ Then I said after school, ‘Well, I’ll move anywhere I can get a job.’”
That’s when that small North Carolina newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Telegram, called. He packed his bags and went. He finally stepped into a NASCAR arena, and it prompted him to travel to races in the surrounding states, like Darlington, Richmond, and Martinsville.
It was just the beginning.
After moving to Fontana to work for another paper covering high school sports and racing, NASCAR Scene called in 2007 to bring him on board and back to North Carolina. Three years of good fortune went by, and things suddenly came to a screeching halt.
“In 2010, NASCAR Scene shut down. I thought it was the end, that I was going into the unemployment line…SB Nation was just starting up, and they wanted me to come on. I took the chance.” There, he helped build the site into what it is today, a hub for information about every sport you could imagine. Leaving the place that resurrected his spirit and career felt like a breakup in some ways, yet the opportunity couldn’t be passed up.
Now, Gluck resides at USA Today, and one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is his forward style, one that highlights the facts and unbridles his opinion. “If I have an opinion, and I don’t express it, it’s an itch that you can’t scratch for me. You definitely have to think about it, though. There’s a time and a place for expressing opinions.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed? His column, 12 Questions, which he’s been writing for four years. Each week, he sits down with a driver and asks things they aren’t usually asked in the media center.
“I want to ask the drivers things they don’t hear every week, like ‘What’s your favorite meal?’ or ‘Do you have any race day rituals?’ When [drivers] are asked those sorts of questions, you get a robot answer, or they go into robot mode. You don’t see who they are [with those types of questions].”
There are drivers who are always a good subject to study. “Jeff Gordon…he gets it, and he gets really into it. Brad Keselowski is always good, definitely brings it…and Dale Earnhardt Jr. You can tell he makes a real effort. He takes his time with the questions and processes it.”
However, there have been times where Gluck would sit down with a driver, and his eyes would glaze over. Others’ hands would immediately start messing with their phones. In this day and age of social media and technology, it’s important to know when to be on Twitter and when to be respectful.
“When I started with SB Nation, part of the job was to get the word out using social media. It equaled survival for my career and really helped me understand that.”
In the end, it helped in more ways than one. Gluck helps host Tweet Ups when he‘s in attendance, where NASCAR fans on Twitter can meet on the mornings of races and talk. It’s become a trend, bringing new people week after week. To him, it shows “how much NASCAR means to some fans.”
“There was this one time at a Daytona Tweet Up…Nationwide gave me a framed picture of Tony Stewart in victory circle…I don’t remember if it was signed or not, but I wanted to give it to a fan at the Tweet Up. So I asked, ‘Who here is a big Tony Stewart fan?’ and this big guy was decked out in Stewart gear. I decided to give it to him, and he started to cry. It was crazy.
“It’s cool to see the drivers’ willingness to come out. We were at New Hampshire in 2011, and we had picked this really secluded place to hold the Tweet Up. Come Sunday morning, there’s Jimmie Johnson, five-time champion, chatting with fans.”
When asked about the first half of the season so far, however, Gluck views Johnson in a slightly darker light. “Yeah, [his dominance] kinda hurts the sport. He’s so efficient in the way he wins, very calculating. I think it would be the same for anyone winning. Fans watch and go, ‘Oh, he just got one more.’”
Prompted by the fact that Matt Kenseth and Johnson has the same amount of wins this season, he stated, “Kenseth hasn’t won a zillion championships like Jimmie has. They aren’t on the same level.”
He went on to talk about the lack of on-track storylines, how sad it was, basically saying this part of the season has been underwhelming. So, what would Gluck change to jumpstart the sport? The commercials, for one.
“It’s the single biggest thing that’s hurting the sport. They make it really hard for a new fan to get into the sport. There are so many of them. Sometimes, I’m sitting there, and I know that, if this wasn’t my job, I’d turn the channel.”
Another thing he would do? A complete overhaul of the schedule. “More short tracks would definitely help. More super speedways, road courses. The one-and-a-half mile tracks turn into follow the leader.
“Also, spread Fontana, Vegas, and Phoenix out. We hit that part of the country within a single month, and then we don’t come back until November. The same thing with the Dover and Pocono races. It’s the same area, and it’s the same fans coming out. Like the entire month of May, we’re in the southeast. Those parts need to be spread out.”
Gluck is currently thriving at his new job and expressing his opinions. Even if the readers don‘t agree with what he thinks, listening to their comments makes him smile.
“I love interacting with readers on Twitter. When you post something, and you don’t know how people are going to respond, that’s exciting.”
He’s had a whirlwind career, and many things have changed: his geographic location, place of employment, stance in the world of sportswriting.
More importantly, his view of NASCAR has changed. He doesn’t hate it anymore.
Which is a good thing.