Sporting News writer Bob Pockrass is a known figure in the NASCAR world. Typically the first person in the media center, he is dedicated to informing fans about notable storylines about the sport they admire. There is nothing more important to him.
“I have a commitment to readers,” he said. “My passion is readers.”
Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, it was IndyCar that caught his eye. The idea of becoming a sports reporter came to him during high school; he loved what sports did to its fans, and he wanted to help add depth. He attended Indiana University, where he majored in Journalism and minored in Business. The Daytona Beach News-Journal picked him up in 1991 after he graduated, and he spent 12 years at the paper. That’s when NASCAR and the Daytona 500 came into the picture.
“All sports have passionate fans. Most people are fans of teams, but [NASCAR fans] root for drivers no matter what. They have such a personal relationship with their driver,” he said when asked what separates NASCAR fans from those who follow other sports. “The good thing about sports is that we can predict, but we don’t know until the green flag falls.”
That made NASCAR his main focus. In 2003, Pockrass went to NASCAR Scene, which turned into Scene Daily. He then transitioned into Sporting News, where he currently resides. He is now a significant member of the traveling media, recently receiving the 2013 George Cunningham Writer of The Year Award from the National Motorsports Press Association. However, the highlight of his career is much more simple.
“When you are listening to the radio, and you hear them talk about something you wrote, that’s always a good thing. People read, and you leave an impact. That’s the highlight.”
The conversation turned to the state of NASCAR and its future, and he had a lot to say on the matter. “It’s a challenge. I think they’re working on it. There are three major players: teams, tracks, and NASCAR. The business model isn’t good for teams. When something happens, one benefits while the other two may not. To me, it’s going to be a challenge [going into the future]. Fans are watching more on TV. With this new TV contract, later on, maybe it will help drivers break into the sport.”
“When the level of competition on-track goes up, so does the number of eyeballs on the sport. TV ratings are stagnant, and I like the fact NASCAR is looking at [the competitiveness]. They need to find selling values for sponsors that also help young drivers,” he explained when talking about what he would personally change.
“They have the right people in the right positions, they just have to find a selling point. [Also] there needs to be point systems in [the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series], even out the field, best of both worlds. Limit Cup drivers to one-third of races in other series. If the team runs with a sponsor or shares the ride with other developmental drivers, limit them to only half. You have to give [the up-and-coming drivers] opportunities, give them opportunities to win. Then, it comes down to seeing a guy in victory lane and sponsoring that guy.”
NASCAR has already made tons of changes, including the off-season tweaks to The Chase. The new format makes predicting championship contenders quite difficult.
“You’re not going to know, and that makes it so hard to predict. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon…Joey Logano; you don’t think of him as a championship contender, but what he’s done with Team Penske is impressive. Brad Keselowski, too, they’re good teammates. When you could [Keselowski] out, he goes out and succeeds.”
When Pockrass is at the track, he doesn’t stay in the media center all day. He helps host Tweet Ups with friend and fellow NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck. Originally Gluck’s idea, the two use it to meet with fans and hear their thoughts on current issues within the sport. In return, they try to bring guests such as spotters and drivers.
“We need to know what the fans are thinking. If we help the enjoyment of the fan, it’s like we’re giving back to the sport. We get criticized as media for writing stories about attendance and TV ratings, and some say we’re the reason sponsors leave. At the Tweet-Ups, we get to talk racing with fans and get their opinions. I don’t do it just because of the business aspect.”
Nope. He does it because he’s passionate for readers. That’s a key element if you want to get into the sport, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“It’s tough because the media is changing so much. I believe the best way to get into the business is by working in an area with a local short track. Establish yourself. That’s the best way. If you want to be in major media, you have to get a degree. You need to have a passion for readers.”
Those readers feel the same way about Pockrass and his dedication to NASCAR, and it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.