Mike Massaro: Working in the NASCAR Journalism World

Mike Massaro interviews Tony Stewart on ESPN

Mike Massaro interviews Tony Stewart on ESPN

By Jason Schultz

Perfecting what you do is always difficult. It takes time, patience and pure talent to perfect something.

Mike Massaro is one person who has perfected sports journalism coverage, especially in the sport we all enjoy, NASCAR. Fans may see Mike on ESPN’s NASCAR Now or you may hear his voice on your television each week, hearing about what’s going on in the NASCAR world.

Mike, a New England native, has been covering motorsports for almost twenty years now. In his time covering motorsports, he has perfected his coverage and journalism skills. In the NASCAR journalism world, Mike has been working for thirteen years and has brought excellent coverage of a sport loved by many NASCAR fans. The story behind Mike’s venture into the NASCAR journalism is an inspiring one, especially to someone like me, who would love to one day be involved in the NASCAR journalism world.

I was able to interview Mike recently and he gave some great insight on his job along with how he came to work in the NASCAR journalism world.

Many young aspiring sports journalists, like myself, want to know, how did you get your start in journalism?

“When I graduated high school I set my sights on a career as a television sportscaster. Subsequently, I attended Emerson College and earned a degree in Communications. That’s where the roots of my career were set. ..It wasn’t until a few years later that I received my first opportunity to be “on-air.” It was as a volunteer PA announcer at a local racetrack in Connecticut (Stafford Motor Speedway). I later became the PR director at the speedway which led to other opportunities in the NASCAR industry, including an announcer’s job with the Motor Racing Network (MRN). From there, things progresses steadily to where I am now with ESPN.”

What are some jobs you have occupied in the sports journalism world?

“Following my time at Stafford in the mid 90’s, I moved to Charlotte to pursue my television career. My first broadcast TV job was as a reporter for a show called “Inside NASCAR” which aired on TNN. During this time I also freelanced with NBC Sports and TBS as a pit reporter for the NASCAR races they carried in 1999 & 2000. In 2001 there was a major shakeup in the NASCAR TV industry and I was lucky enough to land at ESPN as a Sportscenter & RPM 2Night reporter. In the past 12 years with ESPN I’ve worked as a reporter on many shows including Sportscenter and Outside the Lines. Currently I am a NASCAR Now anchor and field reporter and occasionally work on pit road for ESPN race broadcasts.”

How did you get your start covering NASCAR?

“It all started at Stafford Speedway. …The Arute family operates the track. Notably, successful racing reporter Jack Arute was the president of the track. I approached Jack at the season opener in 1994 and asked if I could help with the announcing duties. Half expecting him to turn me down I was surprised when he asked, “How soon can you start?” That was the first break of my career.”

What are some of the highs and lows of your job?

“I’ve been privileged to have many great experiences at ESPN. Too many to list. Not only have I been able to live my dream by interviewing NASCAR stars and covering the sport’s biggest events for the past 12 seasons but I’ve also been asked on occasion to cover other sports. The opportunity has allowed me to report on athletes such as Tom Brady, Cal Ripken & Curt Schilling. Perhaps the coolest assignment I’ve ever been given was to report on the atmosphere and reaction in Boston the day after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years (2004). As a lifelong New England sports fan this is an experience I will never forget.”

“There have been few drawbacks to the job but if there is something that can be difficult, it’s the travel. It can be exhausting. Couple that with the fact I miss a lot of things with my family and children while I’m away.”

What are some of the more memorable experiences you’ve experienced through your job?

“As I mentioned earlier, my experience in Boston the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series was amazing. I’ve also covered the Patriots in the playoffs and UCONN Basket ball before and after they’d won National Championships. I’ve also covered every Daytona 500 since 1999 and been able to do countless stories and interviews that I’ve been very proud of. All fun experiences.”

”My most memorable experience though, I would not describe as fun. Coincidentally it was my first month on the job with ESPN. The very first race I was assigned to was the 2001 Daytona 500. As you know, this was the race where Dale Earnhardt suffered his fatal crash.”

“I had done many reports that week leading up to the race but nothing could prepare me for what would transpire following it. I will ever forget the people I spoke with and the sentiment of shock that enveloped the sport.”

“I remember doing live shots for various ESPN shows well past midnight that night. We continued reporting, not only the next morning, but every day until the next race (Rockingham) was complete the following Monday.”

Could you give some secrets away, regarding the preparation you do for every episode of NASCAR Now?

“There is no secret really. It requires quite a bit of writing. The show producer lays out what is called a “run down.” Essentially it is an outline of how the show will flow, minute by minute. My job is to script each segment accordingly. I will spend a few hours before each show writing lead-ins to news packages, voice over’s for various elements and of course planning interviews.”

You get to work with some pretty big names in the sport, including yourself, who are some of your favorite co-workers?

“It’s impossible to name my favorite co-workers. I work with so many of the nations’ most talented television personalities. For that I consider myself very lucky.”

What are your thoughts on the new champion, Brad Keselowski?

“Brad is an unbelievable talent. Remember it wasn’t that long ago (2008) he won his first Nationwide race. In five seasons he claimed his first Nationwide and Cup wins and has secured Championships in both series. That’s incredibly impressive, especially when you consider the caliber of drivers who have still not won a Sprint Cup title.”

What do you believe will be the greatest impact the new car will bring in 2013?

“First off, they look cool. Secondly, I think the car provides more brand identity for the manufacturers so from a marketing standpoint, not only for them but also the sport, that’s a plus. Remember, just as they like rooting for individual drivers, fans also root for specific manufacturers. So I think the 2013 car helps in that regard.”

“From a competition standpoint I’m not sure yet but am hopeful it will enable drivers to do more side by side racing and complete passes easier than with the 2012 car. From the comments I’ve heard from drivers so far, it seems there is reason to believe that will happen. They seem genuinely excited about it.”

Who are some of the drivers you believe will have success next season?

“I guess the safe answer to that question is Jimmie Johnson. He’s never had a bad year. Of course, this time of year there’s lots of optimism. I expect Keselowski will again be strong. Kasey Kahne seemed to hit his stride with Hendrick. You should never count out Jeff Gordon. Matt Kenseth should be good with Gibbs. I expect Carl Edwards, with new crew chief Jimmy Fennig, to bounce back. Greg Biffle should continue to be solid. Tony Stewart is always a threat. A couple drivers I’m curious about are Clint Bowyer, coming off a career season and Dale Earnhardt Jr trying to build on a solid 2012.”

What is some advice you would offer to younger people who dream of having a job in journalism like yours?

“Be persistent and willing to do whatever it takes to get “on-air.” Networks want to hear and see what you’ve done, so find a way, even if it’s volunteering at a local short track like I did, to be on air. The experience will serve you well as you hone your craft and it will enable you to put together a tape you can present to a potential employer down the road.”

You can follow Mike on twitter @MikeMassaro and catch him on ESPN from time to time in the off-season, as well as watch his coverage of NASCAR once the 2013 season gets under way.

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