On a cold January day in 2010, I drove home from the offices of NASCAR Scene magazine and SceneDaily.com, certain my NASCAR writing career was over.
I had just gotten laid off – Scene ceased to exist and there wasn't enough room for me at SceneDaily.com – and I figured the box of media guides, press passes and race programs from my desk would serve as sad reminders of my one-time dream job that was no more.
With the journalism industry continuing to shrink, I tried to be realistic: Few NASCAR writers who lost their jobs were able to get back to the track – at least with paying gigs.
But timing is everything in life, and so when a website named SBNation.com called me the very next day about an opening for a motorsports editor, I jumped at the opportunity.
I had never heard of SB Nation, and figured most people in NASCAR hadn't, either. And though it was a bit unsettling to think I wouldn't see my name in print anymore after working for newspapers and magazines, I realized this was my chance to stay in racing.
Over the last two seasons, it's worked out better than I could have ever imagined. SB Nation turned out to be one of the rising stars in the Internet world (SBN was named to Time's list of the 50 best websites this year) and my bosses gave me a platform – and travel budget – to keep writing about NASCAR.
I am so, so grateful to have this job. Thank you to SB Nation founder Tyler Bleszinski and Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff for giving me this chance.
As Thanksgiving arrives and gives me the opportunity to reflect, I also wanted to express my thanks to the many others who have made the 2011 season my favorite one yet:
• You, the readers. The vast majority of you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, which is likely how you arrived here in the first place. Thank you so much for sticking with me and continuing to visit SB Nation, even though I'm sure it's hard sometimes based on my occasionally abrasive opinions regarding your favorite drivers.
While I'm not great at responding, I do read every comment that's posted on one of my stories, as well as every reply on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I appreciate all the kind words from you, as well as the civil debate when you disagree. Sometimes, I even appreciate the haters (they keep me humble).
I fully understand that without readers, I won't last very long in this industry – so believe me, I truly value your loyalty. And through our conversations – both online and in person at the track – I feel like I've gained many friends.
So to all the readers: THANK YOU!
• Anyone who came to a tweetup this year. Who knew these things would have gotten so big? I'm very thankful to those of you who came to a tweetup this season, because your presence has allowed us to attract fantastic special guests and give away great prizes.
Tweetups are a way those who make our living in the industry can say thanks for your support, which seems more important now than ever.
When drivers like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin agree to attend a tweetup, there's a lot of effort by many people behind the scenes. These drivers have schedules packed with sponsor commitments on race day, so to take time out and come hang with fans in a parking lot or behind a trailer – for free – is truly awesome.
But just as important as the stars who showed up were the regulars who often came to the tweetups unprompted – just out of a desire to visit with their "tweeps." People like Mary Lou Hamlin (Denny's mom), T.J. Majors (Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s spotter) and media colleagues like Bob Pockrass and Dustin Long came to many of the tweetups (or most of them, in some cases).
Thanks to the drivers, their public relations representatives, members of the media and the sponsors who supplied giveaways to the fans. In addition, someone from NASCAR and/or a track helped with nearly every tweetup this season – thank you, too.
• NASCAR media regulars. This was probably the most combative season between drivers and reporters, which put a damper on the experience at times. Let's be honest – getting disrespected (like Kurt Busch did to Jerry Punch) when you're just trying to do a job can be disheartening.
And it's not just the drivers vs. media, but media vs. media that can be deflating, too. Reporters can turn on each other in a public and nasty manner, which seems to make the season longer than it should be.
Overall, though, I'm grateful for my colleagues who were supportive throughout the year and acted as a sounding board for travel woes, cranky drivers and bad food. Your counsel is invaluable.
Yes, we're all in competition. But at the same time, I'm thankful to call many of you "friends."
• Driver/team/sponsor/series/manufacturer public relations representatives. You'd think getting paid to travel to every NASCAR race and work with drivers would be a picnic. But being a PR rep is often a thankless job with little glory.
Thanks to all the PR reps who were helpful this season, from the driver PR reps who worked with me in scheduling the 12 Questions interviews to the manufacturer reps who gathered crucial post-race quotes when I couldn't be two places at once.
I understand it's a demanding job, and dealing with the media often isn't fun. Thanks for your patience.
• SB Nation NASCAR contributors Jay Pennell, Brian Neudorff and @nascarcasm. This year's traffic completely blew away our numbers for 2010, and I'm grateful for the help I received here.
Pennell balanced this part-time work with his full-time job, Neudorff (also known as @nascar_wxman) faithfully updated his weather forecasts and the anonymous @nascarcasm brought us some of the best NASCAR humor you'll find anywhere.
Behind the scenes – the "boys back at the shop," if you will – Kevin Lockland and Chris Thorman provided crucial support from SB Nation's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Don't worry, though – this isn't goodbye until February.
We'll continue to post as many new stories as possible throughout the offseason (hopefully almost every day) and keep you updated on what's happening in the NASCAR world. From the NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas next week to preseason testing in January, there will still be much to talk about between now and the Daytona 500.
In the meantime, I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving and that you have many things to be grateful for as well.