On any given Sunday, as NASCAR Cup Series cars cover miles upon miles around the track, Matt Yocum does the same up and down pit road.
Take the Busch Clash, where Yocum donned his NASCAR on Fox headset and microphone to kick off his 20th consecutive season as a pit reporter. Dressed in all black, Yocum had a claim to the nine drivers at the pit out section of pit road near Turn 1. And like the 18 drivers entered in the exhibition race, Yocum and his colleagues used the broadcast, which followed Daytona 500 qualifying to have them on-air for nearly six hours, as a warmup for the remainder of Speedweeks, and indeed the Daytona 500.
“If we’ve got new graphic packages or new members on the team, it helps everyone gel,” Yocum tells RACER. “There were three announcers on the show that have been there from the very first show NASCAR on Fox has ever done, which was a Cup practice in Daytona. The producer’s been there from day one, the director’s been there from day one, the pit producer has been there from day one, but there’s a lot of new faces. It’s great for everybody to shake off the rust and get in the groove.”
The 1 hour, 37-minute demolition derby had five cars running at the end. Yet because of the smaller field and the limited number of pit stops, Yocum described it as an easy day.
After doing his pre-race spots from the grid, Yocum started by monitoring the action in Kyle Busch’s pit. Before the competition caution on lap 25, he headed down to the No. 2 stall, checking in with the team’s public relations representative. Yocum’s voice is familiar for those who have watched any number of races over the years during the NASCAR on Fox portion of the schedule. But while viewers hear his voice in isolation, Yocum could be hearing as many as four in his ear.
“I think if you’re in television, you’re used to someone talking in your ear, but when you do live events like racing, and you’re doing a broadcast, and you’ve got the producer, you’ve got the pit producer, you’ve got the broadcast, and then you’ve got the scanner … it’s still a lot to digest,” says Yocum. “You hear drivers say that when they’re out on the track and they’re going 205 miles per hour that everything slows down in their mind until they go to hit pit road and they have to hit 55, and then it’s like the ‘Oh holy smokes’ moment. For me, I always feel it’s like that with all the different voices because your mind can slow it down and digest it.”
A member of the original Fox team that debuted in 2001, Yocum isn’t alone in having tenure. He’s worked with pit producer Pam Miller for 20 plus years, and when Yocum starts a sentence, Miller can finish it.
“Because she knows how I think, the type of stories I do, and how I leave my stories,” says Yocum. “She’s my avenue in the truck to get stories on (air), because I sell her my update on Joey Logano, and then she sells it to the producer.”
He and cameraman Dave Stolen (aka Stoli), have been together in some capacity since 1999.
“When I’m looking at something,” says Yocum, “I can look at Stoli, and I can just make a hand gesture, and he knows exactly what I’m talking about and what shot to try and get.”
Spotter Willie Holmes has been with Yocum for 10 years, and Ed Schaber for 12. Eric Dickens holds the pit monitor that Yocum views the race on. Josie Stainback has the battery bag, and Mike Siberini, Yocum’s pit spotter, has been along for the pit road thrill ride since 2002. Siberini, who is also the Goodyear Racing public relations rep, continually delivers information to Yocum by way of handwritten notes.
Siberini scans the cars Yocum is not, listening for pertinent information or getting it from the teams. He and Yocum then find each other on pit road, and the message is relayed, usually read by Yocum, ripped from the notebook, and then filed away in Yocum’s stack of material. One such message from the Clash was the potential pit road strategy of Logano, who may have been waiting to see what the Chevrolets were doing before making his own move.
Yocum will just as often scribble notes of his own. His system is a hybrid of his own organization system and what he picked up from his mentor Dr. Jerry Punch, a former reporter for ESPN.
“We were at Darlington (for the) spring race of ’97, and I had started doing races for TNN, and I’m trying to work on the system that works for me of how my mind works, what I need to have down and everything,” recalls Yocum. “And I said, ‘Jerry, what do you do, because I’ve got all my notes, but they’re written out on paper.’ He told me to try poster board, because you can put all your stuff down, and I like mine to be nice and neat because I’m a little OCD in that way. So, I worked up my system using poster board, and I can print stuff out on full sheet white labels and stick them to the back of the poster board. Then on the other side, I make notes on every car during the race, so that way I can refer to lap 37.
“Like (Sunday), Joey Logano made three different stops to fix damage – who did it, and what they did to the car. But I also keep track of every stop, what they’re saying about the car during every run. I save everything. I have from 1997 and ’98, my poster board that I used then. I have crew guys, their position and names, because I like to cover everything from the guys who go over the wall, where they’re from, if I can weave in a great story about them. Or just throwing in that, hey, so and so’s home track is this little short track in New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, wherever. Just to make a little more connection for the fan at home watching on television, which for me, I think one of the most exciting parts of the job, is seeing those guys go over the wall and service the car.”
When the Clash turns to pit road, Yocum quite literally climbs into action – on the pit wall. With cars whizzing by, in and out of their pit stalls, Yocum either stands on the wall to call the stops of Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, at the wall watching closely at Ryan Newman, or sometimes in an opening to visually see for himself what it going on rather than relying on his monitor. That brave act of standing on the wall? It’s something Yocum has done from his first day.
“What I typically like to do is balance from looking at it with my own eyes to looking back at my pit monitor,” he says. “Especially when I’m calling a stop, and let’s say we’re in a three-box where you have three different cars on the screen. I can call off the monitor because I know what they’re going to do and I can see what they’re going to do, and so I’ll kind of poke my head out then I’ll look back at my pit monitor and I can do two or three stops in one pit call, and then throw it on to the next person or back to the booth.
“I guess my job is one big example of multitasking, because you’re doing so many different things at one time versus those 15 seconds when you’re on the air or everything that leads up to or after that moment.”