INSIGHT: NASCAR's premier pitlane storyteller

Image by Kelly Crandall

INSIGHT: NASCAR's premier pitlane storyteller

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: NASCAR's premier pitlane storyteller

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After the opening round of pit stops, Yocum is moving practically non-stop, making his way to various team boxes and talking to team reps. As the race winds down, he’s in the No. 22 stall of Logano, and when not calling the race, he and Miller are in communication, planning ahead for post-race. For the Clash, Yocum is doing the winner interview on the frontstretch, so they need to know where to get in the truck that will take him out there. A back and forth ensues before its location is confirmed, and Yocum heads there as the race gets ready to go to its first overtime. By the second overtime attempt, the conversation shifts. Does Yocum stay put, or do they abandon the truck? Yocum keeps with the plan, and is there to get the thoughts of Erik Jones.

Then it’s a trek across the ballfield to the stopped cars on pit road, and a Newman interview that wound up taped for later use. But there is a need for more content, and the question Miller starts asking is, where is Clint Bowyer?

“Go get him,” she instructs, but Yocum is already hustling toward the garage. Bowyer faces two questions before Yocum finally signs off, exhales, and the equipment comes off.

Yocum’s just as likely to follow a stop from on top of the pitwall as he is from the relative safety of a monitor. Image by Kelly Crandall

The man behind the microphone

Roger Penske has a motto: effort equals results. Yocum likes and lives by that, which is why long before he’s on any broadcast, he’s preparing. Monday is a review day for the previous week and year’s race. He’s looking for trends and reminding himself what happened that could crop up again. Plus, is he developing any bad habits he wants to change?

Tuesday is conference call day, and perhaps a Race Hub hit. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Yocum is also working on his stats and updating his people stories. Like a race team, Yocum believes if everything isn’t buttoned up by the time you hit the garage, you don’t catch up.

On race weekend, when NASCAR officials arrive at, say, 6 a.m., Yocum is there with them and headed to the office trailer, and will be ready to pound the pavement when the garage officially opens.

“This is the job that I’ve always ever wanted,” said Yocum, who has nearly 30 years of motorsports experience for various networks. “I love racing and I love storytelling, and I love digging for those cool little tidbits that no one knows about people. So, for me, it’s all I ever wanted to do, so that’s where my head is like a library, and I just keep filing away different tidbits that may or may not be used.”

Yocum grew up at the racetrack. His mother Mary worked at Michigan International Speedway, and Yocum would follow around PA announcer Wayne Blackmon either on the grid or in victory lane. It was then that he caught the storytelling bug.

For this weekend’s Daytona 500, Yocum’s poster board, which is 14×17 and made specifically for Yocum in VA, will be a lot more detailed, and hopefully, some of what’s on there will make the broadcast. Unfortunately, only five percent of Yocum’s tidbits may end up on air, or it may take years – yes, years – for the time to be right to fit them in the broadcast.

Storytelling also guides Yocum’s approach to the questions he asks during an interview.

“I think as long as I’ve done it, you have a good sense of what the story is and what you need to do to ask the right question that you can get an answer for the fan that has been sitting at home for four hours,” said Yocum. “They’ve watched the race, they’re going, ‘Man, I wonder what he was thinking when this happened?’ or ‘I wonder what he was doing when this happened?’, and so it’s my job to fill in the gap, to put a period on that story.

Yocum (pictured in 2015 with Dale Earnhardt Jr) takes a storytelling approach to interviewing. Image by Kinrade/LAT

“I always put it like I’m the fan at home on the couch, and this is what I would want to know, and fortunately, I think I get it right more than wrong. You have a sense, especially a sense of storytelling, and you know what you need to fill in those holes. But nobody tells me what question to ask. And the funny part is, it’s usually just shooting from the hip as far as Clint Bowyer – his day, looking ahead to the week, his history at Daytona – and that’s where I’ll have different things in my Bowyer section on my poster board. But so much of it is just in your mind.”

Sunday afternoon, when Yocum once again puts on the headset, and the microphone goes hot, it’ll mark his 20th consecutive Daytona 500 covering pit road for the live TV coverage, which will be a NASCAR broadcasting record.

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to not only be able to do it for the first time, let alone have 20 opportunities,” said Yocum. “You think back to that little kid who was 10 years old standing in victory lane next to the guy who was doing the PA, and now I’m going to walk out on the grid for my 20th Daytona 500. I feel so extremely blessed, and even more so, lucky because I feel like every year I’ve hit the Powerball lottery because I’m getting a chance to do what I love to do, which is tell stories about people, of the sport that I’ve loved since I was a little kid.

“I was telling somebody the other day about how Richard Petty would come by our house to pick me up to take me to the Richard Petty fan club meeting that was near MIS. And to think of that little kid and where I am today, I just feel so extremely blessed and grateful to have the opportunity and to be a part of such a great team. There are so many passionate people on our crew, and to just be a small part of it, I’m very honored.”

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