Like Earnhardt, David Poole mastered his craft

April, 28, 2009
In his own way, the late David Poole was as much of a success story as the late Dale Earnhardt.

Both came from Carolina mill towns and working-class families; both were driven to rise higher, and both did; both were toughened by the climb.

Young Earnhardt hit the dirt tracks, and you know the rest.

Young Poole hit the books and won a Morehead Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Otherwise, he couldn't have afforded college at all, he once told me.

He pounded the keyboards and traveled with Dean Smith and the Tar Heels as a working journalist all the way through school.

Then he rose to become one of the greats in American auto racing journalism, not just of his time but ever.

David Poole died Tuesday of a heart attack, soon after finishing his daily Sirius satellite radio show and probably thinking about the next one -- and his next column in The Charlotte Observer, and his next blog on

He was 50. Just 50. Remember that next time you think sports journalists -- particularly NASCAR writers, in this case -- have the greatest, the cushiest, the most fun jobs in the world.

It's hard work and serious responsibility, this truth-telling business. And here I differentiate between the amateur, cottage-industry blogs and Web sites that are springing up everywhere and the true professionals, the serious journalists like David Poole.

If you do it the way he did it, the pressure is constant, even in your sleep. You're always on call, like a resident physician.

It's largely thankless -- you try to be the fans' voice to NASCAR and NASCAR's voice to the fans, and neither side is happy. When everybody's mad at you, you figure you're doing your job right, you're being fair.

After he took the radio gig -- several hours daily, early mornings, on top of the Web site, on top of the paper, on top of writing books, on top of doing guest TV appearances for ESPN and others -- I told him, "Poole, that's one job too many."

"Probably," he said, and shrugged, and went on typing -- I think it was in the media center at Richmond -- on deadline for the Observer.

He was making the transition from print to electronic media, as all of us have or will -- or else find other lines of work entirely.

Our beloved newspapers are dying, their time almost over. David was changing, but he'd have stayed with The Charlotte Observer until its last edition if he could -- he would change, but he would not desert. He would do it all.

He never let up. Never backed off. He was never anything but intense, driven, passionate about motor racing and journalism. Even when he told a joke -- and he could make an entire media center explode with laughter in five or fewer words -- it was with intensity in his voice.

Like Earnhardt, Poole never knew any other way but to be hungry. Both toughened, developed sharp edges. They ruffled, intimidated, angered some people -- you don't do well in NASCAR by being warm and fuzzy.

But they got their jobs done, very well indeed.

The night Earnhardt died, I went on autopilot, as you have to do about the death of a friend in this business. You have to report it first and analyze it for the public. Then and only then do you get to go home and do your own grieving.

I've been on TV and on the phone and at the keyboard all afternoon and half the evening, working on autopilot about the death of David Poole.

I'm going home now.



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