Matt Humphrey is NASCAR’s Director of Racing Communication. He’s a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach who drives 80 minutes one way to NASCAR’s Corporate Office in Daytona Beach every day – unless he’s at a race. He spends most of that drive listening to, of course, NASCAR SiriusXM Radio.
As told to Don Coble
What are your first memories of auto racing?
I’ve been a motorsports fans since a time when I could remember. I grew up in Canton, Ohio. The only motorsports I had been exposed to was at that point and time was the Indianapolis 500. It was always shown on tape delay on television. And there was a Canton Motor Speedway, which is a little tiny short track. It’s no longer there. It’s a gravel pit. The track was located less than a mile from my house. I never got to go to that racetrack, but I would always fall asleep on Friday and Saturday nights hearing the roar of the engines. And I was hooked.
How were you introduced to NASCAR?
I was watching an episode of the “Dukes of Hazzard,” of all things, and Cale Yarborough was the special guest star. The Duke boys got themselves involved with Cale Yarborough and that was my first exposure to NASCAR.
How did your journalism career start?
I quit college after six months because my ex-wife was pregnant. I needed to get a real job. I took a job working at the local sewage plant in Fredericktown, Ohio. We had two kids 13 months apart, so I had to get a second job to support the family. I got a part-time working the sports department at the Mount Vernon News. They were looking for somebody to answer the phone in sports and write recaps of Little League baseball games. I got off the sewage plant at 3:30 (p.m.), and be down at the newspaper by 5:30-6 o’clock. I answered the phones and wrote all these one-inch recaps on local sports. After about a week of doing that, the sports editor asked if I had any interest in covering a football game and writing the story. I did both jobs, the newspaper and the sewage plant, for about three years. I volunteered to cover anything and everything, and that included motorsports. There was a local dragstrip in town called Pacemakers Raceway Park. There also was Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course right up the road, about a half-hour away. I volunteered my time to cover those events.
Why did you pick journalism?
I got sick at the sewage plant – literally sick.
You created an early working relationship with Jimmie Johnson that seemed to follow you to NASCAR. How did that happen?
While I was at the New Press (in St. Joseph, Missouri, out there in early 2000, David Bradley, who was the publisher, was best friends with Stan and Randy Herzog of Herzog Motorsports, the No. 92 car in the Busch Series. They had a guy driving who nobody had ever heard of – a guy named Johnson. As a favor to the Herzogs, the publisher asked me to do a story on this guy before and after all the Busch Series races. That led to me starting a motorsports page. I had to write it, design it and edit it. My design work got me to the Orlando Sentinel. What drew me to Orlando was the Daytona International Speedway was in the backyard.
And that got you to NASCAR?
In 2011, they had the Roar Before the 24 (test session ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona). Jimmie Johnson was testing a sports car. He was doing a press conference. I was experimenting with live streaming content to our website, orlandosentinel.com. I streamed the Jimmie Johnson press conference live back to the Orlando Sentinel. Stu Odom, who was running the sports services team with NASCAR, saw what I was doing. He asked if I’d be interested in applying for an opening in NASCARmedia.com.
Do you have a favorite race?
Without a doubt. It was the 50th running (in 2012) of the Rolex 24. That’s the day I met my wife (Kristin). I had one job that day: a woman was coming in to do transcripts. My one job was to keep her happy. I took those instructions to heart. I’m still doing that.