December 10, 2017
Seth and Sutton Sharp
Last week we talked with Rick Houston, who has kept busy since his time came to a close writing for the Winston Cup Scene in August of 2003, authoring a handful of books and working with NASA. Houston talked about how he fell in love with NASCAR, his time at the Scene, stories throughout his career and what he’s up to today.
Keep It 35: Let’s start out talking about your life today. What does a day in your life look like in 2017?
Rick Houston: Right now, it’s pretty exciting. I’m doing a lot of research, doing a lot of proposals and those kind of things. Actually, I can’t really say anything right now but I just put together a neat deal yesterday. It doesn’t have anything to do with NASCAR, it has to do with my NASA career. It’s a neat opportunity that I’m really looking forward to. It’s going to be a really cool deal.
Keep It 35: Before we get into your NASCAR career, how did you get into NASA?
Rick Houston: I have always been fascinated by NASA. I remember when I was probably four or five years old I was watching one of the later moon landings with my Mom, my Dad was in Vietnam at the time. I don’t know if I was aware that they were actually on the moon, I just knew that they were in these cool looking space suits, driving this cool dune buggy looking thing. Every other word that they seemed to be saying was “Houston” and in my four or five year old mind, they were talking to me.
That’s what really caught my attention and as a direct result of that I’ve always been fascinated by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I think that’s what caught my attention about NASCAR as well.
Keep It 35: How did you get your start with NASCAR?
Rick Houston: It was very simple. I grew up a huge baseball fan. At one time I had over 100,000 baseball cards and all kinds of memorabilia. My favorite player of all-time was Pete Rose. When he started having all of his troubles, it started souring me on the sport. At the very same time that Pete was banished from baseball, I started going over to my best friend’s house on Sunday afternoons to hang out. I noticed that his Mom would always be in front of the TV watching the races. In my life, I’ve never met a more devoted and passionate NASCAR fan that my best friend’s Mom. As a direct result, she got me interested in NASCAR.
She was a subscriber to Winston Cup Scene and that’s how I learned about the sport. That’s how I learned about the sport, that and TV programs like Inside Winston Cup Racing with Ned Jarrett and Steve Byrnes.
I have this thing but when I get interested in something, I don’t just read about it and put it away. I get all but obsessed about it and go all in. I can’t just read a newspaper and go that’s cool. I have to go to work in NASCAR. I wound up getting a job a few years later with a start-up newspaper. I moved to North Carolina and two weeks after I arrived, I stopped getting a paycheck. At the end of the season, the newspaper folded and I moved back to Nashville, Tennessee. The next year in 1992, I moved to North Carolina for good. I was doing work for a paper in Columbia and wound up landing on my feet.
Keep It 35: Could you tell us about your time writing for the Winston Cup Scene?
Rick Houston: I was hired as a staff writer. I worked as a staff writer for the 1995 and 1996 seasons. The following year in 1997, I stepped up and became the Busch Series editor and that’s where I stayed for the rest of my run with the paper.
Keep It 35: Is there one article in particular that you wrote that stands out to you more than the rest?
Rick Houston: There are so many that stick out in my mind. I remember writing a story about Shane Hall and Jason Keller that I thought was really kind of cool. They had been best friends since grade school. That was a really cool story. Gosh, there are so many that stick out. It was the personalities more than the stories that stick out. All of the stories run together to be honest with you.
Keep It 35: Since you mentioned personalities, we saw on Twitter last night you were joking around with Randy LaJoie about his feud with Buckshot Jones. What is it like writing about feuds compared to just getting regular quotes and stories about drivers?
Rick Houston: That’s the cool thing about the Busch Series at that time. I had the freedom to talk to both Randy and Buckshot and give them both a hard time about being involved in that, to talk to them and trust them getting their side of the story. I don’t think I was ever given a hard time about anything that I wrote, except maybe one or two times.
There was one driver who I honestly thought was going to punch me following the drivers meeting at Talladega. For some reason he got upset because I suggested in the paper that they should change his car number from 16 to M-16 because he was such a weapon. I went out into the garage as the teams were getting ready to push the cars out to the starting grid and his team had actually put an M next to the car number, so I thought that was pretty cool.
As far as the feuds go, I don’t really remember a lot of them. There was a big fracas on pit-road at South Boston between Mark Green’s team and Jeff Purvis’ team. Those two guys were so laid back anyway that they didn’t really harbor grudges. Mark is one of the easiest going, laid back guys that you would ever want to meet, and so is Jeff. They didn’t really harbor it for too long, but Randy and Buckshot? Yeah! They kept theirs going!
Keep It 35: Are there any drivers from that time period that you’ve built relationships with over the years that you keep in contact with today?
Rick Houston: I’m friends on Facebook with several. Probably the one that I am most in contact with through Facebook, Twitter and all of that is Rick Mast. That is just because he’s so active and I think he is just like me. We are sitting on the sidelines and we miss being involved, so he is keeping in touch with folks.
Keep It 35: What was the most memorable race that you covered during your career?
Rick Houston: I’ll be honest with you, it’s the weekend that Adam Petty got killed. That whole weekend is seared into my memory, Friday especially. I would have never, ever expected to go to the racetrack that day and be involved in something like that. I say that it was the most memorable event that I ever covered, but I could not tell you for sure who won the race. I think Jeff Green did, but I would not bet on it. Well, Jeff won everything else that year so it would be a really good bet but it might have been Tim Fedewa.
As far as races go and good finishes and all of that, there was a really good race at Nazareth in 1997 that Tim did win. The last half of that race was just a barn-burner. I think Jeff Green dominated the first part of the race and blew an engine or had some sort of trouble. Tim and the rest of the field had a pretty big battle.
There was a race at South Boston where Dale Shaw and Randy LaJoie battled over the last 10 laps. That was the best racing that I’ve ever seen in my life. They were door handle to door handle all over the racetrack. It had to have been 10 laps. I can very vividly remember standing there at the gate waiting to cross over into the infield to get my post-race quotes and everything. That was a really neat finish.
One of the last races that I covered for the Scene was at Indianapolis Raceway Park. It was Brian Vickers, Shane Hmiel, Jason Keller and I believe Scott Wimmer. I believe it was a 75-100 lap battle and the four of them were basically all over each other. Those are the races that stick out in my mind.
Keep It 35: The three tracks that you just mentioned aren’t obviously on the schedule anymore. Would you say that out of your favorite tracks, most of them aren’t on the schedule anymore?
Rick Houston: I think racing has certainly changed but personally, I think it’s the personalities and the business that has changed as much, if not more than the on-track product. When I was covering the Busch Series, small independent teams still had a chance. BACE Motorsports dominated that division and won three straight championships. I don’t think that could ever happen today. That’s sad because they were such a powerhouse team. I think that is the biggest thing that has changed about that division.
Keep It 35: Obviously, with the way that the internet is today, the media and that type of stuff has drastically changed from when you were writing. How do you feel about the way everything is covered in 2017?
Rick Houston: I’m kind of torn about it because when I was in the sport I had one deadline a week. That was a Tuesday afternoon, which was press day. Today there are no deadlines. It is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week news cycle, 365 days a year. I don’t know what it’s like to work under the kind of time constraint.
Keep It 35: I’ve seen posts before about writing multiple articles before an outcome of a race plays out, just so that their media outlet can be the first to break the story. I know that we feel that the excitement and passion is lost in the words of an article that is created before it actually has occurred.
Rick Houston: That’s exactly next point. On the flip side of that, I think in a lot of respects it has made a lot of reporters very lazy. I don’t care if you quote me verbatim, I don’t care if you record it, if you blast it from every PA across every single track. They never leave the media center. They don’t get up out of their seats. They don’t go to the garage and get to know the drivers, the crew-chiefs and the crew members. They don’t develop those relationships or chase the stories. They continually sit there and hit all of the social media sites, looking to see what every other person has on their page. The last time that I was at the race-track was in Charlotte a few years ago and it was absolutely amazing. Everybody was in the media center and nobody was in the garage.
Keep It 35: I know that a lot of the races are covered from the media center, based solely what is being shown on TV. It’s really no different sometimes that just reading tweets from fans at home.
Rick Houston: To be honest with you, I don’t think I follow a single NASCAR media member right now on Twitter because they all tweet the same thing. Heaven forbid now that Twitter is 280 characters! The very, very, very, worst tweets are the top-10 on the restart, with just car numbers. I’m sorry, I’m not going to sit there and look up car numbers if I don’t know who they are. There is no information in those tweets for people who aren’t completely familiar with the sport, or sometimes even the most casual fans. Especially if there is going to be another tweet in 10 seconds that car so and so is passing car so and so. I’m not going to do it. It’s just a way for folks to look busy. Yeah, I said it and I ain’t taking it back!
Keep It 35: I know you mentioned this project that you have coming up with NASA, but do you have any plans in the future coming up with NASCAR in any capacity.
Rick Houston: I am trying very hard to do this. I actually have a complete run of Grand National/Winston Cup Scene’s from the very first issue in 1977 through 2009, and they stopped publishing in 2010. I don’t know if anybody else has an archive like that. My kids aren’t NASCAR fans and my concern is what will happen when I kick the bucket a million years from now. I’m trying very hard to put together an online archive of these things. If I have any one trait, it’s that I don’t give up easy and that can be a blessing and a curse. I am trying very hard to put together some way to make this archive available to the public. I honestly and truly think that the demand would be there, especially with how rich and amazing that this content is.
Keep It 35: That’s all the questions we have, thank you so much for talking to us and sharing all of these stories!
Rick Houston: No problem guys, have a great night!
You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickHouston73