Switching hats: From fandom to media
Photo by Dominic Aragon/TheRacingExperts.com
Justin Melillo poses for a photo at Pocono Raceway in August.



By Justin Melillo
Staff Reporter
October 9, 2015
jmelillo@theracingexperts.net

 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

 


It’s been a fantastic 2015 for me, and I’ve been trying to find the best way to express that for a couple of weeks now.

Let me introduce myself.


My name is Justin Melillo. I’m 25-years-old and a 2012 graduate of Hofstra University. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Print Journalism and Communications, but I currently work as a Store Manager in an electronics retail store to help pay off my student loans.


I also write and report occasionally for The Racing Experts, a small racing news website focused primarily on NASCAR.

Thanks to The Racing Experts, NASCAR, and my passion for the sport, this year has been incredible for me. I’m heading down to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend to cover the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.


Photo by TheRacingExperts.com

Four members of The Racing Experts staff pose for a photo at Pocono Raceway in August 2015. 

It will be the fourth time this year I’ve been accepted into the media circle for the race weekend. Unlike most of my trips to the race track, I won’t be packing my favorite driver’s gear and screaming at the top of my lungs rooting them on.


Instead, I’ll be running around the infield and media center, hoping to get the stories that people want to read about. I’ll be talking to my heroes and idols, hoping to get a good angle on a good story that hopefully people will read.

It’s a big difference, and it’s hard to switch between wearing the fanatic hat as opposed to the reporter hat. It’s a huge no-no to utilize your privileges to fan out. I would never risk my possible future career, but at the same time, there is always that urge to walk up to somebody and tell them how much they mean to you.

I love NASCAR. I’ve been a fan since I can remember. My family followed the sport while I grew up. I asked every year for every little die-cast car for my birthday, and played with them on my grandparent’s kitchen floor. I was the kid in high school who would be asked numerous questions about NASCAR; it’s validity as a sport and how I could possibly enjoy cars going around in circles for hours.

My Grandfather was a mechanic, and used to drag race here on Long Island. He passed away in 2000. In 2001, our favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, passed away in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500.  Most of my family distanced themselves from the sport after that. I was so distraught that I even questioned if I still wanted to watch it anymore.


Photo by Dominic Aragon/TheRacingExperts.com

Justin Melillo snaps photos on pit road during a qualifying session at Pocono Raceway in July 2015.

I was only 10, and the amount of loss in my life was overwhelming. I decided I would only watch a few races a year and find something else to like, because if I had to worry about my heroes dying, I didn’t want to have to go through that grief again.

I couldn’t keep myself away. My Uncle brought me to my first race at Dover the next year and I was re-hooked. I found myself immersed in NASCAR computer games, or sim racing, through the Papyrus NASCAR Racing games.


I wrote and updated a website for one of the leagues I ran. I watched or listened to every race, even when I was camping as a Boy Scout troop. My life became NASCAR. I had my favorite drivers, my favorite teams, and I wore all the merchandise I could.

After my college graduation, I couldn’t find a better paying job in the field I spent four years learning about. I needed my full-time retail job to pay off my school loans and start my life, so I couldn’t drop what I had with the company I work for. Over time, I would write blog entries when I could. I tweeted and I Facebooked— I continued to keep writing where I could.

Two years ago, I wrote something related to the possible purchase of Phoenix Racing and Justin Allgaier getting a Cup ride. 

Being a big Justin Allgaier fan in what was then the Nationwide Series, I was excited for the opportunity he might get if Harry Scott Jr. purchased the team and brought one of his drivers from Turner Scott Motorsports over.


was really proud of the article, so I sent it to one of my sim racing friends who had a small website that posted stuff about NASCAR. He never read my message in time, and my story never got published. What I wrote about ended up becoming reality, and I felt like I missed a huge opportunity. Life went on.


I received a call from that friend later down the road, early in 2014. That friend was Dominic Aragon, and he was interested in having me write for his website, TheRacingExperts.com. I accepted and thanked him, and then I immediately hit a roadblock. I didn’t know what to write about. I was so out of practice and so focused on life in general that I just didn’t know what would be a good story.


I think Dominic knew, because he started giving me things to write about, and over the course of time, I started writing about what I thought was good to write about.

This year, I started off driving down to Florida for the Daytona 500. It wasn’t my first trip, but it would be the only one for the year, as I hoped to save up enough money for a trip back next year for the 2016 race. I was only there as a fan though, and was pretty bummed that I would have to wait another year to go back.

I received a call from Dominic sometime in this spring about what my plans were for the NASCAR Pocono race weekend in June. I had been thinking about maybe treating myself to a birthday week of sorts and heading to both Dover and Pocono each respective Sunday morning and hanging out with some friends, since it wouldn’t affect my work schedule and the driving distance was not that far.


Dominic said he had a possibility of getting me passes to the media center and infield for Pocono, and he would try to get me Dover as well if I wanted it.

Since then, I’ve been to Dover in June and Pocono twice. I’ve spoken to Justin Allgaier just while on the fly in the garage area. I’ve asked Kevin Harvick a question during a press conference. I got to talk with Geoff Bodine in the ARCA garage, who has a blog on The Racing Experts website. I’ve spoken to team members and owners, and I’ve met many other reporters and aspiring writers in the media center.


As I head to Charlotte, I look forward to once again trying to make a name for myself. I want to be a part of this sport on a more permanent basis. I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be to move on with my life, put on the reporter cap, and do this for the rest of my life.


If I don’t, I will cherish every opportunity I’m given, and continue to work hard to get to a point where I can wake up and write about NASCAR every day for a living. I can easily put away the fan hat if that means wearing a reporter hat every day for the rest of my life.