FLORENCESouth Carolina – Winston Kelley has been CEO of the NASCAR Hall of Fame since it opened in 2010. But to race fans, he is perhaps best known for being the lead pit reporter for the Motor Racing Network until he retired after the 2020 season.
Broadcasting for radio can be quite different from broadcasting for television.
“The biggest difference for me, from television to radio, is that television puts subtitles under a picture. We’re painting the picture,” Kelley said. “One of the things (MRN legend) Barney Hall used to always tell us is: ‘Describe what you see and think of it as if you were that person driving down the road or sitting on your boat listening to the radio.’ What are the things you would like to hear and visualize? That’s the basis of how I approached it.”
That takes tremendous effort at Darlington Raceway.
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“If you talk about Darlington as a race, you know there’s going to be a lot of tire strategy,” Kelley said. “You could have five or six laps in a race and people will come looking for tires. But you have to be aware of how many sets of tires they might have available at the end of the race because there is only a finite amount.
“And especially if it’s a 500-mile race, you have to know if someone could run out of tires or if someone could save a set of tires. It’s different every race,” she added. “On a race track like the last race at Daytona, you’re going to pay attention to when the cars are going to come down pit road.”
Then the concentration of the pit reporters sharpens.
“Are the cars going to go down in a group like the Toyotas, the Fords or the Chevrolets? Every track is a little different in how it monitors strategies to be prepared for pit stops and what it’s looking for between pit stops, whether it’s wear or fuel consumption or why someone backed up or why someone he was ahead. Kelley said. “It’s like Barney told us: ‘If you stick to the race, you can’t have a bad broadcast.'”
Kelley joined MRN in the late 1980s as a production assistant before making his first on-air appearance in 1988 at Martinsville Speedway before becoming the network’s lead pit reporter.
“We would have 14 to 20 cars to cover the teams,” Kelley recalled. “And that’s what you’re monitoring to see what’s relevant there. We used to have three pit reporters max at each track. Now there are two in some, and three in some. It just depends on the track. Typically we would split it in half or thirds depending on the race track and what the cut off point is.
“When we had a field of 40 cars, we would divide it into thirds and have 13 for one, 13 for another and 14 for another. Or, like it’s a 37-40 car field now, you just split them down the middle. For my last 15 to 18 years, the area I would cover was towards Curve No. 1,” she added.
Once that was established, the fun was just beginning.
“We would keep in touch with each other. If someone had to go to the infield car center to interview someone who came out of it or had to go to the garage to interview someone whose car went down, we’d have them covered,” Kelley said. “The other reporter, or the other two reporters, would pay attention to those other areas.”
Kelley said that at Darlington, MRN used three pit reporters before the 2020 pandemic.
“I don’t know if they’ll have two or three pit reporters this weekend,” Kelley said. “As a general rule, in the last few years, two have been at every track except Daytona and Talladega. And that’s because the infield spotlight and garage area aren’t as close to the track, and there are going to be more crashes and more people coming out of the car center there at Daytona and Talladega. You have to have someone who can be sent to the auto center and the garage.
“My guess is Darlington will be two this weekend,” he added. “It’s probably 18-19 cars per pit reporter.”
And of course, what makes Darlington such a fun place to stream is its history.
“It’s about history and tradition,” Kelley said. “It was NASCAR’s first track longer than a mile, dating back to 1950. It has so much history and heritage.
“And it’s such a hard track,” he added. “When a driver says, ‘You have to race the racetrack,’ there are so many situations where you’ve got 50 or 30 laps to go and somebody’s car just loses it a little bit and that car gets a Darlington Stripe and is get on the tire and they have to go in and whistle”.
Oh, that darlington stripe.
“You knew that was going to happen to almost everyone. It didn’t matter if it was Bill Elliott or Dale Earnhardt Sr.,” Kelley said. “That was going to happen throughout the race, and especially as you got further into the race.”