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OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Scott Voight, NASCAR PR Man

By Billy Hicks

            There’s nothing in the home office of Scott Voight that makes him stand out in the crowd. A file cabinet covered with NASCAR logo stickers, photos, a computer, nothing to suggest the circumstances that led him down the path to a NASCAR career. To most, these would be the trappings of a typical NASCAR fan. Scott Voight is anything but. Scott Voight is a man overcoming the obstacles.

            Voight was born in Chicago, Ill, where he lived until the age of 11 when his family moved to Kentucky. His interest in NASCAR started with the 1972 Daytona 500, broadcast on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports”.

            This also launched his first career interest: Television. “I wanted to replace Rune Aldridge,” Voight recalled. In pursuit of this dream, he signed up for his high school radio and television class that allowed him to intern at “The Grand Ol’ Opry” and “The Porter Wagoner Show”.           Eventually, Voight was forced to give up the dream and take a job as warehouse supervisor. His job forced him to relocate to Georgia, where Voight came to support Dawsonville driver Bill Elliott. He spent time at the Dawsonville Pool Room in North Georgia, where fans of Elliott would gather to ring a bell celebrating his latest victory, a tradition that started with Elliott’s first win in 1983.

            The unexpected has a way of showing up in life, and Voight was no exception. Working at his warehouse job, Voight noticed pallets of goods were stacked dangerously. Stating that what he saw was against Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, Voight refused to let his staff retrieve the parts from off the pallets, choosing instead to phone the company that had stacked them and inform them of the problem.

            Still, Voight had a job to perform, and when one of these pallets was needed, he went up on a ladder to retrieve it. It was this moment that fate struck. The pallet of boxes collapsed and fell, pulling a part down and Voight was holding onto it. Both his arms were ripped out of the sockets, and he suffered ligament damage in his arms as well as to the lower vertebrae in his back.

            Incapable of caring for himself, he was forced to return to his family home. “My mom was there for me from day one”, recalls Voight. She continued to be there for him for the next three years as he resided with her while working on his injuries.

            Voight’s road to recovery was a long one. He was incapacitated for months and when able to move again had to do various forms of therapy, including swimming, bicycling and walking. Even 15 years after intensive therapy, the pain is still there. “I have good and bad days,” Voight stated.

            After a lengthy recovery, Voight was looking for a new direction. No longer able to do physical labor, he had to find a new way to make a living and fill his time. His love of NASCAR came back to his mind, but Voight wasn’t sure what he wanted to do until a special conversation with a NASCAR legend.

            Cup Series champion and television announcer Ned Jarrett was at the Louisville Motor Speedway in Kentucky for the Truck Series race. Voight was in attendance at the track the day before the race for practice when Jarrett came out to watch with him. The two had a three-hour conversation that led to Jarrett convincing Voight he had to take a shot at his dream.

            In 1996, Voight started his own company, Freeze Frame Pictures. He had a friend in Atlanta who worked for a radio station who got him passes to the race as a member of the media in exchange for reporting the on-track information. This allowed him to get his foot in the door and build his reputation with his own company. He traveled with NASCAR touring series and photographed the teams, cars and on-track action, selling his pictures to newspapers, magazines, tracks and internet sites. Voight would spend the next four years at this endeavor until 2000, when Voight found his true calling: public relations.

            Troxell Racing out of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, was looking for a PR man to represent the team and thought Voight would be the right man for the job. Voight had media credentials that allowed him into places that others would not be able to go, and he used these to his advantage in getting interviews, news stories and TV time for the team.

            When the Joyce Julius report, a report that details how much in advertising dollars a team receives in media mentions, was released, Troxell Racing was pleased to discover that Voight had netted the team $3 million worth of coverage. It immediately offered him a job for the remainder of the year and Voight Motorsports Management was born.

            And what training did Voight have in this new endeavor? “I was self-taught, learned as I went, then I had a friend from the DANA corporation, Armadee Neadeau, take me under his wing and show me the ropes,” he said. Voight quickly learned the ins and outs of the job: setting up interviews and appearances, booking hotel rooms and writing press releases, all things he had no prior experience with.

            The little frustrations of the lack of personal time or last-minute additions to a sponsor’s guest list might cause him difficulties, but he looks at it as the excitement of the job. “I wake up every morning and think, ‘Good God, I get paid to do this for a living and I’d do it for free’,” Voight said with a laugh.

            Sometimes training was on-the-job, as Voight discovered when he was the PR man for Derrike Cope and Jay Robinson Racing in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series in 2002. Cope was racing at Richmond International Raceway when he was involved in a violent crash on lap 68 of the 250-lap event. Cope was taken to the hospital and released later that night, but the moments after the crash were some of the most unexpected on-the-job moments of Voight’s career. “I was the only link between the media, the owners and Derrike,” Voight recalled. “What stands out most was the fear of the owners, the guilt they felt because something broke on the car, because that’s how much they cared about their driver.”

            Then there are the positives. The highlight of Voight’s career thus far was working for Joe Ruttman in the Truck Series and eyeing the chance to go to Victory Lane. “We formed a new team, and in our very first race Joe was leading and with four laps to go we were in third place with a shot to win,” he said. “We ended up third, but I’d never been in victory circle with a team, and just the possibility of a win is what you’re there for.” He also got to meet and befriend one of his childhood heroes, Chris Economacki of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports”.

            Voight wants to be successful in his career and on the track, but always remembers it’s about the fans. “I try to go above and beyond what everyone else does, especially with the little kids,” he says. “I try to give them the real experience. I put them in the car, buckle them in, answer questions, take them through the media center so they can meet people and let them watch the behind-the-scenes stuff.”

            Pat Stroup, a longtime friend of Voight, can account for his desire and passion firsthand. Stroup was director of sales at a major hotel chain near Kentucky Speedway in 2001 and was trying to attract business from the Truck Series teams and get exposure for the hotel. Voight contacted her for hotel rooms and put together an autograph session with a driver as well as sponsorship from the hotel.

            “He conducted himself in a professional manner and he was very thorough with his promotional materials,” she said. “He wrote a newsletter for the driver and team and we displayed it for the fans. He helped hang banners and did whatever it took to make things happen.” Stroup’s professional relationship with Voight matured into a friendship, where she learned the hardships he had been through and saw what kind of man he was.

            “Scott didn’t display any signs of injury when I met him,” she said. “He and I became close over time, and it was then that I found out what he had been through. He worked hard and suffered for it. There were many days of working and many nights of icing his shoulder or using a tens unit to ease his pain. After I started working with him, I saw first hand his daily struggle with the pain. He wanted to succeed in NASCAR in the worst way.”

            Even though Voight has overcome many obstacles in his life, he faces challenges that are not an issue for most. NASCAR doesn’t allow the use of golf carts in the infield areas, something that would lighten the strain on his body from his injuries. Voight might be given special consideration if he asked for it, but he refuses to, stating it’s not necessary for him.

            “I have a choice of doing this for a living or giving up on life, and I’m not giving up on life,” he said. Still, Voight has to find ways to handle the pain while working, which can sometimes be overwhelming, but he refuses to take medication while on the job as it slows down his reaction time and his ability to focus, and he knows that these are crucial to his success.

            The economic crisis has affected everyone, and Voight is no exception. Voight had an interview with a winning Nationwide Series team for a job that suddenly dissolved due to the economic downturn. “I was told they decided to go in a different direction,” he said. “They’re going to use their sponsor’s PR people instead of hiring someone else to do the job.”

            Voight finds frustration in the mindset of some teams and sponsors. He still believes in the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” slogan and finds it hard to understand why more people aren’t willing to jump into NASCAR or why they see their NASCAR programs as more expendable than others. Add to that his living outside the hub of NASCAR, North Carolina, and one can understand his difficulty and concern in hunting down a job in the field in these troubled times.

            “I want to be there, that’s where I need to be, but I need to finish school,” he said. “Now with the Internet, podcasts and all that, it’s a lot easier to keep up with outside the area, but it’s still the place to be.”

            So how does Voight look at the circumstances that led to his new career and his injuries? “I still feel blessed to not be in that bed, that I can hold my head up proudly and say I’m doing something with my life,” he stated. “I wouldn’t be in NASCAR if (the accident) hadn’t happened, but my personal life has suffered, so it’s mixed.” Voight is currently in a transitional period in his career. He has no degree and no official training in PR other than his experience, and with an ultimate goal of working in the Cup Series, he knows he needs a degree to stand a chance and has taken a break from the NASCAR world to attend college in pursuit of a public relations degree.

            Still, he knows the difficulties of trying to get a foot in the door and has some advice for those aspiring to make it into one of NASCAR’s Big Three series: “Be seen. Timing is everything, you never know when somebody’s looking for something. Go to the track and be available, be helpful.” Voight’s story is one of overcoming obstacles and making things happen, and it will be a surprise to no one who knows him when he achieves his dream and is working for a top level NASCAR Sprint Cup team in the near future, because it’s just one more obstacle to overcome.

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