ThatsRacin

NASCAR writer Jim Utter bids farewell to the Observer

After 24 years, NASCAR writer Jim Utter is leaving The Charlotte Observer.
After 24 years, NASCAR writer Jim Utter is leaving The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte Observer

I never thought I would have the opportunity to work at The Charlotte Observer.

But I did – for 24 years.

Now, it’s hard to envision not doing so anymore.

Of the many things the Observer does well, I’m proud to have been a part of one of them – covering NASCAR.

The Observer was the first newspaper to cover every race in NASCAR’s top series each season, and for four decades that responsibility fell on the typewriter-then-laptop of Tom Higgins, the 2014 winner of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

When Higgins retired, the responsibility went to David Poole, who was working on the sports desk when I first met him, when I was a college senior in 1991.

In 1998, when the Observer expanded its NASCAR coverage and launched its ThatsRacin.com website, I joined Poole on the NASCAR beat. For 12 years I worked side by side with him, traveling to race tracks across the country. Together we shared numerous dinners, weddings and unfortunately, funerals.

It’s not an easy beat – the news around NASCAR seldom is relegated just to what transpires on the track. And news can happen at all hours. It can involve plane crashes, bridge collapses and horrifying multicar accidents on superspeedways.

When Poole died of a heart attack in 2009, the responsibility to continue the Observer’s tradition of excellence in NASCAR coverage turned to me. It was a daunting task and a difficult transition, but I had a solid foundation.

I’ve written for just about every section, but for most of the past 20 years, NASCAR has been my focus.

The newspaper business has changed dramatically during recent years as we produce print and digital products at the same time, with a smaller staff.

I believe the Observer has made that transition better than most. In many respects, the addition of the ThatsRacin.com site in 1998 gave us a head start on the digital transformation.

But there is something permanent about seeing my byline in print. I always took pride in that.

Wednesday, I begin my new position as NASCAR Editor for Motorsport.com, a website devoted to motorsports coverage throughout the world, from Formula One and NASCAR to sports cars and drag racing.

I’ll be covering NASCAR, just for another outlet. I’ll still be based in Charlotte. I’ll still be traveling most weekends. My Twitter feed still will be filled most times with NASCAR news, opinion and results.

What I won’t see is my byline in the Observer, a constant reminder of a tradition of excellence. That, to me, is the most difficult thing in changing jobs.

Change, though, is constant. New technologies offer new ways to present information and new ways to receive it. I look forward to the new road ahead.

One thing won’t change, however. I will continue to be a fan and subscriber of the Observer. I hope you will as well.

See you at the track.

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