It Takes a Season
I suddenly feel this massive void in my life.
I miss waking up at crazy hours for three straight days every race weekend.
I miss talking with fellow fans on Twitter, often commiserating about those early alarms with an espresso in hand at 4am.
I miss the friends I've made in the paddock.
I simply miss F1.
Which is odd, considering a year ago Formula One didn't even exist in my vocabulary. I couldn't name a single driver, nor tell you how many teams were on the grid. Hell, I didn't even know what a grid was or how it was formed for that matter. This sport was a complete anomaly to me.
So imagine the anxiety and panic which set in when one of my first assignments with NBC Sports was to head to Austin for the US Grand Prix to produce a few original digital features. "Shit." I thought. "This is going to be a complete and utter disaster."
From my brief Googling of the sport, I gathered that I wasn't nearly smart enough nor cool enough to be around these people. How on earth was a clueless American producer who knew nothing about motorsport going to navigate its most elite & exclusive ranks?
But I reminded myself, I'd been in a similar position before. It was 2008 and I had just left New York City and ABC News to take a job as a segment producer for the new live morning SportsCenter at ESPN. I was responsible for producing all of Hannah Storm & Josh Elliott's segments, on every sport, for a daily live 3-hour show. A similar feeling of panic had set in. I grew up in a college football town in Ohio. What did I know about the NHL, MLB or NFL for that matter? But my mentor, who was responsible for bringing me to ESPN, gave me some of the best advice I've received in my career to date. He said "Blair, it takes a season." More on that later.
So, I arrived in Austin with that in mind. Ask questions. Don't pretend you know anything. And hope with everything you've got that your new colleagues would be cool enough to help you out.
Much of that fear & anxiety faded away with one Beastie Boys parody video whipped out on an iPhone the night I first met Will Buxton & Jason Swales. I instantly knew I'd be in good hands. And now, looking back on it, I couldn't have lucked into two more knowledgeable, passionate, hard-working and fun-loving friends to introduce me to the crazy world of Formula One.
After just one race weekend, I was hooked. It was by far the coolest, smartest & fastest sport I'd ever been around. I was fascinated by the logistics of this multi-billion dollar traveling circus. And how what seemed at first to be an exclusive, member's only club inside the paddock, at it's core, was really just a big family. Perhaps most impressive was how much every person I met genuinely cared for the sport. In so many other sports, whether you're in the front office, on the field, or covering the sport as a journalist, it's just a job. But F1 was different.
I walked away from that weekend in Austin (my first motorsport race of any kind) with a new nickname (Toni...as in Tony Blair), a love of tiny cupcakes, and a rapidly growing thirst for knowledge of a sport I knew nothing about 5 days prior.
I couldn't get enough. I started watching every film, documentary and show on F1. Jason even sent me a package full of F1 books as a sort of off-season study kit. Everything from an encyclopedia detailing every Grand Prix since 1950 to a form of an F1 for Dummies guide, albeit with a kinder title. It was all so overwhelming. I actually started highlighting and taking notes. Reading each selection like a textbook rather than a novel. I was so eager to do so much more with this sport, but how could I ever learn what I needed to know to do so? I reminded myself, it takes a season.
I wanted to find a way to share what I had seen in just one race weekend with our audience. I wanted to find a way to convince my friends & family that this was a sport worth watching. And understanding the privileged introduction I had into this world, find a way to give true F1 fans access & information they weren't getting from our coverage. And so was born the idea for Off the Grid.
Lucky enough to have a kickass boss who was willing to let me go to Bahrain to shoot a pilot with Will & Jason during testing in February, I grabbed my camera kit and hopped on a plane. Even then, despite my offseason studying, I was still pretty clueless. On the final day that week of testing we were shooting our last daily digital update report and Will said to me: "Toni, we need Williams broll", (blank stare on my face), he continued "the blue car", (deer in headlights), "at the end of the pit lane...go, you're going to miss it! Nasr's heading out shortly and we need to mention his new role as reserve driver in the report. GO!"
It's funny looking back on it now because I realize how far I've come in a season. After filming the pilot during testing we were green lit to film 3 episodes of Off the Grid this year, which meant I was fortunate enough to attend Grand Prix in Spain, Hungary & Singapore in addition to Austin. It also meant I'd have serious FOMO for the 15 races I wouldn't attend. But I made certain not to miss a minute of our broadcast team's coverage. I listened, I learned, and I fell more in love with the world of F1 with each passing race weekend.
So now that the 2014 World Championship season has come to an end, I can't help but feel I'm missing something in my life. And the funny thing is, I don't work strictly in F1. Last year's projects included assignments which ranged from the Super Bowl to Global RallyCross to MLS among others. But my involvement with F1 has just been different.
When my mentor told me "it takes a season" he meant it would take a full season of covering each sport on the SportsCenter broadcast to learn the story lines (past and present), get to know the key players, and to give the niche fans of each of those sports the coverage they expected of us.
As it applies to Formula One, I know it will take far more than one season to learn all of the intricacies of this incredibly complex & storied sport, but for this rookie, it took far less than one season to fall completely in love with it all.