Chances are that if you're a NASCAR fan, you know the name David Poole. I didn't just know the name; for a brief time, I knew the man as well.
In September 2004, I spent the weekend at Richmond International Raceway as a member of the media. Though I was only a student journalist back then, I was covering the weekend for several reasons. Busch Series driver Ashton Lewis Jr. and Cup Series crew chief Robert "Bootie" Barker were graduates of Old Dominion University, the school for which was I writing, and with ODU being a big engineering school, it seemed appropriate to look at how that field had affected NASCAR in recent years.
I met a lot of NASCAR personalities that weekend. Mike Massaro, Krista Voda, Rick Allen, Marty Smith, Al Pearce, Benny Parsons ... it was a bit overwhelming to meet some of the people I watched and read week in and week out covering this sport I love. But one stood out, even among them: David Poole.
Poole died Tuesday of a heart attack at age 50, just hours after finishing his daily morning radio show for Sirius Satellite Radio. Poole was perhaps best known for his work with the Charlotte Observer, for which he still wrote even as he took on the radio show and started a racing blog and wrote several books on top of guest appearances on sports networks like ESPN.
Poole sort of fell into the NASCAR beat -- covering it during an off-day when the paper forgot to assign someone else -- but he never relinquished it. Even when he helped the Observer cover the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, Poole showed the same passion and professionalism NASCAR fans had come to expect from him.
Drivers loved Poole, because he was fair. Sure, he'd ask the tough question and he'd write the tough article, but he was fair about it. Even if Poole wrote something a driver wouldn't like, he would at least let that driver say his peace before going to print.
Poole's last article ran Tuesday morning, in which he called for changes to Talladega Superspeedway. "Is racing at Talladega out of control?" he wrote. "I say it is, and Carl Edwards' crash Sunday into the catch-fence in the tri-oval of the 2.66-mile track merely reinforced that opinion.
"Does somebody have to die before we've decided we don't have control?"
Much like Parsons, I remember Poole for the brief moments he spent with me in the media center at Richmond. He was an established voice in the NASCAR media, a well-respected and very busy man. He didn't have to take five minutes out of his time to talk to some young college reporter who really didn't know what he was doing -- but he did.
Poole, from what I saw, had a graciousness and no-bull approach that made you respect him. Even if he called you on something, you couldn't really get mad at him for it, because he was respectful about it. More often than not, he was also right.
Everything Poole did and wrote was to help make NASCAR better. Poole is probably a distinctive voice for the new NASCAR fan (the one who came on-board in the 1990s); he was seen on countless documentaries and interviews about the sport. ESPN ran a series of documentaries before last season called ESPN Ultimate NASCAR, and Poole was a prominent figure in those films.
Even though I doubt Poole would've remembered me today, I still thank him for the few minutes and advice he gave. I always admired his writing and the way he went about his business, and the way everyone in NASCAR, from the drivers to the crews to the owners to the officials, respected him was something all journalists would be jealous of.
There will be a massive void in the media center at Richmond this weekend. The racing will go on, but somehow, it probably won't feel quite right.
Rest in peace, David. You were one of the finest.