Hard work and hard-headedness


- Editor
Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

It was my good fortune to have worked closely with David Poole. But it was even better to have been counted among his friends.

There have been a ton of tributes to Poole this week and he surely deserved every one of the kind words. But two things come to mind about all that: He’d probably have worked every sentence and every word choice over pretty hard, because he still had a lot of copy editor in him, and he wouldn’t have let on much about how touched he was by all of the attention.

Poole had a ton of friends and many of them were on hand for his funeral Thursday in his hometown of Gastonia, N.C. Many, many more weren’t able to make it, and that would have been fine with him. He, of all the people I’ve ever run across, knew better than most how busy people could be sometimes.

This was a guy with more going on – all the danged time – than really should have been reasonably expected of most mortals. And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was amazing to watch. You want more than amazing, maybe amazing squared? He got all of it done, too.

The Charlotte Observer hired Poole and me at roughly the same time. Poole was a copy editor in sports and I had the same job on the news side. Desks like those we worked on are newspaper versions of controlled chaos, sometimes not so controlled. Always have been and still are, even if computers and economies keep changing the nature of those jobs and stepping up the adrenaline flow, headaches and second guessing.

We had the same kind of backgrounds, both having worked a lot at smaller papers. Poole’s resume listed newsrooms in North Carolina and mine said Mississippi and Alabama. But they were a lot alike, places where staffs at the time were smaller than the Observer’s was then and where even the rookies were expected to carry the ball a lot. Willingness to work was the ace up your sleeve, so experience – not all of it the very best, perhaps – was accumulated rapidly.

We got to know each other and started hanging around together away from work because believed - strongly sometimes - in many of the same things. Some were as simple as man's inalienable right to play through the slower-than-crap, couldn't-hit-it-out-their-danged-shadows-if-their-lives-depended-on-it foursome in front of him. Others could be as complicated as the newspaper's role in or coverage of the issues of the day.

But back then Poole didn’t report for duty on the sports desk every night, weekend and holiday as much as he attacked the next day's editions. And if the next morning’s sports section hadn’t submitted by the time first run was out, he’d lay siege. And, [ast midnight, when the final was going to press, he’d won more often than not.

As some have suggested this week, that didn’t always put him directly in line for the Miss Congeniality prize.

It was the same approach Poole took when Tom Higgins retired and he won the job as the Observer’s NASCAR beat writer. Tough shoes to fill? Sure, but Poole got after it, attacking and laying siege when necessary, just as Higgins had done. Readers were the ultimate victors, even if the occasional sponsor, big-margin merchandiser, track owner and the NASCAR brass might have sometimes bristled.

Some of those folks, bless their hearts, have never gotten past believing that racing writers are best suited to playing supporting roles. But Poole, like many of his colleagues, never answered that casting call. There were truths to be told, dammit, and damn the torpedoes.

Poole was quickly getting up to speed and producing more copy – not just about NASCAR, but about racing of every brand - than the paper’s sports section could hold. And that made it seem as if the Internet had been invented – whether it was by Al Gore or not – just for him. Or at least the part about racing coverage on the web. And not just rumors and news releases, but actual, verifiable facts.

He “got it” early and realized that a large part of the world was no longer content to wait for tomorrow’s paper or evening newscast to get a racing fix. So Poole was a key player when the Observer launched (I didn’t get on board for another year or two, so I wasn’t in mission control or anything and don’t know if there was an actual countdown before the "launch" or not. I'm not sure. Maybe, at zero hour, I wasn’t yet convinced that this Internet thing was going to catch on.)

But Poole knew and he attacked it like most things he had in his professional life. And he came to own a big slice of it.

Then, if that weren’t enough, Poole added a radio gig – four or five mornings a week, every week - to his newspaper and Internet responsibilities. You want more amazing? He used to write stories while he was doing the radio gig, between questions, while his radio guests were answering and during station breaks.)

On top of those things, he was becoming more and more involved in charitable efforts that benefited members of the racing family and those well beyond it. Oh, yeah. And he had a family full of people he loved, too.

And he kept getting it all done. Done squared.

All that made me proud to know him and to be working with him, even if our similar backgrounds, experiences and roughly equal shares of hard-headedness sometimes put us at odds. The differences were always pretty minor and never much about where we were headed. Mostly they were about which turns to take, how fast to enter them and what kind of exit speed might be most prudent.

But beyond the volume of work, here's what I believed David Poole did best – what the preacher at Thursday's service called Poole's calling, his genius – whether he was born with it or earned it through sheer determination and hard knocks:

He made giants of the mere men and women on his beat, day in and day out. And when the job required it, we could always count on him to report the facts, which sometimes made mere men and women – mortals that we all are – of the giants on his beat.

That's what good reporters do.