From the grandstand to pit road


Photo: NBC Sports

For many, the thrill of attending a NASCAR race is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The roar of the engines, the waving of the black and white checkered flag, and the brightly colored fire suits are only images seen on the TV screen. For Mike Massaro, these visions are seen daily while on the job.

Standing on pit road, watching the race unfold, and jumping into action when a story needs to be heard wasn’t what he imagined himself doing when he pursued a career in sports journalism, according to Massaro, who graduated from Emerson in 1992.

“I don’t know if there was anything I loved more than sports, so I wanted to become a sportscaster,” Massaro, a former journalism major, said. “When I got out of college, what I thought I was going to do was to be your guy on your local news that did the three minute sports report at the end of the newscast.”

While attending Emerson, Massaro was a member of the baseball team and was in the now-defunct fraternity Rho Delta Omega, which he said was made up primarily of athletes at the time. During his senior year, Massaro became the president of RDO.

Massaro said his time at Emerson was fantastic, with the exception that it was too short.

Massaro transferred to the University of Connecticut for his junior year of college, after running into some financial problems with Emerson. He spent one year in Storrs, Connecticut and transferred back to Emerson for his senior year, after working out a financial aid package.

Gregory Payne, associate professor and chair in the department of communication studies, stood out to Massaro as an influential professor at Emerson and helped give him the opportunity to come back his senior year, he said.    

Payne said Massaro got his attention as a student who possessed the drive and determination that people need to get where they want to go.

“Mike was someone who was very articulate and I think he was, from my perspective, destined to success,” Payne said. “I don’t think he knew exactly what area he wanted to pursue, but he was very interested in sports and a very good writer. I’m very proud of his work.”

Massaro said the environment at Emerson pushed him to be more competitive and gave him the perseverance to keep going when things didn’t go as planned after college.

“My dad, after watching me toil away as a bartender for about a year and a half after I graduated, encouraged me to volunteer at a local speedway, the Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, as a public address announcer,” Massaro said.

Massaro said getting practice in your field is what makes all the difference when college is over and you are trying to find a job.

“I found that people were very apprehensive to hire me because I had no on-air experience,” Massaro said. “If you’re going to do radio or be on TV, find a way to be on air, even if it’s at Emerson, find something that can put you on air someplace, that’s the most important thing.”

Massaro worked at Stafford Motor Speedway for four years and then got a job at the Motor Racing Network, known as MRN Radio, which nationally broadcasts NASCAR races. That eventually led to a job in television.

Massaro ended up at ESPN in 2001, focusing mainly on NASCAR, and was there for 14 years.

“I think back to when I started at ESPN and where I was professionally when I left,” Massaro said. “I can’t even account for how much I learned about journalism, about television, about telling stories, not to mention how to work within the structure of sports journalism.”

Being on pit road can have advantages, or what can seem like disadvantages to some, like being in the action and having the opportunity to catch those drivers right after a race, according to Massaro.

“Sometimes you have to interview them in the heat of the moment when they are not happy and it’s a touchy situation,” Massaro said. “Motorsports, by definition, it’s fast moving so you’ve got to be quick and you have to react to a lot of things very quickly.”

Every reporter has that one story that stands out in their career, and Massaro said that came for him early in his career.

“I would still say the best assignment I’ve ever been given was the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series,’’ Massaro said. “ESPN had me go to Boston and do a piece for Sports Center on the reaction of the city.”

Massaro covered the second race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Playoffs for NBC Sports last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he said he used to watch the races from the grandstand with his father.

“There are so many people who are New Englanders who cover only this event and I run into them in the media center and other places and it’s great to get reacquainted,” Massaro said. “I’m with my colleagues who are from all over the country and I’m the New Englander.”

Massaro said he is elated to be in the position he is, and said he never expected his dream of being the sports correspondent on the local news would amount to this.

“It snowballed into something bigger than I ever thought it would and I’m extremely grateful that it has,” Massaro said. “It has been a very rewarding experience along the way and who knows how much further it will take me.”