LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

A student internship leads to a high-profile career in the high-speed world of NASCAR

By CHRISTY MARTIN ’71 MA ’78

When Josh Jones ’01 came to WCU on a football scholarship, he was a young athlete accomplished in several sports, but undecided about a college major. Jones had been an outstanding placekicker on the football team at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown. He also was a starting player on the school’s baseball and soccer teams and had helped the teams win two state championships. But he was unsure of a way to apply his love for sports to an academic field of study in college.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a future career. I had recently met someone who was in the Secret Service, and thought about going into the Secret Service or the FBI,” he said. “But that didn’t last for long.”

Josh Jones

Josh Jones ’01 (left) celebrates with driver Kevin Harvick the team’s win at the Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, in August. Photo by Harold Hinson.

Settling into campus life, Jones decided to major in sport management, an up-and-coming field that required an internship experience in the senior year. He enjoyed the business and marketing courses in his major, especially classes with two faculty members he remembers well—Justin Menickelli MAEd ’95, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, and Kevin Ayers, who was a member of the WCU faculty at that time.

Jones was a hugely successful football player at WCU, an All-Southern Conference and All-American placekicker who signed a contract with the Arena Football League during his senior year to play in the summer after graduation. He was looking forward to the travel and excitement of playing with the professional indoor league. But first, there was the matter of that internship needed to complete his degree requirements.

Ayers knew of a sports sponsorship and management firm, Keystone Marketing Co. in Winston-Salem, and helped Jones arrange for an internship there. He soon found himself immersed in public relations activities and events promotions for large-scale sports organizations, including NASCAR.

“I learned the ropes, inside and out, of what it takes to work in professional sports during the WCU internship,” he said. “It was a great stepping stone for me and I owe a great deal of credit to Kevin Ayers for his help and to Justin Menickelli, who encouraged me and told me I could be successful in this career path. He seemed to have faith in me, which makes a huge difference when you’re a student.”

Keystone Marketing hired Jones full time when he graduated and assigned him to public relations work for the company’s account with The Hershey Company. Hershey sponsored racing driver Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series. Jones got to know Harvick and arranged media interviews for him. In 2005, Harvick offered Jones a top position with his own business enterprise.

Today, Jones is the director of business development for KHI Management, a full-service athlete representation and sports marketing and management firm in Charlotte that Harvick owns. He also oversees sales and marketing for clients in the high-profile sports and entertainment world, including Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Miesha Tate and Rose Namajunas; PGA golfer Jason Gore; country music artists Matt Stillwell ’98 and Jake Owen; and former racer turned NBC announcer Jeff Burton.

In a typical week, Jones travels all over the U.S. to NASCAR races, UFC events, PGA golf tournaments, country music concerts and board meetings for charities or foundations that Harvick supports. His primary focus continues to be helping manage the racing career for Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for the Stewart-Hass Racing team, who won NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Championship in November.

Jones has received accolades from national media outlets, including ESPN.com for the business skill he brings to KHI Management, and his personal charm and good humor have led to popularity in the social media realm. His Twitter account (@mother_function) has more than 60,000 followers. Most are racing fans who enjoy the good-natured joking in tweets between Harvick and Jones.

“Not too long ago, sports fans knew only what they saw through interviews with professional athletes in the news media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are shining new light on everything and offering a close view of the lives and thoughts of sports figures. It’s a powerful way to connect, and we’re having a lot of fun with it,” said Jones.

In their nine years of working together, Jones and Harvick and their families have formed a close personal bond. Harvick and his family and Jones, his wife Whitney Whitworth ’01 and their two young sons live in homes less than a half-mile apart in Oak Ridge.

Chuck Bush

Chuck Bush ’08 (left) interviews NASCAR racing analyst Chris Rice at the Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia.

Alum helps tell the racing world’s stories

Chuck Bush ’08 is getting a close look at life on the fast track, especially when stock car races are taking place. Bush, who majored in communication and electronic media at WCU, is the senior coordinator of digital creative production at NASCAR Digital Media in Charlotte.

His assignments range from on-camera reporting to producing, covering the action at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other locations where NASCAR races are held. His work can be seen online at NASCAR.com. Bush does interviews with drivers, gives highlights of racing events and tells stories about the fast-growing motorsports industry. With the help of cameraman Matthew Dillner, he developed a new franchise known as the “F-Post,” which features funny videos and sketches.

“I think the aspect of my job that I enjoy the most is the freedom to try new things and develop as a producer,” Bush said. “I have had the opportunity to be on camera, interview drivers, tell wacky stories and just have fun in general. I work with a really cool, laid-back group of folks, and we are constantly pushing each other to improve our on-air product.”

Bush has been with NASCAR since 2010. He started working in the archive department and worked his way up as a production assistant and associate producer before he was named to his current position. Prior to working with NASCAR, he did freelance work for the NBC News Channel in Charlotte.