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The Checkered Flag: Season 1

It's been a long journey, 2023.


The hardest professional decision I ever had to make was to leave Major League Baseball. The 19-year-old who moved to New York City to intern for the league could have only dreamed walking the warning track with logins to a major league team’s account. Returning those “keys to the castle” of the Washington Nationals was a decision that was not taken lightly. 

 

In February of this year, I was informed I was no longer allocated in the budget to attend Spring Training a couple of weeks before leaving for Florida. If you are not an avid baseball fan, every baseball team has a month(ish) of training in either Florida or Arizona before the season. This had been an item on my “sports bucket list” to work a baseball Spring Training since attending in Arizona with my friend Courtney in 2019. Taking Spring Training away was the final straw to a long list of items I had missed over my time span in D.C. For instance, travel to most away games, ability to launch a TikTok account and most importantly – live coverage of Juan Soto, a 2022 All-Star and winner of the Home Run Derby. 

 

I finally concluded it was wrong for me to stay somewhere that I did not believe in the vision of the team. I also respected the team enough to leave before the start of baseball season – an unspoken rule in sports.


Ellie Whittington in front of Washington Nationals sign

I loved many things about it - the team, the people, and the huge learning experience. I was also proud of a lot of work I had done. I wanted to keep going and growing but I stepped away mostly for my mental health. 

 

In this decision, I wanted to move closer to home and also give my shot at professional stockcar racing. The reopening of the NASCAR track in my hometown, North Wilkesboro, brought an appeal to the sport I had not had before. I started applying for jobs and landed on a digital agency – which led me to leading the account for a NASCAR team. 


I confidently accepted the position with the mindset that I had covered summer and winter Olympic sports that SURELY racing would come easily. In all actuality, I was right that I could figure it out. I was wrong that I could grasp it so quickly. 

 

As most sports, the community around it is just that – a “community”. The village knows more about you then you ever know about yourself. NASCAR fans are the most die-hard, brutal, in-your-face, loyal, bad ass fans you will EVER meet. I quickly realized that every post I was sending into the meta world was being viewed with a fine-tooth comb. 

 

The meaning I had for WHIP varied vastly from the people I was now surrounded by (please comment if you get this reference). 

 

I had worked at the top echelon of baseball, sold tickets for the New York Yankees, hosted a Top 5 baseball podcast weekly, pulled tarp for the best team in minor league baseball and created a small TikTok following based on my baseball knowledge. In a matter of days, I went from KNOWING what I was doing to people running circles around me (pun intended). Humbling. 

 

My colleagues spoke a different language – everything felt foreign – acronyms, words, terms. The most frustrating was drivers being called by the number of the car they drove rather than by their name. What the heck kind of nonsense was this? 

 

One of my first weekends covering a NASCAR race, my boss handed me the keys to run the social accounts myself for the race at COTA in Austin, Texas. As comfortable as I felt at a live sporting event, I felt “out of my league” in this moment. During practice, she abruptly asked me halfway through why I was not reporting how well a driver was performing. 

 

“What? Why am I not talking about how good he is practicing? Who cares??? Never in any sport had I talked how many 3’s someone hit in a shoot around or home runs in batting practice?” I thought the drivers were on the track running laps, getting a feel for the course and their car… I didn’t think anyone CARED – boy was I wrong. There were many mistakes that followed, some of which I made publicly. Though I often didn’t fail gracefully, I was met with grace which is why where I am at the end of this year.  


As I sit here reflecting 9 months later, I can confidently say I am proud of how far I have come. More to come following this post on the most amazing aspects of working in racing. For now, here’s what I want you to take away from this: If you are wanting to try something new, go for it. Do something you know NOTHING about. It might surprise you. 

2 Comments


Loved reading this, El! God is good!

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Like yeah, it was difficult at first but rock stars do rock star things, so of course you’ve nailed it ever since.

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