Walking into a NASCAR garage or a racing pressbox with the late David Poole was an education for whomever was with him. I sometimes was and counted myself lucky every time. Poole was like “Norm” on the old TV show “Cheers” in some respects -- everyone knew his name, and he had his favorite seat that no one ever messed with and he had a one-liner ready to go at all times.
But Poole wasn’t like “Norm” at all in another way. He wasn’t warm and cuddly. He could be prickly, especially when he felt like the NASCAR head honchos or The Observer's head honchos or the U.S. government’s head honchos had done something wrong and were a) covering it up or b) dismissing it as unimportant.
Poole was a man of the people, distrusting head honchos almost as a matter of course and making them prove to him that they should be trusted. He took his job seriously, taking it upon himself to ask the questions he thought NASCAR fans wanted answered and making sure not to mindlessly paint NASCAR in the glowing brushstrokes it would prefer.
Poole, 50, died Tuesday of a heart attack. In his final column for our newspaper, published the day he died, he was in fine form – ranting about the safety issues at Talladega following what could have been a horrific crash Sunday. In the best Poole columns, you could almost hear him reading the column directly to you in his voice – angry, sardonic, creative -- and this one was one of those.
I have long stood in awe of Poole, particularly his sheer production. You’ve heard of NASCAR colossus DEI? Poole was DPI – a one-man machine of NASCAR-related content. He wrote constantly for our newspaper and our independent racing website www.ThatsRacin.com. The Internet was a godsend for him because it allowed his famously long racing notebooks to finally be published in full. And he wrote racing-themed books -- good ones -- on the side.
He also did a four-hour NASCAR radio show for satellite radio. From 7-11 a.m. Five days a week. He basically did two full-time jobs and did both of them better than most folks do one.
Poole could play all the chords. Poole he has written some of the most eloquent and touching features in the past decade this newspaper has published (this one about Dale Earnhardt Sr., a girl named Wessa and a lucky penny was one of mine and a lot of people's favorites), as well as some of its finest on-deadline work, as well as some of its best and most bristling columns.
But Poole didn’t just work. He loved his family and spoke of them often on his radio show. He delighted in his grandbaby Eli. He and I shared a passion for the “Eagles” and both went to the most recent concert they played in Charlotte a few months ago. Poole could discuss the lyrics of “The Last Resort” or “Hotel California” with the same passion he had for NASCAR. I remember him telling me: “It doesn’t get any better than Don Henley on the piano singing and playing ‘Desperado’ – there’s just nowhere to go from there.” And Poole would happily argue that point with anyone who dared dislike the Eagles or like another band more.
He was a great teammate, too. When you asked Poole for help on a NASCAR story – and everyone at The Observer always asked, because Poole was a walking Wikipedia of NASCAR – he always helped. (Here's my friend and colleague's Tom Sorensen's take on Poole, which also makes a nice point about this).
Poole wanted to make not only his racing coverage better every year for our newspaper and website, but the entire paper’s coverage better. And he always did.
Honestly, I don’t know how we will go on around this place without him.