I first met David Poole while covering NASCAR at California Speedway in Fontana in 2002.
Poole, who succumbed to heart attack Tuesday at age 50, sat directly behind me in the speedway’s media center. I can remember the first time I saw him…
I arrived at the speedway at about 10 a.m. on that Friday and Poole, the NASCAR beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, was already there. Matter of fact, he was always there before me.
Anyway, he was loudly debating, as was his style, the merits, or lack thereof, of bringing a second race to Fontana which, at the time, had only one NASCAR race per season. The debate didn’t last long because the poor guy Poole was debating couldn’t keep up with Poole’s bluster or energy and concluded his remarks with a meek “We’ll see.” Poole laughed heartily, clearly satisfied that he had won.
A large man with a large voice to go with his large opinions, Poole was the most veteran of NASCAR beat writers and it didn’t take long for me to realize his stature around the garage. He was the first to ask questions in post-race interviews, the first to ask follow-up questions and the first to ask any follow-ups to his follow-ups. That’s just the way it went. If another writer bucked the trend and tried to interrupt, Poole would scoff, guffaw and finish his question anyway. And the driver, whomever it was, would answer Poole’s questions first. As a young journalist, I was in awe of his command of a room, even if it was a NASCAR room.
I could also tell that Poole’s lifestyle was damaging his health. He would eat heartily in the media cafeteria, drinks tons of soda and devour snacks while at his desk and often fall asleep in his chair during qualifying or lower-level races. And he snored relentlessly, clearly a sign of sleep apnea, a blocked airway, heart trouble or all three.
Did I mention Poole was a big guy? He was probably every bit of 6-foot and 300 pounds — not unheard of but not a picture of health either.
None of that matters in the end, though. What’s important is that the dude was one hell of a writer, a great interviewer and a respected voice for one of the most popular sports in America. I feel for his family, the sport and anyone who was ever enlightened by his words.