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Taking it to the Limit — Wheels in Motion

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 17, 2018 at 11:27 PM

Last month, my first personal column was about the call I got back in December 2016 to possibly work as the public relations director for the International Hot Rod Association in West Palm Beach, Fla.

I admitted there were some reservations since it wasn't a job that I had done before, although I knew others who had successfully transitioned from media to p.r. More importantly, I was leaving behind friends and family, especially my kids, one attending ETSU and the other at Unicoi County High School.

Still, I decided to pursue this unique opportunity and see where it would go.

I sent in a resume, did a phone interview on a conference call and impatiently waited to hear back from them.

Finally came the call, "Hey, we're going to fly you to West Palm Beach for an interview."

So, I prepared for it the best I knew how. I had gathered newspaper articles and layouts I saved from covering the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. I wanted to show I had a little knowledge of drag racing and they could also see samples of my writing.

A good friend of mine, Duane Nelson of WTFM radio, suggested to run by Kinko's and print out copies of the pages. That turned out to be a great idea as the pages looked sharp and the photos of drag racing cars with all the bright colors jumped off the page.

After picking up a new sport coat and tie at the Elizabethton Walmart, the day for the interview came. Although I've traveled quite a bit with my job the last few years, they have been shorter trips where I drove. This was my first time on a plane since I had flown with my National Guard unit to Germany nearly 20 years before.

I was a complete goofball the morning of the flight to West Palm Beach, getting at Tri-Cities Airport literally in the middle of the night where there wasn't another human in sight. I was there before 3 a.m. and it was nearly two hours before other people started showing up.

Still, it worked out and I caught the early connecting flight to Charlotte and then the flight to Palm Beach International.

After I got the rental car, the folks at the IHRA offices said go check in at the hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn right on the lake in Palm Beach Gardens, and then go ahead and swing by the office, which was at the Florida Community Bank building on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

I thought it was just an introductory meeting, but soon found out they were going to go ahead and interview me. It turned out  to be better as I didn't have an extra day to worry about everything.

You never know how interviews go, but I figured it went well when my future boss, Shawn Hackman, gave me an endorsement on the spot. Everything happened in a whirlwind, and they told me to go ahead check out some places around the area and head back to the hotel before we were to meet for dinner.

I headed to West Palm Beach and literally across the bridge to Palm Beach Island. It's located in the same country, but in many ways, a different world from the Tri-Cities with the huge mansions and cars like Rolls Royce, Bentley, McLaren and Aston-Martin nearly as common Fords and Chevys here.

Sure, I saw some Chevys, but they were mostly Corvettes. And, the mansions had the perfectly manicured shrubbery with homes that belonged to President Trump, and former mansions of folks like John Lennon and the Kennedy family.

But, the best part was the beach itself. The water in South Florida sparkles with a clear blue color. It truly looked like the definition of paradise.

Later, we met for a nice dinner at the Yard House in Palm Beach Gardens. It's January and we're sitting outside, my friend Dana Landry, Hackman, the company CEO Chris Lencheski, and Paul Jones, the manager of Palm Beach Driving Club.

It seemed like a dream come true. But there were still some tough decisions to be made before I took the job.

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