Sun Times Media Auto Racing Reporter Tina Akouris (Exclusive)

Sun Times Media Auto Racing Reporter Tina Akouris (Exclusive)

Welcome to our exclusive with Sun Times Media NASCAR and auto racing reporter Tina Akouris. Let’s jump right in.

PMB: You’ve covered a lot of events and accomplished a lot in your career, what were some of the highlights?

TA: Probably the highlight was having a courtside seat when Lehigh beat Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March in Greensboro, N.C. Wow, that was something.

I know I should Tweet more, but that night I couldn’t help but Tweet every few minutes when Lehigh’s lead grew. I think a lot of writer friends of mine who Tweet everything and anything were either shocked or proud of me that night that I was on social media that much.

In a bittersweet sense, looking back at it now, I saw Dan Wheldon win the 2011 Indianapolis 500 barely five months before he was killed in Las Vegas. Not to sound like a girl, but when Wheldon got out of the car and started crying when he talked about his parents who were back in England, I almost lost it. His parents were sick and couldn’t travel, and after having dealt with the same thing in my life with my father I saw him in a new light.

And being at the Hotel Intercontinental when the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick finalized their recommendation for the four-team seeded football playoff system. It seemed like it took forever to get it done, but I feel that history was made that day in the world of college football.

PMB: Like most media professionals, you can do a lot of things in a lot of areas. Tell us what it takes to be truly “multi-media? ”

TA: I think you have to embrace everything, even if you don’t like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, just try to learn as much as you can about social media. But the trick is not to let it interfere with your deadlines or your stories. I think we see way too often how people work to be first with something and then they have to backtrack about eight
times to issue corrections and clarifications. I’d rather be last and be right, then first and be wrong. You don’t want to look stupid.

PMB: As the only true auto racing reporter in the Chicago area, you’re like the Second City’s Dr. Jerry Punch.Tell us what you like most about
covering the track.

TA: Hey, don’t compare me to the good Dr. Punch. That guy is my hero. I’ve watched him since I was growing up when I would park myself in front of the TV every Memorial Day for the Indy 500. (That was before the
IRL-CART split, by the way, when everyone knew every driver.)

There’s just so many storylines to NASCAR and IndyCar that you can always find something to write about. It could be about sponsorships, the economic aspect to the sport, or women drivers and how every one seems to be compared to Danica Patrick, or just the three-ring circus type feel to the weekends at the track. What sporting event is there where people camp out on the facility’s grounds for three or four days and they can follow their sports heroes around the garage area, or run
after them as the drivers go by on golf carts?

It really is unlike any sport I’ve ever covered.

tina_akouris

PMB: And what’s the story behind your delightful Twitter profile pic in the racing fire suit?

TA: Thanks for the complement! At least I had my hair and makeup done that day. Seriously, the Chicagoland Speedway invited the media to take part in the Richard Petty Driving Experience ride-alongs in May 2011. I rode shotgun in a “retired” stock car with a former NASCAR driver.

(OK, his name escapes me, but he was from Georgia and was the nicest guy.) I did OK until they put the window netting up and then I felt like I had to get the hell out of there. All I thought about was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and how he makes a living doing this nearly every week. And, yes, he is one of my favorite drivers.

PMB: What are your thoughts on the races this past weekend at Chicagoland Speedway?

TA: The actual races were great, especially the truck race where James Buescher replaced the carburetor in his truck and he went on to win.

But I was disappointed in the attendance. It’s not the Speedway’s fault since the economy is still poor, but it was kind of sad to see a 75,000 seat venue not even halfway full.

That said, though, I think if you watch other races on TV you will see somewhat the same thing.

Probably the funniest part of the weekend was Elliott Sadler announcing Saturday morning that he had this brutal stomach virus that kept him in bed for two days. Everyone either avoided the heck out of him or were asking for hand sanitizer. And the guy ends up winning the Nationwide race Sunday afternoon.

PMB: What should we expect in September for the Cup race at Joliet?

TA: Hopefully, a bigger crowd, which I’m sure will happen. But expect, off the track, the Speedway folks to make a big push across the area to attract fans. I know they have an event planned for Sept. 12 at the House of Blues, which will feature some interactive stuff fans can do with the drivers, and they’re going to bombard us with ads for both the Nationwide race and the Cup race, which is the start of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

I’d also, on the track, watch for what Tony Stewart does. He won at Chicago last year and it sparked five wins for him in the playoffs and he went on to beat Carl Edwards for the title. He has always raced well here.

And what should we expect at the Brickyard this week?

I’d watch Jimmie Johnson, who is always a threat, and there is talk that Jeff Gordon will finally break out of his slump this weekend. And I hope he does. Gordon is one of those drivers who doesn’t get enough credit for telling it like it is. He’s not going to shy away from speaking his mind, and I think sometimes that gets overlooked in this sport.

It will also be interesting to watch Juan Pablo Montoya. He won the Indy 500 there when he raced open-wheeled cars, so he has a winning history at the track. But there have been a couple Brickyard 400s where he’s led the most laps and he’s either been penalized for speeding on pit road, or he’s wrecked and failed to get to Victory Lane.

Follow Tina on Twitter @takouris and Facebook

You can see more of her work here and here

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