New England seems to create some of the top racing personalities on television.
Whether it’s behind the wheel, camera, or microphone, many have roots in the Northeast. FOX NASCAR lead commentator Mike Joy and former ESPN lead Allen Bestwick both started their careers at short-tracks in the region, talking with Saturday night race fans at their NASCAR Home Track.
But, there’s another talent that currently works with NBC’s NASCAR platform that has more than just racing roots from the area. He’s driven and been successful behind the wheel, and now brings NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Pro Series pit areas to life on NBCSN.
Derek Pernesiglio grew up in racing, and has found a way to make a living out of it. The man that resides in North Carolina, but grew up in New York, has won track championships as a driver, and is celebrating a decade behind the microphone as a pit reporter covering NASCAR’s regional action for a television audience.
“I grew up watching guys like Richie Evans and Charlie Jarzombek, I got to see Jimmy Spencer and Steve Park race Modifieds before they moved up to the Cup Series,” Pernesiglio said.
What a perfect fit to cover a diverse veteran core that the Modified community offers, and upcoming rising talent in the K&N Pro Series. More important than his time at the race track as a child, he worked in the sport before getting his ‘break’ to the television level, and wrenched on his own race cars before firing the engine.
He grew up watching races at Riverhead Raceway and also competed in the NEMA Midgets and Pro 4 Modifieds as a driver with his family-owned operation. It wasn’t long before he was thinking he might be the next driver to make it to a higher level and win a NASCAR title.
Instead, he ended up down a much different path.
“I was just like a lot of other young kids who dreamed about becoming a NASCAR driver,” he said. “I realized I wasn’t going to have the financial backing and I went the television route because two things had always fascinated me: television and racing. I always wondered how they made the TV shows work, and of course racing, being my love and my hobby. I was really lucky enough to be able to make two into one.”
It took a short time at New England’s Institute of Technology before he was ready to start making the path to chase his television dream. He was a track announcer at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Seekonk Speedway, two of New England’s most historic short tracks, while also working in the internship program at Stafford Motor Speedway, the home of the SK Modifieds — one of the most competitive weekly divisions in all of the country.
He always knew racing was the direction he wanted to go … but, it also wasn’t easy to make it happen.
“I worked every single job you could think of. I installed sprinklers, worked in a car dealership, I drove a truck. I knew that if I wanted to be happy. I needed to go back and work in racing,” he said.
Now, nearly three decades later, he’s happy he made the moves he did. Working as a track announcer at Thompson on Thursday, interning at Stafford on Friday, announcing at Seekonk on Saturday and actually racing on Sunday made for some busy weekends for his family.
“It was one of the greatest times of my life, I was young, living on my own and making a living working in racing,” he said.
Then was the move down south. It looked like everything was going in the right direction. Reality quickly set in, though.
“Growing up in the sport, and being around the modifieds really helped me a lot. I got a job working for a television company that was working with the original NASCAR Raceday show, hosted by Ralph Sheheen. I moved down south and the show got cancelled and I was out of a job. I had just moved to a completely different part of the country and I was out of work within a few weeks,” he said.
After putting all of his energy into making the move to pursue his TV dream, he was left without any type of financial backing, and he was by himself. Luckily, a call from NASCAR Media Group turned into working for SPEED Channel a few years later.
“Going to the Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Busch North (K&N Pro Series) races as a kid was a big break for me,” he said. “I was walking through a room and they were putting together some of the modified races, and they were having trouble pronouncing names and figuring out who was driving which car. I was able to tell them some pronunciations and a little bit about each driver, and they asked how I knew it all, and I told them I had grown up in the sport.”
He reported one ASA race as a pit reporter in 2006, and since then, he’s been hooked and rolling. His current celebration of 10 years working as a pit reporter covering Modified & K&N Pro Series races started in South Carolina.
“My first race was Greenville Pickens Speedway, reporting the K&N Pro Series race there, and the following week, SPEED Channel called me and asked me to stay on for the rest of the year, and I have been doing it ever since,” Pernesiglio said.
From there, he’s covered races for SPEED, Fox Sports 1, and what now NBCSN, where the television partner showcases NASCAR’s regional divisions for more than half of their schedules each year.
“I always tell people that I love having the bragging rights for guys like Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, before they were ever interviewed by the network talents, they were interviewed by me in Victory Lane. I talked with them just a minute after their first career NASCAR win,” he said.
Outside of NBCSN, he also finds time to co-host a show on MAVTV, among other ventures in racing. He’s also found time to be involved in something completely outside of the sport — venturing into real estate this past winter.
As a driver, he’s still competing when he can. Sounds like quite the busy life, traveling on a plane constantly.
“I am the mechanic, the owner, the driver, everything. The desire to sit behind the wheel never goes away. I hung up driving for a bit to make a career out of this, but I was lucky enough to be able to try racing again. A friend of mine had a car and I tried it and I had to get one,” he said. “I can still make a living racing while not breaking my bank account. I think that racing now helps me in the pit area with the K&N Pro Series and Modified guys.”
Most importantly, he’s enjoying the time behind the microphone.
“No matter if they are going to make it to the Cup Series or not, I love the first-time winners, I love when a driver or team wins for the first time, they are so emotional that they don’t even know what to say. They are in the moment and they don’t know what to do,” he said. “Out of everything, that’s probably my favorite part of the job. Being a driver, I know how hard it is to win a race, nevermind a championship. Just to win one race is big. I get to see it all.”