There was a joke among people in South Boston, Virginia that if you wanted to find Joe Chandler he would be either at the offices of the Gazette-Virginian newspaper, at a high school sporting event, his home, or at South Boston Speedway.
For 43 years Chandler worked as a sports writer and editor at the Gazette-Virginian, and said there were very few Saturday nights when he wasn’t at his local race track covering the races.
Chandler had a great career at the paper and was still enjoying the work in his fifth decade, but earlier this year an opportunity came up that interested him, prompting him to retire from his reporter job and switch gears as the public relations director at South Boston Speedway – a NASCAR-sanctioned 0.4-mile asphalt banked oval track in South Boston, Virginia.
Chandler knew if he was going to get a part-time job after retiring he wanted to go somewhere where he was familiar – and there wasn’t anywhere more familiar to him than South Boston.
"It just made sense because I’ve been here at South Boston Speedway practically all my life," he said. "I’ve been coming to races here since I was probably three or four years old and there have been very few Saturday nights over all of these many years that I haven’t been here."
A South Boston native, Chandler remembers playing with little toy race cars in the dirt of the stands at the track when he was little. One of his uncles had a modified that was raced at South Boston, and his mother, father, and him would meet several other families for races.
"This feels like home to me," he said.
After high school, Chandler attended Elon College in North Carolina, just over an hour away, and he would come home on weekends to help with his dad’s photography business. At the time he would also periodically write stories for the local newspaper.
He graduated from college on a Sunday, and started working at the Gazette-Virginian on the following Tuesday.
Going from a newspaper to a PR role was a natural transition for Chandler. Through the years he would, from time-to-time, do some PR work writing releases and post-race stories for the speedway outside of his newspaper job.
Writing press releases and taking care of the track’s photography came naturally because it is something he did for more than 40 years. There was some office work he wasn’t used to, but he’s thankful his new coworkers have been so patient with helping show him the ropes.
"I am enjoying it. There are some things that are the same. As you can imagine, doing the press releases, it’s writing stories. It’s writing news stories," he said. "The photography is the same thing I was doing at the paper. With the addition of some office duties I’m doing and taking on, it’s a lot of fun. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Plus, he’s known South Boston CEO Nick Igdalsky, the Mattioli family that owns the track, and general manager Cathy Rice for decades. He said he’s worked with every owner South Boston Speedway has had in the more than 60 years it’s been open.
Having been going to races at the speedway for decades, first as a fan then as a reporter and now as an employee, Chandler knows firsthand what South Boston Speedway means to his home town and the community where he’s always lived.
He’s grateful for the track to now give him a chance to be a part of it as well.
"South Boston Speedway has always been a great neighbor in the community. It has pitched in with different things in the community. The community holds South Boston Speedway dear in its heart," he said. "It really makes me proud to be here. The great thing is I’m with a great group of people and I’m sincerely grateful to the Mattioli family and Nick Igdalsky and Cathy and everybody here to welcome me on board. It’s great to be here and I’m very comfortable here because I know the drivers, I know the crew members, I know the racing people in the community. It’s just a wonderful fit. I’m very proud and very happy to be here."