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Cold emails to hot wheels: BGSU alum achieves NASCAR dream

Who knew a lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings would lead to a dream job with NASCAR?

For BGSU alumni Chase Wilhelm, this is the case.

Wilhelm, manager of social responsibility, digital content and communications at NASCAR, always had a destiny with the sport.

He spoke energetically, recalling childhood memories of avoiding trips to Chuck E. Cheese to stay home and watch the races.

Tammie Wilhelm, Chase’s mother, remembers the exact same thing.

“[He] never missed a Sunday. He wouldn’t even do family functions or anything on Sunday’s. He would never leave that TV,” she said.

In middle school, Wilhelm’s love of the sport transitioned to the track when he started attending local races. He was able to get up close and personal with the cars as his mother’s boss had a son that drove sprint cars.

“I was able to kind of get the inside knowledge and really get to learn about the sport from that perspective. And that really sparked my interest in motorsports as well and learning everything I could about racing, whether it be NASCAR or dirt racing,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm immersed himself so intensely in the local racing scene, Tammie said it caught the attention of local attendants.

“He would have grown men that couldn’t make it to the race, they would call him and be like, ‘you know Chase, give me the low down. How’d the race go and who won and who did this and who did that?’” Tammie said.

When it was time for Wilhelm to attend college, he took a slight detour. He began his studies at Miami University to become a lawyer, quickly realizing that was not the right path.

“I kind of had a moment where it’s like, ‘okay, what would I enjoy doing? What am I passionate about? Well, I’m passionate about NASCAR.’ So, I decided to go to communications and journalism route,” he said.

Wilhelm made this transition to BGSU in 2013, majoring in Communications with a focus in Journalism.On campus, he dove headfirst into opportunity and joined the Bowling Green Radio Sports Organization. There, he met his friend Garrett Mansfield, a BGSU alumni currently working for iHeartMedia.

Mansfield described Wilhelm as a kid from Fremont who chases dreams.

“The one thing that made him an attractive friend was he was so driven. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he had connections that he brought with him,” Mansfield said.

BGRSO didn’t have motorsports coverage at the time, so Wilhelm saw this as a golden opportunity. He created a radio show, “Behind the Wheel,” that aired Tuesday nights in a primetime spot. With the show, Wilhelm was able to add to his list of connections.

“Having people as guests, whether that be lower tier drivers or spotters, or the reporters. So, WBGU really gave me that opportunity to reach out to people using a college network,” Wilhelm said.

He also did sideline reporting for the football team, which gave him valuable practice in a live broadcasting setting.

“There’s a rush that you get when you’re live and whatever you say cannot be edited. It is what it is in the moment and that’s the best time to learn, you know, that’s where you should be making mistakes, and you should be able to learn from those,” he said.

Ken Garland, Professor of Journalism and Media at BGSU, said these types of opportunities with student media are great places to gain experience.

“Those opportunities are there and if you talk to anybody at BGRSO, the first catchphrase out of their mouth is ‘this organization broadcasts more games than any other college in the country,’ and I love that,” he said.

The opportunities for BGSU students are something Wilhelm is grateful for.

“Definitely appreciate what you have and what you’re able to take advantage of to gain experience for your first job, because it was definitely very beneficial for me and I felt like I was a step ahead of the rest because of that,” he said.

Julie Hagenbuch, Journalism Professor, said another reason why BGSU students can get a leg up in the field by completing internships.

“We require an internship, it’s not optional. I think that really sets students up for success because they’re graduating with real-world experience and it’s not just learned in the classroom,” she said.

Following graduation as a first-generation college student, he gave his mom a two-week notice before moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, the homebase of NASCAR.

“She’s a single mom, and I’m an only child so it was tough,” Wilhelm said. “She definitely shed some teams. She was sad that I was going but at the end of the day, she knew that Charlotte is where I want to be if I wanted to have a career in NASCAR,” he said.

Tammie said her son left home with $2,500 in his pockets and nothing else.

Luckily, Wilhelm’s mentor, Steve Richards, helped him acquire a pivotal internship with the Performance Racing Network in 2013, opened his home and took Wilhelm in while he found his footing.

“I was lucky son of a gun to be able to have that because I didn’t know how I was going to afford living in North Carolina,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm headed to Charlotte to begin the upward battle of breaking into the industry. After six months of working at Lowe’s to make ends meet, an opportunity presented itself with Fox Sports where Wilhelm would become a reporter and digital content producer for the company.

During that time, he got to rub elbows with the talent, even meeting his favorite driver as a kid, Jeff Gordon.

“I was a little just a little editor, you know, sitting in my cube. But it was definitely a place where an open dialogue was welcome and nobody felt like they were better than anybody else and was able to sit down and have conversations with people and learn more,” Gordon said.

Unfortunately, in 2017, Fox Sports began to make changes, laying off the entire editorial team.

For about a month, Wilhelm wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his bills. Then, he received an email.

“An executive of NASCAR, his name is Tim Clark, he cold emailed me and he’s like, ‘Hey, sorry for the cold email. But we’re in need of a freelance person for our digital editorial space. We were really impressed with the work that you did for Fox. We’d love to meet for an interview,’” he said.

From there, Clark and Wilhelm met for a lunch at the Buffalo Wild Wings attached to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“We talked for about a good hour over some boneless chicken wings, and I just told him what I’ve done before what I was able to provide in value for NASCAR. I got a call that next week saying that they wanted to bring me on part time,” Wilhelm said.

Roughly eight months after joining NASCAR as a Digital Content Producer, Wilhelm discovered an opening for a full-time position, an opportunity he went after.

He took the initiative to send a cold email to one of the communication directors regarding the position and had gone to discuss the role over coffee. He then interviewed for the new job and was promoted.

“Never be scared to go and talk to people,” Wilhelm said. “Even if it’s a cold email, a lot of people welcome that. A lot of people welcome initiative and that’s certainly paid off for me. And that initiative and drive is going to pay off 100% of the time,” he said.

One of Wilhelm’s responsibilities is managing the day-to-day efforts of NASCAR’s partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America.

According to the BGCA website, the partnership focuses on three main areas – “STEM education, career development, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives.”

As part of these initiatives, Wilhelm oversees roughly 15 at-track activations a year for the organization.

During this year’s NASCAR race at the L.A. Coliseum, Wilhelm rememberd the reaction of a high school girl who met Daniel Suárez, The NASCAR Cup Series sole Hispanic driver.

Wilhelm was taken aback as the girl recognized, for the first time, there was somebody like her in the sport.

“Representation matters no matter whether it’s NASCAR or even outside of sports. Seeing an African American or a Hispanic or a woman thrive in a position, that means a lot to kids who are coming up and trying to get a career themselves. To see people like them do the same thing that they want to potentially do, that truly matters. And it was very eye opening for me when she said that,” he said.

Seeing what NASCAR has given these kids is fulfilling, Wilhelm said.

“I didn’t grow up with money. The opportunities that I got, I went out and got myself. So being able to take a group of kids and putting this in front of them, knowing that I wish I would have had that when I was growing up, that just means the world to me that we’re able to do that,” he said.

Now, at 30 years old, with the opportunities he has created and taken advantage of, Wilhelm has achieved his dream working with NASCAR.

Wilhelm implores others to do what he did to achieve his dream, to hop in the driver’s seat and search for opportunity.

“That’s the biggest piece of advice that I have is to take advantage of every opportunity and if there is an opportunity to go make your own. And because it’s possible,” he said.

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