Without Godwin Kelly, the DIS media center would not be the same
Godwin Kelly may not remember the first time I came to the media center at Daytona International Speedway for a NASCAR race. But I do.
In July 2010. I had been Editor-in-Chief of the News-Journal for just under four months and had never participated in a NASCAR race in my life. The sports department had given me a media pass for the Coke Zero 400.
This Saturday around 6 p.m. I nervously walked into the media center. I was relieved to see Godwin at his workstation just to the right of the door. At least there was someone I knew, if only a little.
Godwin was writing something, and he didn’t notice me until I walked over and said hello. He looked down at my legs and spoke in that distinct voice.
“Ummm, you can’t wear shorts in here,” he said, apologizing a little. “It is the rule.”
I got home, put on pants, walked back to the race track and had the best time of my life watching Kevin Harvick win.
Since then, I have attended dozens of races on the Speedway. It doesn’t mean that I know motor racing. I do not. My greatest value at Speedway is negotiating deadlines during rainy delays.
But Godwin can run. And I’m sorry to announce that Godwin won’t be covering the Speedway races in 2021. He is retiring from the News-Journal on Monday.
While I hope he enjoys his retirement, I’m sorry to see Godwin go for a lot of reasons.
Godwin has been in the News-Journal for 44 years, and he’s been covering Speedway racing for 40 years. Name a major racing moment on the Speedway during this time, and it’s likely Godwin wrote something about it and could recall the details. It’s an incredible story.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Godwin is racing royalty, and he earned it before he even got his first racing signing. How do I know this?
Well, inside the Speedway Media Center is a small auditorium which is sometimes used for press conferences or meetings. A series of photos is hung on the wall.
The first photo is of “Big” Bill France, the founder of NASCAR and builder of the speedway. The second photo is of Godwin, aged 14, a smile on his face, drinking a Pepsi (I think) and listening to NASCAR crew members.
For starters, it is unpretentious. His “uniform” on the highway and in the office is usually a short-sleeved, slightly wrinkled button-down shirt, pants and a cap with some sort of racing logo on it. He looks and sounds more than a bit like a younger version of actor Wilford Brimley, but less of a cranky one.
Which brings me to another point: Godwin is an accomplished team player.
In early 2011, we hosted a staff meeting to generate new ideas to cover the 2011 Daytona 500 – which was also the 10th anniversary of the crash that claimed the life of racing legend Dale Earnhardt. The staff were somewhat reluctant to brainstorm for a topic that had been the realm of sports until Godwin spoke. âLook, we really want your help,â he said, or something like that. In 10 minutes, we found about 40 story ideas.
A year later, when Burke Noel and I hatched a plan to launch a weekly NASCAR page that The News-Journal could distribute to other newspapers, Godwin – and columnist Ken Willis – turned the idea into reality. . The result is a NASCAR page that more than 100 newspapers across the country.
This led to a racing podcast and then a daily radio show during the week of the Daytona 500. Along the way, Godwin and the rest of our racing team produced many special sections.
And in between, Godwin has developed a weekly fishing column in the sport and has written numerous restaurant reviews for our features section.
The News-Journal has been blessed with journalists who have stayed with the newspaper throughout their careers. Photographer Jim Tiller has spent 40 years capturing award-winning images. Educational journalist Linda Trimble has covered education and other topics for over 40 years. The great Kathy Kelly worked as a reporter and editor at the newspaper for 50 years before retiring.
Thank you Godwin for everything.
Pat Rice is the editor of the News-Journal. His email is [email protected]