When Mike Massaro graduated from Emerson College in 1992, he wanted to be a local sports anchor.
That never materialized, but a family’s love of motor sports sent him in a different direction.
This week, with NASCAR closing in on crowning its 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Massaro will be on pit road at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday holding a microphone for NBC Sports as one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR broadcasting.
Massaro, of Ellington, works for NBC Sports as a pit reporter for their coverage of Sprint Cup Series and XFINITY Series events. He also serves as a studio host and feature contributor for NBC’s NASCAR Across America.
“I had a career path that I was thinking about when I got out of school, but it was not racing,” Massaro, 45, said. “In my mind’s eye, I wanted to be a local sports anchor. The guy that did the two- or three-minute sportscast on the local news every night. That was I wanted to do, or thought I wanted to do.”
Massaro’s father, Tom, had been involved as a crew member for years helping local modified racing teams at the short tracks of Connecticut and the Northeast. So Mike was around tracks as a kid growing up in Manchester.
“I got out of school and it was so difficult to find a job,” Massaro said. “My dad, in his speech to me, said, ‘Look, you’re trying to do this mainstream sportscasting, but you know stuff that others don’t that might help get an advantage. You know racing, you’ve been around it your whole life. Why don’t you pursue that?’ He said it worked for Jack Arute Jr., it worked for [Windsor native and longtime Fox broadcaster] Mike Joy; they started at Stafford and went on to big things in television.
“My dad, he talked in a manner that really convinced me that maybe it was a good idea.”
After a year spent bartending after college, Massaro approached Jack Arute Jr., the son of then Stafford Motor Speedway owner Jack Arute Sr.
At that point Jack Arute Jr. was considered one of the most recognizable names in motor sports broadcasting for his longtime work covering IndyCar racing and NASCAR.
“I walked up to Jack right after the driver’s meeting at the Spring Sizzler and I told him I had just graduated from Emerson College and that I wanted to become a sportscaster and I’d love to volunteer at Stafford as an announcer. Jack didn’t even hesitate one breath. He said ‘Can you start Friday?’ I was kind of blown away by that. I started that next Friday and I remember being as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life driving to the track that night, and I was probably that nervous for the rest of the season.”
Said Jack Arute Jr.: “When he showed up, I looked at it and related it the same way to when I called [legendary motor sports broadcaster] Ken Squier out of the blue to start my broadcasting career. I think it’s easy to say that guys like me and Mike, we always wanted to remember that someone helped us and we had an obligation to help someone in the next generation.”
After volunteering for a year at Stafford, Massaro became the track’s public relations coordinator in 1995. In 1996 he got his first opportunity working national NASCAR radio broadcasts for the Motor Racing Network.
In June 1999 Massaro moved to Charlotte, N.C., for his first full-time opportunity in television, working as a reporter for Inside NASCAR on the old The Nashville Network.
“While I was working for [the Motor Racing Network] I became friendly with [Rhode Island native and longtime NASCAR broadcaster] Allen Bestwick. He had been working in television in Charlotte for quite some time. He asked me to send a video reel to a production company in Charlotte that was producing a show for TNN called Inside NASCAR.
“I put together this really rough tape. I didn’t hear anything from anybody for while. One day I came home from work and there was a message from a producer in Charlotte saying they saw my tape and they liked it and they needed a reporter. I called them back and he asked me if I could start the next week. I lived in Connecticut at the time. I didn’t want to say no. I said yes. I’d been married to my wife [Kristin] a couple years and we were living in an apartment. I looked at my wife and she knew what I wanted to do, and she said ‘Why not just go?’ I packed up my little Acura Integra, I threw as many clothes in there as I possibly could and I moved down to Charlotte by myself and lived in Allen Bestwick’s house for a week before I found my own apartment.
“I lived down there for a month and a half by myself before my wife moved down. That’s how it started on that show, Inside NASCAR. Later in 1999, as a product of Allen’s recommendation, I got my first pit reporting job, with NBC. I was doing NBC’s first Sprint Cup race, which was a Winston Cup race then [at Homestead-Miami Speedway]. I was on their first broadcast and that’s how I met a lot of the NBC people.”
But a full-time opportunity with NBC Sports would have to wait.
As NBC prepared for its first full year covering NASCAR in 2001, it stocked its broadcast lineup with personalities from across the networks already covering the sport. That led to Massaro’s landing at ESPN.
“NBC hired a lot of the ESPN people and ESPN had a lot of holes to fill and they called on me to be a reporter for RPM2Night,” Massaro said. “So I started with that, also doing reports for SportsCenter.”
Massaro remained at ESPN until late last year. At ESPN, Massaro worked in all facets of the network’s NASCAR coverage, from being a reporter to pit reporting and show hosting. After last season, ESPN no longer was a NASCAR event broadcasting partner. NBC returned to the sport, and Massaro joined the coverage.
“The NBC opportunity was incredible,” Massaro said. “To be back on pit road, to be a full-time pit reporter, was something that I had wanted to do for a long, long time. At ESPN I wasn’t a full-time pit reporter. I was kind of a part-time pit reporter, part-time host and jack of all trades for the last five years. What NBC offered me was an incredible opportunity to do what I really wanted to do, which was be on pit road and be part of the varsity team. They’ve allowed me to do that.
Read the rest of the article at the Hartford Courant where it was originally published