Dana had formerly worked at Bristol Motor Speedway and we quickly became friends as I enjoyed hearing his stories about working in public relations with such figures as Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. I figured he was just catching up since a few months earlier he had taken a new job with IRG Sports + Entertainment, the parent company of the International Hot Rod Association.
The IHRA is the second-largest drag racing sanctioning body in the world. It was founded by Bristol Dragway track owner Larry Carrier in 1970 as an alternative to the NHRA.
Over the years, it's gone through ownership changes and eventually the offices were moved from Bristol to Ohio. While some racing operations remain there, the corporate offices are now in West Palm Beach.
The reason that's important is that Dana was contacting me to call him and tell me about an opportunity with the company and a possible move to Florida.
The company had plans to launch an international drag racing series, drag racing's version of Formula One. They had a new public relations position available and they had me in mind. There were some obvious concerns as it wasn't my background as much as sports writing.
However, I was truly excited with the prospects of a higher-paying job in South Florida with opportunities to travel to places like Europe and Australia.
There were also a lot of personal issues going on, as my wife and I were going through a divorce after 24 years of marriage. In a few months, my son would soon be starting his senior year at ETSU and my daughter would be starting her senior year at Unicoi County High School.
In addition, other than my time in the Army, I had always lived in the Johnson City area and had built a life here. My now ex-wife often commented on how so many people who grew up here never leave. Even though she grew up a couple of hours away in Harrogate, she couldn't understand why people seemed so comfortable to stay here.
I think it's because of the relationships you build.
There are still great friends I made going to school at Happy Valley. There are other close friends I've worked with over the years. Working as a sports writer over two decades, I've been especially blessed to have met so many great people involved in a variety of sports and business.
So, there were a few reservations about leaving a place and more importantly people I love.
I had never been to West Palm Beach, but knew of it being known as a dream destination. Once I looked online at different places to live, I got more excited than ever about the prospects of actually living there.
So, I sent in a resume' and called Dana a few times over the next few weeks. Since it was so close to Christmas and New Year's, he said it would be after the holidays before they got back working on it.
In the meantime, I kept plugging away, doing what I love for the Press, covering a variety of sports.
Finally, I got a phone interview which included a conference call with the person who would be my boss and the human resources director. I felt it went well, but a few days went by and I hadn't heard anything. I figured that was a sign they were going with someone else.
Then, I got the call that would change my life, "Hey, we're going to fly you to West Palm Beach for an interview."
It set the wheels in motion for an experience that would be nearly impossible to imagine.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Birchfield ultimately returned from his adventure after a few months and rejoined our team as a sports writer. This is the first in a series of personal columns. You can reach Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.