About the Frontstretch
Frontstretch.com was founded back in 1998 by Butch Bellah as a site to publish his humorous look at the world of NASCAR. Having spent ten years on the standup comedy circuit, Bellah was looking for an outlet to write about the sport he loved, and the internet seemed the perfect place to start. Having already launched The Frontstretch newsletter, Bellah ventured into the world of online publishing with little knowledge of the internet.
Shortly thereafter the first staff member, Dennis Michelsen, joined the crew. Michelsen began contributing regularly from his home outside Chicago, IL, and the following for the little irreverent site began to mushroom. Later that year, Ren Jonsin was brought aboard as webmaster and statistician, and his arrival lifted the site to an even greater level of content and exposure. Together, the three began to grow the site from scratch, adding other writers along the way.
Initially known for their tongue-in-cheek view of the sport, a niche that has caused the website to grow in its first few years, The Frontstretch has gone through several transitions since then, building upon its humor to expand into a blend of commentary, news, stats and interviews that provides something for every reader interested in the sport.
As a result, what began as a homemade, one-page site has grown into one of the most popular destinations on the internet for anyone from the casual NASCAR fan to an active participant in the garage area. While Bellah left the site in 2004, Jonsin has remained and taken over publishing duties, where he brought together a new editing staff composed of Tom Bowles, Kim DeHaven, Toni Heffelfinger, Amy Henderson, and Cami Starr to continue to put together the best collection of cutting edge ideas and insight on NASCAR the internet has to offer.
In 2007, those five editors have combined with a dedicated staff of almost twenty writers to cover races with a mix of unique news, analysis, commentary, and driver interviews that make Frontstretch one of the fastest-growing websites in the NASCAR industry. Additionally, this season marks a partnership with website stockcarpitpass.com started by Dennis Michelsen as well as Athlon Sports, where Frontstretch staples like the weekly “Top Ten” and “What’s the Call” are distributed to an even broader audience through a joint newsletter, podcast, and advertising agreement.
Meanwhile, the Frontstretch newsletter, distributed daily to opt-in subscribers, gives an inside view on the latest news and commentary written at FS. With a new series of driver interviews entitled "The Cockpit and Beyond," new writers, and new sponsorship agreements, the 2007 Nextel Cup season has been the biggest and best yet for the website.
"People enjoy the fact we tell it like it is," says Bowles, elevated to Managing Editor at the beginning of 2006. "So much NASCAR news and analysis on the internet today doesn't tackle the tough issues affecting our sport. Here at the Frontstretch, we don't shy away from anything. Everybody on our website has something to say, and they don't ever hesitate to say it."
"You may like a column or you may hate itâ€¦but you'll finish reading with a better understanding of something about the sport, whether it's a technical rule change, why a certain driver does what he does, or whether a NASCAR decision was right - or wrong."
Said former publisher Bellah himself back in 2003: “I’m amazed at how many people read our work on a daily basis. We used to say that we might make people laugh, we might make them cry, we might make them mad, but we’d always make them think. I believe we do that every day.”
As Frontstretch grows, the reach of the site continues to expand. During the early years, there was The Frontstretch Radio Show, which was initially syndicated worldwide by Sports Byline USA. The syndication agreement ended at the close of the 2002 season, but is scheduled to return with a new name and new personalities in mid-2007. Frontstretch.com has also been featured on television broadcasts of NBC and Fox, while Michelsen appeared on The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly to discuss the Jesse Jackson/NASCAR saga in the summer of 2003.
Currently, Frontstretch writer Becca Gladden appears on local TV news outlets in her area to discuss the NASCAR issues of the day. Executive Editor Nikki Krone probes in-depth into the life and times of Craftsman Truck Driver David Starr with a special diary she helps publish, while Managing Editor Bowles has been a guest on radio shows and gives the website additional exposure through his writing with Sports Illustrated and a weekly podcast done in coordination with FS writer Matt Taliaferro. Matt McLaughlin, Toni Heffelfinger, and Mike Lovecchio are among several of our writers who cover the races each weekend not only for us, but for several different racing publications.
As the website continues to expand, the question must inevitably be asked : what about the future of FS?
“We’ve got a lot of things on the drawing board,” said Jonsin. “We know what coverage is lacking and what fans want, and we’re preparing to fill that void. The entire staff is already working on next season as we continue to grow and expand.”
Still, as the site grows, it vows to never lose touch with the fans and readers that have visited it since the early days of the late 1990s.
“We simply have fun as writers,” claims Michelsen. “I think the readers realize that, and I think it comes through in what we write. The readers know we’re going to scream when something’s wrong as loud as we cheer when something’s right. I believe that’s what they come for; they know we aren’t going to pull any punches or sugarcoat anything.”
Every day, a bigger group of race fans on the internet agree.