Lyndhurst teen gets chance of a lifetime, covers NASCAR race in Pennsylvania, interviews racing greats

Campbell Donovan is a 16-year-old junior-to-be at Lyndhurst High School.

Just saying those words is nothing short of miraculous. In fact, his mother, Maria, refers to her son as “my miracle baby.”

When Campbell was born, he weighed a little over a pound.

“Four-hundred and seventy grams,” is how Campbell refers to it.

He was three months premature. He could fit in the palm of his father Jim’s hand.

“Doctors didn’t give us much hope that he would survive,” Maria Donovan said. “We just went with God and put it in God’s hands.”

Young Campbell remained in the hospital for more than four months.

“He’s had several health issues since birth,” Maria Donovan said. “We just wanted him to have a healthy, happy, normal life.”

Campbell survived, albeit with developmental disabilities.

“It motivates me,” Campbell said. “I think anybody can do anything if they put their minds to it. It doesn’t matter how they were born. They can do anything just like any other people.”

Donovan is proof of that. He lives a normal life, with a few restrictions. He’s the manager of both then Lyndhurst football and baseball teams. He is a member of the bowling team. He plays for a special needs hockey team, called the New Jersey Dare Devils, based out of Codey Arena in West Orange.

“I’m a good skater,” Donovan said. “I play both offense and defense. It all depends on what they need.”

Last year at Lyndhurst High, Donovan enrolled in a journalism class taught by Tanya Pastor. Because of the class, Donovan was able to write articles for the school newspaper The Lighthouse.

“The newspaper is well recognized,” Donovan said emphatically. “I wanted to write about sports.”

With that, a sportswriter was born.

Donovan said he wrote his first article about baseball.

“I wrote about the Cubs and the Indians playing in the World Series in Game 7,” Donovan said.

Donovan said that he is a big Red Sox fan and a big fan of the New Jersey Devils in hockey.

“Ms. Pastor encouraged me to write a column,” Donovan said. “I was very excited about that.”

So he wrote about the NBA Draft, about the retirement of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett as players, about everything.

When he’s at home, Donovan devotes his free time to sports.

“The only channel I watch is ESPN and SportsCenter,” Donovan said. “I watch the MLB Network (baseball) and the NHL Network (hockey) as well.”

Donovan said that he gained information for his columns by watching sports regularly.

The coach of Donovan’s special needs hockey team, Jon Schwartz, works for NASCAR as the managing director of integrated marketing communications.

Schwartz recommended Donovan to NASCAR’s people who were organizing, “A Day in the The Life: Pursuing a Dream,” as the perfect candidate for that program.

NASCAR is allowing aspiring journalists the chance to pursue their dreams by providing fully accredited positions at race tracks across the country. The first such young journalist with such an opportunity was none other than Donovan Campbell.

Donovan went with his mother Maria to Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania last week for two days of interviewing, visiting the pits and watching the races.

“Of course, I knew about the racers,” Donovan Campbell said. “I was very excited to get the chance. I did my homework before and read a lot about the drivers.”

When the drivers held their pre-race press conferences, Campbell was right there with pen, notebook and recorder in hand.

“When I got there, I didn’t know what to expect,” Campbell Donovan said. “I wrote a few questions beforehand.”

The first driver that Donovan got to interview was the legendary Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“I asked him since this is his last year, whether he was going to miss Pocono Downs,” Donovan said.

Earnhardt, Jr. told Donovan that it was a good question _ and it was.

“At that point, I was shaking,” Donovan said. “It was my first-time interviewing, so it was a little intimidating.”

Donovan then asked driver Casey Kahne how tough it was to prepare for Pocono, coming off the win the prior week in the prestigious Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Casey Kahne told me that it was so hot inside his car last week that his legs were cramping,” Donovan said.

Donovan then interviewed the winner of the truck race, Chris Bell, about his first win at Pocono Downs.

“He told me that his truck crashed last year and he was disappointed,” Donovan said. “He said it was awesome to come back and win.”

He then asked this year’s winner Kyle Busch about communication between himself and his pit crew. Busch then gave Donovan a tour of his pit.

“It was awesome to see how the pit crew works,” Donovan said. “It was amazing to watch.”

As a momento, Donovan was presented with a lug nut from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s crew. Earnhardt, Jr. is expected to retire at the end of the current NASCAR season.

Donovan was able to take pictures of Victory Road, where all the great champions go.

“I thought it was an amazing experience,” Donovan said. “I hope I get the chance to write for other publications. I hoped a day like this could happen to me.”

Donovan has already begun the college search. He’s interested in Syracuse University and Boston University, of course, to study journalism. He gets a good report card from Lyndhurst High.

“I get mostly all A’s and B’s in school,” Donovan Campbell said.

And one day, Donovan would like to become a sports journalist. After his experiences last weekend, he’s well on his way.

To read Donovan’s report on the NASCAR race at Pocono Downs, log onto:

http://kickinthetires.net/index.php/2017/08/04/special-report-nascar-through-the-eyes-of-an-aspiring-journalist/

CAPTIONS

 

Lyndhurst’s Campbell Donovan was an accredited member of the media for last week’s NASCAR race at Pocono Downs. Photo by Jim Hague

 

Lyndhurst’s Campbell Donovan (right) interviews driver Chris Bell (left) after Bell won the Truck Race at Pocono Downs last weekend. Photo courtesy of NASCAR

 

 

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer