Stephen is an Accountant & NASCAR Fan
Stephen talks about his passion for motorsports and shares some of his experiences spectating the racetrack! He also talks about how he realized his passion made it easy for him to establish connections with clients and co-workers!
• Getting into NASCAR
• Attending the first Charlotte Royale
• How his passion made it easy for him to establish connections
• Discovering a partner and client’s ties to NASCAR
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Welcome to Episode 265 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published very, very soon. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it and the book will really help reinforce that message for everyone around you.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Stephen Pollock. He’s an Audit Associate with Smith Leonard in High Point, North Carolina. And now, he’s with me here today. Stephen, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Stephen: Oh, very excited to be here. These are a lot of fun to be on. I’ve been actually listening to a whole bunch of them today, so I’m very excited to be here.
John: Well, thanks so much, man. It was so fun meeting you when I spoke at the CPE Day for Smith Leonard. The firm and all the clients were there. Yeah. It was so cool to meet you in person. I’m glad that we’re going to make this happen, let everyone in on the magic of hanging out with you and me. This is what happens.
John: Right. So here we go, 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate. Favorite color?
Stephen: Favorite color’s got to be green.
John: How about a least favorite color?
Stephen: I think it’s yellow. I just don’t like anything yellow. I never wear it, least favorite color.
John: Yeah. No, fair enough, fair enough. How about on an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?
Stephen: You have to go aisle. You got more leg room and kind of spill over into the aisle.
John: Exactly. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Stephen: Probably Will Ferrell. He makes stupid movies, but I find them funny.
John: There you go. There you go. Plus Talladega Nights, not too bad.
Stephen: Absolutely. If you ain’t first, you’re last.
John: Exactly. How about are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Stephen: I’m definitely a night owl. I do not like to get up all that early.
John: Yeah. Sure. How about pens or pencils?
Stephen: I’m a pen fan. Even if I have a pencil, I never use the eraser so might as well use a pen.
John: Nice. I love that confidence, man. I like that. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Stephen: I hate to say it I’ve never seen either.
John: Fair enough. Yeah. I don’t want to take a guess. I feel you. How about when it comes to your computer, PC or a Mac?
Stephen: I’m a Mac fan. I’ve got a Mac computer, but then I’ve got the AirPods and the Apple Watch, the iPhone so it all syncs nicely. I’m definitely a Mac guy.
John: Nice. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Stephen: I am standard. I go vanilla and rainbow sprinkles. It’s my go-to.
John: Okay. I never would’ve seen that coming. That’s nice, man. I love that. How about more Balance Sheet or Income Statement?
Stephen: Balance Sheet. I like to see where the company is and everything they have.
John: Okay. How about oceans or mountains?
Stephen: I think I would go with oceans. Be by the beach, go swimming, surfing. You can go fishing. It’s kind of perfect.
John: How about a favorite number?
Stephen: My favorite number growing up was always number 50.
John: Okay. Is there a reason why?
Stephen: It’s halfway to a hundred. My favorite basketball player growing up, Emeka Okafor played for UConn, Go Huskies. He was number 50. He was what I aspired to be. He was a big guy in the center. That was exactly what I wanted to do when I was growing up. Then I realized I was barely six foot tall. I couldn’t jump and can’t shoot. So those dreams went out pretty quickly.
John: Right. Yeah. That’s hilarious. That’s so awesome. How about a least favorite vegetable?
Stephen: I am not an okra fan. I cannot get behind it. People always try to tell me that their okra is different and it never is. It’s always terrible.
John: Right. It’s still okra. I mean, come on. All right. We’ve got to more, two more. This one’s a pretty important one coming from North Carolina. Tea or sweet tea?
Stephen: Definitely sweet tea. The sweeter, the better too.
John: I always think it’s funny when they call it unsweet tea. It’s like, “No, no, it’s tea or sweet tea.” You can’t unsweet sweet tea. It’s already tea. Like, “What?” It’s confusing to me.
Stephen: And here, if you order a tea, they actually have to ask you, “So you mean a sweet tea?” And you say, “Yeah,” because your tea is a standard. And there’s nothing worse than if you travel and you order a tea and they bring you an unsweet tea. Terrible.
John: Yeah. Or if you’re just at a restaurant, you ask for water down there and they bring you to sweet tea because it’s the default drink, right? I mean that’s what you’re going to get anyway.
Stephen: They bring you half and half. It’s not as sweet but it’s close.
John: The last one, last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Stephen: I thought a lot about this because not only do I like watching the races and going to the races, I’m also an avid NASCAR collector. Everything from die-cast cars to race shoes, pieces of sheet metal and crew shirts.
John: What? That’s great.
Stephen: Yeah. I have probably eight, nine hoods. I’ve got a couple tailgates. I’ve got a couple numbers. I’ve got a couple roofs, a little bit of everything.
John: That’s so cool. Are they of one driver or —
Stephen: No. My collection spans everything. And I have a lot of just weird one-off pieces. My main thing is I collect and then there’s anything that catches your eye. They’ve made some ridiculous NASCAR things in the past. I have a Dale Earnhardt fishing lure that I think is awesome just because it’s — why that was ever made and people actually wanted something. A little bit of everything.
My absolute favorite is I got my hands on a copy. I work in High Point and I went to school here in High Point, North Carolina. The police department made a poster. It’s a picture of Dale Earnhardt Sr. standing in front of his NASCAR Number Three Goodwrench car and a High Point State Cruiser. And in big red letters on the top, it says, “Speed wins on the track, but speed kills on the streets. Don’t speed.” And I have a copy of this poster. It was made for local precincts. It’s one of my favorite things I own.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That is so cool. And all that other stuff too, man. Golly, you could build your own car.
Stephen: I’ve actually done the math before. I have enough pieces that if I could weld them together and get them all onto a frame, I have enough to make a car and enough tires and rims. I have it all.
John: That’s so cool, so cool. Just from hanging out with you that day and talking with you and everything and just how you got into NASCAR is so fascinating to me because it wasn’t something that you grew up going to.
Stephen: No, it wasn’t. I grew up in Connecticut. There really wasn’t any tracks by us. My friends and family really weren’t into it. And it wasn’t until I came down to North Carolina. I had a buddy who invited me out to a race. He said, “My dad has some extra tickets. Why don’t you come check it out?” And I figured when in Rome, right? I’m down south. I’m going to school here. This is what you do. We’re going to a race. We went to the 2013 fall race in Martinsville. From that point on, I realized that this is the greatest thing ever and it’s been an obsession ever since.
John: Your friend that got you into it, is he still into it? Or have you just blown him away?
Stephen: It’s funny because he is still into it, but I have absolutely blown him away. He created a monster that he was not expecting.
John: That’s really cool, really cool. Then since then, you’ve been to a lot of races.
Stephen: Yeah. Just from the top three series in NASCAR, which is the touring series, last year alone, I went to nine. The year before, I went to actually 12. So I’ve been to probably about 30 NASCAR races, but I also do a lot of local and short track races. We’ve got some great speedways here. We’re really in the best part of the country for racing in my opinion. Caraway Speedway is right next door. We got Bowman Gray, the famous Bowman Gray Speedway. Then there’s a ton of other short tracks in the area. I am probably four or five hours away from five or six different tracks. So I have everything at my fingertips here.
John: That’s awesome. Hence, why you didn’t leave after you graduated. You’re like, “I’m in the middle of everything. Why would I leave this slice of heaven?”
Stephen: I’m in NASCAR Mecca. Why would I ever leave this?
John: That’s so great, man. Is there a race that you’ve been to that sticks out as one of your favorite ones?
Stephen: Oh, absolutely. Most tracks in the infield have a road course, but they don’t run it during the NASCAR weekends. It was the first time the track had opened up the infield. So the cars would run the outside oval and then go in the infield and do a road course and then come back out into the oval. And it was a wild race. The ending came down where the front two guys wrecked each other on the last lap and the guy actually pulled for one. We were in pit lane for that. It was awesome. It was just an incredible, incredible race.
John: That’s crazy. You’re in pit lane? They have seats there or you’re just standing like sidelines on a football game?
Stephen: Yeah. Sidelines on a football game is the perfect way to say that. We were standing, I mean, right as close as you could be to the track. You’re watching the pit crews work. We had a bird’s eye view to the big jumbotron out in the backstretch. And we were standing right next to victory lane. So once the car won, they do their burnout. They do an interview. Then they drive right past us. They’d shoot off the confetti. We got a bunch of confetti. We were even covered in the champagne. It was an awesome experience.
John: That’s insane, man. That is so crazy. That’s so cool. And it was the guy that you were pulling for and that’s awesome.
Stephen: There’s the High Point kid. His name is Ryan Blaney. He was born here in High Point. He’s my favorite NASCAR driver right now. We were watching it go by and I said, “Well, third place, that’s a great day for him.” Last term comes and both cars wrecked. Me and my buddies are punching each other. We’re so excited saying, “Who’s in third? Who’s in third?” Ryan Blaney came up the middle and end up winning. It was awesome.
John: That’s super cool. How do you get tickets in pit lane there?
Stephen: We just got lucky. We had a connection that was able to get us some tickets. It was spur of the moment thing where we didn’t plan on it. We had regular tickets. We got these on the way there. It was a perfect day that was made even better with the win.
John: No, that’s super cool, man. That’s super cool because I know — I mean big college football fan. When I’m able to be on the sidelines, I mean, head on a swivel because you will get taken out so fast and you don’t even know by what, but not by a car. Good God. A tire or who knows what.
Stephen: Oh, yeah. We were walking in the garage area. One of the cars was having a mechanical issue. You can’t hear anything because it’s so loud. We had had headphones on. We’re just walking, just looking around, enjoying ourselves. Out of nowhere, one of the guys I was with just gets tackled. We don’t know what’s going on. We turn and he was about to be hit by one of the cars coming off of pit road into the garages and we had no idea. I mean this guy saved his life and just threw him out of the way. We’re thinking that their fight is about to start. And we turn, we’re all excited and realized, “Nope, he just had his life saved. And we’re almost hit by a NASCAR.”
John: Yeah. That’s a whole another level right there of, yeah, paying attention. That’s for sure. Yeah. I’ve only been to one NASCAR race at the Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis. There was someone that had an extra ticket and went. And it is an experience. I mean people have the radio headsets so they can listen to the pit crew communications going on and all that stuff. I mean are you able to do that as well, I assume?
Stephen: I bought one set to start and had multiple sets of headphones. Then I realized that, “Well, people come with me a lot so I better buy second.” Then I bought a third. My friends really like it when we go because I have everything hooked up. I’ve got extra coolers. I’ve got extra headsets. You need a scanner? I got one of those. I come fully prepared for these things.
John: That’s awesome, man. You definitely make it the best experience because, yeah, I showed up. It was another guy. He also didn’t know anything about NASCAR. We had pretty decent seats. Yeah, it was crazy. I was asking all the questions. At one point, I could tell people were like, “We’re in way too nice of seats for you to not know the rules.” Like, “Why are you on the 50 yard line?” We were literally, I don’t know, ten feet off the bricks. I mean we were right there by the finish line. And I’m like, “So what is going on? Why is…” “Shut up and watch the race.” No, I mean people are actually really friendly about it. But at some point, you just realize, “I’m just going to watch because I don’t even understand the words you’re telling back to me,” because I don’t know how to fix cars either. But that’s really cool, man. That’s such a cool story. Yeah, man, I need to get down there and go to a race with you. You know how to do it right.
Stephen: Anytime. I have a camper. So we actually will go a lot of times to camp either on the backstretch or sometimes we’ll camp even in the infield. We’ve got all set up. We’ve got grills. We tailgate. We do it all. So if you ever want to go to race,
John: Man, you’re a professional.
Stephen: Oh, yes, sir.
John: Yeah. Do you feel like being a NASCAR fan gives you a skill that you bring to accounting at all?
Stephen: Well, not as much as skill but the one thing I definitely have seen that’s really been great is I’m able to make connections with a lot of times with people a lot better than some of my peers have. Our bread and butter here and really, the majority of our clientele is in the construction and manufacturing fields. So a lot of times, when we go into these places, we’re seen as, “Oh, here comes the suit walking around telling us what we did wrong or what we need to do.” When I come in, I usually — we actually wear a Dale Earnhardt belt buckle every day. People see that and we actually can make a connection really quickly and start talking through.
Everyone here laughs because I get information out of people that no one else can ever get. And it’s because they just trust me. They look at me and I look like them and we share common interests. I get crazy stories of what people tell me and the things that they show me that other people are like, “He threw me out the second I got there. How did you possibly know that?” I said, “Well, he was a NASCAR fan. We talked racing for 20 minutes. Then he started showing me all of the things that he probably shouldn’t have been but he trusted me for it.”
John: Well, yeah. But I mean, you’re there to make the business better in the end.
John: And that’s the thing that’s really frustrating to me. A lot of times people look at the accountant or the auditor as the adversary. We’re against each other. No, no. We’re all trying to do the right thing. It’s just people at the top are the ones that don’t want you to know because that maybe looks on them. But that’s great that you’re able to create that relationship as a true trusted adviser as opposed to just coming in and saying you’re a trusted adviser and not actually developing the trust.
Stephen: In so many times, we’re the boogeyman, right? They come in and they say, “Oh, gosh, your work better be spotless. The auditors are here.” “Oh, you better make sure your area looks great. Here comes the auditors.” It’s not really what we’re there for. We’re there to help our clients, to make them better and do anything we can to help. Instead, when people use you as the scapegoat and say, “Oh, God. Don’t show them that. The auditors are here. Don’t talk about that. The auditors…” When you can connect to them, they let that go a little bit and say, “Oh, you guys are just normal people. You’re here to do your job like we are.” And that really helps.
John: That’s exactly it. You’re just a normal person that happens to be an auditor and you love NASCAR. The other side is somebody that works in accounts payable and happens to also love NASCAR. It’s like, “Well, there you go. Now, we’re best friends for no reason.” And that’s cool that you’re able to talk about it. Was there ever a point in your career that you’re like, “Maybe I shouldn’t share that I like NASCAR,” or not wear the belt buckle?
Stephen: Well, the belt buckle has been a staple. Now, it’s just a look, I guess. But definitely. And I think what it is is being an accountant and being a CPA, it’s definitely a white-collar world. Actually, NASCAR is not seen as white-collar. It’s a blue-collar sport and it’s the good old boys are racing. So it was always hard at first to be able to say, “Yeah. I work in a white-collar field, but I do enjoy things that may not be seen as white-collar.” And that’s okay too. Not everyone needs to be reading The Economist every day. I might be reading the news story on nascar.com. It doesn’t make me worse. It’s just different.
John: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s cool that you were able to see that because so many of us go through our entire career never sharing that and not being able to create those relationships like what you’re talking about with clients and with colleagues.
Stephen: Yeah. And it helps so much. We have a partner here. His great uncle was actually a NASCAR driver. He never talked about it because no one really ever cared. We now have a great bond because I’ve done some research and found some old pictures. I actually found where someone had one of his cars still in their property. So we gained this level of just friendship out of this because I spent an hour of my time, which I loved every minute of, looking up his uncle, who he didn’t know a whole lot about. It was always just a family story that, “Oh, he was a racer.” And now, he has this whole wealth of information about his uncle and pictures. I mean it really helps if you can connect with people on that different level.
John: That’s so cool, man, so cool. Yeah. I love how you were telling him things that he had no clue about. He was like, “Wait, what?” Like, “Yeah. There’s a song written after him.”
Stephen: There is a song written after him. That’s correct.
John: I remember when we were talking and hanging out. And that’s so great because I mean that’s pretty powerful to come in as an associate and have a relationship with a partner to that level, no matter the size of the firm. So that’s cool that whether or not you’re the best technical accountant in the group, it mattered little compared to having this passion for NASCAR and something outside of work.
Stephen: I agree wholeheartedly. It’s incredible, too, that once you can get — especially NASCAR fans because if you’re a football fan, everyone’s a football fan. It’s still great and you can talk about it. But racing seems to be almost a different breed of — if you talk about racing and someone’s a racing fan, you’re connected immediately because there’s not as many of you. So if you say, “Oh, did you watch race this weekend,” and someone did, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I have the opportunity to talk racing. This never happens.” So it’s been a fun experience because you never know who you’re going to meet especially in this area.
John: Right. Yeah. Well, I mean like James, that partner. It’s like, “Wait, your uncle? What? That’s awesome,” type of thing. Yeah. I mean like you said, with all the racing there and whether it’s NASCAR or all this other racing as well, you never know who’s connected to who.
Stephen: I’ll tell you one more story. We were doing an inventory. We were talking with this inventory manager. He’s a really nice guy. We were talking. He’s being very cordial. Somehow racing got brought up. He looks at me, “Oh, you’re a race fan.” I said, “Yeah. I absolutely am.”
John: A little bit.
Stephen: Yeah. Well, slightly. I only obsess over it all the time. He actually just very casually said, “Oh, I used to be in Cale Yarborough pit crew.
Stephen: For me, that’s — I mean Cale Yarborough is a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest of all times. So to hear someone just so casually, nonchalantly be like, “Yeah. During college, I was one of those pit guys, the gas man,” was just incredible because you would have no one idea from this, no clue. And that was just something that he had. We became best friends from that point on.
John: That’s super cool, man. Yeah. Yeah, because I mean that bonding rarely happens over the job that you’re there to do. The bonding rarely happens over the accounting or the balance sheet or the income statement. It’s happening over something else that then benefits the work in the end.
Stephen: Absolutely. You don’t get as deep with conversations about bedroom furniture.
Right. Which down there in that part of North Carolina, for sure, between that and carpets. Golly, man, you guys do it all. I have to imagine that work is a little bit different comparing to before, you were able to feel like you were open to share the racing passion versus now, where — I mean, yeah. I mean I’m leading with it almost.
Stephen: Absolutely. It’s almost a skill that you have to develop. It’s finding what you’re comfortable with. When you come in and especially as an associate, when I was like my first year, I was just nervous to, “Well, I don’t want people to think I’m a certain way,” or, “I don’t want people to assume this.” But it’s gotten to the point where I actually keep a die-cast car on my desk at all times. I switch it out during the year. If you walk by my cube, you’d know immediately and be like, “Oh, this guy’s a racing fan.” And I’m okay with that because it’s something we’ll talk about. And it’s something that I’ll be remembered by. It’s something that we will talk about next time. Where if I just had an accounting book on there and Intro to Taxation, no one would ever talk to me. And that’s a fair assumption.
John: Right. Yeah, exactly. Because they’re like, “Oh, I have the same book also on my desk,” type of a thing.
Stephen: Yeah. We’re so interesting in taxes. I mean that doesn’t do it for most people.
John: Right, no. Even the people that are working in that world, it’s still not that. So that’s cool that you were able to, I guess, just fight through it and find that — from all the interviews I’ve done and all the research that I’ve done, it’s always in our heads. The obstacle is in our own head. Then once we let it out, it’s like the right people think it’s so cool that you’re like, “Damn, why didn’t I start with this from the beginning,” which is awesome. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that thinks that maybe they have a passion that has nothing to do with what they do for a job?
Stephen: Sure. Obviously, you should be sharing passions. I mean this is what this podcast is all about, but I think especially, too, if it’s not something that would be normal in that kind of world. So being in a white-collar sport or being in a white-collar job and enjoying a blue-collar or something that most people would consider a redneck sport, it’s okay to share that. People are going to look down at you and think you’re worse because you do something that may not be the norm. In fact, it makes you more interesting and more people like it.
So I think if you can just get over the stigma that really doesn’t exist of, “Well, I don’t want to tell people I do this because they’re going to think I’m worse or I’m lesser.” It doesn’t exist. In fact, it actually — I’ve found that every time I’ve told people I’m a race fan, they’re either, A, if they’re not race fans, don’t really know anything about it, they don’t care or they are a race fan or they respect it and then you get a deeper conversation. You get to meet people and be trusted. So I think if you can just get over that initial fear of, “What is someone going to think of this?” If you can get over that, it’s going to help tremendously.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so encouraging because I was doing stand-up comedy while working at Big Four. I was the only one for sure in my office. Twelve years later, I had someone remember me who I never even worked with. That’s the thing. It’s like even if it is just the one-off, you’re the only one, well, that doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t interested in it because they can see how you light up when you talk about it. Just hearing you describe that race in pit lane is so cool. I’m super jealous and I don’t know a lot about racing. But I’m like, “Damn, that sounds awesome.”
Stephen: Oh, yeah. It’s one of those things where especially if it’s something I enjoy, I mean, wholeheartedly and I go — I will admit I’m overboard to the extreme. If you can bring that passion anywhere you go, it’s going to be something that people are going to notice and enjoy.
John: That’s really, really great. It was only fair that I let you rapid-fire question me before we wrap this up since I so rudely started out at the beginning there firing away at you. So I’ll turn the tables and you’re in charge now.
Stephen: All right. My first one is what is your dream car?
John: Dream car? I’ve always been a Ferrari guy. But whether or not you would own one to drive, I don’t know. But I mean the M3 is also a cool car to me. I don’t know why. But yeah, I’ve always been a Ferrari more than the Lamborghini, I guess. I don’t know why for me it’s down to those two.
Stephen: No, those would be great cars to have. So I understand completely.
John: Posters when I was in fourth grade type of thing, those kind of thing.
Stephen: Oh, absolutely. Everyone had those posters up at some point. You just dream that, “One day. One day, I’ll own that,” and now, the world will realize, “Even if I could own that, I don’t think I would want to, but that’s okay.”
John: Man, I would never park it. I would — just back into my garage. We’re going to drive around and then go back, like just go back home.
Stephen: I’ll just take a picture with it.
John: Exactly. Exactly.
Stephen: All right. Do you have a favorite band?
John: Favorite band? Yeah. I like a lot of music. But I mean when I was younger, it was definitely Metallica. I like all Metallica. Then nowadays, I mean my typical go-to is something like Blink 182 or an alternative kind of something like that that’s just upbeat and a little bit of energy and kind of something like that.
Stephen: Great. All right. This one, I’m interested in. What was your favorite childhood toy?
John: Favorite childhood toy? Well, it was never the AT-AT because I asked for that so many years for Christmas. It was a Star Wars thing and never got it. And I still remind my parents of that. Although now, I could probably just go buy it on my own. But it’s better to not have it. I don’t know, just the original Nintendo Account. I got it when I was in sixth grade. I was in sixth grade when that came out. That’s how old I am. And I still have it actually in my basement. It’s pretty incredible. Now, they make cartridges that the chips hold more memory. So this cartridge has 100 games on the one cartridge. Where before, we had to have just a stack of cartridges to play all the games. So the original Nintendo was easily my favorite thing.
Stephen: So then what was your go-to game on the original Nintendo?
John: I mean the original Mario Brothers was always good. Yeah, just the original Mario Brothers was always fun because there were all those hidden levels. There’s hidden levels and World Negative One you can get in. And it was when Nintendo Power was a magazine and all that stuff. I don’t know if it still is, but yeah, that was pretty fun.
Awesome, man. Man, you’re taking back. I might have to go downstairs and play a game after we’re done. This is cool, man. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of What’s Your “And”? This was really fun, Stephen.
Stephen: Oh, I’m very happy to do this. Thank you for the opportunity.
John: Awesome. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Stephen or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there and for sure, some pretty sweet pictures from some races he’s been at. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.