BLOOMINGTON — Michael Rigsby embarked on his career path at a rather tender age.
"Even as a little kid, I've always been a 'news nerd,' carrying my notebook around, always interested in the story," said Rigsby, a Colfax native and a graduate of Ridgeview High School (2000) and Illinois State University (2004).
With the advent of the Internet, Rigsby would discover a way in which he could combine his penchant for news-gathering with a lifelong love affair with dirt late model racing. The result has been "Dirt on Dirt," a popular website within the dirt late model racing community that was envisioned by Rigsby and veteran motor sports journalist Todd Turner over a decade ago.
Since a launch date of 2007 with a skeletal crew, Dirt on Dirt has grown to a staff of 10 employees providing year-round coverage of the sport. The coverage includes nearly 45 nights of live, pay-per-view broadcasts of some of dirt late model racing's premier events — including the biggest of them all — the World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
"From me being a kid in the stands at Eldora sitting there with my notebook as a 6-year old, to now broadcasting the World 100 live, is special for me," Rigsby said.
As a youngster, Rigsby would tote his notebook along with him to weekly dirt track racing events at Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.
"Growing up in Colfax, Fairbury and Farmer City have been institutions for my family forever," he said. "Every Friday night was a Farmer City night and every Saturday night growing up was a Fairbury night."
Rigsby, 34, also had interests in other sports and played football and basketball at Ridgeview. That interest would serve him in the early stages of his career.
While a student at ISU, Rigsby worked in the sports department at The Pantagraph. Upon earning his journalism degree, he landed a job as a television sports reporter in Rhinelander, Wis., and later moved to a sports anchor desk at the NBC-affiliate in Madison, Wis.
While primarily covering high school and University of Wisconsin sports, Rigsby never lost his passion for his first love.
"In 2005 and '06, the fire started to grow a little bit more and by '07, we really started to put the idea (of a dirt late model website) into place," he said.
You have free articles remaining.
Rigsby's wife, Amber, has a marketing degree from ISU and was an on-air deejay and salesperson at a Madison radio station.
"She was immediately on board with this," Rigsby said. "When we started kicking the idea around, Amber said 'I'll handle all the marketing and PR and spread the word.' Her coming on board is when we said, 'OK, now we've got a team.'"
The "team" set a launch date for the 2007 World 100 and set up a 10-by-10-foot tent at racetracks to promote the premier. Like most new businesses, they faced their share of struggles.
"The first year, first two years, you're not making any money, you're working 17 hours a day and you are grinding for everything you've got," Rigsby said.
It was in the midst of a particularly grueling stretch in the summer of 2008 that the website began to attract some attention from dirt late model fans.
They decided to take their video cameras to each of the 2008 UMP Summer Nationals Series events that year, with races slated for nearly every night for over a month. It was then that they began to pick up subscribers.
"You're hoping you catch that spark to make it take off," Rigsby said, "and in 2008 we turned a corner."
The first pay-per-view webcast was done from a track in Cedar Lake, Wis., in 2010 with additional events added in increments over the past five years.
Rigsby has found the gamble of he, Amber and Turner quitting their jobs to pursue a passion to be worthwhile.
"We're dirt late model to the bone," he said. "We knew it was a small niche, but it was a niche we could fill. We just love dirt late model racing."