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Feedback on a magazine feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by biggy0125, Jul 13, 2012.

  1. biggy0125

    biggy0125 Member

    I was hoping to get some feedback on a feature I did for a small local magazine that the publishers of the daily I write for produce. It's on a local Jet Skit racer named Jim Cebulski. As always, I hope this is better than the last piece I posted on here, but at the same time I am always looking for any criticism I can get. Anyways, here it is:

    From the moment he got his first snowmobile on Christmas Morning in 1979, Jim Cebulski knew he wanted to be a racer. And when most two-year olds still dreamed of becoming a dinosaur or living on Mars, Cebulski was being educated in the art of drag-racing by a snowmobile racing pioneer, his father (also Jim). By the age of three, he had apparently learned enough to be turned loose, and he’s been full throttle in pursuit of that dream ever since.

    Flash forward 32 years, and Jim Cebulski is still riding wide open, but he’s left the world of competitive snowmobile racing behind. He dabbled in motocross as a young man, but dirt is unforgiving at high speed, and the injuries that piled up threatened to interfere with everyday life. However, with his apprenticeship with the Pipefitters Union Local 422 in jeopardy, Cebulski found a safer alternative by chance on a recreational trip to the river.

    “I had a girlfriend that wanted to sit on the beach all day, and I couldn’t take it – just sitting there roasting in the sun – but they loved doing that for some reason,” Cebulski said. “I watched all these guys out there on these Jet Skis and I thought I had the brightest idea in the world at 22. And I said, ‘Oh, I’ll get a Jet Ski, and she can be at the beach.’”

    As he rode around local rivers using speed as an escape – just as he always had – from the simplicity of day-to-day living, Jim Cebulski stumbled upon a group of Jet Ski racers. Still thinking of himself as a motocross racer, even though he was over a year removed from competitive riding, he was initially dismissive.

    “I saw some people at the river that had these Jet Skis with numbers on them, and they had helmets on and stuff, and I just thought it was sort of comical. I was like, ‘Wow, they really race these things,’” Cebulski said. “But, they were nice people and they said, ‘Man, you ride a jet ski real good. You should race.’ But, I told them I just raced motocross and I didn’t do anything else.”

    Cebulski continued to face unrelenting pressure from his new friends on the river, until eventually they offered him an ultimatum.

    “They said, ‘How about this? We’ll give you the Jet Ski to race, and we’ll fix it when it breaks. All you gotta do is chip in some gas to help us, and you can ride with us to the races.’ And I said, ‘Man, I can’t pass that up,’” Cebulski recalled.
    For Cebulski, Jet Ski racing was an instant release. If filled the vacancy left by motocross racing and the people at Local 597 seemed pretty happy that he could make it into work on a regular basis. Jim was pretty happy about the increased safety of water-based motorsports, as well.

    “I loved it because it gave me the thrill of speed again, and you could come off it at 70 mph and, usually, not die,” he said.
    In terms of success as a racer, as it turned out, Jim Cebulski was rather amphibious. Having already made the transition from racing over snow and ice on snowmobiles to riding on dirt with a motorbike, he seamlessly took to the water. He had a general understanding of throttle control that served him well, although learning to maneuver in a crowd without the benefit of brakes was a minor adjustment.

    In a short period of time, Cebulski was back to his winning ways, but eventually he felt aloof due to its relative ease. That’s when he came across stand-up Jet Skis. They required more balance, which related to his inherent love of dirt bikes, and the overall challenge was certainly welcomed.

    The success on stand-up Jet Skis came relatively early for Jim Cebulski, thanks in large part to legendary Jet Ski rider Tim Carlson and his sister, six-time women’s world champion Jet Skier, Christy Carlson. The two vastly experienced riders helped Cebulski develop a training regimen, which would inevitably be critical in the world of stand-ups where core strength was pivotal to maneuvering and control.

    By the end of his first year in the novice class, with the help of the Carlsons, he was winning every race he entered. In his first trip to the World Finals in Lake Havasu (2002), Jim Cebulski set a Novice Ski Stock world record in the slalom and finished eighth overall.

    The next year he would transition into the Pro Stock division and by 2005 he won the East Coast Championship. In 2009, he won the national championship, which he followed up with an IJSBA National Tour Rider of the Year award in 2010. Finally, last year, he made the jump to the unlimited class.

    “I was going up against guys who were sponsored by Monster Energy, this was how they made their living, and it has been for the last 15 years. I had raced against them before, every once in a while, in stock class, but now I was going up against them every week. They were the legends of the sport,” Cebulski said.

    To compete, he would need a better ride, so they built a custom boat handcrafted from scratch complete with a hull from Austria. It was a stretch for Cebulski financially, who at this point was teaching a welding course at GAVC, but the initial results were surprising.

    He was constantly finding himself on the podium, and occasionally winning against long odds. Unfortunately, an engine failure halfway through the season taxed his already tapped finances and cost him a chunk of the season. However, he still finished sixth nationally.

    With financial burdens weighing heavily entering the 2012 season, Jim Cebulski heard news of a contest offering sponsorship money to racers in each of five different classes: asphalt, earth, snow/ice, water, and “everything else.”

    Sponsored by Federal Mogul’s iconic Champion brand, and with 2007 Dayton 500 champion Kevin Harvick as the spokesperson, the contest searched for the best engine-driven racers each respective discipline had to offer. Jim Cebulski submitted an entry, and out of 330 entries, he was one of five selected as finalists, winning the water division and a $10,000 sponsorship from Champion.

    “It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Cebulski said. “I’ve been pro for four years and it’s a small sports, so getting sponsorship is hard. I’ve got sponsors, thankfully enough, but nobody really willing to give me that kind of money.

    “I saw this ‘Search for a Champion’ contest on a motocross website – I’m still involved in motocross somewhat – and I saw this thing where you submitted a video and you could possibly win some money. I clicked on it and there was a water category, and I knew a gentleman who did movies and videos up in Naperville, and he does all the videos for the Jet Ski National Tour. He helped me put together this two minute clip, and we won that division.”

    As a finalist, Jim was eligible for the grand prize of $50,000 additionally, but he came up short in the voting to a pair of funny car racing brothers from Ohio. However, the partnership between Cebulski and Champion was still a perfect match for Federal Mogul.

    “We were looking for people who would best represent Champion, and Kevin Harvick, our NASCAR spokesperson, weighed in on that decision. He started in go-kart racing and was able to come up through the ranks, so we felt he would have a grasp on who would best represent us,” Federal Mogul brand strategy manager Jessica Wynn said. “We’re really looking forward to supporting Jim throughout the year financially and hopefully we’ll be able to report some positive results to our fanbase.”

    Armed with the financial backing of Champion, and the support of his other sponsors – Slippery Wet Suit, weberpower.com, Thor, Jet Trim, and Rich’s Yamaha – Jim Cebulski finally seems poised to breakthrough in the unlimited class.

    He’ll still have to balance his job as a teacher at GAVC with his racing career, but with a few lucky breaks 2012 could be the year where he reaches his ultimate goal: The World Finals.

    It would be like Christmas Morning 1979 all over again.
  2. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    This was a very typical profile written with some strange twists. That dinosaurs line was weird in a disorienting way more than a memorable way.

    I'd probably cut out the entire first paragraph, move the father stuff down a bit and go with the injuries from racing on dirt led Jim Cebulski to water and jet skiing. But more than anything, you need to draw out the conflict more. You're going step-by-step through how he got here, but it's not a true narrative in that the pacing leaps and there's no recreation of the story really, which is fine. But you need to home in on something interesting. It reads too much like a biography.

    More reporting would be a start. You used Cebulski for all but one quote, and that quote was a canned response. (By the way, if Jessica Wynn sent you that quote via e-mail, you should note that.)

    Without conflict, you don't have a real story. You have a softball feature that focuses way too much on a sport no one cares about.
  3. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    The last seven 'grafs read like a commercial. You don't have an obligation to mention the subject's sponsors.

    DTSEPS New Member

    The two-year-olds dreaming of dinosaurs and Mars line also threw me off. I don't like it at all. It's a real stretch, too, as I doubt that most toddlers know anything about Mars. Come up with some more practical, generalized examples appropriate to young children in the late 70s, or cut it altogether.

    "By the age of three, he had apparently learned enough to be turned loose" … Turned loose doing what? Racing by himself, or just riding without Dad sitting behind him with a hand on the steering wheel? It only makes sense if it's racing, which I understood, but if it caused me, a fellow writer to pause, then what will it do to your average reader?

    Where and when was Cebulski's first race? More colorful having that info in there, and also drives home the point that he was really into racing as a small boy if you can tell your readers when and where he first competed.

    Here's what I'd do:

    *From the moment he got his first snowmobile on Christmas Morning 1979, Jim Cebulski knew he wanted to be a racer. And while most toddlers were playing with their stuffed animals or Speak & Spells, the thrill-seeking Cebulski was being educated in the art of drag-racing by his father, Jim, Sr., a snowmobile racing pioneer.

    By age three, young Jim had apparently learned enough to be turned loose racing on his own, finishing ??th in the [ENTER NAME OF RACE, LOCATION — the Jim's Gas Station 100, for example — on (Month-Day, 1980). He’s been full throttle in pursuit of his racing dream ever since.

    Flash forward 32 years, and Jim Cebulski is still riding wide open. He long ago left the world of snowmobile racing behind, however, and was even considering giving up competitive riding altogether after injuries he suffered as a motocross racer began to interfere with his everyday life.

    Luckily, Cebulski says, a chance recreational trip to the river turned him on to a safer alternative that's allowed him to continue chasing his dream.*
  5. Bradley Guire

    Bradley Guire Well-Known Member

    Too many adverbs, too much passive voice. Reads like a one-source feature and needs more reporting. The opening is boring. I agree with the other poster that you need to show more drama, and that can be done by further describing how injuries led him to change sports.

    I once wrote a profile on a young motocross competitor. I had him describe every broken bone, every pin, every plate, and I spelled it all out for the reader. I had him talk about the ways in which he can't move his body any longer, and I observed subtle movements that told me he couldn't twist his arm a certain direction. I showed the readers his limitations. If this was as crucial to his decision to stop competiting, then show it.

    That's a big problem with this piece. Lots of telling, no showing.

    DTSEPS New Member

    To back up what Bradley said, the best advice I've ever gotten is to "put the reader there." It's all in the details, my friend.
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