Written by: Nikki Day
Events in the motor sport industries are always fun, full of activities, competitions, vendors and more. Some events happen more than one time a year, some hold qualifying events which then lead up to a main event. As spectators, or even competitors, we tend to over look or take for granted what all goes into planning an event like Shied Diesel Extravaganza (held every August in Terre Hautte, Indiana), Diesels in Dark Corners (put on every November in White Plains, Georgia by Liberty Truck and Tractor Pull), and so forth. We also never get to see the faces of the hardworking individuals that do so much work behind the scenes, from social media, budgeting, to keeping track of distance and track times, to cleaning the headsets used for communication of the track officials. Someone does these things, someone puts a lot of time and effort into making sure an event goes as close to planned as possible!
Nikki Day, one of our Diesel Doll Bloggers, reached out to Michelle Talaski, with Ultimate Callout Challenge, about doing a feature on her and her role with this well known event in the diesel industry! Talaski does a phenomenal job with all of her tasks that play a part in the UCC team. Nikki asked Talaski what it was like to be a female in this industry, and her answer at first fell to the back burner. With a couple of reasons for that, one being when you read through Talaski’s interview, you’ll see her passion for her job, her gratefulness of experiences she has gained working with various companies, you’ll see she has a job she seems to love. A job she has been called, from God to do; God leads you where He wants you, where He needs you to be. As importantly, to us (we love this answer she gave), it is because she never saw herself at different advantage because of her gender, or disadvantage for that matter! Talaski tells us that she created opportunities for herself and built relationships!
I never saw myself at a different advantage. I created opportunities for myself and built relationships!
What is the Ultimate Callout Challenge? The Ultimate Callout Challenge, or UCC, as you’ll see it talked about often in this article and around social media, is an event held once a year, bringing together some of the nastiest and best competitors in North America! How are these competitors ‘the best’? Most of these competitors have to qualify for this event, in one way or another! The competitors will come prepared to compete in three events, drag racing, dyno, and sled pulling. These three events are spread out over the course of three days, at the end of the three days, their scores are tallied up, to calculate who will be the UCC Champion!
Now, let us tell you more about Michelle Talaski, UCC team member!
How did you get involved with the industry?
In high school I started working for Dirty Hooker Diesel out of Harbor Beach, Michigan in the packaging and shipping department. In the summer of 2012, I was given the opportunity to pull the shop truck at a local truck pull in the powder puff (girl) class and was HOOKED ever since. I ended up pulling at another powder puff pull that season and then at the last pull of the season I pulled Dirty Hooker 2.0 owned by Tony Burkhard in the 2.5/2.6 Diesel Truck class. The next season, Tony asked me to be the full time driver of Dirty Hooker 2.0 and earned Rookie of the Year and Points Champion in the 2.5/2.6 Diesel Truck class with Thumb Tractor Pulllers. That summer I learned about the truck, the classes, the rules, how to set up a street truck and make it a pulling truck and tear it back down to drive home. It was during this summer that I found a true passion for truck pulling and the community that was apart of it. In 2014, Tony and I both drove Dirty Hooker 2.0 to earn the Point Champion title in the 2.5/2.6 Diesel Truck class. It was because of the opportunity Tony gave me as an employee that I gained insight and knowledge about diesel trucks and the passion to pull. It was the start of my career in the industry and I didn't even know it. The people I met while working there became family and I am so grateful for the chance to meet everyone and spend those years with them.
Did a certain degree help? Have you always been in the diesel industry?
In the fall of 2014 I started college at Central Michigan University in a program called "Recreation and Event Management". It only took that first semester for me to realize I could apply what I was learning to the diesel industry and motorsport world. During that semester I thought to myself "what can I do this summer to gain experience in the diesel industry? Who plans a big event that I can help with?". I did some research and narrowed it down to Scheid Diesel in Terre Haute, Indiana. I had never had the chance to attend the event because I had to run the truck at the points pull in Michigan while the rest of the DHD Team went to SDX to run Cheap Hooker in the Hot Class. I filled out the "contact us" form on their website and received an email back. I talked on the phone with Billie, their HR Manager at the time and somehow I ended up getting a summer job offered to me. I move away from home for the first time ever, leaving all my memories and experiences from the previous three summers behind, looking forward at new opportunity and experiences in the diesel industry. While I worked for Scheid Diesel, I learned more and applied more as I traveled with the show trailer, dragster, pullings trucks and helped plan SDX 2015. Dan and Debbie explained processes, procedures and strategies of why they did what they did. I learned about a larger 'race team' and planning a huge event. I appreciate all the employees from Scheid Diesel for taking me in for the summer and truly giving me a family. I came to know Jesus Christ that summer and declared him as my Lord and Savior, knowing I was going to spread his LIGHT in the industry though all my future endeavors. I continued to work remotely for Scheid Diesel from CMU in Michigan for the fall semester.
As I was taking more classes at CMU, I had classes that covered topics such as event budgets, event contracts, liability waivers and legal poilicies, marketing an event, managing volunteers, registration processes, partnerships and trade, event logistics, organization skills, personal and professional development, programming strategies, diverse populations, facility management, management skills, operations and maintenance, meeting and expo management, research and philosophy in events and MORE. I chose to apply everything I learned in those classes to the diesel and motorsport industry. I was choosing projects that involved anything and everything having to do with races, competitions, companies in our field and organizations on campus in the motorsport world. For example, I did a marketing plan for Scheid Diesel and I did my budgeting project on the CMU Baja Team. The RPL Department at CMU has a phenomenal program that allows each student to apply the projects and classes to their specific industry. I truly believe my success in the diesel industry has to do with my education at CMU, but more than that the experience I choose to gain while being enrolled in the program.
The summer of 2016 I scored a job working for Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League. I moved to Louisville, Kentucky and traveled with them ALL SUMMER LONG. In this position, I worked in the office taking care of paperwork and filing, and also cleaned, packed and organized the items on all our semi trailers and show trailers. I loaded hundreds of cases of water, cleaned huge blow ups after every event, stocked more waivers and zip ties, cleaned and organized the radio headsets, fit all the feather flags in a small tiny opening on the top of the semi, drove the gators up questionable ramps, learned how to back trailers up full of banners and truly work with a team of random people for a corporate company. I was also appointed "Score Keeper" for many events that included Lucas Oil Productions and TV, where I had a role in updating distances in real time in a spreadsheet for their crew and interviewer in the pits.
After that summer, I went back to CMU for my last semester on campus. After the fall semester I had to complete a 30 week internship. I chose to step our of the diesel and motorsport industry and into the world of experiential marketing and planning. I scored a 15 week internship with George P Johnson in Austin, Texas. At GPJ we dealt with Fortune 500 companies or above in their conference and meeting planning space. This internship taught me a lot about timelines, deadlines, processes, procedures, client management, project management, team building and culture building. It was an absolutly amazing experience and I was absolutely blessed by the mentors I had while there. After those 15 weeks, I was ready to get back in the diesel industry and moved to Crossville, Tennessee to take a job at Crossville Dragway. Through the years I had built many relationships and Michael Dalton, owner of RLC Motorsports in Cookeville, Tennessee had talked with me at Rudy's Spring Truck Jam about a position there. While I worked at Crossville Dragway, I learned a lot about racing programs, hiring and managing a team, marketing for a drag way, community relations, working with organizations and other basic responsibilities of a drag way. The season ended at Crossville Dragway in September of 2017 and there was no plan for them to open it again, so I was once again on the job search. But this time, it was for good. I was done with college and was looking to COMMIT to something to be apart of.
Tell us about your position with the UCC. What is your title? How long have you been with UCC and what does your position entail?
So, we don't exactly have titles here, we all wear a lot of hats. I met with Chris at PRI in 2017 in hopes of scoring a job with UCC. I was at a point in my career where I graduated college and was ready to make a long term commitment to a company and help grow something great. I went into PRI thinking "If I could choose a job right now, it would be with UCC". I spend a few hours chatting with Chris totally and completely intrigued with how UCC started, how he ran things, what the business was like and their vision in the industry. Soon after PRI I scored the job and started on January 15th. I drove across the country to Idaho Falls, Idaho where I knew no one. I knew this was a big step in my career with having no end date, but I had a mission, vision and goals to achieve, both personally and professionally. Joining UCC in January means I jumped on a ship moving FAST and FULL FORCE. I jumped in doing anything they needed, wearing lots of hats. My projects included getting UCC Competitor work shirts, managing media, collecting items from sponsors, insurance meetings, social media, email blasts, badges, event logistics, contracts, DPI Trailer planning, UCC Qualifier communication, apparel decisions, hat stitching, announcer contracts, sled pull plans, websites, ticket sales, trophies, event shirts, signs and posters, seminars, shipping, hotel, show and shine, staff, giveaways, banners, data tracking and MORE!
I had never been to UCC, so the event itself was an experience. The event was amazing! It was so cool to see our staff come together to pull it off! Everyone had their jobs and did what was needed to get it all done. It was 14+ hours days non stop all week to get everything in place and things ready for everyone to start moving in on Thursday. It was really cool to meet the people I had spent time emailing the last four months. I was able to meet sponsors, competitors and qualifiers I have heard of or known about but never had met before. I also got to see familiar faces for a quick hug and conversation. I learned a lot at UCC and understood my role within the company a bit more after it. Everything did not go as planned, things changed, but it is all part of learning for the future.
After UCC, we had follow up emails and communication with sponsors, raffle participants, winners, competitors and staff . Evaluation, ROI packets, social media data and all that good stuff happened. When we got back from UCC, I was transissioned into being the primary person for social media. I have done social media before, but I never planned, scheduled and executed multiple brands, so this was a new experience for me. Since I transitioned into wearing that hat, I have learned so much about social media! I have a whole new understanding and interest in social media marketing. At that point, I also started making the graphics for social media. I learned the majority of what I know from Chris (my supervisor) about design and photoshop. I had never knew how to operate photoshop, so I am thankful this position allowed me to learn and grow in that area.
Soon we were full force in our NWDC season. Northwest Dyno Circuit is a dyno circuit that travels to about 20 events per year to run the dyno so competitors can get their horsepower and torque reading. NWDC has its own set of rules, hosts and sponsors. My duties with the NWDC included host communication, social media, registration, strappers, packing, supplies, staff, travel, DPI Trailer, emails, website, insurance policies and more. I had experience with traveling as an association (PPL) so I was comfortable on the road and at events. I did have to learn new things with the classes and processes of the events with registration though. NWDC is a totally awesome gig traveling to diesel truck events and helping participants get accurate dyno readings.
Since I started (just over a year ago), Chris and James invested in a digital printer, laminator, plotter, direct to garment printer and stitching machines so we could offer marketing services such as printing banners, hats, apparel, stickers and vehicle wraps to our sponsors and competitors. This is really cool because I see us growing by offering these services to anyone in the industry; sponsors, fans, competitors, drivers, event hosts and racers. We INVESTED in these things so we can INVEST in the industry, offering a one stop shop for many companies, racers and shop owners. Plus, we travel to a lot of events and can save them on shipping costs by bringing orders with us. As an employee, it was cool to see this transition over the last year. We are filling a gap that was needed and building our relationships with those in our industry. This, and adding the UCC Qualifier portion to UCC are just two of the examples of Chris and James truly caring about what we are doing in the industry to provide SOLUTIONS. They have demonstrated different ways to involve sponsors, incorporate new ideas and overall grow the diesel performance industry. And I am so happy and blessed to be apart of it.
As I speak about all the hats I wear, please know that all of us where these hats. Chris and James are right beside me carrying dirty tents, loading tables, counting shirts, sharing on social media and any other small (or big) task I have mentioned. We are a team, working together to grow this industry. I appreciate Chris and James and all the skills and abilities they contribute to our team. Although we are the only "full time" employees, all the other people that help with UCC, NWDC and DPI , they all have an important role to our mission and vision. We could not run UCC without the 20 staff members and we certainly could not run the NWDC or DPI Trailer without Kody and Elmer. As a female in the industry, it takes time and consciousness to build employee relationships and am happy to say that our team morale has improved over the past year. I truly valuable everyone who is apart of UCC,DPI and NWDC. UCC,DPI, NWDC, and my supervisors (Chris and James) have all helped develop me as a professional in the event management industry. I asked a lot of questions, have done a lot of things, been apart of a lot of projects and been able to grow from where I started. I look forward to becoming an even more well rounded individual who has a passion for the diesel industry and providing solutions for those in it.
Talaski’s Closing Words
It has truly been a blessing to be apart of UCC, DPI Expo and NWDC this past year and 4 months. God deserves all the glory for providing this opportunity as a career for me. God has remained faithful through all of the heart aches of missing my friends and other events, tears from not being with my sister when she had my first niece, the confusion that was had when I couldn't find any friends here or when work got tough (I mean, I was working with primarily men). Through my faith, I had a breakthrough when there was a struggle, obstacle or issue. I am excited that God is using me here and now with every person I come in touch with in the diesel performance industry.
We hope you enjoyed this article with Michelle as much as we have. We can’t wait to see where God leads Michelle and what he does in her life and for her!