Jasmine Neely Is At The Top Of Her Game Working For NASCAR And Carolina Panthersby Hunter Thomas September 7, 2018 0 comments
Most people only dream of working in a professional sport. Jasmine Neely works in two as she lives life in the fast lane in NASCAR’s communications department and on the sideline cheerleading for the Carolina Panthers.
When Neely was a little girl growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, she quickly found her passion for dancing. At the age of three-years-old, she began dancing at BB Dance Productions that’s located just on the outside of Uptown Charlotte. After graduating high school, Neely attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), where she joined the college’s dance team.
As Neely’s college years progressed, she began looking for internships. Although dancing had and always would have a hold of her heart, Neely wanted to work in sports, more specifically, a professional sport. One of Neely’s mentors mentioned that she should look into the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program. After all, Charlotte is the hub of the NASCAR industry and it was a great place to start looking. Neely didn’t grow up watching NASCAR, and she was never really exposed to its culture, but without hesitation, she applied for the internship, and in 2015 after her junior year at UNC, she began working with the NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) team.
“I was introduced to the sport through the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program in 2015,” Neely said. “One of my mentors at UNC Chapel Hill told me about it. When she came back to UNC for a football game, she said ‘yeah, you should apply.’ At the time I was looking for an internship, and I said to myself, ‘why not? So, I applied, and I got the internship. The rest is history.”
Neely returned to the internship once again in 2016 after her senior year working with Taylor Global, Inc.’s NASCAR Xfinity and Comcast account. The internship finished its course, but she was determined to look for opportunities elsewhere in NASCAR. Months passed by to no avail until Neely got the opportunity that she had worked so hard for. While in the process of studying for law school and applying to several jobs, NASCAR contacted Neely and brought her on to its communications team as a coordinator. Once at the track as a full-time employee, Neely didn’t miss a beat because she had learned so much during her two years of interning. NASCAR features an extremely fast-paced atmosphere on and off the track, but Neely says that many individuals in the industry helped her get adjusted to the lifestyle along the way.
“I feel like I was slowly integrated into the at-track work,” Neely said. “Just from the first time being at the track during my internship, I was able to see, there are so many moving parts on a race weekend. From qualifying to making sure media have the things they need and making sure we do our part in Victory Lane. It’s so many moving parts. I mention all of that, and then we have to set up interviews and live interviews and things like that. We have to make sure drivers or those getting interviewed show up and are on the time. I really took everything in when I went to the track, and I learned a lot from a bunch of great people.”
Come October 10th of this season, Neely will be celebrating her two-year anniversary with NASCAR. Life in the fast lane certainly fed Neely’s competitive drive to perform on a high level, and she did reach her goal of working in a professional sport, but there was still one thing missing in her life, and that was dancing.
Following college, she knew that her days of competitive dancing were going to be much scarcer. Neely reached out to her friends who were former members of the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleading squad, the TopCats. NASCAR’s headquarters in Charlotte is less than a mile away from Bank of America Stadium, so she decided to try out for the squad. Neely made the squad, and her first season as a TopCat was in 2017.
“I knew when I was in college, I’ve always wanted to continue dance,” Neely said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do after being on the UNC Dance Team. Once I graduated, I took a year off, but I wanted to do something more. I knew some of the women who had already been on the team, and I talked to them about it. From there, I decided to audition. I think my dance background helped me out a lot with trying out for TopCats.”
Neely tried out for the squad again this year, and she will once again be performing on the sidelines when the Carolina Panthers kick-off the 2018 regular season on Sunday, September 9 while hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
Neely says that to become a TopCat, you must be well disciplined, have a healthy diet and be in good physical shape. Women trying to become a TopCat must first pass about a month-long tryout process that includes preliminaries, semifinals, interviews and then the final audition.
“It can be a very long process, but it is a very rewarding one,” Neely said. “I feel as though our process is not like other teams, where it can be brutal, and you don’t have the chance to bond with the contestants, but throughout this process, the girls who have been on the team, who are veterans, they are very helpful. We always tend to arrange practices outside of formal practices during the audition process. They’re very welcoming and let us know the real deal, whether it be how much you need to practice or what you should work on.”
The TopCats arrive to the stadium five hours before opening ceremonies. On game day, there’s so much more to do than just walking onto the field and performing. During the five-hour period before game time, Neely practices on the field, meets with the fans and participates in scheduled appearances.
“Once we’re on the field, it’s show time,” Neely said. “We’re on! Our coach always says that we should be ‘on’ every time we step out of our locker room. I think one of my favorite parts about game day are the appearances, because we get to interact with the community”
As kickoff approaches, she has to touchup her makeup and get amped up for the show. The players running out of the tunnel and through the smoke is the most exciting aspect to the pre-game routine, but Neely finds her serenity during the National Anthem.
“On the field, it’s just a dream,” Neely said. “I know when they play the National Anthem that’s my moment to take it all in. Veterans say that to the rookies a lot because the National Anthem is a time you get to look around and see all the fans in the stadium. You get to breathe and enjoy the moment. You close your eyes and realize that you’re here dancing on one of the NFL’s biggest stages for the best team in the NFL. It’s sometimes surreal when you think about that.”
Neely has come a long way since she was a little girl just having fun dancing. Her journey is a testament that hard work pays off, and if you push hard enough, you may surprise yourself. For now, Neely takes in every green flag and every whistle blown. This is only the beginning for the 24-year-old who made her dreams a reality.
“I think it’s pretty cool that I get to work for two professional sports at the same time,” Neely said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve always wanted to work in sports when I was in college, and I took a lot of sports courses there. It’s really a dream come true.”
Photo Credit: NASCAR