Female TV crew breaking ground
Kansas City, Kan. ? Life moves pretty fast these days for Jamie Little and Shannon Spake.
So does most everything else the two encounter on the NASCAR racing circuit.
For Little and Spake – the first two-woman combo featured on ESPN’s pit-road coverage of NASCAR’s top series – that can mean quite a headache.
When the broadcasting duo are not studying press releases or participating in conference calls during the week, they’re tracking down the top drivers for interviews on air over the weekend. Sometimes, Little and Spake shuffle from one pit stall to the next. Other times, they’re running to nab drivers before they reach the helipad to fly out of town.
“I don’t sit down once during the race,” Spake said.
Both must cover 36 races over the course of 38 weekends – a season longer than any other American professional sport. Add in their other responsibilities, which include college football sideline reporter for Spake and various motocross events for Little, and the pair spends roughly 42 weekends on the road each year.
A taxing schedule? Yes.
Reasons to complain? Not many, according to Little and Spake.
“It can be grueling, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how grueling working 9 to 5 and sitting in traffic and being in the office would be,” Little said. “The cool thing about this is, yeah, we’re on the road all the time, but it’s always different. We don’t have time to sit and get bored.”
Both broadcasters arrived Thursday night in Kansas City, Kan., where they will spend the weekend following drivers once again for ESPN at the Kansas Speedway, site of race No. 3 in the 10-race Chase for the year-ending Sprint Cup championship.
This weekend, Little and Spake will be responsible for helping to fill roughly 13 hours of live TV coverage, with each handling different driver assignments.
“We’re rotating to try to keep our wits about us,” Little said.
By Sunday night, they’ll already be thinking ahead to the next NASCAR venue in Talladega, Ala.
Little and Spake come from different broadcasting backgrounds, but each found her niche on the racetrack.
For Little, the makings of her pit-road reporting skills formed during childhood, when her dad rode Harleys, and she would take apart her tricycle. She joined ESPN six years ago, covering the Summer and Winter X Games.
“I remember the first time I rode with (my dad) on a dirt bike,” Little said. “It was like ingrained in my head at 3 years old.”
Spake, meanwhile, worked stints as associate producer of “The Early Show” on CBS and production assistant on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. She didn’t latch on to racing until a few years ago, when she was living in Charlotte and covering the NBA’s Bobcats.
“I sort of fell into it,” Spake said. “I was always a stick-and-ball girl. Football was my first love.”
Now, the two are out to prove that gender is no obstacle when it comes to reporting in a male-dominated sport. Little and Spake make up two of the four pit-road reporters for ESPN, the others being Dave Burns and Mike Massaro.
“I know it’s cliche that when you say you would do something for free, you know that you love what you’re doing,” Spake said. “But, I mean, we go to a racetrack for our job, and that’s a dream.”