Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wendy Venturini Answers Your NASCAR TV Questions

A big thank you to Wendy Venturini for taking some time out of her busy off-season schedule to answer some Daly Planet reader mail.

Below are the questions you submitted, and her answers. At the bottom of the story is a link for your comments. Here we go:

Q - Stricklinfan wants to know about your work on DirecTV's Hot Pass. Can you reflect back on being the first female NASCAR play-by-play announcer? Is this a role you see yourself pursuing in the future?
A - Stricklinfan, thanks for recognizing my work on DirecTV. I never set a specific goal to be the first female play-by-play announcer, it just kind of happened.I always wanted to be known as a hard worker dedicated to motorsports no matter what role I have in television.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity in the booth this past season thanks to my boss at DirecTV, Chris Long. I'm glad I made a small mark in history, but there's much more I feel I need to learn. If my career takes me to the booth, then so be it. I just keep doing what I know, and learning from my peers.

Q - Lou from NY wondered about your Real Deal segments. Do you or a Producer decide who the Real Deal subject will be?
A - Lou, we have a production meeting every Monday morning after race weekends. It's everyone who works behind the scenes and they let me participate, otherwise they would decide RD subjects without me! We do these on Monday mornings, despite the late Sunday races, so the production crew can get the ball rolling on that week's production elements. We are all allowed to give out thoughts and opinions on all the different elements of the RaceDay show.

Sometimes, there are ten ideas on the table for that week's RD and sometimes there is silence. It all depends on that week's relevant stories and also how tired everyone is from traveling! We try really hard as a team to keep our Real Deal segments very timely so planning in advance doesn't work for this segment. We agree on two or three choices and then it is left in the hands of our Producer, John Morris. He is responsible for lining up the logistics of the interview, which can be very frustrating when it comes to driver availability.

Q - Tammy from PA asks about those "grid interviews" on RaceDay. Do you have to set them up in advance, or do they just happen?
A - Tammy, that is a great question. Our SPEED Channel boss, Hunter Nickell, would probably also like to know the real answer to that one! We are very prepared as a production team and always try to book interviews in advance, however, it never works out perfectly.

I usually have the same Field Producer on Sundays, Becky Blankenship. If anyone has seen me in the garage during RaceDay, you have probably seen Becky too. She and I coordinate where we are headed toward the end of the show. Sometimes they are booked guests, but other times I literally bump into people I feel like talking to on pit road.

SPEED VP Frank Wilson and RaceDay Producer Ted Laukaitis have given me a lot of freedom on those grid walks. It's more difficult than one would think to talk to the camera and look for potential guests in your peripheral vision at the same time. This is the most challenging and fun time of the show for me...IF it goes well. I am truly my own worst critic!

Q - Racefan1 wants to know when you do the Real Deal interviews? They seem to be very time sensitive. Do you do them, and then travel right to the track for the next race?
A - Racefan1, that is what I am most proud of on the RD interviews, the ability as a TV production team to keep them so timely. We always shoot the week the interview airs, and I always do the interviews myself. Our special effects are not that good!

As I mentioned, we come up with our ideas "back at the shop" on Mondays. The interviews take place by Tuesday or Wednesday where I am asking questions usually at a shop or the home of a driver. Our Producer, John Morris, will prep the interview on Thursday and then edit it in Charlotte on Friday.

I leave for the track on Thursday, so I don't get to see the finished product until the tape arrives at the track on Saturday. That is my favorite time at the track on Saturdays, when the tape arrives and I can finally see all of the pre-produced elements for the Sunday RaceDay show.

Q - Matt in NYC wants to know if it's weird working ARCA races where your brother is racing? Do the TV guys keep you out of his pit? How do those pit assignments work?
A - Thanks Matt, I like to address this question as often as possible. I consider it a unique situation that mom gets to watch both of her kids work in one race!

Much to the disbelief of some ARCA viewers, I often choose not to cover my brother's pit to cause less controversy. TV producers have never forced me one way or the other. Pit assignments are picked among the pit reporters themselves for the ARCA races. I consider it an easier day when I wind-up with Billy's pit, because no studying is needed for that team! But, sometimes it just does not work out that way.

Q - GS in CA wants to know what advice you would give a young person who wants to pursue a career in TV, either behind or in-front of the camera?
A - One word...internships! Do as many as possible while in college, even if you don't get credit. Most colleges have programs in media or television production, get involved in the college TV station if they have one.

Keep beating on the doors of the local TV station and TV production companies to let you do something to gain experience. Experience is invaluable in the TV industry. Before college, I would suggest working on public speaking. I was heavily involved in public speaking competitions in high school, and became very comfortable addressing large crowds. I think that helped a lot in my career today!

Q - Franna in TX asks that out of all the interviews you have done, was there one that really made an impression on you and stands-out?
A - Franna, I have been fortunate enough to interview some veteran drivers really rich in NASCAR history. But, quite honestly my favorite interview was with Bobby Hamilton Sr. at his home in Nashville before he lost is battle with neck cancer. Take away the cameras and crew surrounding us that day, and it was one of the most moving conversations I have ever had. He spoke words that still remain with me today.

Q - GlenC1 asks if there are still people in the garage area who do not respect a female reporter as much as a male?
A - Glen, even if they think that, they haven't treated me as such. I can't speak for every female reporter in the garage area, but I never feel inferior to the male pit reporters. I feel that as a young professional, I get the respect I deserve.

The more years in the garage, the more respect you will get. I'm not leaving to go and cover other sports, NASCAR is my home and I'm staying as long as I can. I think a lot of people in the garage know my sincere passion for this sport and that speaks volumes in itself.

Q - Kevin wonders what is the favorite part of your TV responsibilities for any of the shows or races on which you appear? Once you tell us, why is it so?
A - Wow, Kevin...that is a tough question! I really can't choose my favorite but I will give you my top three:

1 - Covering Victory Lane: I am not the best story-teller, but I try to make the fan feel that they are right there with us. I love to witness the celebration of the team and the drivers. It's the reason we race.

2 - Just talking! Sometimes, I can't believe they pay me to talk about racing. I probably shouldn't say that. There is a lot of research, homework and memorizing but it's worth it. The more you learn, the easier it is to communicate on TV. I feel fortunate that I am one of the people who get to bring those stories from the garage to the fans sitting at home. My grid walks are not always the most professional "walk and talks," but they are the true me!

3 - The travel. It is my favorite...and least favorite. It's hard to explain.

Q - Ann in AZ wanted to know if your college studies in psychology helped with your interviewing skills?
A - Ann, it may be the most beneficial degree I am using! My Communications degree was so broad-based. The psychology courses really help me to be a better communicator, especially reading my subject's body language. I react to how my subject is feeling.

Without sounding boring, I can tell what kind of mood a certain driver is in by their body language on any particular day. I'm learning when I need to bring more to the table and when I just need to sit back and listen. It all depends on the driver, the day, and their mood. Also, I may use it to my advantage when I need a specific answer. I may ask the same question two different ways. I always try to make sure my subject is comfortable with me before an interview. I definitely put those psychology studies to good use!

Q - Andypandy asks who in the garage area do you like to goof around with when you are doing an interview and who do you have a good relationship with?
A - Andy, Carl Edwards and I get along nicely both on and off-air. He was driving in the Craftsman Truck Series the same year I was pit reporting there. We both moved over to NEXTEL Cup at the same time, so we have seen each other succeed in our own respective fields.

I always joke with Tony Stewart on and off-the-air because he is an easy target, however...he will get you back!

Matt Kenseth and I get along well. Before Matt was racing full-time, he was building chassis for a Midwestern company where my dad was a customer. Technically, Matt built some of my dad's ARCA chassis years ago. I like Matt's sense of humor, but not many people understand it.

Q - Ritchie wants to know if you ever lost your cool with a NASCAR personality either on or off-the-air?
A - Sorry to disappoint you Ritchie, but I don't really get hot under the collar. I'm a pretty easy-going person. I have had some driver's PR reps lose their cool with me and I have taken the brunt of their ridiculous outbursts. It's actually embarrassing...for them! I've learned not to take it personally because the outbursts have never been a result of my own actions. I just happen to be "the TV face" in the garage.

Q - Mr. Bean wants to know when you were growing up, did you have a role model outside of your family?
A - Within our racing community, Benny Parsons was a huge inspiration for me. When I was fifteen years old, he encouraged me to pursue a job in NASCAR TV because there weren't many females who had been raised in the sport and wanted to make a TV career out of it like I did. I didn't want to race, so I figured the best option would be motorsports television!

Outside of racing and my family, I admire Barbara Walters. She is classic "old-school" and made history by being the first female evening news anchor in 1974. She is 78 years-old, has accomplished so much, and is still involved in some of the highest-rated programs on TV. She is known for "personality journalism," often eliciting emotional answers while still asking the tough questions. She opened doors and pushed the limits in a male-dominated news industry. In the TV news world, she went where no woman had gone before. I admire her for that.

Q - Vince from MI wants to know what a typical race day is like for you from the time you wake-up until the time you leave the track?
A - Are you an early riser, Vince? My hotel wake-up call is always 4:30AM on Sundays. I have the same routine, doing my own make-up and hair, and packing my suitcase on race morning.

The TV crews arrive before the Cup garage opens. I receive my RaceDay format from my producer on Saturday evening. I spend the first part of my Sunday morning marking my show format and making notes for myself. We don't use scripts or teleprompters on RaceDay, what you see is what you get with our guys. It makes for fun live TV.

Our production meeting takes place in the TV compound around 8AM. Imagine a "double wide" trailer filled with our producer, field producers, and all of the announcers. I have a hard time calling any of us "talent!"

Right after the SPEED meeting, I head into a DirecTV meeting. After that, I touch-up my make-up, gather my show notes and clothing for later, and head into the track.I suit-up with my "very fashionable" RF wireless audio pack, and go into the garage for the start of the show. Then, it's two hours of fun on RaceDay.

Here is a secret that most people do not know. As we are signing-off on RaceDay, I have people helping me with my "switch" from SPEED to DirecTV. I do a quick wardrobe change with pre-planned layers of clothing and then put on the DirecTV wireless RF pack for Hot Pass. It is about a two minute "turn-over" and I go right into talking on Hot Pass.

I cover Hot Pass until the checkered flag and then it's a race out of the track. I fly home on Racing Logistics, a chartered flight for the race teams. We take off around 8 or 9PM depending on the race, and usually land around 11PM. I usually walk into my home around midnight. It's a long day, but I love my job!

Q - Shawnna in OKC wants to know how you communicate and work with the other TV network personalities that are on pit road?
A - Shawnna, when it's the Fox Network, it's like our own family. We all communicate and work around each other very well. It gets more complicated when the other networks are covering the race. My Pit Producer, Mark Smith, communicates with the ESPN Pit Producer to compare driver interviews and make sure they don't overlap. On the reporter side, Jamie Little and I are very courteous to each other. I have my set of unwritten rules where I try to avoid walking into another network's shot. I think it's tacky. It seemed to work well this season.

Q - Slithybill says your "pit walk" through the field at Bristol was fantastic TV. He wonders what aspects of your behind-the-camera work have helped you now that you are in front of it?
A - Thanks SB, that was the most fun "pit walk" of the whole season. The hype of Bristol night racing can't be repeated every weekend. I am sure my experiences have helped me in more ways than even I realize. More often than not, I just throw the typical "stiff" TV image out the window. I become more of a producer walking down pit road giving fans a show-and-tell of what I see. It's a great concept by SPEED, and they let me have free reign on that part of the show. It's a lot of fun!

Q - Finally, Jill in FL wants to know how you spend the off-season? Do you stay home after all that travel, or go on vacation somewhere?
A - Well, Jill check-out my website (click here) for the full story! I usually head to the Caribbean at the end of the season to "detox" from the loud and hectic lives we have on the road.

This off-season was very memorable in my personal life as I got married on Wednesday, December 5th! I have literally just returned from my honeymoon and jumped back into work by answering questions for The Daly Planet readers!

Thanks again to Wendy Venturini for making us a priority and taking the time to give us some great answers. I hope that her remarks gave you a greater understanding and appreciation for the "NASCAR TV world" and the issues and struggles of working on the NEXTEL Cup trail.

I think they also told us a lot about her character. I know you all join me in congratulating her on her recent marriage. This TV personality interview series will continue through January of 2008.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers of this article. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and then follow the instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

Note: A surprise guest who will be taking your questions will be announced on Monday, December 17th at 8PM Eastern Time. This will be a special Christmas gift to readers of The Daly Planet, and an opportunity not to be missed by any NASCAR TV fan.

Recap of Recent Columns

To read any of the recent columns on The Daly Planet listed below, just click on the title:

"TV and Radio Veteran John Kernan Leaving Sirius and PRN" from 12/15/07

"Your Christmas Present for the NASCAR TV Networks?" from 12/15/07

"Inside Track Talks NASCAR TV on Saturday" from 12/14/07

"Shannon Spake Leaves NASCAR Nation Far Behind" from 12/13/07

"A TV Tale of Three NASCAR TV Banquets" from 12/12/07