Wendy Venturini vividly recalls watching with innocent, childlike confusion as her mother, then a NASCAR team owner, wasn’t allowed in the garage area without a NASCAR official escorting her. Fast forward 30 years and the longtime FOX Sports reporter needs not even an introduction as she becomes the first female to anchor a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race broadcast on Sunday, Sept. 21 for Performance Racing Network (PRN) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
While it’s certainly her most high-profile assignment to-date, the New Hampshire race is her fourth trip through the NASCAR history books. In 2004, Venturini, then 24, became the youngest female pit reporter in the NASCAR Camping World Truck. In June 2007, she earned the distinction as the first female to call an entire race on a national level during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway while working for DirecTV. In 2012, she was the first female to co-anchor a NASCAR radio broadcast from the booth when she joined PRN President Doug Rice for a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After co-anchoring each Nationwide race broadcast on PRN this year and reporting for FOX Sports 1 since 2004, calling a Cup Series race on national radio seemed like the next natural progression.
"PRN President Doug Rice called me and asked if I’d be interested in anchoring a Sprint Cup race with Mark Garrow," Venturini recalled. "I laughed and said, "Yes."
Venturini’s calm and understated acceptance of Rice’s offer seems simple and subdued on the surface, but the opportunity is anything but. For someone who hails from a racing background and saw firsthand the barriers women previously faced in NASCAR, Venturini recognizes the significance of the opportunity more so than some.
"My mom was listed as car owner for my father’s NASCAR Winston Cup team when I was little, and I remember her having to be escorted into the garage area by a NASCAR official because women weren’t allowed in," Venturini stated. "She was part of his all-female pit crew. But she worked as hard as any of the guys during the week and wanted to be in the garage and inspection line with them, so she got Buster Auton to escort her in."
Daughter of two-time ARCA Racing Series champion Bill Venturini, Wendy grew up at the track, making her first appearance when she was three weeks old. As a child, her weekends were spent traveling from track to track in the back of a white cube van, and helping her family in its backyard race shop and at the track. But even as a tot, she knew where her mother’s and other drivers’ wives places were on track property.
"It was just the nature of our sport at the time," said Venturini, who also works pit road for FOX Sports 1 at New Hampshire. "Women stayed in the family area or the family grandstands, as some tracks called it. That was for us and where all the kids played because we weren’t allowed in the garage either."
Times have changed a lot in the three decades since Venturini played under the grandstands, and women today are employed in many facets of the industry. That wasn’t the case, though, when the legendary Benny Parsons, a family friend, had a heart-to-heart with the 14-year-old Venturini about pursuing a NASCAR career despite her disinterest in driving or becoming a mechanic.
"When we moved to North Carolina from Chicago in 1993, Benny lived nearby and knew my father well," explained Venturini, who also hosts "Racing Home," a web series on PRN.com and iTunes. "He said, ‘Why don’t you look into getting into racing on the media side? You know so much about the sport that it should come naturally to you.’ I pointed out there weren’t many females covering NASCAR, and he replied, ‘My point exactly.’"
When Parsons spoke, people listened, and Venturini was no exception. She soon enrolled in public speaking classes in high school and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Following graduation, she gained experience as a one-man band reporter for a North Carolina cable network, and hosted a local racing show on cable while serving as an associate producer for TNN’s Raceday in 2001.
Her next stop was FOX Sports 1 in 2001, where she began as an associate producer, feature producer and producer for NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane, the network’s pre- and post-race shows, and worked her way to the other side of the camera by 2004, when she was tabbed to cover pit road in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series among other divisions. She began reporting for NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane in 2006.
For Venturini’s 2012 Nationwide debut in the booth at Charlotte with Rice, PRN received the 2012 National Motorsports Press Association Live Event Radio Broadcast of the Year Award. With the appearance of success in everything she attempts and the high-profile nature of her next endeavor, does Venturini feel pressure to properly represent women in her next challenge?
"I really have never felt additional pressure because I’m the first woman to do this or that," she stated. "But this situation is drawing a lot of attention. I’m only concerned with calling the race as clearly and vividly as I can, despite what kind of day it might be in the history books."
However, she is cognizant of the fact many of those tuning in will be females who view her as a positive example of the progression of women in the sport.
"I hope someday down the road, a moment like this is such a common occurrence that it’s not mentioned as a male or female in the booth," Venturini said. "I haven’t thought about whether I’m representing women everywhere before, but I suppose I am. If I’ve broken down barriers for future generations, then I feel blessed to have been that person."
Arriving at this moment didn’t necessarily come easy. Venturini, also the mother of a three-year-old son with husband Jarrad Egert, had to earn it.
"I truly feel a mutual respect among the drivers and crew members toward me," Venturini related. "I can walk into any team’s hauler and know I’ll get solid answers to my questions. I can have open conversations both on and off-the-record with the key players in the sport. It didn’t happen overnight, and not every female can come in and quickly achieve that level of trust because it’s a tough sport in which you must earn respect. Many expect to jump right in, but you have to earn the right to walk into every team hauler.
"Although I’m in the minority as a female, I am right at home in the garage with the men and never feel uncomfortable," she continued. "I am just one of the guys. But that comes from how you present yourself and proving you’re there to do a job, just like they are. That’s how you earn respect. My mantra always has been ‘Seek respect, not attention. It lasts longer.’"
And when she hits the air on Sept. 21 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Venturini will command the attention of PRN listeners across more than 380 affiliate stations. She aspires to have earned their respect by the time she calls the winner to the checkered flag.
"My only goal at Loudon is not to stumble on my words and to properly call the finish of the race," Venturini said. "The checkered flag is the culmination of the entire day, and the entire broadcast sits on those seven to 10 words that come out of my mouth as the car passes the stripe to take the checkered flag. The finish is huge, but I’m going to try to relax and call it like any other Nationwide race I’ve called in the past."
… Except that she and everyone listening know it’s not just another race …