Bringing to life what happens on pit road for viewers on TV, NASCAR’s top reporters on the lane are a who’s who of motorsports journalists.
There are three key pieces to any good race broadcast on television – someone to tell the story, someone who’s been in the driver’s shoes, and someone (or more than one) who can get the inside information. Those insiders, roaming amongst the teams and crew members, are the pit reporters that bring you what the teams and drivers are thinking from the horse’s mouth.
Over the years of NASCAR on TV, the role of pit reporters has evolved greatly. From the early days of interviewing drivers while they are still in their cars, to today with instant access to half a dozen reporters on pit lane through television and social media, these members of the team play an important role in the flow of the racing story.
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In 2017, it is expected that both Fox Sports and NBC Sports will employ a full slate of four to five pit reporters at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level. There will be others too that fill the same roles in Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series races. Already changes are coming to those ranks, however, as Shannon Spake joins the FOX team and Mike Massaro departs NBC. But where do these reporters rank among the all-time greats?
There is little dispute that there is an elite class of pit reporters who have worked in and around NASCAR over the years. And certainly today there are many others on their way up.
There are over a dozen faces that have graced the television airwaves from pit lane for NASCAR coverage in the last five years. A number of them could make the cut for the best of all-time if they continue on their current trajectory and career path.
Matt Yocum: If you have turned on a stock car race in the last twenty years, you probably have seen Matt Yocum roaming pit road. One of the longest standing pit reporters today in NASCAR, Yocum has earned the reputation of being thorough, professional, and a strong mentor for many young upstarts. He is the most senior member of the Fox NASCAR crew currently and has worked for many other former series broadcasters including Turner Sports and ESPN. Here’s hoping we still have many more years out of Yocum to come.
Krista Voda: She may not have started out in motorsports, but Krista Voda quickly found a home in covering NASCAR. Beginning as a pit reporter and Truck Series host for Fox Sports, Voda has taken on a new challenge as the host of NASCAR on NBC. Cutting her teeth on pit lane, she quickly found a loyal following while working for Fox and that continues to this day. She may not be on pit road anymore, but if Krista Voda can look anywhere for where her career took off, that would be it.
Dave Burns: Has it already been over fifteen years that Dave Burns has been covering NASCAR? One of the most energetic voices on pit road, Burns began his announcing career covering the American Speed Association (ASA), before moving up to NASCAR in 2001 with NBC Sports. Since then, Burns has had stints with ESPN and now back at NBC, expanding is repertoire to including play-by-play on Xfinity Series races. The future is certainly bright for Dave Burns, as he could be the new voice of NASCAR in the coming years.
A man who made our list of Top Five NASCAR Analysts of All-Time also makes the cut for pit reporters. “Gentleman Ned” Jarrett began broadcasting following a hall of fame racing career, and would become synonymous with many historic moments in NASCAR.
While Jarrett would call many of these classic racing moments from the booth alongside colleagues like Ken Squier and Eli Gold, he spent some time patrolling the pit lane, getting unique interviews with drivers and other officials. In fact, he served as one of the first pit reporters when CBS Sports presented flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 in 1979. He also reported for MRN Radio over the late 1970s into the 1980s, landing a special interview with President Ronald Reagan following Richard Petty’s 200th career win in the 1984 Firecracker 400.
What stands out about Jarrett’s role on pit road is the unique perspective he provided, and special circumstances in which he did so. Rarely today will you find a pit reporter in NASCAR who has competed at the top level of the sport and won a championship doing so. He also got in close with the drivers, on more than one occasion interviewing them while they were still in their cars. Today, that level of access is merely reserved for before the race, and would never happen like it did then, in the middle of green flag pit stops.
While Ned Jarrett is no longer a pit reporter, many NASCAR broadcasters continue to look up to a great man.
One of the most respected automotive journalists of his time, Brock Yates may be well known in racing circles for his work in NASCAR, but there’s much more than that to his story. As a screenwriter, author, and reporter, Yates is responsible for helping to fuel America’s hunger for speed and American muscle.
Serving as a pit reporter for select NASCAR races covered by CBS Sports prior to 2000, Yates brought a level of expertise and professionalism not seen since Ned Jarrett’s time on pit road. He brought deep knowledge about cars and everything automotive, having served as executive editor of Car and Driver magazine and host of American Sports Cavalcade on TNN. Following his NASCAR work, Yates would shift to Fox Sports owned Speed Channel to help cover collector car auctions.
However, perhaps the biggest contribution Yates made to racing and autos was his screenwriting work. Little known to many is that Brock was the lead screenwriter for two classic American car movies – Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run. These films combined grossed over $100 million in theaters, with two sequels then following Cannonball Run, though not retaining most of the original characters.
Sadly, Brock Yates passed away on October 5, 2016 at age 82 from Alzheimer’s Disease. His memory and contributions live on not only through his films, but his work to advance the public understanding of cars and the growth of automotive culture.
A favorite among fans, Steve Byrnes served as a pit reporter for NASCAR on FOX from 2001 to 2014. Sadly, Byrnes was taken from his family, friends, and the entire sport of auto racing too soon, passing away from head and neck cancer in 2015. However, his good-natured demeanor and relationship with everyone in the garage area continue to live on to this day.
Byrnes began his career as a producer at Sunbelt Video for Inside Winston Cupwith Ned Jarrett. This first step into the sport of NASCAR would lead him to opportunities for reporting and announcing at TNN, Speed, and Fox Sports. He covered ASA, NASCAR, ARCA, and Monster Jam over his time at the networks, and even called a handful of NFL games on Fox in the 2000s.
Perhaps what stood out the most about Steve Byrnes was his friendliness and genuine smile when walking through the pit lane. He was well respected by his peers and the drivers that he covered, while also being able to ask the tough questions and encounter the difficult situations. His handling of situations like having to interview Tony Stewart after getting wrecked at Fontana earned him praise from fellow reporters.
Steve Byrnes was taken too soon from the NASCAR community, but those who saw him and those who met him through the sport are better off for knowing him.
While Chris Myers may still refer to him as Dr. Dirt, the legend of Dick Berggren at Fox Sports led to one of the greatest pit reporters in modern NASCAR television. Donning his traditional flat cap, Berggren covered stock car racing from 1979 to 2012 for CBS, MRN Radio, ESPN, and Fox. However, there was a time where sports reporting was not in the cards.
Berggren began his motorsports career in print, writing for Stock Car Racing magazine while teaching pyschology at Emmanuel College. He holds a doctorate in psychology, which some may aruge makes him well educated to cover drivers in auto racing. He continued writing through 1999, when he left the magazine to start a new publication called Speedway Illustrated.
His on-air reporting began back in 1979, when he covered the Daytona 500 for MRN Radio. His work on radio continued until he got a role at ESPN in 1981, when the network was just starting out with their NASCAR coverage. Berggren would later go on to report on and announce races for CBS, Turner Sports, and TNN, before joining Fox Sports in 2001 as their lead pit reporter. He held that role with them until 2012, when he retired in 2012 following the spring Dover race. Dick would briefly come out of retirement to call ARCA races on CBS Sports Network in 2014.
Dick Berggren was always considered a consummate professional on and off the air. While he would entertain the fun jabs and discussions with commentators like Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond while at Fox, he was all business when the action was on the track.
While we’re sure that Dick Berggren is enjoying retirement, if you’re ever at a short track in New England, be on the lookout for a flat topped cap. You may just be in the presence of NASCAR royalty.
If Dick Berggren is the greatest pit reporter in modern NASCAR television, then Chris Economaki is the greatest motorsports reporter of all-time. Covering the sport of racing for over seventy years and on over half a dozen platforms, there will never be another man in the auto racing world like Chris Economaki.
The legendary career of Economaki began at the mere age of 14, when his first column was published in the National Auto Racing News newspaper. He quickly rose through the ranks at the paper to become editor in 1950. But the coming years would yield a major change in how motorsports is covered, and a new opportunity for Economaki to reach millions of viewers.
As television grew throughout America, coverage of auto racing on television with other sports was in its infancy. Chris Economaki became the national expert on all things motorsports, working on ABC’s Wide World of Sports for over 23 years. During his time on the program, he covered everything from the Daytona 500 to demolition derbies. He reported on the Indianapolis 500, the Bathurst 1000, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and called a number of Formula One races on ESPN. There was almost no form of auto racing that Economaki did not cover.
Late in his career, the legendary reporter became an encyclopedia of racing knowledge. In fact, Microsoft asked Economaki to write the motorsports section of the Encarta encyclopedia. He would also be named “The Dean of American Motorsports” by the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.
Economaki passed away in 2012, but the bar he set for reporters in the racing world still stands. If anyone is aspiring to become a great reporter in racing, whether on television, radio, print, or online, Chris Economaki remains the high water mark that perhaps no one will ever surpass.
Who among our list is your favorite pit reporter of all-time in NASCAR? Are any of the rising stars on pit road today going to land on this list someday? Be sure to stay tuned to Beyond the Flag for even more offseason coverage before the cars return to Daytona in February.