During an interview back in 2007, Wendy was quoted as saying, “I’m not a TV person, I’m a racing kid talking on TV.” That’s what makes Wendy such a natural when it comes to commentating on motorsports. She’s down to earth and just as excited about NASCAR as you and I. When she talks, you can hear the excitement she is feeling when she’s behind the microphone.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Wendy and what follows is the result of our conversations and correspondence. This question-and-answer session will give you little more insight into Wendy’s life.
LB (Lindi Bess): When growing up, what did you aspire to be?
WV (Wendy Venturini): “When I was a child, I wanted to be a TV reporter. But then changed my mind as a preteen. I then decided I wanted to be a psychologist so I could help people with their problems. I’ve always liked communication with people. I went through high school, still undecided. Torn between psychology and a job in TV production, I went off to college, where I studied both. I have a degree in psychology as well as communication studies with a concentration in media and production. I decided in college to stick with my family’s business in racing and TV production, but pursue my psychology degree in case the TV thing didn’t work out. It’s always good to have a plan in your back pocket. I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 3-1/2yrs so it didn’t hold me up to double-major. I also received a minor in journalism during that time just for fun.”
LB: How would you describe yourself during your school years?
WV: “Academically focused. I received all A's and B's. I took all honor classes my entire life and AP courses in high school. I attended the community college while a senior in high school. This part of my life came very natural to me; it was not overwhelming so I just kept doing more. I was heavily involved in school clubs. I did a ton of volunteer work. I played sports throughout adolescence (mainly basketball because I was the tallest girl), but it was never my focus. I danced my entire life from a little girl through high school But I put most of my energy in academic events, especially once in high school. I started public speaking as a freshman and never looked back.”
LB: Did you have any female mentors/role models?
WV: “I love Barbara Walters. She is classic old-school and made history by being the first female evening news anchor in 1974. She has accomplished so much and is still involved in some of the highest-rated programs. I have (surprisingly) been dubbed as the young Barbara Walters of NASCAR because of my segments “The Real Deal with Wendy Venturini” on NASCAR Race Day. At first I laughed at the comparison. But after I though about it I was pretty humbled by the idea. 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. I hope when I walk away, I have left that same mark for women in NASCAR. I’ve been around this sport my whole life and don’t plan on going anywhere else.”
LB: Can you share with us an early memory involving your family and motorsports?
WV: “I started traveling with my dad’s race team when I was just a baby. So many of my memories were as I went through childhood on the road. I remember my dad winning many races at Rockford Speedway in Rockford, Ill. They had a playground there. I would usually play until it was my dad’s turn to race. I remember cleaning lugnut glue in the parts cleaner in our two-car garage in Chicago. I would say I was doing the dishes like Mom. Funny now……..I HATE DISHES. As dad’s career became more national, I remember traveling down the road in our custom white cube truck my dad remodeled. It had a bunk bed and a table to do homework on. We slept in the bunk. Slight change from today’s motorcoaches the children use.”
LB: Most of us know you as a sports commentator, but have you ever competed in any type of racing yourself?
WV: “School Bus Racing!! Just ask Kenny Wallace or Jimmy Spencer how I race. 2-time school bus champion. Haha!! I also raced in a late model Powder Puff race one time in California. It was only 15 laps and they made me start last. I passed 12 cars and finished 3rd. I wanted more laps! Honestly, I don’t feel the passion to drive, but I can get competitive. My father gave my brother and I equal opportunities to race. My brother pursued his racing career, and I decided to do TV. I just do racing events for charity or for fun for the show.” Click here for more info on race
LB: What charities are you involved with?
WV: “My main cause is WAM, the Women’s Auxiliary of Motorsports. I support and have done volunteer work this year with a lot of charities and driver foundations: Motor Racing Outreach, The NASCAR Foundation, VJGC, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish and Autism Awareness.”
LB: What is your biggest career achievement and why?
WV: “Working on NASCAR Race Day has been my biggest career achievement to date. NASCAR Race Day is SPEED’s highest rated program on the network. To be associated with such a successful and popular show has been great for my career. Not to mention, it is the most laid-back (and fun) NASCAR program on the air! We do not have a lot of rules at SPEED and we by no means have to play to the prim-and-proper TV executives in suits and ties. Our TV execs are at the track with us nearly every weekend in the trenches so to speak. Our rules are simple: represent the network in a professional manner and have fun. This philosophy has allowed each of us to shine with our own personalities and we each bring something different to the table.” Visit SPEED's NASCAR Raceday
LB: When you look at where your career is now, is it as you had imagined?
WV: “Yes, but even more than I ever imagined. I am blessed to do what I love and the NASCAR fans are so receptive to me. It’s an honor to bring people at home “into the garage area” with me. My goal is to show people at home and take them places they may never get a chance to see.”
LB: You’ve interviewed legends. Do you ever get nervous?
WV: “No, today’s superstars are just normal human beings, I PROMISE! Most are very down to earth and we all have a mutual respect so I don’t get nervous. With the legends, it’s hard to explain. It’s not nervousness, its an overwhelming feeling of respect in the room. I am honored when I sit down with our sports’ legends. I usually want to pinch myself that they are allowing me to do the interview. I love old-school stories!”
LB: Has there ever been an interview that just went bad from the start?
WV: “Not really, I can’t complain. Drivers have their bad days and sometimes they don’t give the most ideal answers, but that’s the joy of my job. It’s up to the drivers to dictate how they want to act. I can’t cover up for poor attitudes or hot tempers. I understand a bad day where you don’t want a camera in your face, but we all know what is expected from each of us. We each have a job to do. I present the questions and the facts. The drivers give the answers. It’s up to the fans to determine what they think of that driver.”
Wendy went on to say,”And yes, I, personally, have had plenty of bad days on TV. I almost coughed up a lung at Indy this year. I was extremely sick, but the show goes on. Most people didn’t notice and that’s the way it should be. I slept for 22 hours after that show and my husband took me to the ER for fear of the H1N1 virus. Doctors just said I was a very healthy sick person.”
The final part to the interview will come on Sunday, Feb. 14, with a couple of special photos of Wendy and Jarrad and more on her feelings regarding women in motorsports. We’ll also talk a little more about her family’s journey in the world of NASCAR.
Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying my Women in NASCAR Series. Please feel free to comment and even suggest people you’d enjoy learning more about in the future.
Remember that all of my posts are of my opinion and are not necessarily the opinions of those on the staff.