WIN Series presents The Women of ESPN - Shannon Spake

I recently had the opportunity to speak with The Women of ESPN. These three ladies are regulars on ESPN’s coverage of The NASCAR Sprint and Nationwide racing series. It was a great experience interviewing them via SKYPE and I want to share with you their passions, opinions and goals for the future. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as I have.

First I want to apologize for the delay in getting these interviews to you. I won’t bore you with all the grueling details. Lets just say that I ran into several ‘technical issues' that seemed to happen one at a time. I do want to thank my tech guru for his diligence in extracting the audio portions of the interviews. He worked on this process for quite some time and its only from this that I am able to bring these interviews to you.

The Women of ESPN

Jamie Little, Nicole Briscoe, Shannon Spake

Let’s begin with Shannon Spake;

The only person that can stop me, is ME

Shannon Spake was born July 23rd, 1976. She grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida after moving there with her family when she was 3 years old. Her father, Southwest Captain Don Speacht, was a pilot for Air Florida. Shannon and her father were close, sharing a common interest in sports. Growing up in Florida where football was sport of choice, Shannon and her father often attended high school games cheering on such players as the three-time Super Bowl Champ Michael Irvin. Irvin went on to play for such teams as Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Shannon graduated from Piper High School and went on to Florida Atlantic University in Boca where she received her BA in Communications. Shannon worked for the Neil Rogers Show on WQAM in South Florida while in college. After graduating, she literally packed up a U-Haul and moved on to New York City.

While working in New York her family relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. Her time with NASCAR revved up with a year at the SPEED Channel. She worked as a reporter for a NASCAR Nation’s first version and then co-hosted during the second. Shannon also spent time co-hosting with online columnist Marty Smith on Back Seat Drivers, a motorsports talk show.

From 2000-01 she covered everything from the presidential election to the 9/11 tragedy. Worked as an assistant coordinator for the Kids Television Network, Nickelodeon and MTV. She also spent 2 years at CBS as an associate producer of The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel. Her broadcast career took a big jump during this time when Shannon was given the opportunity to work with HBO. For 6 months, Shannon worked on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

After her HBO commitment ended, Shannon packed her bags and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to be closer to her family. She began work with a local FOX affiliate and worked her way up to covering the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats. From there she moved to SPEED and then was picked up by ESPN.

What were your career aspirations?
'”I always loved sports. My dad use to take me to high football games in the area. Michael Irving used to play in that area as well as the Blades brothers played at my high school. I was an athlete myself. I was a competitive swimmer. So I was always very into sports. TV was never something I thought about until we had one of the local anchors from the FOX affiliate down in Ft. Lauderdale. He came and visited our school. We did a tour of the the FOX facility. That's when I first became interested in doing television. We also had a family friend, Ralph Renick, he was an anchor with CBS in Miami. He was there forever. One of the real legends of the business. So I was always exposed to it in that way.

But it wasn't until I moved to New York that I got my first job in television. Its when I really understood the diversity you get to experience when you work in television. In that you don't have the same day twice. You walk into work one day, dealing with one situation and then the next day something totally different. I loved that diversity."

Who inspired you most as a young woman?
"Because I was a swimmer, I looked up to Summer Sanders when I was younger. But when I moved to New York and began working in television I had the opportunity to work with Bryant Gumbel. I loved his professionalism. I found it so amazing to work with someone who was at the top of their game and despite that gave 110% every single time he came into work. I feel very fortunate I had that opportunity. He is definitely one of the people I've really looked up to."

Shannon hard at working interviewing Joey Logano.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Would you consider ESPN your dream job?
"Yes, I remember when I went in for the interview at ESPN. I just kept pinching myself, telling myself, 'You're suppose to be here, you're suppose to be here'. The amount of resources that ESPN has, all the different things I am able to do. Obviously now I am 100% dedicated to racing but I'm not only pit reporting, I'm working on the studio side. Just to be able to do all of these things and be exposed to these different roles is such an amazing opportunity for someone in this business. I go to work and can be on Pit Road, and then I can be doing something for Sports Center, and the next hosting a show. Like I said before, the diversity is something I've always thrived on, moving forward. I have the dream job definitely. I pinch myself when I go to work every weekend. I absolutely love working for ESPN."

Were you interested in NASCAR prior to or did it come after your work as a sportscaster?
"Living in Ft. Lauderdale, college football was BIG. NFL was BIG. Racing wasn't really a part of my life when I was growing up. Aside from watching races on TV, but it wasn't in my backyard. I didn't live in Charlotte, N.C. when I was growing up or areas that had a lot of short tracks. It wasn't until I moved to Charlotte, after spending 3 yrs in New York City, that I really started to fall in love with the sport. When I first moved here I had the opportunity to meet a lot of PR people. My first job in Charlotte was doing some things with Jack Roush. He had this event called The GREAT RACE. It was a rally race, going from one city to the next. That’s when I started to fall in love with the sport. That was in 2004. I feel like it was just yesterday.

I love that with this job I am constantly moving. As long as the season may seem when we get to October or November, I love the fact that its constant. Your constantly doing something with the sport. I also have fallen in love with the fact that its such a family unit. Not only the folks at ESPN, but the whole industry. You go to work with the same people every single week and even though its this huge national sport it really does have a family feel. I love that!"

Shannon was married to
land developer Jerry McSorley in a ceremony in April 14th, 2008. They were married at a Gothic manor in Ireland. Shannon and Jerry were introduced (fixed up) after Shannon arrived in North Carolina, by her sister on a Valentine’s Day blind date.

Shannon and her husband Jerry.

What are your goals at this point?
"I'd really like to do some more hosting. I love what I'm doing right now. Let me just say that. To me, I was always the type of person who was always looking ahead. A couple of years ago someone ask me what my goal was. For the first time I stopped and thought about it. I realized that I hadn't started to looked ahead because I am so happy doing what I've been doing. ESPN has given me the opportunity to host more with NASCAR Now. This year I've hosted 15-20 times. As far as my goals now, I feel like I'm kinda livin' the dream. I just had some babies. I had twin boys in January. So I have my dream job, my family has really come together in that I have 2 children now. 7 months old and happy and healthy. I'm pretty happy with where I am right now. "

How have the boys changed your life?
"First of all, my life is nothing like it used to be. I don't even remember the Shannon that was then. I've learned a lot more patience. I've gained a lot more perspective on the big picture. I think it makes me enjoy my job even more because I realize the big picture is my children and my family and I have this great job. I don't obsess about certain things anymore because I know what the big picture is, and that’s my kids."

I have a twitter follower, who wants to know how you do it. How do you juggle your time? How do you make it work? Whats your secret?
"Everything has got to be on a schedule. I'm really really organized with my life and everything must be on a schedule. I also have an amazing husband who helps out as well. Its funny, I send out emails to family who live in the area that come over to help us every once in awhile. I'm working two to three months out. So I'm like 'In November can you come over and help us out' and they write back and say that it's months out. But that's how I have to do it. I have to plan it out and be on a strict schedule. The boys are on a schedule. I do take them off every now and again if we want to go out to lunch but we've tried very hard to maintain a schedule. Like I said, my husband is AMAZING!"

What are your thoughts or opinions on NASCAR’S "Have at it Boys" Policy? Does it need to be defined more? Is it as it should be?
"I love it! I think we've seen some great racing this season. The controversy we see on the racetrack is what fans want to see. They want to see hard racing and that includes these guys going at it. I think that there are probably the lines are set. NASCAR has set them with the drivers. We may not know exactly where those lines are. As the drivers push the limits, we are starting to find out where those lines are. Every time we have conversations with NASCAR they say these guys are professional drivers. They know what they are doing out there. They know when they cross the line. and when they don't. I think its been great! Allow these guys to have a little bit more freedom. It makes for great storylines we love to follow every weekend. Like with the Nationwide series last year. We saw all kinds of drama with Keslowski and Denny Hamlin. I just think it makes for great racing. It makes it really exciting when these guys get out on the racetrack and have a little fun. They gotta be having fun with each other. Nationwide drivers say they have a lot more fun than when they drive on the cup side.”

Without picking favorites, who do you see in contention for the Championship?
“I think coming into the season everybody thought there was no way that anyone could take down Jimmie Johnson. He’s the man, because of how strong he’s been over the last four seasons. I think at this point, its so interesting because really there are so many teams out there that are strong every week and the 48 hasn’t been the dominate car it has in the past. HOWEVER, we have also seen the last 4 years that that 48 car comes alive in the last 10 races. They know how to plan for it and they’ve really figured it out. I also think the 29 car has been hugely consistent and that is what you need in the Chase. You need to be consistent. Its all about 10 races. But I think the 29 with all we’ve seen this year, I think they can be really good when they start with the Chase.”

Have you had any memorable interviews? Any of the legends?
“To me, every single weekend when I get out there. But when we get the chance to get in the back of the truck for the ride arounds after they get introduced. I remember one time, I think it was my first year. I was in the back of the truck with Dale Earnhardt Jr. I remember thinking the fans must think I’m really living the dream right now. They would probably give anything right now to be in my position.

But, I think personally that one of my favorite interviews, which wasn’t even a real interview. It was with Dale Inman, Richard Petty’s former crew chief. I had the opportunity to go out there to Richard Petty’s, and Dale came in. He stood there and talked to me for over an hour. I just got to hear all of these awesome stories about the old times. Just racing and some of the things they did. Driving across country to race, then driving back in the same car and having it break down. Of course they didn’t have cell phones so they had to write letters to their families to let them know when they were gonna be back in town. Stuff like that you can only read about, but to be able to sit there with a legend, Dale Inman, one of the nicest guys in the garage and hear first hand. I just thought it was the coolest thing. That guy is just one of the greatest guys. Every time I see him in the garage he is the sweetest guys. He would always stop and take the time to chat with you. Its so cool to be able to know him, walking around the garage and talking at any given moment. He’s one of my favorites.”

Do you think we are gonna see the continual rise in the amount of female drivers? When will we see them in cup?
"I do. Nascar is really strong in its diversity right now. When you go to the short tracks on the weekends, you see women out there. You see girls out there and they are just trying to get it done. It wasn’t like that ten years ago. My dad’s an airline pilot for example. Now you get into an airplane, and you hear women pilots on the intercom and airwaves all the time. When I first started flying twenty years ago, you never heard women pilots. So I definitely think as women realize ‘Hey this is something that I can do. No one says I can’t. The only person that can stop me, is ME’. Danica Patrick has been huge in bringing that exposure to the sport. I definitely think it is only a matter of time before we start to see more and more women coming up through the ranks. Chrissy Wallace who is trying to get it done in trucks right now. In another 5 years we’re gonna see women in the cup field.”

Do you have any advice for women aspiring to be sports journalists? Anything you feel would be beneficial for them to know? What worked for you?
Work hard and learn everything. When I was coming into television, I learned how to to write, how to hold a camera, how to edit. I learned how to do everything. That makes you alot more valuable than any one else out there. I don’t thinks its just women, its anyone who really wants to get into the business. ‘The only person that can stop me is me’.” If I wanna do something, I’m gonna do it. It does take alot of hard work.”

Do you have a theory behind the Baby Boom in NASCAR?
“I don’t know because I was the first one. I had the babies in January 2010. Carl came after mine, then Elliott came after mine and everybody else. I just think that all the drivers right now are at that age. Wendy Venturini, myself, we’re all at that age where we’re starting to have families. Everyone is in their early to mid 30’s. That’s the time people start to do it. I saw on Twitter one time, someone had tweeted that we started a field, and its gonna be strong one. I just think its cool to walk around the garage. Two years ago I would’ve had completely different conversations with the drivers. Now we talk about the kids, we talk about the pregnancy. I think its really cool.”

Who wears the firesuit in your family?
“Depends on what day it is. It really does. My husband and I have such a great thing because we really are 50/50. Sometimes I’m the one who’s in charge and there are other times when he is. I think that balance is really important. Especially when I travel every weekend. He’s very supportive. I don’t know a lot of husbands that would be okay with their wives traveling 4 days a week and then coming home. He’s great.”

I saw a recent tweet of yours. “I’m gonna be landing soon. Gonna run home and kiss the babies and the husband and go spend some time with the girls.”
“I think its really important. I don’t have a lot of time for friends right now. I try to maybe on Sundays if I get home in time, to go out to lunch. I spend most of the week with my husband and the kids. Then travel on the weekends. I think every once in awhile you need to get away. Even if its just having coffee with girlfriends. Most of the time I do bring my babies with me. They’re like my little dates everywhere I go.”

Thank you to ESPN’s Shannon Spake for taking the time to talk to me and to Andy Hall, Manager, Media Relations.

You can follow Shannon on Twitter:


Photos furnished by ESPN and are not for duplication. Skirts and Scuffs and Lindi Bess have expressed consent for use.

I hope you all enjoyed getting to know her a little better. Next week I’ll be back with an interview from ESPN’s own Jamie Little.
WIN Series presents The Women of ESPN - Shannon Spake WIN Series presents The Women of ESPN - Shannon Spake Reviewed by Lindi Bess on Sunday, September 19, 2010 Rating: 5