Breaking Ground: Woman to Call Cup race on DirecTV

June 22, 2007

Sunday, viewers will get something unprecedented: A woman calling a topflight NASCAR race on TV. At least, that is, if they have DirecTV, a satellite TV service in about 15 million households. While TNT has the national coverage of the Nextel Cup Save Mart 350, DirecTV’s Hotpass coverage will offer five separate channels — each focused on a single driver in the race.

On the channel devoted to Robby Gordon, Wendy Venturini will call the race.

She’s worked as a Speed Channel reporter and producer and, she says, “grew up at racetracks” because racing was the family business. “My mom had to be escorted through the garage when my dad raced; women weren’t allowed in alone. So, we’ve come a long way. I’m just humbled by this.”

Still, Wendy says her father, Bill, had an all-female Cup pit crew as a “publicity stunt” in the 1980s — “my mom and aunt were tire changers, another aunt was a jackwoman.”

But DirecTV vice president Chris Long, who got the idea for using Venturini after a viewer e-mail noted it would be a TV first, says this is no stunt: “She’s gone through the wringer — she didn’t just show up.”