Family life a road trip for NASCAR’s ‘Track Moms’

June 25, 2013

Krista Voda has long since grown used to living 10 months of each year out of her suitcase.

As a pit reporter on NASCAR Sprint Cup races for FOX and the host of both the popular Trackside show and the Camping World Truck Series pre-race show on cable network SPEED, Voda is on the road at least five days a week pretty much from early February through late November.

The former WLEX-TV sports reporter/anchor is not the only person in her marriage on the road with NASCAR, either. Her husband, Phil “P.K.” Kelley, is a TV camera man who works primarily on coverage of the Sprint Cup.

On those weeks when the Sprint Cup and the trucks series are running in different cities, Voda travels between the venues, while Kelley stays behind at the Cup venue.

“It gets pretty crazy,” Voda says of managing the couple’s travel schedule. “It’s fun in a lot of ways, and we know we’re lucky to get to do this, but it’s a grind, too.”

So imagine what it will be like for the Pittsburgh couple to travel like that with a baby on board.

In late August, Voda, 39, is due to deliver the couple’s first child. If the normal adjustments of being first-time parents aren’t enough, Voda and Kelley plan to incorporate their child into their existing NASCAR travel schedules.

“I know that probably sounds crazy,” Voda says, “but in NASCAR, there are people who travel like this with their babies. We’re getting a lot of advice on how to make it work.”

Wendy Venturini, Voda’s SPEED colleague, is making being a traveling “track mom” work.

Venturini, 32, is a reporter on SPEED’s RaceDay, a program that previews Sprint Cup races from the track where the events are being held. She and her husband, Jarrad Egert, a track support engineer who works primarily with the No. 20 Toyota of Matt Kenseth, travel the NASCAR circuit with their toddler son, Caleb.

Having grown up in a well-known Midwest racing family, Venturini says her plan was always to take her child on the NASCAR road with her. “It was how I was raised — on the road, on the circuit,” she said. “I knew it could be done.”

Which is not to say things don’t get complicated. Venturini keeps a computer spreadsheet with “three or four other NASCAR moms” who work together so they always know who is available for childcare on any given week.

She and Egert bought an RV so their family of three can stay together at the racetracks. When the family flies to the track, they pay someone to drive the RV to the track (Venturini says the RV never goes to the West Coast races).

Some weeks, Venturini pays a baby sitter to travel with her. When she and another mom in NASCAR media, ESPN pit reporter Shannon Spake, are both at the same track with their children, the two split the cost of the sitter, Venturini said.

On weeks when she does not have a paid baby sitter, Venturini relies on friends on the NASCAR circuit to help her look after Caleb. Jami McDowell, the wife of NASCAR driver Michael McDowell, often volunteers to watch Caleb when Wendy has no other option.

Venturini says she still has “mommy guilt” over the time Caleb got sick, yet Wendy had to go on live TV. Since Egert also had to work, Wendy had no choice but to drop Caleb off with Jami McDowell.

“I felt so bad about leaving Caleb, first of all, then leaving him with another mother who was volunteering to watch my sick kid but had her own kids who might have gotten sick,” Venturini says. “But Jami just said ‘Oh, I’ll just keep (Caleb) away from the other kids.’ And she did.”

Still, when your toddler gets sick many states removed from where you live, in Venturini’s case, Charlotte, it can be a bit of an adventure.

“That happened to us in Kansas City, Mo.,” Venturini said. “Caleb had a fever, he had pink eye. When you are on the road, obviously, you do not have your pediatrician there with you to call so we had to go to the emergency room.”

Motor Racing Outreach, a Christian ministry that travels with the NASCAR circuit, provides what is essentially a traveling play center that many NASCAR families use. “It’s a safe place for all NASCAR kids,” says Venturini. “Jeff Gordon’s kids. Jimmie Johnson’s daughter. Greg Biffle’s little girl. Caleb plays there with all of them.”

At age 2, Caleb has already logged so many miles on the NASCAR circuit that, Venturini reports, “I recently got upgraded to first class on USAir because of Caleb’s (frequent-flyer) points,” she said.

As one would surmise, working as a pit reporter while pregnant involves many trials.

Before the segment of the Sprint Cup season broadcast by FOX concluded, Voda worked through 95-degree heat at Dover, was on her feet for more than seven hours during the Coca-Cola 600 broadcast from Charlotte and survived the irritant of the belt that pit reporters wear to hold their equipment that’s no longer fitting around their changing bodies.

Of course, the real challenge comes once the baby does.

As Voda gets ready to become a “track mommy,” her SPEED colleague Venturini has supplied some advice.

“I think she’s a little scared about this,” Venturini said, “and she should be. It’s a huge change in your life. But I’ve just told her, ‘You can make this work.’ When the time comes, you will find ways to make it work.’”

In preparation for their baby’s arrival, Kelley and Voda have bought their own RV to take to NASCAR races.

When anyone from Lexington — which Voda left in 2002 — asks her what her childcare plans are once the baby comes, she has a line designed to draw a laugh. “Hire Alan Cutler as our baby sitter,” Voda says in reference to her former WLEX co-worker.

The serious answer to that question is one Voda is still getting her head around.

“We’re just going to have to figure it out,” Voda said.

- By Mark Story — Herald-Leader Sports Columnist