As the saying goes, sometimes two heads are better than one. In the case of NASCAR on FOX on-air reporters and mothers Wendy Venturini and Krista Voda, each traveling the grueling NASCAR racing circuit week to week with their husbands and children, two moms definitely are better than one.
So, the women tag team to babysit each other’s child in their respective motorhomes at the race track while the other is on the air. As they head to Kansas Speedway on Mother’s Day weekend for Saturday’s NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES race, live on FOX at 7:00 PM ET, they do so with a greater appreciation for fellow working mothers than they had before Voda joined Venturini in the “mommy club.”
When Venturini’s son, Caleb, was born three years ago, she and her husband, Jarrad Egert, became the only couple working fulltime in NASCAR to travel with a child each week. They now share that privilege with Voda and Phil “PK” Kelley, whose daughter, Emersyn (“Emmy”), was born last August. Venturini and Voda now are more than colleagues — they’re each other’s babysitter and closest confidante on the road while mom and dad both are in the garage area working long shifts for 38-plus weeks each year.
“Taking and raising your family on the road in NASCAR takes a village because it’s difficult to keep your family as a unit when you’re in a different city every week,” said Venturini, whose husband works for Toyota Racing Development as the EFI engineer for Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 team. “Opening our home on wheels to Krista and her husband is our way of paying forward what another family did for us because of the impact they had on our family.”
Unsolicited, Venturini approached Voda a few months before her due date to offer her assistance with childcare. Venturini considered her gesture as repayment of the enormous favor that Jami McDowell, NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES driver Michael McDowell’s wife, bestowed upon her beginning when Caleb was an infant. Jami offered to care for Caleb at the race track while Venturini was on the air for NASCAR on FOX, and the two women and their families soon became close friends.
“Simply put, Wendy is my ‘go-to’ person when it comes to parenthood questions on the road,” said Voda, whose husband also works in network television, on the technical and production side of the camera. “And she always answers my midnight texts about everything from the next day’s schedule to the best way to get baby vomit off your shirt 20 minutes before going on-air.”
The women, while NASCAR on FOX colleagues for years, didn’t know each other all that well before Voda’s pregnancy last spring and summer, but soon formed an unbreakable bond.
“We always had a working relationship, but when Krista got pregnant, she confided in me although she hadn’t told many people yet,” Venturini recalled. “I was able to answer her questions about the RF packs reporters wear around their waists. Out of necessity, pregnant women wear them as a backpack instead. I also had some tips about keeping the camera on your face when you’re trying to keep it a secret.”
In turn, Venturini and Voda got to know each other more with each passing month in Voda’s pregnancy, as she picked Venturini’s brain on everything from pregnancy to what toys and baby items travel well on a plane.
For her part, Voda worries she hasn’t yet pulled her weight with babysitting duties in the 2014 NASCAR season as her on-air schedule has been more rigorous than Venturini’s thus far. But when June rolls around and the NASCAR on FOX broadcast of the NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES concludes for the year, Voda turns her attention to hosting FOX Sports 1′s coverage of the NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES, which entails a less arduous schedule. On the flip side, Venturini’s on-air assignments then kick into high gear each weekend.
“At this point, I feel l only provide comedic relief for Wendy,” Voda joked. “She looks at me running around with my hair on fire, and I remind her of when Caleb was little, worrying about how she was going to get to a production meeting with a baby and so forth. I owe her so many more babysitting shifts than she owes me, and I am looking forward to paying her back.”
The fathers also see the invaluable benefit of the “parenting committee.”
“From a father’s perspective, it has been a huge relief to have the McDowell family next door to us in the motorhome lot in Caleb’s first three years,” Egert stated. “Now knowing we have another pair of hands with Krista and PK makes it that much easier for Wendy and me to walk out of the motorhome early in the morning and head to the garage knowing Caleb will be well-cared for. The hours in NASCAR are intense each weekend, so friends who help us with childcare ease our minds.”
The first time Voda had to leave Emmy with Venturini for the 2014 Daytona 500 was the equivalent of being thrown into the deep end and told to “sink or swim” when her scheduled sitter became ill.
“I went into panic mode,” Voda recalled. “That was the first time my husband and I had traveled with Emmy for work, and it was the first and biggest race of the year. I was still trying to act like I had it all together. Thankfully, Wendy stepped in, as did MRO and some other industry wives — even some of the drivers’ wives pitched in. I guess it was my baptism into the ‘on-the-road mommy club.’ For the Daytona 500, Wendy had her for nearly 18 hours, due to the lengthy rain delay. If that’s not a great friend, then I don’t know what is.
“It was a blessing the rain delay was on my watch because she knew I could handle it,” Venturini remarked. “I also was comforting her with everything going on in her mind because it was a long day in the garage. Your kid is 100 yards from you. You can almost see her, but you’re busy working. So, what is worse?”
Both women are quick to point out, though, that all working mothers face their own set of challenges in balancing work and home, so they really aren’t all that different.
“Everyone with a child must jump through various hoops to find childcare, and they make it work,” Voda pointed out. “Our situation might differ logistically — I stand in the airport security line instead of the carpool lane every week, and my baby’s ticket says ‘TSA pre-check’ — but all working moms have their own set of circumstances. Bottom line — we know how blessed we are. We get to take our baby with us, and we know most moms aren’t that lucky. Of course, when I do have to leave Emmy at home, I’m in a different state and time zone, so that’s when the sacrifice is the hardest. But, overall, I know how lucky I am.
“There is a group of us I call the ‘August Birth Club’ because a handful of others in the sport, including some of the crew guys’ wives, and I had babies within a couple of weeks of each other, so we compare notes and light up when talking about our children,” Voda continued. “I know how fortunate I am that Emmy gets to come with me whereas most of the crew members’ children do not.”
While their jobs and travel challenges are similar, both declare their parenting styles couldn’t be more different.
“My husband and I are a lot more laidback and less structured than Krista and PK are at this point, but I was that way when Caleb was a baby,” Venturini said. “But when Speedweeks rolled around at Daytona for my first time as a mom, I barely had enough time to get a shower, brush my teeth and get on TV, so all organization went down the drain. A crazy schedule on the road forces you to roll with it, especially when there’s a camera in your face and people expect to see a smiling person, not a sleep-deprived, stressed-out one.”
“Wendy thinks I’m organized because I track Emmy’s feedings, diaper changes and schedule in a notebook, mainly to help others who are caring for her,” Voda said. “But Wendy seems to truly have it all together. I always look at her and say, ‘Of course Wendy remembered to pack that!’ I’m the mom who comes flying into a room with the baby on the hip and diaper bag dragging behind with its contents falling out everywhere. Seriously, I once found my (empty) breast milk cooler lying in the Martinsville parking lot!”
“I saw her from my window running in the parking lot to grab it with Emmy on her hip,” Venturini added. “I swung open my door to let her know I’ve done worse! It’s just a normal new-mom thing.”
While the cities may vary, both women are grateful the friendly face greeting her child is familiar, but they point out their unique arrangement puts them in the minority.
“Our childcare situation is extremely rare in on-air sports,” Venturini stated. “We are the only NASCAR reporters who make childcare work like we do, but I’m pretty sure this system doesn’t exist with network reporters in other sports, either. Our close relationship is a bit unusual in television as a whole because many folks in the mainstream TV industry don’t go out of their way to help each other. But for Krista and me, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other.”
Just ask their children…
By: Megan Englehart, Fox Sports