Wendy Venturini Sits Down with All-Star Drivers’ Hometown Heroes

May 1, 2009


NASCAR Sprint All-Star 2008 Hometown Heroes is Venturini’s first, full-length special for SPEED. Her “Real Deal with Wendy Venturini” weekly feature on NASCAR RaceDay has received critical acclaim for its in-depth interviews with drivers and figures in NASCAR. In addition to her “Real Deal” segments, Venturini serves as a garage reporter for NASCAR RaceDay, which is enjoying double-digit ratings increases from a year ago.

While young and old eyes alike will watch their heroes, racing’s finest, in the May 17 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race XXIV (7 p.m. ET on SPEED), a few will see beyond the men behind the helmets and remember the youngsters they knew, their protégés, before they were stars.

In the May 14 NASCAR Sprint All-Star 2008 Hometown Heroes hosted by Wendy Venturini (9 p.m. ET on SPEED), SPEED turns the tables on the All-Stars and focuses on their mentors, the everyday people who helped mold them into the successful men they have become.

Venturini, dubbed by some the “Barbara Walters of racing,” asked drivers qualified for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race XXIV to identify their “hometown heroes,” those who have inspired and helped them in their lives and careers.

She then traveled across the United States to interview those named to discuss their lives and their memories of the stars of today.

“It was amazing to me how honored these ‘hometown heroes’ were that the drivers had designated them as someone who’d had a substantial influence on their lives and careers,” Venturini said. “They were in awe of the recognition and most of them kept trying to turn the focus back onto the drivers and how proud they are of what the drivers have become. Everyone has someone who has inspired them along the way and this show focuses on the inspiration behind the All-Star heroes, the best of the best in NASCAR.”

Those featured in the special include: Ryan Newman and his high school teacher, Frank Cackowski; Ken Schrader and fellow dirt racer, 71-year-old Don Klein; David Ragan and his father, Ken Ragan; Brian Vickers and his home school teacher, Cheryl Martin; Carl Edwards and his good friend, Timmy Kohuth (former Schrader crew member and truck crew chief); David Reutimann and his father, Buzzy Reutimann; and Matt Kenseth and his father, Roy Kenseth.

One of the hometown heroes witnessed a monumental accomplishment by his driver in the Daytona 500. Frank Cackowski, Newman’s high school teacher in South Bend, Ind., suffers from Crohn’s Disease but experienced one of the most rewarding moments of his life when Newman won the biggest race of the year.

“Frank had just gotten out of the hospital the Friday before the Daytona 500 after another surgery, “Venturini said. “He could barely move. He said when Ryan won the Daytona 500, it was such a huge boost for him, a shot-in-the-arm, and it gave him so much pride knowing he taught a student who was now a Daytona 500 winner. That tugs on the heartstrings and I hope we can convey that to the race fans.”

Cackowski, who also taught David Stremme, was one of the “cool” teachers and would slide Newman his old sprint car racing newspapers before class.

“Obviously, I knew he was a racer, so rather than throw them away, I just brought them to class thinking he’d like to have them,” Cackowski said. “But I soon realized I had to give them to him AFTER class instead of before, because sometimes I’d catch him peeking through them during class. I didn’t scold him or anything, I just started giving them to him after class … but I think he got the message.”

Buzzy Reutiman credits racing with keeping his son on the straight-and-narrow.

“I was lucky we were involved in racing,” Buzzy Reutimann said. “We’d be coming home at night after the race and David would have his little mini-stock and we’d be towing it. We cut through these little towns on the way home and you’d see some of these kids sitting on the hoods of cars in parking lots, but I always knew where my boy was – right behind me. I wanted him to grow up and to be a good boy and he has … he’s made me really proud.”

SPEED, now in nearly 78 million homes in North America, is the exclusive home of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, Gatorade Duel at Daytona, NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The only network delivering live, at-track programming all season long, SPEED offers the definitive pre- and post-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series programs – NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane, as well as other popular NASCAR programs including Trackside Live, Tradin’ Paint, NASCAR Performance, NASCAR Live!, This Week in NASCAR, NCTS Setup, Go or Go Home and The Chase is On.