By Mark Washburn / Charlotte Observer
She grew up as a NASCAR brat, riding the circuit since the days she was headlight high.
Now Wendy Venturini is one of the sport’s most prominent broadcasters and next week will mow down another first in a career that has been full of them. On Sept. 21, she will become the first woman to co-anchor a Sprint Cup broadcast when she moves up from pit row to the booth for the Performance Racing Network at New Hampshire Motor Speedway during the Sylvania 300.
Venturini’s a NASCAR native. Her grandfather, Tony Venturini, was a pioneer in the sport and raced stock cars at Soldiers Field in Chicago in the 1950s. Her father, Bill Venturini Sr., is a two-time ARCA Racing Series champion. Her mother, Cathy Venturini, led the first all-female pit crew for her husband in the 1980s. Her brother, Billy Venturini, raced in NASCAR and ARCA for more than a decade and now runs the driver-development firm Venturini Motorsports.
Venturini, now 35, remembers the turf of her childhood as a succession of tracks, week after week. Her father moved from Chicago to Concord to be closer to the heart of the sport when she was 14. She used to baby-sit driver Kenny Schrader’s kids.
She was determined to marry outside the business, but then fell for Jarrad Egert, an electronic fuel-injection engineer who works at the various tracks with her. They married in 2007 and have a 3-year-old son, Caleb Egert, who attends preschool on the racing circuit.
“He’ll probably grow up just like I did,” says Venturini. “He already knows all the sponsors and drivers and he notices when there’s a change in a paint scheme.”
More importantly, he’s got clout. Caleb recently got automatically upgraded on US Airways to a first-class seat because he had so many frequent-flier miles. His mother got an email from the airline saying that because she was flying with him, she’d get upgraded too.
“He had more status than me at the time,” she says. “I put that notification in his baby book.”
Venturini is one of three foremost women in NASCAR broadcasting along with Krista Voda of Fox Sports and Claire B. Lang of Sirius/XM Radio. Co-anchoring a cup race from the booth is a milestone in a sport where women are often relegated to the sidelines.
“It’s a guy kind of mentality,” Venturini says of NASCAR, and she’s certain that fans aren’t ready to hear a woman call a race alone. “I’ve heard that from them. They aren’t shy about saying what they think.”
But Doug Rice, PRN’s president, was impressed with her co-anchoring the last two seasons on Nationwide Series races. “Doug called me up and said, ‘Are you ready to call your first Cup race?’ ” says Venturini.
She figured it would be good experience to diversify herself in her career and immediately said yes. “I’m here for the long haul. NASCAR is my love, my passion.”
“Wendy has an incredible knowledge of our sport,” says Rice. “She is ready for a Sprint Cup broadcast.”
Venturini started her career in 2001 in Mooresville, doing a show for the old Adelphia Cable channel called “Race City Review.” When bankrupt Adelphia closed the channel, she moved to the Charlotte-based Speed Channel, first as a producer and then as a reporter. She also worked for DirecTV’s Hot Pass, where she became the first woman to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 NSCS race at Infineon Raceway.
Venturini also worked for Fox Sports as an analyst for key races and for the successor to Speed, Fox Sports 1, based in University City. She’s been a regular on shows like “NASCAR Live,” “NASCAR Race Day” and “NASCAR Victory Lane.”
Venturini says she doesn’t have to do much prep work before a broadcast, because all the characters and story lines are already in her head. “NASCAR comes easily to me,” she says. “I’ve been there and I’ve lived it.”