Wendy Venturini’s Chicago Connections

July 11, 2007

Let’s face facts. SPEED’s Wendy Venturini is tough as nails. Week after week, she hangs-out in the garage area amid the crowds, the weather, and the entire NASCAR “family.” She has become such a staple on RaceDay that most NASCAR fans just know her as “Wendy.”

This week, with NASCAR heading to the Chicago area, there are some interesting facts about her local connections. Her great-grandfather came to Chicago from Italy back in 1927. His son Tony opened an Amoco service station and became the first member of her family to be involved in racing as a driver.

Most fans know Wendy’s father Bill, and her brother Billy, who have raced for many years in both ARCA and NASCAR. I got a great kick out of learning that when Wendy’s dad married her mom Cathy, they began their honeymoon at the Rockford Speedway in Rockford, Illinois. Now, that’s a racing family.

My memories of Bill Venturini came from his ARCA racing, but also from the fact that he had an all-female pit crew for many years. As you may have guessed, his wife was the front tire changer. I kid you not. Wendy and her brother traveled to almost every race as kids, and literally grew-up in stock car racing.

On Sunday’s edition of RaceDay on SPEED, Wendy interviewed Mario Andretti at his winery in Napa, California. Andretti is one of the toughest men in racing, and has a long history of frosty relations with the media. Several times during the interview, Mario told her that she was asking great questions. That alone got my attention.

It seemed that now, permanently separated from his driving days, Andretti felt comfortable speaking openly and honestly about his career, his regrets, and his life in America. The scenery was great, the interview was first-rate, and the comments from Andretti were memorable. But, there is more to the story.

Mario Andretti and his twin brother Aldo were born in Italy, and fled the country to escape an occupation by outside forces. They re-settled in Nazareth, PA with one hundred and twenty-five dollars to their name. Now, Mario sits in his winery in Napa and reflects on a racing life that includes a Daytona 500 win.

Somehow, it seems only fitting that he does that while being interviewed by a woman whose own family emigrated from Italy, worked hard for their dreams, and now proudly watches as Wendy emerges as one of the most trusted television personalities on the NASCAR scene.

Where Wendy Venturini will wind-up is anyone’s guess. Most believe she will eventually graduate to a higher profile role on sports television. So, for this season, its a smart idea for fans and viewers to appreciate her hard work while she is still patrolling the “NASCAR beat” for SPEED. After reading this, maybe more fans will understand where she gets her work ethic, and why she can’t stop smiling.