Wendy Venturini to become first female to call Sprint Cup race on radio Sunday at New Hampshire

3 Comments

Veteran NASCAR broadcaster Wendy Venturini has been in dozens of racetrack press boxes across the country.

After a while, they all start to look similar.

But when Venturini walks into the press box at New Hampshire Motor Speedway prior to Sunday’s Sylvania 300 Sprint Cup race, it will be one of the biggest highlights of the Chicago native’s career.

Venturini will mark NASCAR history by becoming the first female to perform radio play-by-play of a Sprint Cup race in the national broadcast on the Performance Racing Network (PRN).

“I would like to think that it’s been all the hard work that’s gotten me to this particular point, and not my gender, for sure,” Venturini said on Saturday’s Press Pass show that I co-hosted with Brad Gillie on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“But I know a lot of people will be tuning in just to hear a female call a race,” she added. “And I’m hoping that it’s people that watch television and have never listened to a radio broadcast.

“Wouldn’t it be cool that if they’re tuning in just because it’s something unique and something different, and if we get new listeners on the radio would be fantastic for PRN.”

It’s not the first radio PBP of a race that Venturini has done; she’s worked several NNS races for PRN over nearly the last two seasons.

But this one is special because it’s a Sprint Cup event – and the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, no less.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow, not trying to get too worked up on the nerves, and just trying to call a solid race,” Venturini said. “I have a lot to learn, but I feel if I’m willing to put myself out there and make mistakes, it can only get better from there. And that’s what you have to do in order to become better in your field.”

Venturini has spent the last 11 seasons working telecasts for SPEED TV and its successor, FoxSports1.

“I’m actually looking forward to calling a Cup race because I’m more familiar with the storylines and the players involved vs. the Nationwide Series,” she said. “I have to study a lot of the backmarkers (in NNS), because there are so many that come through on a Nationwide weekend and one-off races. You have to know the storyline of even somebody just doing one race, you know have to know their story and how they got there.

“There’s a lot more learning of new people in the Nationwide Series, vs. here in Sprint Cup, I’ve been covering it for 11 years straight, so I feel like it’s my family, my home so to speak, so in that sense it’ll be a lot easier.”

While Venturini was on the air with us, she (and we) received a pleasant surprise when father Bill called in to wish her well.

The Venturini family has been involved in racing for nearly 50 years, and this has been a special weekend for the brood. Not only did Brennan Poole win Friday’s ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway, Venturini Motorsports had four drivers in the top-10 (including three top-five showings).

“Wendy, this is Dad, congratulations,” family patriarch Bill Venturini said. “It’s been a big weekend, with the win at Kentucky and you being the first female anchor … I’m very proud of you.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).