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

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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

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”