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ESPN’s Little all about racing

August 23rd, 2013 11:25 am by Jeff Birchfield

ESPN’s Little all about racing

Jamie Little interviewing Denny Hamlin. (Phil Cavali)


Over the years, ESPN motorsports reporters have proven to be versatile in covering other sports. 


Jamie Little isn’t interested in following that path. The former FHM magazine cover girl explains how she’s much like another colleague.


“I’m like Rusty Wallace, all racing all the time,” she said. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever loved and been so passionate about. I like the stick and ball sports, appreciate them, but I’ve always covered racing. That’s where my love is. Covering the Sprint Cup Series for me is what covering Monday Night Football would be for other people.”


Little, 35, joined ESPN in 1998, where she covered the Winter and Summer X Games. She has gone on to work in the pits for 10 Indianapolis 500s and has covered NASCAR since 2007.


Best known to a younger generation of fans for her work with motocross, her likeness was on the popular video game “MX World Tour featuring Jamie Little,” and she even made a cameo appearance in the 2005 feature film, “Fantastic Four.” She remains a fan of different racing genres and believes they encourage a younger audience to check out NASCAR. 


“Robby Gordon started his (off-road) truck series and I think it’s great to get new eyeballs, fans of all different ages,” Little said. “If some teenage kid is watching a Supercross race or a truck race, and they see NASCAR is on, they want to give it a look and learn more about it. It helps all of us. I love seeing the new motorsports being created or being amped up.”


With her background, she is a proponent of shortening some NASCAR events. However, she understands there is a balance of trying to attract new fans and not alienating the core audience.


“I come from the Supercross world where the main event is 20 minutes. That’s the attention span of some people,” she said. “They want to see it and know that every lap counts. When it’s finished, it’s not going to take 3-4 hours. That being said, NASCAR’s always been that way and people know that. But in the world of social media, I think it would be wise to shorten these races. You have to see who your fans are, and do they want to sit and watch programming for that long?”


In town to cover the Food City 250 and IRWIN Tools night race, she said Bristol takes her back to her Supercross days except it’s the biggest stadium she’s ever seen.


With 16-second laps, there isn’t the time for a pit reporter to relax at Bristol like at a superspeedways. That along with the constant noise make Little’s job more challenging that the typical race weekend. 


“At a bigger track like Pocono or Indianapolis, you have that moment when all the cars are on the backstretch and it’s quiet,” she said. “When you’re adding a story on the air, it’s nice and quiet. At Bristol, you feel worn out after a race, the noise you’re battling listening to the scanner, trying to listen to your drivers and listening to the producers and the broadcast, it’s a lot. It’s hard to get reports in because the racing is so good.”


NASCAR’s wildest track is a perfect place for the adventurous soul, who was raised the daughter of a musician and a Lake Tahoe showgirl. She fell in love with dirt bikes as a teenager and her adventures have taken her from winning a Toyota Celebrity Pro Race, where former NASCAR Truck Series champion Mike Skinner was the runner-up, to flying with the Navy’s famed Blue Angels.


Her job allows her a weekly adrenaline rush of being on pit road in the middle of the action.


“Our pre-race show is scripted, where we know who we’re interviewing and what the questions are. Once the race starts, it’s all game on and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “That’s why I feel I have the best job in racing, right in the middle of it. If something happens to Jeff Gordon’s car, I can go up on the pit box and talk to his crew chief Alan Gustafson right there and get it right from the horse’s mouth. It’s just the access, being in the middle of the action, it sets it apart.”


The access of an ESPN television reporter has given her some memorable moments. She was the first woman to have reported from victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011, and one month ago, she joined a native Hoosier in a special celebration at the famed track.


“Recently, covering Ryan Newman for his victory in the Brickyard 400, that was definitely a highlight,” she said. “As a reporter, when your driver wins, you get to go to victory lane with them and it’s exciting to share in that moment. With Ryan being from Indiana, it was the biggest win you could imagine.”


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