I began racing at nine-years-old but when it was time to start college I decided becoming a NASCAR driver wasn’t very realistic. The dream of racing around Daytona turned into a dream of talking about racing for a living.
As a racer it paid to be aggressive, I find the same to be true in developing my career off the track. It all starts with building a network of industry contacts. Fortunately, I had raced with the son of Vince Welch, an ESPN reporter specializing in motorsports. Mr. Welch introduced me to contacts at ESPN, which opened up the opportunity of becoming a runner for a live NASCAR race on ESPN.
When you watch NASCAR on TV it’s easy to pick out the work being done by the director, camera operators and on camera talent, the job of a runner is a little less glamorous, but incredibly valuable and educational.
Simply put, a runner does whatever is necessary to help out the live event production. Sometimes it may mean pulling cables, other times driving talent around on a golf cart or running errands for producers.
Runners are hired on a race-by-race basis, so working hard and impressing the full-time staff can lead to more opportunities, possibly even a permanent staff position.
I met the coordinator for the runners, Skyye Medley, and exchanged business cards with him in the summer of 2011. Some people would wait a while to follow up, not me.
I contacted him via email almost immediately, but was told it was too early to start hiring for the 2012 season. Undaunted, I continued to communicate with Skyye during the winter hoping to line up a future position. It wasn’t until early June, almost a full year since our original introduction, that I was asked to be a runner for the NASCAR Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway!
It really does pay to be persistent and not give up.
The day before the race is “Prep day” for the broadcast team at ESPN, when all the production equipment and materials get set-up and tested. When I arrived at Kentucky Speedway at 8am we started out with a walk-through of the track, visiting the pit studio, broadcast booth (in the tower above the track), Nationwide, the Sprint Cup garages, and lastly the TV compound.
My first task was driving reporter Shannon Spake (pictured, right), to and from the garages. I made sure to take advantage of the time to talk with Shannon one-on-one. The chance to pick her brain, to see how she goes about finding stories, is something most aspiring journalists don’t get. I wasn’t about to let our rides motor along in silence.
The rest of prep day was filled with random jobs: filling coolers, driving other employees around, and taking the day in. But it’s not just about the actual tasks; it’s the chance to meet reporters and as many behind-the-scenes people as possible.
Without a doubt, I learned to take advantage of every moment by asking questions, networking and watching how others perform their jobs.
Finally, it’s Race Day!
Over 80 cameras are involved in a NASCAR race, and it was incredible to think that a director could find ways to use them all. Compare that to the 15 or so cameras that are used in a football game, and you can appreciate how difficult it is to direct a live NASCAR event. According to my boss, each NASCAR broadcast is comparable to the production of the Olympics; only NASCAR does it each weekend from February to November.
All day I drove talent on a golf cart between locations, delivered snacks and water and other tasks as assigned. I met many of the people I admire in this business like Nicole Briscoe, Brad Daugherty, Allen Bestwick, Andy Petree and Jamie Little.
The race finally ended and it was a mad dash to by the talent out of the Speedway to catch their flights. My job was to get Allen Bestwick and producers from the booth. While picking them up, I got the chance to meet driver Carl Edwards and Andy Petree, the crew chief of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s car.
Being a runner isn’t glamorous, but the experience to work for ESPN and see all the behind-the-scenes happenings was one of my most valuable race experiences.
Since runners are hired on a race-by-race basis I finished the day not knowing if I would ever have the opportunity to work for ESPN again, but I received an e-mail a few days later and I am back as a runner for another race!
Katie Hargitt is a senior at Ball State University majoring in telecommunications. She began racing at the age of nine, but has now turned her goals toward broadcasting racing. During the summer of 2011 she was a pit reporter for the United States Auto Club and an intern in the sports department at Fox 59 in Indianapolis.
During her time at Ball State she has been involved in NewsLink, Cardinal Sports Live, Connections Live, and WCRD. You can follow her on Twitter @katiehargitt.