“It was for Juan Pablo Montoya at Daytona,” Little said, “and the stop was 15 seconds long (about twice as long as an IndyCar stop). I was like ‘something’s wrong; it’s taking too long.’ My mind was telling me there’s something wrong with this car. So I kind of laughed to myself. But those were some of the little differences between NASCAR and IndyCar. In IndyCar, you gotta get your story in quickly; you don’t have time to add things during pit stops.”
Little, the newest Woman of pressdog®, will snap back into IndyCar pit stop mode (7-ish seconds) Sunday for the 2011 Indy 500. Just one of the small adaptations Little makes as she jumps back and forth between NASCAR and IndyCar worlds.
Another thing Little adjusts to is the level of secrecy in the the two series.
“Over here (in IndyCar) they are a lot more secretive,” said Little. “That’s the thing about NASCAR. They air everything out. NASCAR does that. They air it all out so then all the team owners and crew chiefs, they tell you anything. They give you something to tell a story with. That’s really what I want IndyCar to do. For the betterment of the viewing audience. Don’t keep secrets.”
Sometimes “telling the stories” can get on-air talent in trouble, Little said, like when she broke the news that a driver was changing crew chiefs before the crew chief himself even knew.
“You want to tell stories if you know the information, you gotta tell it,” she said. “You can’t keep it inside. That is why they pay me to do this job.”
Little was the only child of a single mother. Growing up Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, she was a “total tomboy” who always wanted to play with the guys who had dirt bikes.
“When I was 15, I met this guy who ran motocross and we went to school together. I used to beg him if I could tag along when he and his buddies went to ride dirt bikes,” Little said. “One thing led to another and I was into supercross.”
After the supercross bug hit, Little’s urge to tell stories flared up and “something told me the lifestyle was something that was so attractive and that someone needed to tell those stories.”
Little scoured dirt track magazines at the time for coverage. “All they had was girls sprawled out across dirt bikes,” she said with a laugh, “which was fine. They were models. But there were no females that actually reported on it and could speak to fans like me. So right away, something told me I needed to do that.”
At age 18 and now living in Los Angeles, Little started chasing the motocross story-telling dream. “I went up to a guy with an ESPN microphone at a race when I was 18 and I said 'this is what I want to do; what do I need to do.’ He said “I said I’m a freelancer from San Diego and I’d be happy to let you tag along.’ I ended up tagging along for two and a half years.”
During that period, Little established recognition and some credibility with riders so when an opening for a live announcer for the supercross series came up, she got a shot.
“The guys who ran supercross, they knew of me because I had been around and I had written for supercross.com and they brought me on,” she said. “They said ‘we’ll hire you to do it for one week and we’ll see how you do and go on to the next and next.’"
From there Little graduated to the ESPN2 team, covering more off-beat sports like rock crawling and squash. Eventually she identified Rich Feinberg (now vice president, production, motorsports) as the guy in charge of the motoracing beat.
“I pitched myself to him for 20 minutes,” Little said. “I said ‘give me a shot at X games. I promise I won’t let you down.’” She got the gig, then went on to supercross and motocross, into IndyCar in 2004 and finally onto the ESPN NASCAR team in 2007.
Even after all this time, Little says she still gets a little jittery right before she goes on air.
“I think it’s very similar to a driver where they are nervous beforehand but once you finally get buckled into the race car and I finally get buckled into my head set and my microphone and I have my pack on and you do your first on-camera, then you just take a breath,” Little said. “Then the rest is just adrenalin. The ponytail is flying; I’m running; things are happening.”
Little’s formidable, bouncing ponytail has become her trademark “man-killing ponytail” and conveys her energy on pit lane.
“I work really, really hard. I’m totally devoted to my job. I’m totally devoted to ESPN. I’m super-passionate about racing. So I think I bring stories and angles that create excitement for people. I have a sort of an excited delivery and energy.
Passion for the sport is key, Little said, or the grueling nature of constant travel, prep and performance would make it unbearable.
“The coverage to the extent that all of us do with ESPN, the amount of racing that we do, you have to be a race fan to do it,” said Little. “It would be like hell if you are not a race fan. It is a lot of work. The amount of drivers especially in NASCAR, the changes every week, the story lines, the amount of coverage. It’s just our lifestyle. If you didn’t love it, it would be nightmare.”
Little estimates she’ll travel 37 or 38 times during the race season.
"It can get long and it can get grueling, but at the end of the day I love my job so much,” said Little. “I’m lucky that I get to go home (to a husband in Las Vegas) every week. There are so many more people who have to travel, like the people pulling cable for ESPN. When I’m having a beer after the race they are still pulling the cable and will be there for two more days, so I’m lucky to have my job.”
Now that she’s a veteran, Little finds that aspiring pit reporters and sports journalists are starting to spot her ESPN microphone and come up to her, just as Little did to her mentors way back when.
“I just tell them go to school for journalism; don’t go for broadcasting,” Little said. “Learn how to write first, that’s what I did, and that will teach you how to speak correctly. Then follow something that you love. Go after it. Whether it’s rally car, NASCAR, IndyCar or whatever, go after it.”