When IndyCar's Ryan Briscoe hits the streets of Toronto this weekend, for once his wife won't have to watch the race at a bar. In Connecticut. Possibly with white wine. And often while pacing.
That's because Ryan will get a rare, full race weekend at the track with his wife, Nicole, a ESPN journalist specializing in NASCAR and newest Woman of pressdog®.
"One of the guys who works (at the hotel) in management, he knows when Ryan races so in the bar they make sure I have a table next to the biggest TV in the bar -- it’s reserved for me everything -- and they make sure the race is on when I get in there and that’s what I do," said Briscoe. "That’s how I get to watch most of the races. I watch it on TV like everyone else does."
Briscoe said she usually watches the race quietly ... but not so calmly.
"I am actually very quiet and I don’t yell and scream but ... ah ... I pace," she said. And when things get tight -- like when Ryan went wheel-to-wheel at Texas Motor Speedway this year, for example -- she paces a lot.
"The night of the Texas race there ended up being a small table of people behind me," she said. "When they got up to leave they said, 'OK, who do you know in this race?' and I said 'My husband' and they said 'Oh, we knew it had to be someone,' -- because I was obviously into it."
And when Ryan Briscoe wins -- as he did at Texas in 2010 -- a celebratory lap around the bar is in order.
"I ran around like a buffoon in the bar," she said with a laugh. "The people there they knew what was going on so they were yelling and screaming and jumping up and down. He has is own little cheering section in Connecticut."
The cheering between Nicole and Ryan actually started about five years ago in Indianapolis, when the then Nicole Manske worked as a sports reporter for WISH TV and pit reporter for IMS Radio Network.
"We met when we both lived in Indy," she said. "It did not happen right away. We knew each other for a solid year. And then he had that accident in Chicago in 2005 (which Nicole worked as a pit reporter), and I didn’t see him again from September to January. Then I ran into him. I had worked a basketball game for WISH I went out in Broadripple with some of my friends and I ran into him there. That’s kind of how it started and I haven’t been really away from him since."
"Away" is a relative term for a couple whose jobs often separate them by several states. Thank God for the cell phone, which Briscoe works during and after the race.
"During the Iowa race I was sending him text message during the race," Briscoe said. "Comments and stuff. Like 'What were you thinking when this happened?' and 'Why did this happen?' I was like 'If he starts to respond to these he’s got a massive problem.' It was just things that happen at the middle of the race that I wanted to make a comment on so I would just send him a text message."
The messages are there for Ryan to review after the race. It's a way for Nicole to document her reactions during the race and preserve them for when Ryan has time to review and discuss.
Even though Nicole is now a regular on ESPN's NASCAR Now program and other NASCAR coverage and married to an IndyCar driver, she didn't start off aimed at motorsports. If anything, her path was toward "stick-and-ball" sports, she said.
"I'm from Wisconsin and grew up in northern Illinois. My family were stick and ball (sports fan) and were big, huge Packer fans. I mean huge; it’s ridiculous. It was so much a part of my childhood. The way I was raised was every Sunday we’d get together to watch the Packers play. It was my mom and my dad and my brother, but also my grandparents and my cousins and my aunts and uncles. It was a family gathering so it’s a sport but it’s also a family thing for me. I think we moved to Illinois and the Bulls were good so we kind of became bandwagon Bulls fans and my first baseball game was at Wrigley Field."
Nicole said she always wanted to "know things" even as a child, so one day her mom suggested she consider a profession based on 1) finding things out and 2) telling others: journalism.
That seed took root, and Briscoe said by age 11 she had her entire career plan mapped out. A series of jobs progressed Nicole up the TV news food chain until she got a chance to make the jump to sports. She said no to a news job in Charlotte and yes to a sports job at WISH in Indianapolis in April 2004. Briscoe was very comfortable in the world of the Pacers and the Colts, but she had never seen a race car on a track, ever. So her April arrival in Indy meant Briscoe was plunged almost immediately into the total-saturation world of fast cars and a big, rectangular race track.
"I remember the first rookie orientation before the month of May started back then," said Briscoe. "I was so intimidated by that place and the speed and the different language. I spent pretty much the next year trying to learn everything I could about motorsports."
Soon Briscoe had learned enough to get a shot as a pit reporter for the IMS Radio Network.
"Remember when Buddy Rice flipped over Darren Manning and landing on his head (at Chicagoland 2004)? That was my very first race. Kind of like my audition. I did that race as a pit reporter and I was lucky enough that they liked me."
Nothing like airborne carbon fiber to test the TV coverage squad. Briscoe's memory of the moment was an eerie foreshadowing of her life just a few years into the future.
"I remember looking at Buddy’s (girlfriend and now wife), her face, as she was waiting for them to flip the car over, and that moment still kind of sticks with me. It’s still ingrained in my memory," Briscoe said.
Now that she's married to an IndyCar driver -- one who had his own catch fence fireball moment at Chicagoland Speedway in 2005 -- Briscoe admits she fears being in Buddy Rice's wife's shoes one day.
"How an you not (fear that)?" she said. "I always say my Ryan is different than the Ryan everyone sees at the race track. I get the goofy, the funny Ryan, the guy I married, but he does have a different side to him. The serious, the competitive the side that gets in the race car.
"I always joke I’d saw off my arm to have him win the Indy 500. There are so many things -- like you really want them to do well but you have no control. I have no control over their success or their failures of if they get hurt, so it’s very hard to sit there when they are running wheel-to-wheel like in Texas when he was running wheel-to-wheel with Sato and I was just FREAKING OUT as I’m watching it on TV. Because that’s my guy in the car. That’s my husband. That’s the guy that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses but it does matter if he comes home. I was freaking. I’m like 'please stop.'"
Maybe the zenith (so far) of stress was when Ryan drove his first oval race after going into the catch fence in Chicagoland. The two were a new couple then.
"I remember his first oval back (after the accident) it was with Dreyer & Reinbold at Nashville," she said. "I was here (in North Carolina) at our old condominium. We had just moved in here a week earlier so we didn't know anybody and I was just alone with my TV. It wasn't even on the wall yet, it was sitting in front of the fireplace. I bypassed the glass and just drank straight from the (white wine) bottle. I remember sitting in front of the TV, cross-legged, starring at it."
The occasionally wine chugging IndyCar wife Nicole is a contrast to the cool-and-steady delivery of the professional Nicole Briscoe. She rarely seems to get stressed, not even in the most airway-closing situations, like a live interview with President Barack Obama at the White House early in his administration.
"I was so nervous," she said. "That's a really intimidating environment. We were on the south lawn, and you go in there and then you start to look around and you start to notice people in bushes and up on the roof and the whole place is intimidating and it’s very cool. And then the president comes out and the president was very presidential but also very welcoming and kind. Very cool. It’s going to take a lot to top that day."
Nicole and Ryan's high-profile jobs also give them a few things in common. For one, there's the thrill of a no-second-chances, live performance.
"I would rather do it (her appearances on ESPN) live -- a 100 times over," Briscoe said. "There’s a certain adrenalin that goes with doing it live. Like you can’t mess it up. If you know you are taping it there’s an odd comfort and you’re not as sharp."
Then there's the common trials that come with having such a very public job.
"You have to have thick skin (in her business) and you have to know that not everyone is going to love you," Briscoe said. "Not everyone is going to think you are good at your job. Not everyone is going to think you are pretty. Not everyone is going to like the sound of your voice. Not everyone is going to think you are smart. It’s just a part of life; it’s just a bit more magnified when you have more eyes on you."
That goes for whether you're a NASCAR reporter on the nation's sports superpower network or an IndyCar driver on one of the league's big two teams.
"It’s really nice to have someone that does understand," Briscoe said. "Our jobs are very different but there are elements of it that make it familiar, so Ryan does understand it’s in the public eye. There’s pressure, there’s stress that goes with it. It is nice to have someone who understands that so when I'm having a good day or having a bad day he he knows it; he’s been there in one way or another."
Away from the track the Briscoes enjoy improving their home in North Carolina, much of which Nicole tweets about from her @RB_Mrs Twitter account. Nicole said she's a bit of a "home body," loves to cook and admits she has a bit of a landscaping fixation, even to the point of driving rented earth-moving equipment. "I dug the pond by myself I put in a 100-some plants by myself and spread all the rock. Me and the pickup became one for a while there. Now there's talk of a garage extension ..."
As for living in both NASCAR and IndyCar worlds, Briscoe said it's really not that challenging. She and Ryan were a couple when she got hired at ESPN in 2008, so her relationship with Ryan was always out in the open and the bosses knew what they were getting. Nicole's job is exclusively NASCAR, and she plans to keep it that way.
"I don’t have any desire to do IndyCar as a part of my job," Briscoe said. "I love the sport, I really do, and I think it’s great and I think there’s a lot of potential there to grow and make it great like it used to be but I have zero desire to be a part of it (as a journalist) because I have zero desire to pretend like I don’t care. If I were to do that (cover IndyCar) I couldn’t carem and I don’t want to pretend that I don’t care because I do care. I do love it and I do love him."