From childbirth to pit row
By Tina Akouris email@example.com September 15, 2012 8:46PM
ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little works the Dollar General 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Saturday, September 15, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:50AM
Danica Patrick walked into the media center at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Friday morning and bellowed “Mama!” as soon as she saw ESPN pit reporter Jamie Little.
Patrick’s response may have a more personal undertone, since her sister is marrying Little’s brother-in-law at the end of the year. But that’s the kind of reception Little has received from nearly everyone in the NASCAR community in her first week back from the birth of her first child, son Carter.
Little missed five weeks, but she has kept up with NASCAR in the weeks leading up to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, which starts at Chicagoland with Sunday’s GEICO 400.
Not only does Little have to keep track of the Cup series, but she also reports on the Nationwide series. Before traveling to Joliet, Little wasn’t even sure how many hours or days she spent preparing for the Chase weekend.
“I watched [NASCAR coverage] in the hospital and it was one way to stay connected to the sport,” Little said. “It felt normal.”
Little was nervous about going back to work in Saturday’s Dollar General 300 Nationwide race Saturday on ESPN2, but she was also battling the emotions of being away from Carter. Little had to leave the baby at home in Las Vegas with her husband.
But she’s got a good support staff and during her pregnancy she and Kevin Harvick’s wife, DeLana, became good friends. DeLana Harvick gave birth to a son a few weeks before Little had her child, and the two have traded emails about new motherhood.
“There are so many different emotions now,” Little said. “I gained 50 pounds during the pregnancy and there’s your image to think about and the separation anxiety. Every day I’ve been on my computer and on Twitter and I’m trying to do that on a daily basis.”
Little started the telecast doing interviews during driver introductions on a stage set up on the track right by the start/finish line. Little and her spotter, Diana Hubbard, have a list of four drivers they need to follow: pole sitter Joey Logano, Sam Hornish Jr., NNS points leader Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard.
The pre-race events for Little and Hubbard are all scripted.
“And then it’s by the seat of our pants,” Hubbard said.
One of Hubbard’s responsibilities is to take the track temperature pre-race. Saturday it was 107 degrees when the race began at about 2:50 p.m., the hottest the track has been all week, Hubbard said.
Little said she thought attendance was fairly average compared to other NNS races this season, except for Daytona which draws a lot no matter what.
Little, who has been with the network since 2002, stationed herself at Logano’s pit box since he was the pole sitter and last won at Chicagoland in 2009.
Little began watching the race on a small camera held by an assistant. The race feed was on real time, whereas the TV feeds on the pit boxes are on a three-second delay. Every time there was a pit stop, Little and her crew had to move behind a yellow line to stay out of the way.
“Every once in a while I’ll get hit by an errant tire or trip over a hose,” Little said. “But we have to wear firesuits for a reason — it’s protection.”
With the race humming along and no wrecks, Little left Logano’s box and went over to Sadler’s on lap 89 of the 200-lap race. Sadler was running fifth and was in a battle with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the points lead.
Little began reporting on “up to speeds,” how each of her drivers were doing during the race and on pit stops. Hubbard ended up doing more running around than Little, going back and forth from Little’s position to other pit stalls to get information verified that Hubbard heard on her scanner.
“I wasn’t worried about the physical aspect, but I’ve been away and I haven’t been able to talk to everybody,” Little said.
Midway through the race, Little’s producer, Rene Hatlelid, informed the crew that there will be a “hurry up” to get off the air for the Florida-Tennessee game on ESPN2 and the four cautions — out of five total — have chewed up too much of the broadcast.
With Logano fading, Little leaves for Sadler’s pit stall, only the third time she’s trekked over during the race. But a few laps later, Menard makes a move into the top three and Little and Hubbard dash a couple stalls over to get a Menard update.
With Menard running up high and challenging for the lead, Little gets word that she should be prepared to head over to Victory Lane at the race’s conclusion. Little can only report from Victory Lane if one of her drivers wins.
But with 10 laps to go and Menard out of the top three, Hatlelid gives Little a new directive — follow Sadler to the garage. Sadler is about to lose the points lead.
“Pull the trigger,” Hatelid said. “The priority is the No. 2 car.”
After Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wins and Sadler finishes eighth, Little gets word that Sadler doesn’t want to talk.
“Stick with him, Jamie,” Hatelid said.
She does and persistence pays off. Sadler speaks briefly and Little’s day is over.
“You know the personalities that are going to [ignore] you, and usually it’s Kyle Busch or Tony Stewart if they’ve had a bad day,” Little said. “There wasn’t too much chaos. The big story here was the championship hunt and that’s what we were watching with Elliott, that things took a turn for the worse and now he’s down in the points.”