My Brain on NASCAR: Mother of twins enjoys life in pits

Shannon Spake says that when she was carrying her twins, she often wondered what the future would hold if the babies were girls.

“I go to work in sneakers and a ponytail most days. I spend a lot of time hanging around garages,” she says. “I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of a role model I would make for two little girls!”

It turned out to be a moot point. The identical twins, now enjoying their “Terrific 2s,” are boys.

Spake, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, acquired some of her early NASCAR experience with the SPEED Channel. She regularly serves as a host for NASCAR Now, ESPN’s daily racing news and information show, and is a frequent SportsCenter contributor.

She covered the action courtside at the 2012 NCAA Final Four, and has worked for ESPN and ESPN Radio as a college football sideline reporter, but she is probably best known to readers of this column as a pit reporter during many of the network’s race telecasts.

From the outside looking in, a NASCAR television personality appears to lead a glamorous life. At one time or another, nearly every race fan has dreamed of what it might be like to travel to a different city each week, rubbing shoulders with the superstars of the sport and getting the ultimate up-close-and-personal look at the action.

The reality of the situation is quite different. On race weekend, Shannon catches the final Thursday night flight out of Charlotte to her destination city, in order to spend as much time as possible with her sons.

Once settled into her hotel, it’s off to bed. “I hate to admit it, but I don’t really get out and ‘experience’ the cities like some people do. I eat a lot of room service and watch a lot of movies,” she says, adding that, “sometimes I just look at a white wall and enjoy the calm before the storm.”

The ESPN workday begins around sunrise. Pre-event activities include attending meetings, chasing stories, lining up and conducting interview segments with the drivers at the center of those stories, writing copy, and doing live spots for the network. And that’s all before breakfast.

Spake apparently has an affinity for endurance sports; did I mention that she is also an avid marathon runner?

After the start of the race, things get even more taxing. The physical challenges alone are fierce, as pit reporters constantly prowl around the hectic pit road and garage area, wearing a heavy fire suit in temperatures that sometimes approach the 100-degree mark.

Additionally, Shannon’s brain must serve as a filing cabinet as she organizes the information that comes in from all sides. Simultaneously, she is in constant contact with the ESPN command center, and scans all 43 driver-to-crew-chief and NASCAR radio channels as she visually monitors the action going on around her in order to be wherever she is needed, fast. There are wrap-up interviews after the race, and then it’s back home to rest up for another trip to a different city.

Spake can’t always be at home with her sons and her husband, but she says that, in a way, the racing community helps to fill the gap. It isn’t always smooth sailing, necessarily – tempers do tend to flare at racetracks – but Shannon stands by the description of NASCAR as a “family.”

“You hear that term a lot, and it’s really true,” she says. “Things happen from time to time, but in the end we all have a mutual respect and genuine fondness for one another. It’s a wonderful situation to be in. I definitely have the dream job.”

We have all heard it said that the best way to lead is by example. Spake is an outstanding figure for her sons to emulate, and is certainly respected by her peers, but she is an equally positive example to young girls.

In fact, educated, experienced, articulate, personable, healthy, hard-working and family-oriented Shannon Spake serves as a wonderful role model to us all.

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