New Kid On The Block

A lot of talk in NASCAR this year has focused on the “Young Guns” and the fact that many of today’s drivers don’t come from the traditional hotbeds of racing. The same is also the case with some of the personalities in NASCAR broadcasting.

Krista Voda, 28, the new reporter and sometimes-anchor for “Totally NASCAR,” has jumped into the weekly grind of the Winston Cup circuit full speed ahead. Her career path hasn’t been the standard pedigree of the media markets of the Southeast or the rich tradition of NASCAR broadcasters from New England.

Instead, Krista’s TV aspirations started in Clinton, Iowa, a town of 29,000 on the Mississippi River and less than 90 miles from the real-life “Field of Dreams.”

The first step to making her personal dream a reality was a degree from the University of Northern Iowa. “I definitely knew I wanted to work in sports, but was pretty open to any avenue,” she says.

Her first job in TV was as an intern at the NBC affiliate in the “little, little town” of Waterloo, Iowa. This internship turned into her first regular job, where she was a “go-fer” and had the opportunity for some on-air feature work.

From Waterloo, she moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where she took a job in radio ad sales.

“I had decided, ‘forget this TV business, I want to make money,’” says Voda. “I did the sales thing, and made money, but hated it, and decided to go back to TV.”

Being in the right place at the right time, she got a job at the NBC affiliate in Lexington, where she spent the past four years. She started as a sports reporter, moved up to a job as sports anchor for the noon newscast, and then became the weekend sports anchor.

In a fortunate twist of fate, she had worked with Gary Johnson, a photographer for “Totally NASCAR,” when they were both in Lexington. When Kirsten Gum left the show, Johnson contacted Voda, and after auditions, interviews, and waiting, she got the “Totally” gig.

Voda covered some NASCAR racing as a reporter in Lexington, but she knows that living and breathing NASCAR for a daily show is much different. She’s started by getting to know many of the key players in the Charlotte area and doing reading and research.

“I’ve been building a lot of files, a lot of track info files, drivers, teams, anything I can pull up, I print off articles, take down notes, to fill this base of knowledge until I have it in my head,” she says.

Voda’s efforts to learn have definitely been noticed by “Totally NASCAR” producer Ryan McGee. “The big thing that she has brought to the table in the early-going is a willingness to learn as much about racing as she possibly can,” he says. “She knew the sport pretty well when she started, but since walking in the door she has really concentrated on the details and the little nuances of NASCAR . . . She understands that we don't need her to come in and explain shock bleed or spring rates to everybody, but that doesn't stop her from wanting to learn about all of that stuff anyway. The guys in the garage always react best to one thing - good, smart questions. They get asked the same half dozen stupid questions seven days a week, so if they sense that somebody knows what you are talking about, they respond to it and make a point to remember you. She understood that immediately.”

Her first show as anchor was at the end of June. She admits, “I was just so excited to get it over with. Let me just get through a whole show and not make too many mistakes. It went pretty smoothly.”

There’s also an important parallel between Kentucky basketball, which she covered in Lexington, and NASCAR. Simply, both sports are actually a “religion” among their followers.

“There’s a definite comparison,” says Voda. “Not so much in the subject matter, but in the way people approach it. When I moved to Lexington, of course you know about Kentucky basketball, but you can’t really know it unless you’re there living it. That’s what I had to do. I really had to prepare myself before I went out.”

Voda is taking the same approach with NASCAR.

Her routine is pretty standard from week to week. During the second half of the season, she’s on the road at the track filing reports for Friday’s show and gathering material for the following week.

Then, when she’s back in Charlotte, she’ll visit race shops or work on other news and features. At the studio, she edits and writes her features. Of course, on the rare day in the second half when Steve Byrnes takes a day off to spend time with new son Bryson, Voda sits in at the anchor desk.

She also points out that she gets a lot of support from the “Totally NASCAR” staff.

“Coming from local TV . . . sometimes I would shoot my own stuff, edit, produce, anchor,” she says. “Whatever I had to do that day, I would do all of it. Here, we’ve got a half-hour show, daily, that’s on national TV, so the stakes are a lot higher. Because you have such a bigger product, you’ve got a lot more people working on things.

“So that’s a hard thing for me to get used to. When I go out on a story, I have a producer with me that may end up actually writing a good chunk of the piece. My job might be just to kind of be there to formulate it and to say, ‘Here’s the vision I have. Let’s do it this way.’ She may say, ‘No, let’s do it this way.’ We kind of work together. It’s good because it helps me out. That’s how Ryan explains it to me, is that all these people are here to help the show and help Steve (Byrnes) and I have the best on-air product. But it’s hard when you’re used to doing everything . . . I have to learn to loosen the reins a little bit. But everyone really knows their stuff.”

Producer Ryan McGee says it’s her attitude that has helped Voda be a team player from the beginning. “It's always tough to come in halfway through the season,” he says. “But she's moved right in and fit in perfectly. One of the first things she did was take time to get to know everyone on the staff individually. She and (reporter) Sean Pragano sat down and talked about their ideas and have always gone out of their way to make sure they aren't stepping on each others' toes. So much of this business is chemistry, and it's obviously been important to her from the beginning to make her transition as smooth as possible.”

Part of that transition personally has been the Voda family’s reaction to her work. There’s a certain guy in Clinton, Iowa who now knows as much about Bobbly Labonte and Sterling Marlin as he does about Chuck Long and Hayden Fry. “My dad, I’ve turned him into a NASCAR fan,” she says. “He likes to follow what I’m doing . . . He’s kind of living vicariously through what I do.”

Krista has just one request for her dad though: Don’t e-mail the show any more. “He e-mailed the show one day and I was totally embarrassed,” Voda says with little actual embarrassment. “But it was so genuine, it was so him . . . I called him and was like, ‘Dad, you can’t e-mail the show.’”

All things considered, Voda should fit in just fine. In the pressure cooker of life as member of the NASCAR media, if her biggest worry is her dad sending a nice e-mail, the future holds lots of promise.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: The Brickyard 400 was the most-watched sporting event of the weekend. The overnight rating for NBC was a 5.7 with a 12 share, tying last year’s record-setting number. But it will need a solid small market bump to reach last year’s final rating of 6.2 when the final numbers come out on Thursday.

The ratings for the Pocono Winston Cup race on TNT turned in a final cable number of 5.0, down four percent from last year’s 5.2. This number was good enough for the #1 slot on all of cable TV for the week. NASCAR viewers once again showed their dedication by having the track repair segment and the rain delay coverage finish third and fifth, respectively, in the ratings for all of cable TV for the week. The post-race show was #2. WWE wrestling was the only other programming to place in the top six.

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