This NASCAR season is particularly special on a few levels, with it being the sport’s 75th anniversary overall, the 65th anniversary of the Daytona 500, and the 20th running of the Daytona 500 on Fox (Sunday, Feb. 19, 1:30 p.m. ET). Ahead of the Cup Series season proper, NASCAR held the second-ever 150-lap Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Feb. 5, but the Cup Series itself starts at Daytona. Ahead of this season, NASCAR on Fox voices Shannon Spake, Jamie McMurray (shown second and fourth from left respectively above on the NASCAR Race Hub set at the Coliseum ahead of the Clash, with Adam Alexander, Larry McReynolds, and Michael Waltrip), and Kaitlyn Vincie spoke to AA about how Fox’s NASCAR studio coverage has grown and changed over the years.
All of those voices, who are just a few of the many involved in NASCAR on Fox coverage (which itself is in its 23rd season), are hitting notable milestones this year. Spake is hosting Cup Series coverage for the fifth consecutive year, while Vincie is hosting Truck Series pre-race coverage for the fifth straight year, and McMurray is in his fifth year as a Fox NASCAR analyst. They all contribute in a variety of roles, including on the daily NASCAR Race Hub (6 p.m. ET weekdays on FS1) and on weekend pre-race, race, and post-race coverage. Spake said she’s thrilled to continue covering NASCAR.
“NASCAR to me feels like home. It’s something I’ve covered for 18 years now. And it really does feel like it’s part of me. It’s in my DNA. And I get to do it now at the highest level with the countdown show, with the prerace show. and then obviously with the races.”
“And to be a part of creating an hour- or two-hour show every week and sometimes every day…when you get to a certain point in your career, and I felt like I was at that point and had these stories to tell, because I’ve been to some really special events, and the platform that I have with the longer format really allows me to use my experiences in a longer way and use them to be really creative.”
Spake said she loves getting to work with the Fox team, and the five years she’s spent hosting the NASCAR RaceDay show for Xfinity and Cup series races on weekends have particularly flown by.
“My jaw dropped to the ground. I can’t believe it’s been five years since it began. …And to work with Jamie and Larry, I feel like I get to work with some of my best friends every single weekend. I feel like the three of us have just developed such a chemistry. Jamie and I have known each other since, I would say, 2004 or 2005, when he was a driver and I was at ESPN. We always got along and had sort of a brother-sister relationship, and that’s developed.”
“And of course Larry has to sit between us, and obviously I’ve known Larry for forever as well. And it’s just impossible not to respect that man for the amount of work and the amount of time he’s been in this sport. And the three of us together, with Larry in between Jamie and I, cutting jokes and making fun and having a good time, and then you’ve got the serious Larry McReynolds who’s absolutely right to round out the three of us.”
As for McMurray, he said it’s hard to believe it’s been five years since he joined Fox following a long driving career. He said that was a challenging move to make at first, with TV being so different than racing.
“When you first make the transition, it’s a little bit overwhelming,” he said. “”In all honesty, my first year, I couldn’t even read a rundown. They’d send me this, and there was commercial traffic built into it, and I would just kind of scan it for my name, and go ‘Okay, this is what they want me to talk about.’ And it’s not that they wouldn’t help you, I look at a rundown now and it’s really easy, but at the time, I didn’t know how to read it. That’s so much better now.”
He said he also had to learn how to modify his comments for an audience that isn’t necessarily as familiar with all the technical specifics as those inside the sport.
“And to go straight from driving to TV, it’s really easy to get into a mode where when you want to talk about an issue, you assume that everybody knows what you’re talking about. From here, I could tell they were being nice, but they were always ‘You’ve got to kind of dumb it down a little bit.’ They used to always say ‘Say it to your mother.’ So now, when I see something, I feel like I do a better job of explaining that in simpler terms.”
He said he’s loved broadcasting as a way to stay involved in racing, though.
“That’s been great. I have friends who don’t race any more and are trying to figure out what life is. Because you get to go every weekend, racing, and then all of a sudden, you stop, and you have a lot of time on your hands. It’s been a great way to not just stay involved, but TV is also so much different than driving. The driving part of it, you’re racing the car on weekends, but during the week, there’s either sponsor commitments or going to the shop…it’s quite a bit busier. TV, it’s kind of planned out, you know what your next week looks like, so it’s not nearly as chaotic as driving. And getting to do TV, getting to be involved and engaged and stay around what you did your entire life, that’s great. I really enjoy that part of it.”
McMurray works across Fox NASCAR properties, including those weekend NASCAR RaceDay broadcasts and weekday NASCAR Race Hub shows, and he’s also called both Xfinity and Cup series races for them. He said each is a different experience.
“They’re all quite a bit different, even though you’re covering the same sport. The booth work, it’s really hard to plan for, you read through some stuff, but you’re really reacting to what you see. And it’s exciting to be in the booth, there’s some adrenaline to being at the racetrack, the smells, the sounds. …The studio is easier to prep for, because typically we know we might want to talk about that show.”
And he said when it comes to the weekday Race Hub shows in particular, it’s possible for the analysts to dive in to details more given the audience.
“They allow us to maybe get a little more in-depth, because typically the fan, the viewer who tunes into RaceHub is a diehard fan, they already know what’s going on. …That allows us to get a little deeper and more technical.”
Vincie (seen at right) has been on Race Hub since 2012, beginning as a reporter and switching to a hosting role in 2020. She said she’s loved getting to work there, and it’s a great place to tell the stories of those involved in NASCAR.
“I’m really thrilled to have been a part of that since 2012. It’s where I first began [at Fox],” she said. “Doing a daily NASCAR show for 10 months of the year is no small feat. That group, they do an amazing job of keeping it fresh, keeping it exciting, really telling the true stories of the people in the sport. With the daily show, we really have the luxury of expanding outside of the box of just drivers and crew chiefs, telling a lot of the stories of the garage area, from pit crew to road crew members to public relations representatives. Anyone who warrants a good story is on our list.”
She said that hosting role has been particularly special for her.
“It’s huge for me, for someone who as a teenager wanted to do this, and who has achieved the goal of being with Fox Sports and working on NASCAR. As a studio host, you’re kind of the one who is sort of guiding the show per se. And that’s a big responsibility in a lot of ways. I don’t take that lightly. Every single show I do, and every time I go into Fox Sports, there is never a day that I’m not happy to be there, just happy that I’m the one who gets to be a part of this, telling these stories and working with all these different analysts. It does mean a lot, because this is all I ever wanted to do. So for me, every day is a great day.”
On working up to that hosting role, Vincie said that fulfilled a long-term dream.
“Racing really is part of my identity at this point. I’ve done sports since I was just a teenager, but when I was in college was when I first started going to races, and I really honed in on this goal of becoming a reporter at the top level. And now that I’ve crossed that threshold, back in 2012, working at Fox, all the greatest things in my life have come from racing: my career, my friendships, I met my husband through the sport. It feels so much bigger than just a sport to me. It really does feel like part of who I am, and some of the greatest people and greatest moments in my life have come from racing.”
She said she picked up her love of racing because of its details.
“I was first drawn to it just because of how complex it was. I didn’t grow up in a racing family, so I felt like if I was able to learn the sport of NASCAR, I would have accomplished something. Because it’s very deep, it’s very intricate; if you didn’t grow up working on cars, if you’re not mechanically inclined, it is a lot to learn. So I saw it as a huge challenge as a teenager when I first set out to do this. And I was fortunate that I studied a lot while I was at school, and had amazing opportunities while I was at school that helped me get to Fox.”
The 10-month run of Race Hub can be challenging at times, but Vincie said it’s helpful to be able to focus on different series at different times.
“It’s a grind, it’s a long season, but we’re able to make every show different. Of course there’s overlap in conversations and things like that. But the nice thing about NASCAR is you do have four series that you’re working with, three at the top and now ARCA as well, we’re doing all of those races for Fox. So you have the luxury of having a lot of different storylines and themes and drivers to work with, which I think is really helpful. And this is a really unique show in the NASCAR space. But there really never seems to be a shortage of storylines, which I think is just a testament to the sport as a whole, how much it’s growing and evolving. It’s seen a lot of change over recent years. That is great for us on the inside of things to always have plenty to talk about.”
Vincie said Race Hub has changed a lot over the years, with the virtual set they debuted in 2019 providing new opportunities, and with top drivers and others coming through the show so quickly after races.
“It’s grown a lot. The virtual set has opened up a lot of different opportunities for us to really do full show and tell elements. We also have such an incredible group of rotating analysts, the drivers that come through: Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, former crew chiefs like Chad Knaus, who of course is now overseeing Hendrick Motorsports. So that’s another thing that’s really elevated the show, to line up the people that we have, people that are just stepping out of the race car and stepping into our studio to explain what they were hearing and seeing in the race car. I think that adds a lot to our show.”
Spake said Race Hub has seen particular changes since the pandemic, shifting to a single-host show where one of her, Vincie, Adam Alexander, or Josh Sims is now in that chair and joined by a rotating cast of analysts. She said the key focus for the host has to making that work from a chemistry standpoint.
“Race Hub‘s evolved a lot since COVID. Before COVID, obviously, it was a two-host show, so Adam [Alexander] and I were on all the time together. And now, it is a single-host show. And I think the thing with Race Hub is that you’re having these different analysts come in every single day, so sometimes I won’t work with the same people for a week. So now developing those relationships with those analysts on that particular day, and figuring out how to get those two analysts to interact in the best way that they can. And that’s really your job [as a host].”
“Whereas when I do the RaceDay show on the weekend, the chemistry between the three of us is already there, we don’t need to say anything, it’s just there. And I feel like with the RaceHub show, we’re really trying to create that during rehearsal. And we have such great analysts who come in, and we have fun, and they’re really relaxed, and super smart, and can really talk about the sport. But I think you have a great responsibility on that Race Hub show to really be sort of the person that gets everybody to work together.”
Race Hub is an unusual show, one of the few things (and the only sport-specific show) left from FS1’s 2013 original programming lineup. And it dates back before that, beginning in 2009 on FS1 predecessor Speed. It’s consistently received both viewer and network support despite now being on a general-sports channel, and Spake said that’s a tribute to those who work on it.
“There’s no question, it works because of the people. And not just the people that are in front of the camera, the people that are behind the camera. We love this sport so much, and we have a really good time together, and I think that comes through. …I don’t think there’s a time that [the analysts] don’t ever walk away without going ‘That was fun.’ And again, that’s the responsibility of, whether it’s myself or Adam or Kaitlyn or Josh, it’s our responsibility to make fun. We’re talking about racing!”
Spake said it also helps to have the consistent time slot, and to have those top drivers come in and give their post-race thoughts.
“We’ve worked so hard to get our show at 6 o’clock every single night,” she said. “And what’s really different about our show is that we get those drivers. You’re not necessarily getting some of the top guys in the NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball or some of those other sports, especially to talk to you the day after the event. We’re getting the Joey Loganos and the Kyle Buschs, the Bubba Wallaces, the Kurt Buschs, we’re getting the guys who were part of that event just 24 hours prior, on our show to talk about exactly what happened. And I give so much credit to the drivers who come on this show.”
She said that can lead to uncomfortable moments at times given these drivers’ on-track interactions, but even those sometimes make for good TV.
“Sometimes it’s not comfortable. Last year, we had A.J. Allmendinger, and Ross Chastain was an analyst, and that was the Monday after Circuit of the Americas [where Chastain bumped teammate Allmendinger]. And Ross tries to interview A.J., and you have to give those guys a ton of credit for going ‘All right, I get it, it’s part of it, and we’ve got to get this done.’ Because, you know, that’s not always the case with athletes, particularly with when it comes to an event like what happened at COTA. And we had Joey Logano on after his fistfight with Kyle Busch and talked about it. So, you know, you’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit. And I think that shows with the people on our show, the trust factor that those drivers have in Adam and Kaitlyn and Josh and myself, and certainly the people behind the scenes.”
For Spake, while racing is a focus, she’s also covered college football, college basketball, and the NFL for Fox. And she said she loves getting to do all of that.
“I feel so blessed and so lucky to be a part of the Fox Sports family. My entire career, I feel like my goal was to be diverse and cover different sports. I used to look at people like Hannah Storm and how many different sports she would cover, and that was what I wanted to do in my career. And Fox has allowed me to do that and given me so many different opportunities to grow and to be on some of the biggest platforms that the network has, which is a dream come true.”
[Top photo from Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for Fox Sports]