It’s hard to believe that another year of NASCAR racing wrapped up a month ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, the break between the season finale this past November and the upcoming Daytona Speedweeks in February is quite welcomed for drivers, teams, and the media.
For the drivers and crews, it’s been a reprieve from the tracks at places like New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway. As for the press, the offseason offers a respite to recharge and prepare for a new season in which changes loom in the world of stock car racing within the past two and a half months.
FOX NASCAR’s Danielle Trotta was certainly in the fast lane this year as the co-host for FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub weekday program, the host for FS1’s and FOX Sports’ NASCAR XFINITY Series telecasts from the Hollywood Hotel, and for FS1’s NASCAR Race Day program. Whether it’s sharing the latest racing news stories with colleague Adam Alexander at the studio or talking race strategy with Larry McReynolds and Kenny Wallace, she’s an integral member of the racing community in delivering information to the fans at home.
On Race Hub, Trotta engages the audience in discussing events from the prior race or upcoming changes to the sport with the rotating panelists ranging from crew chiefs of the past and present like Chad Knaus and Jeff Hammond, a stock car veteran like Wally Dallenbach, or Cup drivers like Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger. There’s a balance between information and entertainment in those interactions which keeps the focus of the longtime racing fans as well as newer audience members who learn about the sport through the show and broadcasts.
Recently, Trotta made her debut as a sideline reporter on NFL on FOX, a role which she revealed as a bucket list goal for her broadcasting career. Much like a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, it’s safe to say that she felt the electricity of covering a football game as the late Steve Byrnes enjoyed as a play-by-play announcer for the Carolina Panthers/Minnesota Vikings game in 2006 for NFL on FOX.
From the surprise Tom Cruise appearance for Jeff Gordon’s final award show speech in Las Vegas, NV earlier this month to her mindset during a live telecast from the studio at the racetrack, Trotta shares her insights and experiences with the year that was in stock car land. Without further ado, it’s time to get “In the Fast Lane with Danielle Trotta of FOX NASCAR” right here on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : It was quite the year in NASCAR in the major three series with Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher, and Erik Jones scoring their first championships in the Sprint Cup, XFINITY, and Camping World Truck divisions. How do you think each of these champions will represent our sport as its broadening its appeal to the masses?
Danielle Trotta : My hope is everyone encompassing the sport (NASCAR, teams, sponsors, TV, radio, and print (and web based entities) grasps the importance of engaging Generation Y (those born between ’80s and 2000) and Generation Z (those born post 2000). If we don’t tap into those demographics now and make them grow from just casual viewers to loyal viewers, I’m worried about the future of our sport.
Millennials are equipped with the latest technology and Generation Z is highly connected as they’re living in the age of high tech communication. It’s crucial that easy to access WiFi is available at every racetrack and all NASCAR related events. We also have to find ways to make stock cars relatable to the younger generations. We are blessed that all three champions of each respective series fall within the targeted demographic but it takes a village.
RT : In the Sprint Cup Series this year, we saw the last hurrah for Jeff Gordon, the breakthrough year for Joey Logano, and the Joe Gibbs Racing team asserting themselves as the dominant multicar effort. What do you think was the biggest storyline for you with NASCAR, in particular with this division?
DT : I think what we saw at the Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas captured the two big takeaways from 2015. The largest spotlight was shared between Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch and deservedly so. Jeff’s final season was an honor to cover and bravo to whoever executed the Tom Cruise surprise introduction as Jeff embarked on his final goodbye as a driver in the Cup Series.
I think NASCAR unfairly gets overlooked in the larger landscape of premier American sports. However, Kyle’s comeback from injury en route to winning his first Cup title is one of the greatest stories all time. Having the determination to rehab as quickly as he did climbing back inside the top-30 and winning multiple races made the mountain of a 10-week Chase seem more like a hill that he could easily see the top of.
Becoming a father for the first time also took Kyle outside of himself and it seemed to deliver a shift in focus and perspective. The mental fortitude and maturity he displayed throughout the regular season made him an easy choice for me to pick as the champion before the Chase started in September.
RT : On Race Hub, it was neat seeing a rotating driver and crew chief panel as FS1 had the likes of AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, and Brad Keselowski work with Drew Blickensderfer, Luke Lambert, and Chad Knaus. How enjoyable was it to talk racing with your contemporaries especially in the Monday and Tuesday airings?
DT : Add Daytona 500 Champion Joey Logano into that mix as well! It was definitely one of the greatest additions we made to the show in 2015. I credit our Coordinating Producer, Josh Earl for spearheading that initiative. Having analysts who are on track each weekend elevated the perspective and analysis we could offer the fans.
We will continue to ramp up that effort with Jeff Gordon as a Race Hub analyst in 2016. He may not be on track next season, but he’s so recently removed and competed at a champion’s level for over two decades so he’ll have a profound impact.
We’re proud many of our current driver and crew chief analysts will be back on Race Hub in 2016. They really enjoy being a part of the process and we love picking their brains. Our cast is what elevates us over the competition.
RT : You got to host the XFINITY pre-race show at each venue that FS1 and FOX NASCAR covered in 2015. In comparison to co-hosting a studio show during the weekdays, what’s it like to be the on-air conductor or on-track studio host for a live racing telecast this season?
DT : The XFINITY telecast was one of the most challenging and enjoyable experiences of my entire career. Studio shows are scripted to some extent, in terms of knowing which hot topics to recap from the races, but during a live race you are not recapping – you’re reacting live to whatever is happening on track. There’s a huge difference between the two and it’s the reason I was excited to take on that challenge.
My very first NASCAR RaceDay-XFINITY telecast featured the horrific crash of Kyle Busch at Daytona. There’s no way to prepare for the magnitude of that moment but it’s something that definitely draws out every journalistic instinct you have.
What made it so enjoyable was being surrounded by some of the best talent in all of sports broadcasting from our on-air folks to our behind the scenes crew. After our final race last season, we all hugged each other like it was the last time we’d ever be together! (laughs) My boss happened to walk into the Hollywood Hotel as the embraces and goodbyes were happening and he was like, “What is this all about? You’ll be together again next season!”
We still laugh about that moment but it is a great example of the bond we all created in FOX and FS1’s first season covering the XFINITY Series. I can’t wait to be back inside the Hollywood Hotel and do it all over again in 2016.
RT : Now I’ve got to ask since you’re in North Carolina – what’s the pulse like being in Panthers nation and seeing this team in the midst of their best year in the NFL?
DT : During the preseason, no one around the league – never mind in the Carolinas – expected this kind of historic success. To go this deep into the season and remain undefeated has created a buzz in Charlotte that’s tangible.
Becoming a part of the NFL on FOX broadcasting team this season, I was able to get on field during several home games and I’d look up into the stands and see our fans as electric as I’ve seen in my 12 years living in Charlotte – it gave me chills. We are all dabbing thanks to Cam Newton!
Playoff tickets went on sale this past Tuesday at 6 pm ET and they were likely gone by 6:05. It’s a very proud sports moment for our city and you sense a deep desire by almost everyone in town to be a part of it.
RT : Let’s talk a bit about off-track stuff. What are some of your favorite things to do when you’re unwinding from a busy week in the studio or even now in the offseason?
DT : Being able to unwind is nearly impossible during the FOX NASCAR portion of the season, but yoga and working are great outlets. In July (when FOX’s portion of the Cup and XFINITY season is complete), it’s important to decompress and take a quick vacation. I’m so grateful to have bosses who understand the grind daily and weekend shows have on you over the course of 10 and a half months. Burying my feet in white sand next to the ocean, reading a good book and disconnecting for a second helps rejuvenate me for the second half of the year.
The off-season is another great time to rest. This December, I went to Italy and completely disconnected until I came home. I read recently that the average American leaves over a week of vacation days on the table and loses them by year’s end. That’s a shame. I believe that getting away, unplugging, and taking time for yourself makes you a stronger employee when you get back to the office.
RT : Going back to Race Hub, we saw some fun paint scheme unveiling from Jeff Gordon’s Homestead ride to Chase Elliott’s 2016 NAPA Chevy which was on simulcast in Times Square. What’s the anticipation like for you and your colleagues prior to going live and when you come across any tweets from the race fans about these new cars?
DT : Being a native New Yorker, I have so many childhood memories of my parents taking my sister and me into the city so being on live TV in Times Square was a special moment and a great display for Race Hub’s growing resume. The reason that specific event happened is because FOX, Hendrick Motorsports and their sponsors saw the value in that historic partnership.
It’s an honor that teams see our show as a place to make exclusive unveilings like Chase’s No. 24 car. It’s funny when we promote those types of shows as there are some writers and bloggers who try and “break” the paint scheme on social media before we do. What they don’t always understand is that many drafts are made of these paint schemes before a final one is achieved so leaked photos aren’t always accurate.
Race Hub isn’t in the business of getting facts wrong. If the Hub promotes an exclusive unveiling, that’s exactly what it is. We are glad our fans enjoy it because we love pulling the tarps off a car no one has seen before.
RT : We all miss our friend Steve Byrnes who impacted our lives in such a powerful way that’s kept his spirit and essence alive here. What’s your favorite story about Steve and do you have a particular saying or expression from him that you hold close to your heart?
DT : Steve and I shared the same snarky sense of humor and had so many inside jokes and things that made us laugh on and off camera. We got to the point in working together over the years that a simple glance would convey what the other was thinking. It’s rare to achieve that kind of closeness with a co-anchor on and off camera. There was a mutual respect and I considered him a close friend and mentor.
It wasn’t uncommon for one of us to call the other on the drive home after a show and vent about our likes and dislikes of that episode. The entire goal of those talks was to better each other and the product as well. He once told me that I had good instincts and how rare it is to have an innate sense of what makes good television – to trust my gut.
He taught me to fight for what I believe in and not be afraid to go after making my dreams come true. I wish he could have seen my debut on the sidelines because being part of an NFL on FOX telecast was a bucket list item we both achieved and we had discussed several times over the years. Even though he wasn’t there physically this past November, I know he was watching from above, and I know I made him proud.
RT : I’d like to think we got to know you well here a few years ago but before we close out this segment, what are perhaps three fun facts about you that might surprise our race fans here on TPF?
DT : I’ve signed on as the new host of FASHION D’LUXE, Charlotte’s premier Fashion Show. I’m dedicated to bringing local designers collections to the masses because the South has a distinct and relatable sense of style.
I’m performing in “Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte” for the Pink House benefitting Breast Cancer, in Memory of Sara Harris Bissell this coming spring.
I’ve become a fan of sports car racing and will be attending my first Rolex 24 in January. My boyfriend Robby Benton’s team, Change Racing, will be competing.
Author’s Notes : I’d like to thank Danielle for taking the time to recap the racing season at the track and the year in stock car land for NASCAR on FOX and FS1! All of the photos in the article are courtesy of FOX Sports.
You can catch Danielle and the Race Hub crew during the racing season on FS1 as well as on XFINITY race telecasts on FS1 and NASCAR on FOX! If you’d like to talk about racing or about the gridiron action this season, “Follow” Danielle right now on Twitter!
I’d also like to dedicate this article to our late colleague and friend Steve Byrnes. Please keep his wife Karen, his son Bryson, and his family in your hearts and minds. We miss you, Steve.