Fox pit reporter Jamie Little will drive more than anybody in NASCAR on Coca-Cola 600 weekendSporting News — (Tadd Haislop)
Indianapolis is roughly 575 miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, according to the ever-trusty Google Maps. Traveling such distance typically would require a quick flight, an hour and 45 minutes tops.
Understandably, though, Fox Sports wants its employees to avoid potentially crowded airplanes amid the coronavirus pandemic. So Jamie Little, who will cover Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte as one of just two Fox pit reporters on the broadcast, made the drive Friday with her husband and two kids from their home in an Indianapolis suburb.
"Should take about eight hours," Little told Sporting News during a recent phone conversation, even though Google estimates the drive should take roughly nine hours. Perhaps she was in a hurry to experience the thrill of what will be an unprecedented work weekend.
Though it will run on its traditional Memorial Day weekend date, the Coca-Cola 600 is the third Cup Series race since NASCAR returned with a modified schedule after a two-month hiatus caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. NASCAR was able to return to live action in part because it was willing to implement strict attendance polices beyond the banning of fans in the stands.
Those restrictions have limited the number of employees Fox can send to the track for its broadcast, so the network is sending its four pit reporters — Little, Regan Smith, Matt Yocum and Vince Welch — to races on a rotation, one per event. Smith and Yocum covered last week's pair of races at Darlington, and Welch is assigned to Wednesday's race at Charlotte.
The Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday will be an exception. Fox will use two pit reporters (Little and Smith) to cover all 40 pit stalls, a job typically split by all four reporters, for NASCAR's longest race. Even with the help, Little will be covering double the amount of ground she is used to wondering.
"I would say probably on average, on a weekend like the Coke 600, it’s probably close to like 13,000 or 14,000," Little said, referring to the steps recorded by her Apple Watch while she is working. With a laugh, she added, "I would imagine I may get in a little bit more than that this weekend."
Indeed, covering double the amount of pit stalls than usual is a challenge. But Little embraces the workload in part because she "loves being busy." She also had her mind eased by Smith, who told her his experience in a similar situation at Darlington last week was smooth.
"He said there's plenty of time (before the race) to talk to the crew chiefs walking around, because obviously we’re not allowed in the haulers like we usually are," Little said. "But we can talk to the crew chiefs standing six feet apart, get the stories of the day. That was the part I was worried about. Will we be able to talk to these guys before the race? Do I need to try to reach out to them leading up to the race? (He said) it was easy to talk to them because there was no one else in the garage!"
Little said she has reached out to crew chiefs this week more than she normally would given the circumstances. She also will benefit from the fact that the Coca-Cola 600 is the only race currently on the Cup Series schedule that features qualifying, giving her more time at the track to set up her storytelling for Sunday.
She will have plenty of help during the race, even though it will come remotely. Her Apple Watch is more than just a pedometer; she will use it to receive race updates via texts from Fox producers and public relations specialists.
"Like, our pit producer Pam Miller," Little cited as an example. "She won't be at the track talking to us. She’s going to be at the Charlotte studios. So she's going to be getting all of this information from PR people and our chief spotter, and then relay messages to me. Like, 'Hey, Kevin Harvick’s saying he has a loose wheel, can you run down and follow up?' I may be listening to some other cars and miss that.
"It will be a lot of hands on deck. And I think I’ll have way more information than I’ll ever need."
Little did not request this specific assignment, even though her history of Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 coverage has made Memorial Day weekend her favorite on the racing calendar. She simply told her bosses at Fox that she was willing to drive to any of the races on the modified NASCAR schedule, most of which were set within driving distance of the Charlotte, N.C., area where NASCAR, Fox and most race teams are headquartered. She did not want to be left out simply because she lives almost 600 miles away.
Plus, this is a rare opportunity. With the Indy 500 postponed, Little's husband, Cody Selman, an IndyCar crew member, is free of his racing obligations for the first time in 17 years, by Little's estimation. Because Fox prefers its employees to avoid hotels, Little and her family made arrangements to spend the weekend at a friend's house in the Charlotte area.
"(We'll) have a couple extra days together as a family down there and enjoy it before we turn around and drive eight hours back," Little said. She'll stick around Charlotte on Monday because she'll need to watch the Xfinity Series race that day and interview the winner remotely, so the drive home will come Tuesday.
At that point, Little will have traveled roughly 1,150 miles by car so she can do a trickier-than-normal version of her job. And that's not counting her traveling on foot before, during and after a race that typically lasts about 4 1/2 hours in the heat of May.