Driven: NASCAR producer enjoys life in the fast lane

Andrea Pelkey ’02She’s gone on ride-alongs at many racetracks, but ask Andrea Pelkey ’02 whether her job has had any impact on how she handles the road, and she’ll just laugh. “My friends and family would say my driving has changed,” she admits. “Let’s just say I’ve gotten a few speeding tickets across a few different states over the last couple of years.”

Pelkey’s need for speed makes sense. She’s a producer for NASCAR at ESPN. After working her way up from production assistant to producer at ESPN (and earning an Emmy Award along the way for her work), her career path took a major turn in 2007 when the network landed the rights to telecast several of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, and subsequently “NASCAR Now.”

The former Wheaton field hockey co-captain had experience covering the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball at ESPN, so she was one of the first tapped to help produce coverage—a promotion she was thrilled to accept.

“When I started at ESPN, I worked on ‘SportsCenter’ and ‘ESPNews’ and other shows like that,” she says. “Most of my background was in basketball, but when we got that contract for NASCAR, I had to start fresh. It was a huge risk, but one I knew I had to take.”

Learning a new sport

With her new role in place, Pelkey immediately got to work, studying hard to teach herself a sport she knew very little about. “I sat down and made flashcards about each driver, who was whose teammate—those kinds of things,” she says. “I knew the mainstream drivers like Jeff Gordon, but I had to do a lot of reading and research just to get caught up.” It wasn’t long before she was back at the top of her game, leading a small team to produce content for 31 of the 36 NASCAR races that take place each season.

Andrea Pelkey ’02A typical day for Pelkey? Working for NASCAR, she says, there’s no such thing. The season kicks off in February with the Daytona 500—the biggest race of the year—and goes straight up through the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Every week, she and her team pack up and leave ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to travel and shoot on location at each race. Her job is to plan out coverage with the other show producers.

“We hit the ground running as soon as we arrive, doing live interviews and gathering all types of sound from the drivers so that we can put together pieces,” she says. “It’s a lot of scheduling to make sure we have our cameras and reporters in the right place at the right time. Live television is about one thing: organization!”

Interest in broadcast journalism

Growing up in Palmyra, Maine, she first discovered she had an interest in broadcast journalism as a student at Nokomis Regional High School. “My high school started a broadcasting team and one of my teachers reached out to see if I wanted to join,” she says. Pelkey—who also played on the girls’ varsity basketball and softball teams—decided to give it a try. She quickly found that sports coverage was a natural fit. “I would play in the girls’ game and then I’d hustle out afterwards to do color commentary for the boys’ game,” she says. “The show was on local cable in Maine. That’s how I got my start.”

When it came time to select a college, Pelkey says she knew Wheaton would be perfect for her. “I was originally looking for a journalism major and found out that Wheaton offered the dual degree program with Emerson College,” she says. “It was the best of both worlds.”

She arrived here in the fall of 1998 and wasted no time getting involved with a variety of activities in pursuit of her goals. Pelkey, who majored in sociology, played all four years on the field hockey team, and was promoted to team captain during her junior year. In her spare time, she worked for the sports information department writing press releases and covering a variety of sporting events on campus.

Andrea Pelkey ’02
Andrea Pelkey ’02, photo by Nicki Pardo

“Andrea was one of those rare finds—the type of person who only comes around once in a great while,” recalls Scott Dietz, assistant director of athletics for media relations at Wheaton. “What I remember most about Andrea is that if she wasn’t busy she wasn’t happy. She had an ability to multitask like none other, and she always did so with a smile on her face.”

It was her ability to multitask that helped her earn a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Emerson College, just a year after graduating from Wheaton. Soon after that, she landed her job at ESPN. She’s a member of ESPN’s mentorship and women’s retention program and a member of the Wheaton Athletic Mentors. She even received an Alumnae/i Achievement Award during Homecoming Weekend this past fall, celebrating her accomplishments.

“Wheaton taught me personal time management and how to prioritize, which is something I have to do every day in my job,” she says. “Wheaton also gave me the ability to problem solve and the analytical skills I needed to succeed.”Andrea Pelkey ’02