Pelkey on fast track with ESPN

Posted July 03, 2009, at 11:38 p.m.

When Andrea Pelkey played for the Nokomis High School girls basketball team, there were times she would take a quick shower after the game and then do the play-by-play for the Nokomis boys game for the cable access channel.

The Newport-based school received broadcasting equipment prior to her sophomore year, she explained.

“I had no idea what I was going to do [for a profession] and then they started this broadcast team at Nokomis so I figured I’d give that a try,” said Pelkey.

“I found my niche,” she added. “I thought this was something I could see myself doing.”

She did, indeed, although her work is done behind the camera not in front of it.

Pelkey is now 29 years old and owns an Emmy Award for being one of several ESPN producers who worked on SportsCenter telecasts in 2004.

The Emmy came in the Outstanding Daily Studio Sports Show category.

She is now one of the two on-site producers for ESPN’s coverage of Sprint Cup races.

After graduating from Nokomis in 1998, she attended Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and wrote releases for the sports information department. She also played field hockey and earned a degree in sociology.

“That got me into writing,” said Palmyra native Pelkey.

Her next stop was Emerson College in Boston, a renowned broadcasting school.

“They had so few people who could write sports there because there’s a different vocabulary for sports,” said Pelkey who, naturally, wound up writing sports and news for the Emerson radio station’s broadcasts.

“There is a lot of tradition at Emerson so when we covered sports in the city, we weren’t treated any differently than professional journalists,” said Pelkey. “And Boston is such a great sports city. It was a great place to be.”

She also learned at Emerson that the on-air talent “doesn’t get to choose the content as much as the producers do. And that’s what I wanted to do [have more say in the content].”

She earned a master’s degree in focus in broadcast journalism and wound up earning a job as a production assistant at ESPN.

She spent a lot of time behind the scenes cutting videotape for Sports Center telecasts and college basketball Game Day and Game Night shows. She also worked on the pre-game shows leading up to their NFL telecasts.

Then, in 2007, ESPN landed the rights to telecast several NASCAR Sprint Cup races which led to the NASCAR Now broadcasts throughout the week. In addition to being its own entity, ESPN handles ABC Sports coverage since they are both owned by the Walt Disney Company.

“I was asked if I would move over to NASCAR. I thought it was a great opportunity. My comfort zone was college basketball. But I wanted to expand my comfort zone. I didn’t know anything about auto racing. So I got some rudimentary flash cards [and went to work],” explained Pelkey.

Those flash cards helped her memorize information about the drivers, their teams and their car owners.

“It’s great being in this environment. You can learn from people who have been in the business for a long time,” said Pelkey, who proved to be a fast learner.

“I’m always learning and as long as I continue to do that, I’m on the right path,” she added.

She will travel to 31 of the 36 races this season.

Her tasks are numerous once she gets to the track.

She and the other producer, Jamahl Brown, coordinate the coverage beginning with the pre-race coverage. They work with their own on-air personalities as well as the NASCAR media relations staff and the media relations personnel at each track.

She will also write copy and help line up interviews.

Their bits will air on NASCAR Now, NASCAR Countdown and Sports Center as well as being shown live during the races ESPN and ABC broadcast.

The planning for the next race usually begins “with a conference call on Tuesdays” that involves all the parties involved with the coverage and media presentation of the upcoming race.

They leave for a Sunday race on Thursday.

Her job will get even more challenging beginning on July 26 when ESPN/ABC begin televising the final 17 races.

ESPN has the first six and ABC has the last 11.

Fox and TNT televise the first 19 Cup races.

‘”Andrea’s great,” said Angelique Chengelis, a longtime motorsports writer for the Detroit News and an ESPN/ABC analyst since 2007. “She is experienced beyond her years. She is really organized, she’s sharp and she has a lot of passion. It’s a huge responsibility but she’s excellent and has earned everything she has received.

“The sky’s the limit for her. She can do anything,” added Chengelis.

Chengelis also said Pelkey is a “sponge” who soaks up information and is continually learning something new.

Shannon Spake, a pit reporter for ESPN, called Pelkey “awesome” and said no task is beyond her capability.

“She’s a professional. She’ll figure out a way to get it done,” said Spake.

Pelkey described the NASCAR atmosphere as a “traveling circus.

“You see the same people every week at a different location,” said Pelkey. “We have 43 teams to cover every week.”

She thoroughly enjoys what she does and is “fascinated” by the business side of the sport as well as the racing itself.

“Someone asked me why a 30th-place car can earn more money than a 20th-place car and I found out it has to do with [sponsors] decals. You get more money if you run more decals,” explained Pelkey. “There’s so many different aspects to this sport. It’s a very different sport than it was 20 years ago.”

The former WABI-TV summer intern said the most stressful part of her job is “making sure I get to the track on time. You have to deal with flights [and flight cancellations].”

She credits her sports-minded family: her father Solomon, mother Luanne and sisters Jodi and Laura for teaching her the Maine work ethic and how to multi-task.

“We were always busy. We were in sports all the way through,” said Andrea, who played field hockey and softball in addition to basketball and was in the jazz chorus as well as being the drum majorette in the Nokomis band.

Younger sister Laura cop-captained Nokomis’ state Class A championship basketball team in 2001.

Andrea is a die-hard Boston sports fan who lives near the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.

She enjoys coming home when she gets the chance and maintains she will always live in New England.

“I can’t see myself living anyplace else,” she said.

lmahoney@bangordailynews.net

990-8231

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