“When I moved from football, basketball and horse racing over to motor sports, I had to work really hard to learn the background of the sport and its teams and drivers,” Voda said. “After a while, people assumed I’d been a NASCAR fan all my life or had been covering it my entire career. That is the greatest compliment because at that point, you’ve won over and earned the respect of the diehard fans and the people who are loyal to the sport.”
Voda, born and raised in Iowa, was fed a solid diet of football, basketball and baseball soon after birth. Her father taught her everything there was to know about all sports at a very young age. To say he is an avid sports fan would be a dire understatement.
“My Dad is a huge sports fan and taught me everything he knew,” Voda recalled. “If he was awake, the TV was tuned to sports. Dad loves the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears because the Windy City is only about two-and-a-half hours from my hometown. College sports are really big in Iowa and I also grew up following the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big 10.”
If the Voda family was not sitting in front of the TV pulling for their favorite team, they were cheering it on from the bleachers
“We attended as many Cubs and Hawkeyes games as possible,” the Clinton, Iowa native said. “Some of my earliest memories are of jumping in the car headed to an Iowa basketball game and making a weekend out of it. We would try to hit a couple of games each season.”
Voda wasn’t only a “sofa” sports fan but was an athlete in her own right. She, her younger brother and sister kept their parents hopping from ball field to ball field in high school.
“We were a family of athletes,” Voda recalled. “I played volleyball and basketball and ran track all through school. My brother and sister were also good athletes. I’ve been a tomboy since I was young and was never really the ‘girly’ kind of girl, which has definitely served me well hanging out with the guys on the NCTS Setup crew.”
While she can discuss any sport with the SPEED crew, their main focus lately has been the NCTS points battle, in which Mike Skinner leads Ron Hornaday, Jr. by 57 points heading into this weekend’s race at Phoenix (Friday, 8 p.m. ET Live on SPEED; NCTS Setup at 7:30 p.m. ET). The former series champions have swapped the lead after six of the past seven races, elevating the level of intensity in the always riveting and competitive Truck Series.
“The Truck Series has become known for taking battles to the last race of the season but this year, I think it’s going to be not just the last race, but the last turn of the last lap because Hornaday and Skinner literally have been so close and so consistent,” Voda predicted. “There is definitely electricity in the air in the Truck garage and you just feel a ‘buzz’ around you. On top of the championship, there are other guys who are trying to stay in the top 10 and race for wins and they’re laying it on the line now.”
With so much sports knowledge engrained in her at an early age, it was a natural transition for Voda to venture into sports broadcasting following college. She worked at local television stations in Iowa and Kentucky, covering NCAA basketball, NASCAR, World Series playoffs, college bowl games and The Kentucky Derby, before moving to the racing mecca of Charlotte, N.C., to anchor Totally NASCAR and eventually NASCAR Nation for SPEED.
Between covering NASCAR for SPEED and pit road reporting for FOX, the Pittsburgh resident has also worked as a sideline reporter for the Cotton Bowl and NFL games, in addition to reporting on NASCAR for DirecTV Hotpass and covering open-wheel racing and motorcycle racing. In 2007, Voda became the first female to host a NASCAR pre-race show. While she can talk virtually any sport and will on Wednesday’s Best Damn Sports Show Period on FOX Sports Net, Voda says she is more drawn to collegiate athletics.
“I really like college sports because you get the purity of the game in college, whereas you don’t get that as much in pro sports,” Voda said. “I favor college football and college basketball but if I had to narrow it down, it would be college basketball. Some of the most fun I’ve had was covering basketball.”
The type of sport aside, Voda sees a common thread in sports across the board.
“No matter what sport you’re covering, you’re still telling the story of an athlete overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal - trying to get to the goal line,” Voda related. “In racing it’s the checkered flag; in football, it’s the goal line; and in baseball it’s home plate. The game may be completely different but the goal is still the same and our job is to tell the stories that person or team had to conquer to get there. That’s what makes the particular sporting event important to the fan at home.
“What appeals to me are not the parts and pieces that make up the race car but rather the people who work on those pieces,” Voda continued. “That’s what we all can relate to. Whether or not you turn a wrench on a race car, you can relate to the guy who spends 17 hours on race day getting that car ready. We’ve all had to work hard to get to something. The human interest and human level is what connects every sport.”
When she is relating those human stories to the fan sitting at home, Voda is equally comfortable discussing racing, football, basketball or whatever the sport may be, as long as she has done her homework.
“If I am covering an NFL game and have done my research and talked with the teams and players ahead of time, I feel as at ease as I do covering NASCAR,” Voda related. “With NASCAR, that preparation and knowledge base are built into my mind and have become second nature. If I cover only one college or NFL game here and there, it is more difficult. But I grew up with stick-and-ball sports much more than racing and the background is there for me to pull from.”
Voda adds that NASCAR isn’t a sport an outside journalist can easily pick up and cover “on the fly.”
“Lots of people grew up watching football and baseball and don’t really have to know the ins-and-outs of the sport to follow it, whereas NASCAR is similar to horse racing in that it’s such an insider sport and people follow it religiously,” Voda said. “In football, reporters don’t necessarily have to know the ins-and-outs of the players because the game tells the story. But with NASCAR, it’s so much about the people. There are 43 different teams every week in NASCAR but only two teams in football, so it’s important to know the people in the NASCAR garage.”
While preparation for and reporting on NASCAR and other sports is demanding and time-consuming, Voda tries to put herself in the viewers’ shoes and do more than simply scratch the surface of stories for them.
“You see how loyal and dedicated the NASCAR fans are and you know there are people who would almost give up body parts to have the kind of access we have,” she stated. “The least I can do is work as hard as I can to prepare so I can do the sport justice for those people.
“I’m really lucky to do this for a living because it’s such a narrow field,” Voda continued. “There are so many people who would love to have my job or work in sports. It’s very rare to get to do what you really love, so on my worst day, I remind myself how lucky I am.”
SPEED, now in nearly 78 million homes in North America, is the exclusive home of the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, Gatorade Duels at Daytona, NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The only network delivering live, at-track programming all season long, SPEED offers the definitive pre- and post-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series programs – NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane, as well as other popular NASCAR programs including Trackside Live, Tradin’ Paint, NASCAR Performance, NASCAR Live!, Inside Nextel Cup, NCTS Setup, Go or Go Home and The Chase is On.