Jamie Little is no stranger to the “first for a woman” narrative.
She was the first woman pit reporter for the television broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 in 2004. In 2015 Little became the first woman pit reporter to cover both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 for network TV’s live, flag-to-flag race coverage. She began her career as the first woman to cover a televised Supercross and motocross event, and was one of the first women reporters in X Games history.
But, since the first flag-to-flag TV broadcast of a NASCAR event in 1979, no woman has ever served as the lead announcer. Little will change that on Saturday, when she becomes the first woman to handle play-by-play for a national series as NASCAR’s ARCA Menards announcer for Fox Sports.
“Anytime you put ‘first woman to do something,’ you know it's a big deal,” Little says. “It carries extra weight than just [something] like, ‘Jamie Little promoted to play-by-play.’ I understand that, and it's a responsibility that I take very seriously.”
Alongside calling the ARCA race on Saturday, Little will cover pit road for NASCAR’s Cup Series at this year’s Daytona 500.
It all started with a fleeting idea, one that Little didn’t expect to manifest for at least another year. When she approached her boss about taking this next step in her career, he suggested that maybe she could do play-by-play for a couple of races in 2021.
A week later, though, things changed.
“He calls me and he said, ‘Hey, what would you think of being the voice of the ARCA Series?’ ” Little recalls. “And I went, ‘The voice?’ ”
She jumped at the opportunity to do all eight races, saying, “Sign me up.”
“I didn't think that anything like that would come to fruition,” Little says. “You know, less than a year, not just a week. So it was a big deal.”
Little was never a stick-and-ball kid. As she grew up in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and spent much of her life in Las Vegas, her true passion always was and probably always will be motorsports.
It all started with riding dirt bikes. Little was an only child, raised by a single mom who worked as a model and a showgirl. For Little, there was something visceral about the sport that attracted her. “I love the smell of it,” Little says. “I love the feeling of being on a motorcycle. That never changed.”
She learned about it from one of her guy friends, who would let her tag along with him and their buddies when they raced. Little went to her first Supercross race when she was 14, and once she got home, she took down the posters of horses on her wall and replaced them with the likes of Supercross stars Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael.
Little says her mom’s initial reaction was wondering what’s going on and thinking she had “discovered boys.” But Little knew it was more than that. When she was getting ready to graduate high school and trying to figure out what she was going to do with her life, it dawned on her as she flipped through her dirt rider magazines.
“I quickly realized there are no women that are talking about the sport and representing the sport that I love,” Little says. “They're all modeling, which is fine. But there was nobody who spoke about the sport and represented me.
“Something just told me once I moved out on my own, and was finding my way, that that should be me. Why not? Why not be the one to go out and tell the stories of these riders and everything that they sacrifice?”
While she did move to Los Angeles to model at 18, Little quickly realized it wasn’t for her. She decided to go to college at San Diego State and pursued a journalism degree because she loved engaging with people.
“When I went back to school, I was such a better student because I wanted to be there, and I had a reason to be there,” Little says. “I wasn't just going to get a degree, not knowing what I was going to do with my life, and that was a blessing. And I know that not everybody gets that opportunity to know, but when you have that focus in school, it makes all the difference.”
Her first big-time national TV moment came in 2000, when NBC Sports asked her to be one of the hosts for its Gravity Games, which competed with ESPN’s X Games. She instantly became hooked and set her sights on working full-time for ESPN, for whom she had done a couple of little jobs in prior years.
“I begged and pleaded and found the right person at ESPN to call,” she says. “I called him up and said, ‘I know you know who I am. I've done plenty of work behind the scenes for you to see my stuff on camera. Just give me a shot.’ He said, ‘All right, we'll give you a shot. You could do X Games this summer [in 2002], and we'll go from there.’
"And the rest was history.”
At her first Indy 500, in 2004, Little recalls noticing the dearth of women and thinking, “What am I doing here?” But once the race ended, Little knew she was hooked. And in the years since, she’s seen more women take on a variety of roles throughout motorsports, from reporting to public relations to driving. In that time her own profile has risen, allowing her to take new chances.
She worked the red carpet for the ESPYs when she interviewed Michael Phelps, was a reporter for A&E’s show America’s Top Dog and had cameo roles in the films Fantastic Four (which starred Chris Evans) and Supercross: the Movie (which starred Channing Tatum).
“[Acting] is so different than what I do. It's the opposite because usually what I do is unscripted,” Little says of her moonlighting. “You're just reacting to what's happening and interviewing people as a reaction to what's happened. And with acting, obviously, there's a script, and you've got to hit your marks and pretend like you don't know that it's a script.”
While none of the actors gave her any advice, Little did pick up a few pointers as she watched from the sidelines, which she loves to do. She learned actors don’t memorize the entire script. If they forget a line, there’s someone in the background who will yell it to remind them.
However, in live broadcasting, you’re on your own, and when you’re covering multiple series simultaneously, there are hundreds of names to memorize, from drivers and crews to sponsors and owners.
Little knows she doesn’t have the best overall memory, but she says her short-term memory is pretty strong. Taking copious notes helps her keep track of who is racing and whether each driver is part-time or full-time, since they can cross over all three series. “That's what's so fun about Daytona because then you have to get used to seeing everybody with a new car number or a different fire suit,” Little says, “and everybody's jacked up and ready to go.”
Now in her seventh year at Fox, Little is back in Daytona and ready to make history again. “My mom was always one to say, ‘If you want to do it, go for it. There's no gender barriers; just go for it,’ ” Little says. “I never saw it as, This is a man's job; that's a woman's job. For young girls, I just say find something that you're passionate about. If you want to cover sports, find the sport that you love the most and go for that. Then do anything it takes. Put in more work, spend more time there, dedicate everything, always get better, work on your craft. Always treat people with respect, and it'll happen.”