Sage Steele said she “screamed” when she saw the email inviting her to be the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The SportsCenter anchor, who went to high school in Indianapolis and graduated from Indiana University, fell in love with racing while covering sports for a TV station in Indianapolis very early in her career. Her assignments included the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.
Steele — who is interviewed in the latest issue of Indiana University Alumni Magazine (see cover after the jump) — talked to Front Row about going home to Indy and wheeling a Chevy Camaro Z21:
As someone who is from Indianapolis and knows the history of the Speedway, how much does this mean to you?
I am honored and just floored that it’s all coming full circle like this. I could not be more thrilled because of what Indianapolis means to me and that’s where my love of racing began as an intern in 1995 covering the Indy 500, covering the Brickyard 400, right out of college, and I never in a million years thought I’d be asked to do something like this. It just means more to me than I think anything I’ve ever been asked to do.
You drove some laps at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway two years ago in a NASCAR Sprint Cup car. Will that experience come in handy?
I will admit I was scared to death in Charlotte of driving a real race car, but once I got going, a couple of laps around that track, then I got aggressive and that lead foot took over. I will probably have to hold myself back a little bit at the Brickyard considering the circumstances this time.
Charlotte was amazing and I’ve never been able to put into words how great that experience was and just to gain the appreciation for what those guys go through. But I am a little bit cocky because of what I did in Charlotte and now I have to back it up.
Do you have a favorite story from your experience covering races at Indy?
The very first NASCAR driver I ever interviewed was Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I was scared. I was an intern, I didn’t know much about racing but I certainly knew who he was, and I went over and introduced myself and he kinda gave me a look and then he welcomed me in.
It was just one of those lessons where you think you know these guys and just because they’re tough guys on the track, and it was “The Intimidator” in that case, he was as nice and as gentle as can be, especially for someone who admitted to him I didn’t know much about NASCAR but I’d like to learn.
And he just talked to me for probably a half an hour, answered my questions and since then, I’ve had a love affair with NASCAR. They continue to be some of the best athletes to work with and to cover. I just appreciate what they do and how they do it.
The race airs live on ESPN with coverage starting at noon ET.