Shea Adam was born to be a pit reporter. Daughter of a news anchor and a race car driver, Shea grew up in IMSA paddocks and news rooms. She first got her opportunity behind the mic when RadioLeMans.com flew her to France to cover the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012. That year, she also began working for the American Le Mans Series in a TV truck as the graphics supervisor, learning the ropes of television production. In addition to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Shea also pit reports for the 12 Hours of Bathurst and has covered Formula One, IndyCar, Trans-Am and many more. Shea is part of the IMSA Radio team, realizing her dream one event at a time!
Daytona International Speedway: How did you first get introduced to motorsports? When did it become an industry that you wanted to pursue professionally?
Shea Adam: “I was born into it. My dad raced cars professionally for 42 years so my first word was ‘car.’ I learned to read from Car And Driver and then never really got too far away from it, always cheering him on. When I was graduating from college, I actually had a decision to make – either walk and get my diploma or go work at a race track; obviously I took the latter. For me, there really was no decision.”
DIS: Was there a time that you didn’t see yourself with a future working in the motorsports industry?
SA: “Oh yeah, I didn’t see myself doing this until I was doing it. And it’s ironic that people I work for now came to my house after the 50th Rolex 24 (At DAYTONA) and said, ‘Have you ever thought about pit reporting?’ and I was like, ‘No, I haven’t but that makes a lot of sense.’ I went to school for history and creative writing and didn’t’ do anything related to journalism. It felt right after someone had pointed it out.”
DIS: So your father was a race car driver and you mother was a news anchor. It seems like you perfectly meshed their two careers. What things did you take from each of them that helped you as you began your professional career as a pit reporter?
SA: “I’m the hybrid. I was bred to do this. I joke all the time that with a news anchor mom and dad that was a racer, I didn’t really have a choice. I took both of their careers and made the best out of it. I picked up tons from each of them. I think I just picked up that nature. My first experience was the 24 Hours of Le Mans and my bosses literally handed me a microphone and said, ‘Go interview Dindo Capello,’ who is one of my heroes. The first question I asked him was if it was going to be his last Le Mans. I was basically asking if he was retiring. No one else had gotten an answer from him, but he sort of laughed and said, ‘Yeah, yes it is.’ It’s the kind of thing where I was never trained not to do that. I was thrown right into the fire and I think growing up around it all really helped me.”
DIS: Can you just take us through your career path and how you got to this point?
SA: “I was offered the opportunity to go to France and cover the 24 Hours of Le Mans as my first race. If I did well, great, if I didn’t, I could probably help them out with something else. My career at that point was delivering press cars, so I was cleaning cars and delivering them all over the state. I really wasn’t happy so I wrote an email to producer Jeff Roller and I said, ‘Please, I just need to be in the paddock. I’ve realized that this is my path.’ So he hired me as a graphics supervisor and I learned behind-the-scenes TV, only doing pretty much Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Bathurst, which is a big race in Australia. Wherever they send me, I go. The IMSA paddock has been my home. Dad did commentary for it for 10 years; these are the people I know. It actually took a while for people to stop coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you since you were this tall.’ But it’s such a great family atmosphere that I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
DIS: What have you done from a behind-the-scenes perspective with television?
SA: “I was a graphic supervisor for two-plus years so I’ve done that portion. I’ve seen the way that these shows are put together because I was part of every American Le Mans Series broadcast for 2012 and 2013. And then, on the pit reporting side of things, I’ve done IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One. I just do whatever I can.”
DIS: You’ve covered Formula One, IndyCar, Trans-Am and IMSA. Those are very different series in terms of cars, teams, venues, rules, etc. What goes into your preparation for all of those events?
SA: “Homework. Lots and lots of prep work. People think that I just innately know every fact about every driver. No, I spend literally days putting together notebooks of information on the cars and drivers. I do so because it changes all of the time and you really need to be relevant on what’s going on. If I don’t know, how are the people at home supposed to know?”
DIS: What are the biggest challenges to reporting in the pits? It’s really different than any other on-the-scene sports reporting. How do you stay focused with so much going on around you?
SA: “When all the cars come in at once, your heart starts to race, the exhilaration kicks in and honestly, my brain sort of shuts off in terms of trying to control the situation. I’m saying what I’m seeing because I am the voice for the fans who can’t see it. I can see everything that’s happening and they can’t, so I’m trying to tell the story of every car at once. There’s so much going on that you just have to know that stuff cold. Not to mention, it’s dangerous to be out there. That always goes through your mind.”
DIS: What are the major skills and abilities you need to possess to excel in your job?
SA: “You really need to be a good listener. You need to be able to listen to multiple conversations at once. For example, when I have my headset on, I normally don’t put on one of the earphones. That way, I can hear what the person I’m interviewing is saying directly because the producers will always be in my ear at the same time. So when an interviewee is answering, I have to hear what my producer is saying, process what he’s saying and process what the subject is saying so that they’re not already answering what he’s asking. It’s just a lot of listening and multitasking. You also have to have the dedication to do all the prep work because you don’t get paid for that. It also takes a lot of stamina to be out there in a fire suit for hours on end. It’s something I have to train for and get my body physically ready to handle.”
DIS: Obviously, this is also a 24-hour race. There’s something very unique about covering a race for 24 straight hours. What’s that like? How do you keep your energy? What are the major challenges?
SA: “Well, it’s actually 43 hours of covering the race. You wake up about 6 o’clock in the morning and get into the track before the traffic starts. You’ll cover warm up and we will go on-air at 1:30 in the afternoon. We won’t stop until 45 minutes after the race, so we’re looking at 27 hours of coverage as a base. We don’t do commercial breaks, we don’t do any sort of gimmick, we won’t play any pre-recorded content. We are on-air that whole time. There are three of us assigned to the pits and there always needs to be at least two of us there. Because of that, last year I did 18-and-a-half hours of the race because of the way the schedule worked out. You just have to stay hydrated and eat a lot because you’re burning a lot of calories. I walked 20 miles last year during the race so it’s pretty grueling.”
DIS: What advice can you give to young girls who are interested in motorsports and would like to see themselves in your shoes one day?
SA: “The best piece of advice I could give is something that my mom has been saying since she started her career: ‘Don’t do it unless you love it.’ It’s a very lonely lifestyle. You’re on the road a lot, but if this is your passion, if you can’t sit at home and watch a race without thinking, ‘I need to do this,’ if you literally cannot focus on something else while you know there is a race going on, then you need to find your position in this industry. But if you don’t have that dedication, that drive, then find something else because this path is hard. You need to earn a place to be here. If you have all of those, the best thing you can do is study what you love. Don’t go to school for journalism because you come out of it with a degree that says you’re a journalist but you don’t have a specialty. Study something like mechanical engineering and then come into this. I am so fortunate. I count my lucky stars every day. To be here, to get to work here, it’s such a dream come true.”
If you'd like to see more women like Shea Adam, be sure to get your tickets now for North America’s most prestigious sports car race - the 2017 Rolex 24 At DAYTONA. Surround yourself with music, food, fun and exotic cars in the prestige of the world’s only motorsports stadium.
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