…And Emmy-nominated pit reporter Kristen Beat has this storytelling thing nailed, too, covering everything from NASCAR to Supercross to American Flat Track for NBC Sports, FOX Sports 1 and FUEL TV
Words by Joy Burgess
Photos courtesy of Kristen Beat, American Flat Track, Kristen
Lassen and Scott Hunter
Motorcycling is made up of all types: riders, builders, racers, adventurers, enthusiasts, creatives, rebels, engineers, organizers and, of course, storytellers. And it’s this final group that gets to expose the very heartbeat of the industry.
For Kristen Beat, pit reporter for NBC Sports and Fox Sports 1, storytelling on TV is a prime opportunity to peel back the layers and expose the inspiring human stories of the riders and racers behind the bikes.
“It’s funny,” Kristen told us. “I never would have seen myself in front of a camera.”
But when she got talked into covering a freestyle motocross event for FUEL TV, she fell in love, not only digging into the racers’ stories but also helping them tell them to the world.
“I thought I could have a bigger impact and make the sport better if I told stories,” she said. “And I love it, too!”
And while she’s constantly hustling to go beyond the mechanics of motorsports to get to the heart of the story, she’s also determined to provide other women in broadcast journalism with help and support she never had in efforts to make their journey easier.
Growing Up in Motorsports
For as long as she can remember, Kristen’s been around motorsports. “I grew up riding 50s,” she said, “and I’ve always been involved in two- and four-wheel motorsports. My dad was a weekend-warrior racing sprint cars and motorcycles, and my mom was a photographer, taking pictures of everything.”
“Naturally,” she continued, “growing up I gravitated towards racing. My brother pursued a career as a Supercross rider, but after some injuries he went four-wheel racing instead.”
Stepping in Front of the Camera
While Kristen always loved taking photos and being behind the camera, she never dreamed she’d be the one in front of one a few years later. She studied pre-law, psychology and communications in college, planning to go to law school with the goal of pursuing sports management.
“I wanted to pursue sports management to help protect riders,” Kristen said. “Sports like football have amenities for athletes to protect them when their career is over. When my brother got hurt he was lost for a bit and wasn’t sure where he’d go next. After seeing how other sports protect athletes, I felt there needed to be something similar for Supercross and motocross athletes. I wanted to help manage athletes in a way I knew I could protect them. I’ve seen riders fall victim to not having the right guidance, and I wanted to help them and make an impact.”
Reaching towards that goal, Kristen interned for Wasserman Media Group – an outfit that managed motorsports racer and stunt performer Travis Pastrana and factory Honda Supercross rider Ken Roczen – which had a connection to action sports network FUEL TV. “I’d been writing articles for them,” Kristen remembers, “and one day they gave me a call saying, ‘We have someone sick, can you come out and cover a freestyle motocross event?’”
“I said, ‘Absolutely not!’” she laughs. “I didn’t think I could do that! That was back in 2010, and I was an awkward 19-year-old at the time. But I got talked into it and started talking to these athletes and getting to know their stories and really enjoyed it. FUEL TV called the next day and asked if I’d do more work for them. It paid well, so I said, ‘Yes!’”
That was the point she fell in love with storytelling, learning more than simply asking questions, but how she could tell a story that people at home would identify with. “I had to learn to tell the stories,” she says. “But then I was left with a decision…pursue law or do broadcast journalism?”
It all came down to how she could best help people. “I felt that as a sports manager I could only help a few,” she told us, “but by doing broadcast journalism I could impact more people, help bring more people in and grow the sport. I thought I could have a bigger impact and make the sport better if I told stories, and I love it, too!”
Diving into Broadcast Journalism
At first, storytelling was a bit of a hobby for Kristen, but in 2012 NASCAR had a job opening as Miss Sprint Cup. “I didn’t go to school to be a V-lane girl,” Kristen said, “but then they told me how much it paid and said I’d get consistent reps as a sports reporter on a national level. I figured I could do it for a year, so I covered Sprint Cup as a live MC of sorts for a year.”
But in 2013 storytelling went from a hobby to a profession when FOX Sports 1 asked her to cover the K&N Pro Series, a regional stock car racing series owned and operated by NASCAR. “I was already a huge fan of the series,” she told us, “and everything just started falling into place.”
“After covering the K&N Series,” she continued, “I got an offer from a news outlet up in Michigan where they had a morning sports reporter position open, and I covered college football, NHL hockey and other stick-and-ball sports. From there I got to cover the AMA Arenacross, and ever since I’ve been picking up work in motorsports.”
NBC Sports and American Flat Track
At the end of 2018 it was NASCAR productions on the phone again, but this time with an opportunity in American Flat Track. “A producer at NASCAR called, asking me if I had an interested in flat track,” she told us. “Well, my dad raced flat track at legendary Ascot Park before it closed. I’d covered knobby motorsports, but never flat track, so I was definitely interested. AFT asked if I was interested, and I said yes. I’d heard such good things about flat track, but what turned me onto the sport is how grounded it is. Everyone in this sport has a story, it’s good racing, and I was attracted to the series.”
Kristen decided to do the full AFT schedule for 2019, and it worked out perfectly through 2020. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” she said, “and it’s been such a cool couple of years. Really, it wasn’t until my second year that stories really began to come to the surface. In my first year, people were more cautious with me, thinking I was from hockey or baseball and that I didn’t really know much about racing. But in the second year I was able to encourage the paddock to open up and trust me with their stories. I was finally able to peel back the layers in 2020.”
When asked about some of her favorite races and stories while covering flat track, she didn’t disappoint. “For races, Volusia 1 this year was A-MA-ZING! Also, [privateer SuperTwins racer] Jeffrey Carver’s first win this season was so good. I cried. It was such a big moment.”
“For my favorite stories,” she went on, “I have to go back to 2019 for one. Bronson Bauman [younger brother to 2019 and 2020 SuperTwins Champion Briar Bauman and, at the time, a part of the Factory Indian Team] told me he wanted to prove that he belonged. I’d been talking to him for half the season and he wasn’t opening up, but then he told me, ‘My goal is to prove I belong on the Indian team. I’m not like my brother, but I’m going to be.’ My favorite thing is when people tell me what’s going on inside their head.”
“Then there was Sammy Halbert [riding the Coolbeth-Nila Racing Indian FTR750 in the SuperTwins class] in 2020,” Kristen recalled. “I always do conference calls in the week; I never wait until the racing weekend to get all my notes, and I usually get lots of good stuff in those conference calls. I got Sammy on a call, and he told me, ‘I’ve always been a top-three rider, and my confidence is shook because I haven’t been there, but I want to take back what’s mine.’ I was like, YEAH! That was a drop-the-mic quote. You don’t expect it, but when you peel those layers back and it becomes real, you get to tell that story. For Sammy, ‘that’s mine, the podium is mine,’ and then he got there!”
“I’m just so inspired by these human stories that give flat track a heartbeat. You’re not just spilling out words, you’re spilling out someone’s life. We often get so mechanical in motorsports, but I want to talk about the blood and the heartbeat, the human on the bike. Flat track is so mentally challenging and taxing… There’s no playbook, and it’s like you’re playing high-speed chess on the track. But there’s also heart there, and you have to expose and share that. I want people at home to get the heart of flat track, not just the mechanical part.”
And then there’s KTM rider Shayna Texter, the winningest AFT Singles rider in history and the only woman to ever win in Grand National competition. “When I first met Shayna,” Kristen told us, “we instantly clicked. I think she clicks with people because she’s so approachable. Her kindness inspires me. I’m so inspired by women who choose to race, and I love seeing that Shayna’s not just racing in a women’s class.”
“I think the common factor among women racers – I’ve looked up to racers like [motocross, off-road and endurocross racer and X Games competitor] Shelby Turner and the first CMRC Women’s Canadian Motocross National Champion and Nitro Circus rider] Jolene Van Vugt growing up – is that they don’t see themselves as being different from the guys. They’re perfecting their craft, working their body and working to be competitive. And I think we have to teach our daughters to grow up and see themselves this way. As women, we need to think that we’re capable of doing anything we set our minds to.”
Paving a Way for Women
We asked Kristen what advice she has for women who might dream of working in the category, or those who dream of working in some area of the powersports industry.
“We need to live our lives with blinders on,” she says, “not worrying about who’s next to us. No matter what you do, just race your race.”
“The biggest thing,” she continued, “is that kindness matters. A lot of time in sports, people get really competitive. One lesson I’ve learned is that I may have lost jobs for being kind, but I didn’t lose friendships. No matter what you do, kindness and doing the right thing will always pay off. Don’t worry about your competition. Work on being better every day.”
“And for girls who want to get into broadcast journalism, do it for the right reasons. I think a lot of reporters are so worried about their own story that they forget about the story they are telling. We get to be the megaphone for the sport, making judgment calls on who to talk about and how we frame the story. If you have a heart for it and you want to make an impact, then you’ll have the heart to make the right decisions. But you really must have a genuine passion for the sport.”
During the seven years she’s been actively working in motorsports broadcast journalism, she’s vowed to help other women along the way. “It took me four years into my career to finally get someone to be gracious enough to get on the phone with me and give me some tips and advice. I didn’t have anyone who helped me in the first few years. My mission now is to help other women. I don’t want to hoard jobs or sit on things.”
“Every time I get a chance I’m calling women,” she added. “I’ve helped cut women’s demos and given women tips to help them out because I wish someone would have done that for me. When I can’t cover other jobs, I send my producer other women who can fill in for me. It’s all back to ‘kindness matters’. I take pride in seeing other people growing – it’s the most rewarding feeling on the planet.”
While Kristen hopes to be back covering American Flat Track in 2021, right now she’s covering the AMA Arenacross Series and preparing to start filming season three of Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live Crushing It. She also was just nominated for three regional Emmys, one in sports coverage for her work with Arenacross and two in entertainment for the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live Crushing It show. And if that’s not enough, she’s also working on a racing-based feature film with Universal Pictures that’ll be released in 2023.
It only takes a few moments of chatting with Kristen to realize that her advice of ‘kindness matters’ is something she lives by, and that every story she tells matters. It’s evident in her voice when she tells stories about riders in the paddock, and it’s evident on her social media pages where she matches donations to help privateer racers.
As someone who’s watched every single American Flat Track race over the past few years, this author has seen Kristen in action. From taking a moment to chat with Indian Factory racer Jared Mees’ little girl Hayden in the paddock to capturing the emotion of Jeffrey Carver after his first win in 2020 to telling Sammy Halbert’s story of taking back what’s his – which he did in spectacular fashion that night – she’s far more than a pit reporter…she’s an epic storyteller. Like she says, peeling back the layers and spilling out the human stories gives motorsports a heartbeat.
This article originally appeared in Thunder Press’
sister publication Woman Rider