CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hannah Storm learned about NASCAR on the job, and on the fly, during one of her earliest broadcasting gigs.
Working for the NBC affiliate in NASCAR's backyard, Storm was forced to figure it out pretty quickly in order to contribute to the weekend specials the Charlotte station produced.
"We did a lot of NASCAR specials, and I did a lot of running up to guys when they would wreck their cars and say, 'What happened?'" Storm recalled of her 1988-89 stop in North Carolina. "So that was not easy. I learned NASCAR from the ground up. I knew zero about it — I'd just come from Texas — and this was NASCAR immersion."
Storm came full circle last week when she returned to Charlotte to film "NASCAR Face-to-Face with Hannah Storm," a one-hour conversation special with the ESPN SportsCenter anchor that will air Tuesday night. It's the fourth installment of Storm's "Face-to-Face" series, but first featuring NASCAR drivers.
The episode features Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, who are currently locked in a two-man race for the Sprint Cup championship, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Storm's previous "Face-to-Face" programs have taken her bowling with Dwight Howard, back to the park where Cam Newton threw footballs with his family as a child, and to lunch with Aaron Rodgers at his favorite restaurant.
But with two races to go in NASCAR's title-deciding Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Storm felt NASCAR was the best topic for the next installment.
"I have such an affinity for the NASCAR community and I really wanted it to be a 'Face-to-Face' special," she said. "It's 1-on-1 with each of the four drivers, an access piece on a personal level that has a 'Barbara Walters Special' type feel. It's just me and them, very little track time, very little voice over, almost entirely conversation.
"It's classic programming that doesn't exist in sports programming. It takes people outside of a press conference or off a sideline, and they like it because they want to get to know the athletes a little bit. The show peels it back a little bit and gives them a glimpse, shows them that these are real people."
Although Storm knew the late Dale Earnhardt, her sit-down with Earnhardt Jr. is her first extensive time with NASCAR's most popular driver. She toured his property and Whisky River, the western town he created on his land.
"He was and always has been one of those athletes that I've found incredibly interesting," Storm said of Earnhardt, who recently sat out two races because of concussions.
Storm spends her time with Stewart on a photo shoot with the three-time champion "that speaks to his own crazy life."
With Johnson, who goes into Sunday's race at Phoenix in search of his sixth championship, Storm went through a Charlotte art gallery viewing an exhibit of family photos from the self-published book "On The Road" that chronicles the 2011 Chase for Johnson and his wife and daughter.
"He and Chandra took us through the art gallery and talked about being parents, having a young child out on the road, telling their story of losing, what's their attitude of having a young family," Storm said. "It was really nice because there are very few interviews of them together."
Keselowski was the adventurous one for Storm.
He pulled up to the interview and did celebratory burnouts in his street car, then took Storm to a shooting range where she fired a gun for the first time in her life. After that it was off to Penske Racing, where Storm said the shop was so clean, "you could eat off the floor."
"Brad is such a delight for an interviewer," Storm said. "He just says it without any regard. He's very thoughtful and he's very smart. He's one of those guys that has to be constantly in motion, and he was unexpected and it was so much fun. I just didn't think I'd be target shooting with Brad Keselowski.
"It's neat being in someone else's world. It's a cool little piece."