Years ago when NASCAR driver Kurt Busch still was sometimes difficult to deal with, he was followed down pit road by fellow Las Vegan Jamie Little. She had a microphone in her hand and a director in her ear.
Busch barked with a string of profanities as if she was stealing hubcaps and he was a Doberman pinscher in a junkyard.
Which, now that her life away from the track has gone to the dogs, should serve her well.
Starting Wednesday, Little will serve as sideline reporter on “America’s Top Dog,” a new A&E reality show that will match police K9s against civilian dogs on an obstacle course. Next month, she will shuttle between the super bowls of stock car racing and dog shows to reprise the same roles at the Daytona 500 and Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
Little and her husband, Cody, recently moved to Indianapolis to be closer to the racing business and their children’s grandparents. They still own two Jimmie John’s sandwich shops in the Las Vegas Valley as well as four rescue dogs — a golden retriever named Bailey and pug, pit bull and chihuahua (closest guess) mixes called Stella, Smokey and Oreo.
Oreo is old, blind, deaf and happy to have found a loving home.
Smokey was a gift from Tony Stewart, the retired three-time NASCAR champion who agreed to take him before deciding that Jamie and Cody would make better parents. Despite Stewart’s penchant for truculence, Little said Smokey gets along well with the other dogs.
Who let the dogs in?
Little said she developed an affinity for canines and animals in general while working as a tour guide on a ranch in South Lake Tahoe. There were horses and a stable in which there always seemed to be a litter of puppies or kittens seeking sanctuary.
She said you’ve never heard whimpering like that coming from the closet when she would sneak a puppy into the house, though Kyle Busch’s petulance at a postrace news conference might come close.
Little’s passion for four-legged creatures only got stronger after she moved to Henderson, graduated from Green Valley High and got into sports broadcasting. She became a volunteer and spokesman for The Animal Foundation of Las Vegas during the second half of the NASCAR season, after her employer, Fox, had passed the gearshift to NBC.
She talked local celebrities and NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan into posing with shelter dogs for a calendar that helped raise money for the foundation and find homes for Mr. and Miss January through December.
“Everything I learned about rescuing dogs came from The Animal Foundation,” Little said during a telephone chat from Los Angeles, where she attended the AMA Supercross season opener at Anaheim Stadium on Saturday.
She also said everything she learned about covering a dog show did not come from the movie “Best of Show.” She has yet to come across a handler at the Westminster Kennel Club with two left feet.
Top TV dogs
“(Westminster) is absolutely the super bowl of dog shows,” the always-affable Little said in anticipation of joining Fox NASCAR colleague Chris Myers, who will handle the play-by-play duties for the 144th edition on Feb. 10 and 11.
But she’s just as excited about the debut of “America’s Top Dog,” a second cousin of sorts to A&E’s popular “Live PD” series — Little said she met series host Sean “Sticks” Larkin and that he’s a really nice guy — in which there will be cash prizes, lovely parting gifts and $5,000 donations to animal charities.
The canine competitors will work up much more of a lather running the obstacle course — a test of speed, strength, agility and endurance that will make the Coca-Cola 600 look like a walk in the park — than the Bichon Frises and wirehaired terriers of Westminster.
In one scene from the promotional video, a frothing dog is shown clamping down hard on one of the handlers in a region of the handler’s body that would have gotten Kurt Busch or Tony Stewart sent straight to the NASCAR hauler.
Who let that dog out?
“Hopefully I can get them to bark,” Little said about her role as “America’s Top Dog” intrepid sideline reporter.
But if she’s as successful at provoking the dogs as she was with Kurt Busch during driver introductions at New Hampshire, the guy on the seven-second delay button had better be alert.
America’s Top Dog
— WHAT: Top K9 cops and civilian dogs competing on a made-for-TV obstacle course. The series is hosted by Curt Menefee alongside expert dog trainer Nick White with sideline reporting by Fox NASCAR pit road reporter and Green Valley High graduate Jamie Little.
— WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesdays, A&E.