When you’re the offspring of a well-known sportscaster, growing up around professional athletics, your life options boil down to two equal but opposite reactions: run as far away from sports as possible or lean into the call buried in your genes.
For Ashley Brennaman Shirley (‘05), youngest daughter of Cincinnati Reds baseball radio announcer Marty Brennaman, there was never any uncertainty—she planned to get in the game from an early age.
“I wanted to be involved in sports in some way, shape or form,” she says with a decisive nod, adding that it was her choice, not a house rule, that led to the decision.
Her father confirms. “I’ve always been a parent who believed that my kids are going to do what they want to do,” Brennaman says, “not what their dad wants them to do.”
She did find her way into an athletics career, though it’s not one she imagined as a kid when visiting Riverfront Stadium “dressed to the nines” in pigtails and frilly dresses with her mother. The road—or, in her case, 1.5-mile oval racecourse—to her current career as communications manager for the Kentucky Speedway started with her first race, during an internship in the summer of 2005 . “It just hooks you,” she says.
But this leg of the race was preceded by Shirley’s time in college, which provided the skills she uses daily at the racetrack. The Anderson Township, Ohio, native entered higher education at Ohio University, leaving after two years to return to Cincinnati. She took a year-long pit stop, then, on the recommendation of a family friend, decided to check out Northern Kentucky University.
“There was a gentleman, Russ Jenisch, who was the scoreboard producer for the Reds and a really good friend of my dad’s,” says Shirley. Jenisch taught classes at NKU and offered to show Shirley around campus. “He gave us a great tour, and I fell in love with it.”
NKU’s small classes and caring Radio and Television department professors (particularly Dr. Russ Proctor, with whom she remains close) provided the perfect scenario for Shirley, who found academic success at the Highland Heights campus. “Ashley made honor grades when she was at Northern Kentucky University,” says Brennaman. “She was an entirely different student academically. She really applied herself, and she learned a lot about herself.”
She’d interned with the Reds during college, but when seeking a second internship after graduation, Shirley wanted something less familiar. “Jerry Carroll, who owned Kentucky Speedway, is a good friend of my father’s,” she says. “My dad always said growing up, I’ll help you get a job, but once you get it, it’s your job to keep it.” Brennaman passed Shirley’s resume along to the speedway, and the HR director reached out. “She called me in but she’s like, ‘Oh, lord. Marty Brennaman’s daughter. Great, I wonder how she’s gonna do?’” Shirley laughs. “She tells me that to this day.”
Shirley loved working at the speedway, but the internship ended and she found full-time work at a graphics design studio. “I honestly don’t even count that year I left,” she says. “I got laid off, then went out that night and had a couple of drinks. I was really sad. Then, the next morning my dad comes knocking on my door.” Brennaman had a message from speedway officials looking to offer Shirley a permanent position. “I was like, this is fate. This is where I’m supposed to be. I mean, the day after I got laid off—not even 24 hours.”
And she’s been there ever since, working with local and national media, coordinating interviews with management and drivers, handling public relations and strategizing new ways to promote the Kentucky Speedway experience. She was even a part of the August 2010 announcement of the inaugural Quaker State 400, the speedway’s first-ever NASCAR cup race. “Flip flops and all,” she says. “I was nine months pregnant, but to be there for the announcement that we’re getting a cup race was awesome.” At the most recent cup race, her dad even came to Sparta to drive the pace car.
Brennaman is happy that his daughter found a career she enjoys and excels at, though he does hope she’ll someday find her way to Great American Ballpark (largely so he could see her more). “I think she’d be an asset to the organization, just like she’s been an asset to Mark Simendinger and all the folks down at the speedway,” he says. “It would be great.”
So if she was offered a role with the Cincinnati Reds, would she consider it?
“I love my job at Kentucky Speedway,” she says with a laugh. “I think I like being a fan of the Reds and looking from the outside in now.”