Katie Hargitt’s youthful memories are punctuated by the close-to-home roar of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, attending its signature race and a decade of going wheel-to-wheel against a largely male contingent of young race car drivers.

These experiences and a steely resolve have helped her reach a professional goal far earlier than she ever thought she would. Three years after finishing a Ball State education, Hargitt is working on pit road at racetracks stretching from Long Beach, California, to Watkins Glen, New York.

The biggest challenge for the 2013 journalism/telecommunications double major? Trading a steering wheel for a microphone.

Hargitt is an NBC Sports pit reporter, zigzagging the country this year to cover more than a dozen IndyCar races. But her career highlight thus far: working as part of the public address team during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“It was the most incredible experience of my life. It’s an unmatched event,” said Hargitt. “To hear your voice booming out to over 400,000 people … and to be part of bringing history to those fans, I don’t even have words.”

Several pivotal Ball State experiences preceded the throng of fans at the historic hometown race. She found faculty who became mentors, discovered her future was in front of the camera instead of behind it and, perhaps most important, reconsidered her first choice for college to come to Muncie.

The right choice

Hargitt had always loved the Carolinas while growing up, in part because an older sibling had gone to college in North Carolina. Katie appeared ready to travel a similar path, to South Carolina’s Clemson University for broadcast journalism. She’d applied, been accepted and had shared the news with friends and family.

Katie Hargitt is seen as a child driving a small race car.

A childhood spent driving race cars steered Katie Hargitt’s broadcasting career toward IndyCar. (Photo courtesy of Katie Hargitt)

Then along came a notable Ball State graduate and Hargitt family friend.

Vince Welch, ’87, is a Fox Sports reporter who has more than 25 years’ broadcast experience, having worked for ABC Sports and ESPN. He also has known Hargitt most of her life because she raced quarter midgets for years alongside his son, 2016 Ball State graduate Dillon Welch, when the two were kids.

The elder Welch advised her to look into the broadcasting program and gave her a list of people he knew who worked at Ball State. She knew how successful Welch had become, and his advice piqued her curiosity. In addition, she knew it would be a better option financially. So she visited campus. From the state-of-the-art equipment and studios to the new Letterman Building, she was impressed by everything she saw.

“Vince Welch is actually the reason why I went to Ball State,” Hargitt said.

Within her first week on campus, she knew she’d made the right decision. Phil Bremen, MA ’04, taught her first journalism class, which was an overview of media and its relationship with society. The former NBC News correspondent’s classic news anchor voice was enough to give her goosebumps, and his first few lessons were captivating. She was hooked.

“He made it exciting and interesting. There is no one else like him in the country. You can be with him for five minutes, and you learn so much.”

For all of Hargitt’s praise of Bremen, the associate telecommunications professor credits her for having focus and drive.

“We educators wish we could predict what will electrify students. But the fact is, we sow a lot of seeds that may not sprout for years, if at all,” Bremen said. “In Katie’s case, she brought with her a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve, and she kept her eye on that goal.”

Advice changed her future

Hargitt was active in student media all through her time at Ball State and learned about TV broadcasting inside and out. She co-hosted the student-produced and locally broadcast entertainment program “Connections Live” and reported for the live nightly newscast “NewsLink Indiana” and “Cardinal Sports Live.”

But her most important student media experience came during her junior and senior years, when she worked with the Emmy Award-winning Sports Link.

This once-fledgling extracurricular program founded in 2010 in the basement of Ball Communication Building is now a bustling multimedia training ground that has inspired a telecommunications sequence in digital sports production.

For Hargitt, it was also the gateway to a pivotal opportunity, the chance to do color commentary at a women’s basketball game her senior year.

“Katie at first was a little shy and nervous to go on-camera to do play-by-play of events,” said Sports Link director Chris Taylor, ’96, MA ’98. “I said, ‘You have to trust me on this. It will open a lot of doors of opportunity for you.’ ”

Taylor, who is director of the digital sports production sequence, recalls Hargitt and a handful of other students — and their work with social media and content production during the men’s NCAA Tournament — proved Sports Link’s merit.

“The 2012 and 2013 group certainly validated and elevated what Sports Link is,” Taylor said. “The quality of work produced with that group of students was the turning point in building our program.”

Pat Boylan — a radio and TV broadcaster for the Indiana Pacers and Fever who, as a student, worked with Hargitt in Sports Link — said the program helps build students into professionals.

“The Sports Link program can’t be overstated — for me, her and countless others,” Boylan said. “You get in there freshman year and you’re pretty raw, and then in four years it’s pretty amazing how much things can change.”

For all her experience in student media, Hargitt also had breakthroughs in the classroom, including a 400-level telecommunications course.

“Katie mentioned once that TCOM 422, our course in advanced video news reporting, had switched on a light for her,” said Bremen, who inspired Hargitt during her first year at Ball State. “She said it’s where she came to understand how to make pictures and sound and words work together to make a compelling story. That’s a lot tougher to do than it might appear to the casual viewer. We work hard to make it look easy.”

Career in the fast lane

Her hands-on work helped her jump right into an internship at Fox 59 in Indianapolis. After graduating in 2013, she moved on to full-time jobs and more experience at television stations in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Last year, she seized an opportunity to cover auto racing for NBC Sports. During the week, she works diligently from her Indianapolis home, often at her kitchen table, preparing for weekend races across the country.

She has gotten to know the drivers’ personalities and preferences, the tracks’ nuances and usually isn’t far from a statistics book or spreadsheet. All that hard work allows for moments like her quick-paced interview with IndyCar rookie Alexander Rossi on NBC Sports Network’s “Rapid Fire” after his unexpected win at the Indy 500.

“You can’t come into these races blind,” Hargitt said. “It takes a lot of studying.”

Indianapolis’ ranks of Ball State alumni — including classmate and fellow broadcast professional Boylan— elicits pride from Hargitt.

It’s a sentiment that fits into the lifelong racing fan’s abrupt but smart turn toward Ball State for her education.

“To be in the epicenter of racing when that’s your passion, I would think there’s nowhere else to be.”