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Celebrity Drive: ESPN Anchor Sara Walsh

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/19/2014 K.S. Wang

Quick Stats: Sara Walsh anchor ESPN
Daily Driver: 2003 Ford Escape (Sara’s rating: 2 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: California coast
Car she learned to drive in: 1989 Suzuki Samurai
First car bought: 2003 Ford Escape

In the competitive world of television, some people reward themselves with a shiny new dream ride. Others are loyal to their first cars. The latter is the case with sports anchor Sara Walsh, who still drives the 2003 Ford Escape that's been with her as she worked toward her current job as a SportsCenter anchor for ESPN

She bought the Ford Escape when she landed a sports reporter gig at WKRN, the ABC affiliate in Nashville, and was able to buy her own car. "I thought it was really big-time when I was able to do that. As I moved up in the TV world, she's always come with me," Walsh says. "She's been dinged up, she got T-boned in the ESPN parking lot while I was on air, but I can't let her go."

It was a proud moment for Walsh when she could go to the Ford dealership and buy her own car. "I thought the car was so expensive; at the time I got it for $18,000 and I thought it was a very high-end expensive car. For me it was," she says. "It's been with me through all these TV jobs, working my way up. I feel like it's unfair to ditch her just because I got to ESPN, and she's been with me through all my TV jobs, so why should she have to go?"

Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh Now that Walsh is on ESPN's "SportsCenter" morning shows and anchors "Fantasy Football Now," she has purposefully stayed true to the Ford, which she rates a 2 out of 10. It gets that rating because it doesn't always start, but she plans to keep it until it no longer works.

"Everybody makes fun of me. I'm basically going to ride it until it dies," she says. "Once while working in D.C., an assignment editor made fun of me about her and said, 'Why don't you get a better car?' Instead of being offended, I decided I would go the opposite direction and refuse to get a new car."

At first Walsh felt bad about the diss against her Escape, but it made her more determined to keep it. "Five minutes after he said it, I'm like, 'You know what? Now I'm purposely not going to do it.' Instead of the peer pressure of, 'Oh I need to have nicer and better…' I'm was like, 'Now I'm going to drive this car and I'm going to own it.' Everyone at ESPN -- most of them have really, really nice cars and I have a car on which the passenger side door doesn't open."

Although now when she tells people the story of why she won't let go of her Ford Escape, Walsh says, "They say, 'Well, now you're just being ridiculous because your car doesn't start sometimes.' I say, 'I am being ridiculous, but you know what? I haven't made a car payment in eight years, so who's being ridiculous?'"

While on the air at ESPN one day, security called her because a fellow employee T-boned the passenger side of her Escape in the parking lot. "We had the director call from the control room. If it was anybody else, because all of our anchors have way nicer cars, they would have been upset. I was just like, 'Ah, whatever, give me the next highlight,'" she says, with a laugh.

Walsh wasn't even going to report the accident. "The person who hit me reported it and I started getting stuff from insurance people and they were like -- we'll fix the door and cut you a check now. I called my dad and he said, 'Your car's not worth getting fixes like that; how often do you get in the passenger side door? Never.' I was remodeling my basement, which is really expensive, so I thought I'll put that towards my basement," she says, with a laugh. "So that's why it never got fixed. It wasn't even worth it. But it's very difficult to get in the passenger side door. You have to be crazy skinny or you have to 'Dukes of Hazzard' your way in."

She says having the Escape is also handy when driving to places such as New York City, where she doesn't have to worry about it getting scratched up. "That's the beauty of having this car because I have to go to New York City a lot and in D.C., I never cared when people dinged it."

At times, the Ford Escape doesn't start and Walsh has had to walk home from grocery stores. "Sometimes she doesn't feel like going anywhere and I've had to walk home from grocery stores, but she'll start an hour later. She's very tricky that way," she says. "The clutch totally died on the way to work one morning. I got to work, and I said, 'Hey guys, my car doesn't work, so when this show ends, somebody's going to have to help me get somewhere.'"

Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh

Car she learned to drive in

Walsh grew up in the Tampa area, where she learned to drive on a manual 1989 Suzuki Samurai. She persuaded her dad, who bought it shortly before she turned 16, to give it to her for her birthday.

"I was really excited when he brought it home. My girlfriends and I would sit in the driveway in the car and pretend we were going places before I could actually take it anywhere. Like, 'Do you want to go to the mall?' We would get in it and pretend how great our lives were going to be and how much they were going to change when that car got turned over to me," Walsh says.

Walsh's mom didn't like the idea of her driving the Samurai because they were in the news and linked to rollovers. (Suzuki eventually settled its lawsuit against Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, which had rated the Samurai "not acceptable.") "Those were so dangerous, my mother had a fit. She was livid at my father for letting me drive that. She told me that I had to wear a helmet when I was driving with the top down," Walsh says with a laugh. "I was never allowed to pick anyone else up and drive anybody else in it and of course the first day I was going to go pick up my friends. She said, 'Everyone's wearing a helmet in this car!' I'm like, 'I'm not driving into high school with a helmet on.'"

All her cars have had manual transmissions. "I've never had a car that wasn't a stick shift because that's what I learned to drive on. There's so many people now that can't drive a stick, and I forget that until I tell friends they can borrow my car and they're like, 'Uh, we can't drive that.' I thought this would help me when I went to ESPN's NASCAR immersion experience and got to drive a race car. It actually didn't help at all. I was terrible."

Walsh says the Suzuki was not an easy car to drive. "It had a really hard clutch, it was very difficult to drive, so now everything else is easy," she says. "If I got to first period and hadn't stalled out it was a huge victory."

She passed her driver's test when she took driver's ed. "If I had to take that car, the little Suzuki, to take the driver's course [test] I probably would have failed," she says. "… I took it at the school with the teacher in their mandated cars, which were a lot easier to drive."

While talking, Walsh found her old photo where she was posing with the Suzuki Samurai two decades ago and noted how happy she looked to have that car. "I remember posing with it in the high school parking lot because I was really psyched. I always wanted a Wrangler. That was like a baby Wrangler. I stalled every single day going to school," she says, looking at the photo. "You can tell I'm so proud of it. I have the tackiest jeans on that you've ever seen that are high-waisted. I can't even been that mad at it because I looked really happy about this car. I look at it now and I still like this car; it's a cute little baby Jeep."

Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh Walsh had to let it go when she went to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where she played soccer. "I was going to have to make four-hour road trips back and forth," she says. "It's kind of rough. You don't want to be on the highway in that. It's loud. It was a good car to zip around and go to high school in."

So her parents bought her a manual Pontiac Sunfire for college. "That car was good too. It's funny, I never have the nicest cars but I love them, and I do have a hard time letting them go," she says.

Walsh had the Sunfire for about six years until she landed her TV gig in Nashville when she was able to buy the Ford Escape. "My mom was like, 'I don't think you should take [the Sunfire] to Nashville because it's getting older. And it was fine. But I gave it to my brother and got that job and I bought this on my own. So it's a huge deal," she says, referring to the Ford.

"In the world of TV you work your way up, so I worked my way up in this car. You work your way up from small markets to medium markets to large markets. You start in these tiny little towns and that's how you work your way up to getting to ESPN," she says. "… So I've always wanted to keep it."

After Nashville she took her Ford Escape to her next TV job in Washington, D.C., and she sees it as a badge of honor now when her friends make comments about her daily ride. "They make fun of me all the time," she says.

Favorite road trip

Walsh's favorite drive is along the California coast in a Wrangler, with its top down. In fact she always tries to rent a Wrangler when in California. "Nothing makes me happier than zipping around San Diego in a Wrangler with a surfboard," she says. "California is my favorite spot so I try to go there. And I don't ever want any kind of sports car. I always want a Wrangler.

Along the coast, Walsh enjoys driving from San Diego to Los Angeles "That's the only time I love driving, is out there -- a Wrangler in Cali."

Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Sara Walsh

ESPN's 'SportsCenter' and 'Fantasy Football Now'

Walsh has been at ESPN for four and a half years, where she is seen in the mornings on "SportsCenter" and now that football season is back, she is also on "Fantasy Football Now" Sundays at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.

The two-hour "Fantasy Football Now" has gained in popularity since its debut about eight years ago. "It's getting bigger every year," Walsh says. "It's gone from a dotcom show to a 30-minute show to an hour, and now we're two hours. We've taken it out on the road this year. We just got back from doing it live in Orlando. The response on 'Fantasy Football Now' has been huge."

The show airs right before kickoff, when people are trying to set their fantasy football lineups. "We help people get their lineups set and get ready for the games that day, and we're getting reports from the field that are covering the games. Because so many people are invested in that and care about it, it's gotten really popular."

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