I've seen a lot of depressing things on tape in my former life in local news. I've seen some tough things in racing the past few years, too, be it bad crashes, crewmember injuries, or the face of someone bumped out of the Indianapolis 500.
But some video I recently saw really gave me goose bumps. Someone happened to have JR Hildebrand's mom in their camera frame for the final two laps of the "500." You see the woman who has helped her son through all his years of blood, sweat and tears, jumping up and down, bursting with excitement at the sight of him leading the greatest spectacle in racing, with the checkered flag just seconds away.
In the same split second that the rest of us couldn't believe our eyes, this mother stood in complete shock until sinking into her chair with her head in her hands.
What a day. What a month, really.
Versus does hours and hours and hours of "500" coverage, but the race itself is on ABC so I was able to spend the day roaming around firesuit-free (which led to a wicked sunburn!). I won't say it's not a bit strange to cover all the build-up to the race (Pole Day, Bump Day, Carb Day, and 500 Festival Parade) and then not cover what your shows have been leading up to, but I can't even describe the feeling when the Parade show ends and I know my work is done and it's time to simply enjoy.
Based on my personal month of May experience, here is a short list of some things I learned:
1) Asking for interviews from the “bumped” sucks. Every year. Mike Conway understandably waved me off without a word. And actually getting an interview isn't that much better.
2) Grown men in motorsports do cry. Sam Schmidt with tears in his eyes as Alex Tagliani won pole was beyond moving to witness, no matter who you root for.
3) You can lose and still win…and I'm old. I told the 33 Indy 500 Festival Princesses as I emceed the queen crowning ceremony 10 years (!) after I was a princess, “Look at me! You can lose today and still do OK!”
4) I need left foot insurance around Penske during the month of May. In 2010, a team equipment cart ran over my left foot. (It hurt more to see a black streak across the top of my brand-new Puma than it actually hurt the foot inside.) This year, in the middle of one of my reports in pouring rain (and having a flashback to years of hurricane coverage in Florida), a huge gust of wind knocked over a Penske crowd barrier, tearing all the skin off the back of my left heel.
It rained a lot in Indy during May, so we had to do a lot of “rain fill” coverage. Sometimes that can turn out to be the best television, because we can do longer interviews and talk to lots of people while they're trapped in their garages and can be a bit more laid back.
Because I just couldn't get enough of the rain, I decided to visit my brother in Portland, Ore., for a few days on the off weekend before the Texas Twin 275's. My dad went as well and we spent three days hiking.
No one really knew what to expect going into Texas, except that it'd be hot. As usual. One thing I always look forward to in Texas is lunch with Eddie Gossage on qualifying day. He caters the lunch in his office for the announcers and our producers and director. The tables are set up in a circle and it's a nice, intimate setting with some good conversation. Sometimes, like two years ago, Bruton Smith joins us. This year, with Robin Miller there, the conversation was, uh, pretty lively!
As for the races, I liked them. I think the short races could keep people's attention and it was interesting to see what the crew did to the cars in between, how the drivers handled the intermission, and how teams reacted when their driver turned the tire to reveal starting position. What a difference to see Dario Franchitti's team and Tony Kanaan's.
I'm not one to decide how the starting order for the second race should be set, but I will say one positive to the “halftime” on my job's side of things was giving every driver the chance to be interviewed on TV, when we all know some of them might not otherwise ever be interviewed all season. (But try to tell Chip Ganassi that!)
The event got the highest ratings Versus has had all season, which is around a .38. I don't often comment on ratings, but there is one thing I want to say about them. Understandably, a lot of people go on and on about how “nobody is watching because it's on Versus.” Sure, the races get higher numbers on ABC, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who DO get Versus who are not watching. We need to reach those people.
Enjoy Milwaukee on ABC. Next up for Versus is Iowa on June 25 and we are on the air from 5:30-10 p.m. Eastern. I hope you'll tune in – and persuade your family members and friends to do likewise. It should be another good event.