Well, that was long. An off-season with the possibility of never turning on.
October through March can be just as stressful for race broadcasters as it is for drivers trying to find rides. Driving is their career; this is mine. I've been in TV for more than 10 years, and this is the first time I have such an attachment to a job. Maybe it's because I grew up near Indy and spent every 500 (before I could go) at my grandparents with my cousins while the adults went to the Speedway, listening to the radio broadcast, hoping one of the drivers I drew from my Grandpa's hat would win.
Or maybe it's because IndyCar is badass.
I'm not too proud to admit I'm a lucky dog in 2011, being re-signed with the Versus TV crew after the Comcast/NBC merger, getting to report from the pits for the third year in a row. I will also get to take part in a live weekly IndyCar show from the Pagoda in Indy, starting May 3 and airing Tuesdays on Versus from 4-5 p.m. Eastern. (Set your DVRs and watch within 48 hours. We need ratings.) Kevin Lee and Robin Miller are on board, and while I can guarantee we will have live guests every week and answer viewer questions through social media, I cannot guarantee Robin Miller will keep it clean. But then, isn't that all the more reason to watch?
You can't be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and not think of Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy and Dan Wheldon. Yet all three champions have struggled to turn their off-season “on.” TK, PT, and Wheldon are longtime popular drivers with big fan bases, but I saw an online article this week that said it best: great racers have to be even greater fundraisers.
I might appreciate these longtime fan favorites for different reasons than you. TK is always willing to give an interview the second he gets out of the car, even when I'm sure he doesn't feel like it. Only once has he told me to wait so he could cool off, and even then, he found me to apologize later in the day. He makes my job easier. Other than the time I didn't see Dan coming and he signed his autograph in permanent marker across my entire forearm right before a broadcast, he's always easy to work with. And PT is one of those people I walk up to and never really know what to expect. He's a dream interview because he's not afraid to skip a politically correct answer and give an honest answer instead.
Now – just a few days before the season opener – TK lands with KV Racing and PT announces a deal with Dreyer & Reinbold for the 500. Wheldon seems to have some things cooking and might know more about his 2011 plans by St. Pete.
St. Petersburg is on ABC, so I'll join IMS Radio again this year for the race. I love radio because I think there's a different energy to it. As an announcer, you really have to be descriptive because you're the eyes for the listener. (Who am I kidding? I love radio because there's no hair and makeup to worry about.)
The Versus crew takes over TV coverage the next weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Obviously there are some changes in the talent lineup, and you'll see some changes in our coverage. You'll probably see us try some things that work, and some things that don't work – but the point is, we're trying to make it the best we can. At the open test, we (talent, producers, NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood) met with the drivers to get their input, and then met separately with their PR representatives. We've held a production seminar and watched lots of tape, and we're excited to tell good stories and get people emotionally attached to the sport and the drivers.
One of our coverage goals this season is to get a good “Through the Field” segment in a couple of times each race. We also want to incorporate more radio chatter, and really try to show how incredibly fast and fun this sport is. It seems like rivalries are already brewing, and we won't shy away from them this season. In fact, that's something the drivers suggested they'd like to see more of in the shows.
I'm honored to be a part of it, and also to be able to blog for RACER. All season, I'll try to give you insight into something from IndyCar that you don't see from home or read online.