I’m full of opinions right now — all of them are my own, of course — and so I felt it would be necessary to comment, again, on the newest additions to the NBC Sports lineup for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.
It was announced Thursday by NBC that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been added to the broadcast team, which, along with several other veteran broadcasters, will bring to 14 the total of on-air personalities we will hear during the race. As always, Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth, while Mike Tirico comes on for the first time as host, and Krista Voda will handle some other pre-and-post-race coverage.
You can read the rest of the contributors in the release, but the team is a mix of people with NASCAR and IndyCar (or both) experience. In all, a very, very stout team.
Unlike the addition of Danica Patrick, a decision I panned in this space a couple of weeks ago, I’m very excited to hear that Junior has been added to the broadcast. While he never drove in the 500, like Patrick did, he did compete in the Brickyard 400 17 times, and probably saw more of them than that.
Since his retirement a couple of years back, Earnhardt has proven to be very good on TV and will be a positive contributor to the broadcast. He sounds very enthusiastic about his assignment, and I think he will do very well. The thing I respect the most about him is that Earnhardt is not only a big IndyCar fan, he is a racing historian and will be well-versed by the time he arrives at the Speedway. I know from past comments he’s made that he “gets it” about the 500 — as much as someone who hasn’t attended the race can — and whatever he doesn’t get will come to him the more time he spends around the track during the month.
The thing I hope to see most is that he gets a chance to turn a few laps in a car, because even if the car is dialed up with as much downforce as possible, diving into Turn 1 at 210-215 mph will be a much different perspective than he ever could’ve experienced in a Cup car. I think is “new to the 500” perspective will be refreshing, almost like Formula 1 broadcaster Will Buxton’s experience at Indy several years ago.
I’ve noticed on social media that there is a bit of backlash concerning many on the broadcast team, and I’m not sure why. Well, I do, because the group has a heavy NASCAR influence.
You know what? This is the perfect opportunity to put the NASCAR vs. IndyCar battle to rest. We know what guys like Tirico, Diffey, Bell and Tracy bring to the broadcast, but the rest of this group is also made up of solid, professional broadcasters who have done work in many other disciplines. From college and pro football and basketball to the Olympics, the broadcasters in this group aren’t just “racing” people, they are good at what they do.
Looking through any and all biases, the truth is that NBC is trying to elevate their broadcast to make it a really big deal. If ABC had put as much effort into their 500 coverage as NBC is, they would be broadcasting the race for the 55th straight year. Look at how NBC broadcasts the Super Bowl or the Olympics…that’s the type of vibe they are giving off.
NBC is giving us a two-hour pre-race and one-hour post-race show, as well as wall-to-wall qualifying coverage and coverage in the week leading up to the race. The booth and pit road crew are the same people that work IndyCar races week-to-week, so the core coverage during the race won’t be a lot different than any other race on the schedule.
Tirico is the best in the business, and Voda, via her Wikipedia page, “has covered college football (including the Cotton Bowl Classic), the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, the Kentucky Derby, the World Series, the PGA Championship, and the National Football League”. We already know the background of the people on the NBC IndyCar crew, they get it done better than anyone.
Still trying to find the issue! Is it Danica? Rutledge Wood? OK, I’ll give you those two. But Junior? Come on. If you have an issue with him, go listen to a few of his podcasts. He’s built a pretty big media empire, you know. In his podcasts he comes across as smart and curious, while knowing how when to ask questions and when to keep his mouth shut. For the role they are giving him this May, it seems like those qualities will serve him well.
What NBC is giving fans is miles beyond anything ABC gave us, including and especially in on-air talent. While I wish there was room for a role for Allen Bestwick and Dr. Jerry Punch, especially Dr. Punch, what NBC is rolling out is all-star level quality.
And besides, why do we care? It’s the Indy 500! I copied this from someone else years ago in my blog posts, but you only have so many race seasons and so many Indy 500s in your life. Why not stop worrying about little things that don’t matter and enjoy things for what they are.
Because in my opinion, May 26 is going to rock. Hard.
Pit Lane Parley
Remember last week when I devoted a portion of my blog to rising start Pato O’Ward? The PLP crew goes even one step further and actually talks to him!
Listen to that interview, along with a Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama preview in this week’s episode, which you can hear on all streaming platforms, including my favorite, iTunes.