Who Is Next In The Booth?

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One of the many highlights of last Saturday night’s race was the emotional tribute that the NBC Sports Network put together to honor the retiring Bob Jenkins. With all the accolades coming from current, former & legendary drivers, car owners and racing officials; it brought Bob Jenkins to tears on the air – and rightfully so. Whoever put that together did an excellent job and it was well-deserved. I’ve said it many times, but Bob Jenkins was a true professional in the booth and an even better person away from the booth. He’s one of the great ones and will be missed.

Although no one could ever replace a legend like Bob, the booth will have a new face and voice calling races next season. The question is; who will it be?

I was disappointed to learn that Paul Page posted on his Facebook page that although he had talked to NBCSN, they have decided to not utilize his talents. That’s a shame. Like Bob Jenkins, Paul Page has a passion for this sport that is matched by few. Although Paul has the ability to even make a hot dog eating contest seem exciting, his true love in sports is IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 in particular. Personally, I think it is a mistake on the part of NBCSN. I’m sure it has to do with age. They probably want someone to resonate with younger viewers. That’s why ABC made the infamous move to dump Paul Page in favor of Todd Harris. Paul is now eight years older, so I’m sure that was a major factor.

So rather than mount a campaign for someone we know won’t be calling the races for NBCSN, I’d prefer to start one for someone I think would do a great job – Kevin Lee.

Kevin Lee’s voice has been associated with the IZOD IndyCar Series for quite a while now. He covered his first Indianapolis 500 for the IMS Radio Network in 2001 and started covering the entire series full-time in 2004. He is a native Hoosier, a Ben Davis High School and Ball State grad that grew up listening to the 500 on the radio. He and Curt Cavin began their weekly Trackside radio show on 1070 The Fan (WFNI) in February of 2008. That show has become a weekly staple in the diet of die-hard IndyCar fans. Along with being a sideline reporter for the Colts and doing Pacer broadcasts, Kevin has been a pit-reporter and host of IndyCar Central on Versus/NBCSN for the past two seasons. I’ve always said that he is the hardest working man in sports.

Kevin Lee gets it. He’s one of us. He knows the ins & outs of this sport. He’s not just some talking suit with a microphone that might sound like he’d rather be doing something else like some announcer on another network. He understands the way fans look at this sport and he knows what the Indianapolis 500 means to all of us.

He also looks like the rest of us. He doesn’t come across as a game show host. Instead, he looks like any of us you might see at the track. I think it would be fascinating to go to a bar with Kevin and have a couple of adult beverages with him – just to talk sports and IndyCar racing in particular. I’ve said before that listening to Curt and Kevin on Trackside each week is like eaves-dropping on two buddies sitting at a bar doing some major bench racing. That type of familiarity that fans relate to would serve him well in the role of play-by-play (or would that be lap-by-lap?) announcer.

I don’t know if Kevin is interested in this role or if he is even under consideration. Nor do I know any other names being tossed about. I’ve heard Bob Varsha’s name thrown around, but I don’t see him leaving his Formula One gig with SPEED, where he rarely has to travel – just call the races from the studio in Charlotte. Brian Till substituted for Bob Jenkins at Baltimore, but I don’t think he is being considered. There are a couple of other names that I was not familiar with mentioned, but I can’t comment on someone I’ve never heard of.

So to me, Kevin Lee makes the most sense. He is articulate, he has a sense of humor and a good and pleasant delivery. He not only knows this sport, but he cares about it. You can tell that each week on Trackside. In fact, the only reason I can think of why I would not want Kevin to be the next cable voice of IndyCar, is that it might interfere with his ability to continue doing Trackside. That would leave a huge void each week in the lives of IndyCar fans.

So what do you think? Do you agree with me that Kevin Lee is the best and most logical choice for the NBCSN booth, or do you have someone else in mind. Let me hear from you today and this weekemd. This will be another interesting matter to watch unfold this offseason. Whoever is chosen to succeed Bob Jenkins will have some mighty big shoes to fill. For my money, Kevin Lee comes closer than anyone else to doing so.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “Who Is Next In The Booth?”

  1. Absolutely agree. If Kevin Lee wants it, he should have it.

  2. Dear NBCSN,
    1. Paul Page.
    2. Kevin Lee.
    3. Nobody else for consideration please.

  3. Brian from NY Says:

    I have to disagree with you on this one, George. I like Kevin Lee in the role of pre-race host because he lays out the stories in a professional and informative way. Unfortunately, I want someone that isn’t so wooden to call the race. In my humble opinion, announcers from the English school of Motorsports are head and shoulders above their American counterparts. Having taken their cues from the great Murray Walker, many have the same excitable style of calling a race. There is many announcers that fit that style, but the issue is trying to get those announcers to come to NBCS.
    My top four would be the following:

    Ben Edwards. Ben use to do CART for Eurosport and the level of excitement and intensity was unmatched. He is the best in the business in my opinion. He know is calling F1 and you will never get him to do INDYCAR, but he should be used as a measuring stick.

    Leigh Diffey. The Aussie does Grand Am, and subs for Varsha in F1. Leigh worked with Ben a couple of times in his early career and has a similar style. He is the best play by play man in America right now, but you would never get him out of Speed where he is used on almost everything they have.

    Derek Daly. Conner’s dad has stepped away from the booth to focus on Conner’s career, but another guy that brought lots of passion and knowledge when he was in the booth.

    Calvin Fish. Leigh’s color man in Grand Am is another solid voice. Not as good as Edwards or Diffey, but brings that similar style of passion from a fan’s perspective.

    The good news is that there are a ton of good announcers that are working today that the average American race fan has never heard of. They need to look at series like the FIA GT1 or WEC endurance series and listen to some of the guys doing those races. Simply rolling out someone just because they may be familiar to some fans is the wrong thing to do. They need someone that is going to put you at the edge of your seat and make you feel the excitement of the greatest racing series in the world.

    • billytheskink Says:

      A non-(North) American play-by-play announcer would be an interesting proposition. They tend to benefit from the perception given off by their accent that they are inherently intelligent and interesting. At the same time, they are uncommon in the play-by-play role in the US and may feed the perception of the series as a niche sport.

  4. I like Kevin Lee or Bob Varsha and I think that NBCSN should get Sara Underwood to be the new pit reporter.

  5. disappointing to hear they’ve already ruled out P. Page

  6. Gurney Eagle Says:

    If Paul Page is out, then move Kevin to the booth and bring back Lindy Thackston.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I guess some TV people somewhere have done studies showing that young people are turned off by old people announcing? I don’t get it.
    Unfortunate that we won’t be hearing Page on the broadcasts, but I’d be fine with Lee or Varsha. I do hope to hear Page back with the radio team at Indianapolis, and other races if that is possible.

    Varsha is much more ready for the role, obviously.
    It would take Lee some time to adjust, but I think he has potential. I think the current, less excitable, personality he displays as a pit reporter and pre-race host is at least partially a product of those roles. We don’t hear him reacting live to an important in-race incident often, if at all.

  8. I like Varsha, Diffey, and Fish as well, but I dont know if they would leave SPEED for NBCSN at this time. I think Kevin Lee would be a logical progression. If Varsha isnt available I would love to see them pick him up.

  9. Ben Edwards would have been my choice if this was a year ago but since he’s got his dream job, Kevin would be my choice now. Because he’s passionate about Indycar and that’s more important over being an experienced commentator that doesn’t really care about Indycar

  10. Savage Henry Says:

    Paul Page is as much the voice of Indycar racing to me as Keith Jackson has always been the voice of college football. However, those are voices of the past. Indycars needs a voice of the future. Those broadcasts need something different, they need a hook to get people flipping by on their remote to stop on the race and watch for awhile. We know what the audience is of Indycar racing on NBCSN – about $250K. I guess that’s the number of die-hard Indycar fans that tune into every race. That’s not enough people – the series needs people who don’t follow racing or at least don’t follow Indycar racing to tune in, like it, and then become regular viewers.

    I like Kevin Lee and he would be a favorite of the diehards, but irrelevant to anyone else. I think that they need to go completely outside the box with the race broadcasts, even if it means going with someone outside of the Indycar racing (or any racing) family. Indycar did it with Randy Bernard. I agree with Brian from NY that someone from the UK school of race broadcasting would be great. One of the team members from the ALMS broadcasts (I can’t find his name on the intergoogle) has a heavy scottish accent and is VERY enthusiastic. You just want to watch and listen to him for awhile. He makes that broadcasts more entertaining that they probably otherwise would be.

    What keeps coming into my mind is the choice of Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show on CBS. When I heard he got the job I thought they were nuts. Who would hire someone with a heavy accent who acts like a cokehead with ADD? The show is off-beat and many times just goofy. But if I see it, I can’t turn it off. It is very entertaining.

    We certainly want the broadcast booth to be respectful of the sport of Indycar racing, its traditions, and its fans. But they need to significantly boost the entertainment value of the broadcasts to bring people in that wouldn’t normally tune in. The quality of the racing doesn’t matter if nobody watches anyway. If they take the safe route with a Kevin Lee, they’ll be stuck at $250K. If they take a chance, it could be the first step toward breaking out of the ratings doldrums. Sports is entertainment and needs to compete with other forms of entertainment.

    • Savage Henry Says:

      Sorry, I mean 250,000 people, not 250,000 dollars. I’ve been working on budgets all morning at work so I have dollar signs in my head.

    • Brian from NY Says:

      Good call about the ALMS guys. They are John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw. Jeremy use to do CART with Ben Edwards and was always good. John is excellent as well, and they are the voice of Radio LeMans. It goes to my point about how they need to focus on that style instead of just chosen someone because the fans already know who he is.

  11. Scott Burns Says:

    Paul Page would be my number one choice or how about Mike King the voice of the Indy 500? Just get rid of Wally. Went to t the race Saturday night and watched one of the most exciting races in a long time. Watched it on TV the next day Wally almost put me to sleep

  12. i agree totally and you couldnt ask for a nicer guy then kevin . in that way and others hed be a good guy to fill in bobs shoes.

  13. Anybody that doesn’t go “Boogity, boogity, boogity”!

    I agree with Savage Henry and others above who suggest that we think outside the box a bit, if you will. Someone whose voice is not like fingernails on a blackboard; someone who generates excitement with his (or her) voice. When we listen to some of the recorded calls leading in to Trackside each week, WOW, those get my instant attention. So, if John or Jane Doe is just clicking channels and stumble upon an IndyCar race and the announcer is just droning on, they will keep clicking. But if they hear someone with excitement in his (or her) voice, maybe they will linger a bit and get hooked.

    Another option: What does Pressdog sound like in real life? He comes complete with clowns, your festival of carbon fiber (or fibre for the Dixon fans), beer spews…………what else do you need?!

  14. I’d say either Varsha or Kevin Lee. Hindy (radio Le Mans) would be good also. Lee isn’t going to bring any new fans in but I don’t think that’s the role of the play by play guy, either. His job is to keep whoever’s watching, old fans and new ones, accurately informed.

  15. Diffey is my top choice.

    Not a Kevin Lee fan.
    As an avid F1 watcher, I would hate to lose Varsha. He is part of the best booth in all of sports.

  16. My vote would be for Tommy Kendell but it looks like he’ll be racing next year so he’s out. I like Kevin Lee but I don’t know if he has the knowledge or experience for motorsports play-by-play, he has mentioned on his podcast/radio show that he hasn’t been a racing fan for very long. I think Leigh Diffey could be a good choice, he’s quick, experienced and he really loves Indycar although some fans may complain that he’s foreign. There also could be some suprises out there that I don’t know of, but in reality our choices are fairly limited I hope the powers that be make a good choice.

  17. Kevin Lee loves IndyCar and talks with passion. He would be amazing as an announcer. But NBC also needs a proper analyst, an ex driver or engineer, who can discuss details a typical journalist doesn’t know for real. Bell or Mann should take that role.

  18. Maybe a Mike King if he would leave his dream job, Voice of the 500, or Gary Gerould, whi is probably too old for NBCSN. I like Kevin and believe he would do a great job, but who replaces him?

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