A Good Choice By ESPN

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Right after New Year’s, word got out that ESPN had made the choice for their replacement of Marty Reid. It was to be Allen Bestwick. I say word got out, because ESPN has yet to deny or confirm the hiring. But Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee both seemed pretty confident the other night on Trackside that he got the job, so I’m going on the assumption that he does. I wouldn’t exactly call it a hiring, since Bestwick has already been working at ESPN since 2007. I suppose you’d call it a new assignment for Bestwick.

Overall, I think it is a good choice. I’ve heard a small bit of griping that it is going to be a NASCAR guy calling IndyCar. That’s true to some extent, but I still think it was a good choice. When the job came open, Allen Bestwick was not in my list of potential replacements. It’s not because I didn’t think he would be a good choice – I just never really thought of him.

Like Curt Cavin, my top choice was Vince Welch. He’s an IndyCar guy at heart, who happens to be doing the pit reporting for both series. But that’s not to say that Allen Bestwick isn’t a good choice. He is.

Allen Bestwick has been broadcasting racing for a long time – much longer than his youthful appearance would tell you. He’s much older than you would think – he’s fifty-two. He actually began his broadcasting career at the ripe old age of fifteen. One year later, he was calling races at Seekonk Speedway, a 1/3–mile paved oval in Seekonk, Massachusetts – not far from his birthplace in Newport, Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter, he was hired to become MotorNet’s Director of Affiliates and Associate Producer. In 1986 at the age of twenty-five, he joined MRN (Motor Racing Network) as a race reporter.

When NASCAR consolidated their broadcasts to only two networks in 2001, FOX and NBC/TNT, Bestwick was tabbed to be paired with Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. When NBC lost their NASCAR package in 2006, Bestwick chose to move to ESPN rather than stay with TNT’s six-race package. Bestwick has been there ever since.

Marty Reid led the IndyCar broadcasts on ABC/ESPN since 2006, when he mercifully took over for the beleaguered Todd Harris, who held the job for only one year. It’s no secret I was no fan of Marty Reid. Still, you hate to cheer anytime someone loses their livelihood – especially after the way Reid seemingly lost his.

After thirty-one years as an ESPN broadcaster, Marty Reid was let go after an on-air gaffe last September 21, when he was broadcasting a Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway and called the win for Ryan Blaney, as he was taking the white flag. Oops! Yes, that was a bad one, but I didn’t think it justified the embarrassment of a mid-season public firing.

But they parted ways and we knew a new voice would be calling this year’s Indianapolis 500. We now know that voice will be Allen Bestwick.

I think this is more than a solid choice. I think it could end up being an excellent choice. Allen Bestwick has been involved in racing most of his life. His father raced and he has been a motorsports broadcaster his entire career. He is not just a broadcaster that happens to cover racing, he is a racing junkie that happens to be a broadcaster.

One thing that always set Paul Page apart from other broadcasters was that you could feel his passion for the sport. He wasn’t just trained to cover racing – he loved it. I feel the same way about Allen Bestwick. He’s not a shouter, but I never thought that the person that shouted the loudest had the most passion. One of my favorite football broadcasters was Pat Summerall. He was about as understated as they come, but no one ever questioned his love of football. As Curt Cavin said the other night on Trackside, Bestwick is very easy to listen to. He is about as smooth a broadcaster as you could find in any sport.

This is a smart move for ESPN. They are losing NASCAR after this season. They already have a stable of Motorsports talent on the payroll. They might as well get some use out of them. By 2015, IndyCar will be the only racing property that ESPN has – even though it is only a handful of the races. My only fear is that after we grow accustomed to Bestwick calling the races, Bestwick may move on to NBC in 2015 to cover NASCAR, rather than stick around for only five to six IndyCar races per year – even though one of those races is the Indianapolis 500. He is a talented broadcaster. It would be a shame to utilize his talents only six times per year.

I will admit, when ABC covers the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30th, it will be a little odd hearing Bestwick describe Helio Castroneves battling with Scott Dixon heading into the Turn One right-hander. But I think by the end of that race, he will have already grown on us and we will have put it in the back of our mind that we’ve associated his voice with NASCAR for well over a decade. By the time ABC returns to the schedule for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he’ll already be considered one of us. That’s how confident I am that his racing knowledge will show through and most of us will welcome him to the IndyCar family. I think he’ll do fine.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “A Good Choice By ESPN”

  1. I always viewed him as a host and not a play by play guy. That being said I am fine if he does play by play. What makes ESPN/ABC bad at race coverafe is the tend to just show the leader and not racing plus they have way too many commercials.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Bestwick’s move is not the beginning of the new generation’s Page-Unser-Posey booth, but I would expect him to be solid nevertheless.
    I took Bestwick’s recent assignments covering college football for ESPN as a sign that he will remain with the network beyond next year. That’s just an assumption, of course. I would imagine ESPN could find a place for him on their NHRA and Rallycross broadcasts too.

    And speaking of broadcasters, I always have my fingers crossed for the return of Gary Gerould.

  3. I’m fine with Allen Bestwick. It occurs to me that having seen him doing some college football this past season, ESPN plans to try to keep him busy once NASCAR has gone away. As for how he’ll do in IndyCar, he’s a PRO; what is more important than that is with whom he is paired, since the strength of any broadcast is only as good as the interaction of its individual parts. I don’t expect a recreation of the Page-Posey-Uncle Bobby grouping, but I’m hopeful that ESPN will pair him with some animated color guys who at least seem like they’re ALIVE.

    My primary question becomes, “What happens to IndyCar on NBC/NBCSN once all the NASCAR properties are aboard?” With all due respect to Leigh Diffey and their team, are we going to wind up chasing IndyCar all over the NBC spectrum to CNBC, MSNBC, or elsewhere? If THAT is the case, would it not be better for ESPN to try and “woo” IndyCar to replace all the NASCAR programming that they will lose when the NBC/NASCAR deal goes active, particularly since IndyCar seems to want to keep its season clear of football, ESPN’s primary programming in the fall?

    I can’t help but feel that there are still other “shoes” to drop on this one….

  4. Honestly I’m not even sure if I’ve heard Alan Bestwick on television. I probably have I just can’t put the name to the face to the voice. I don’t watch a lot of NASCAR so that is probably why. When I first heard he was in the running, I immediately thought of Rusty Wallace. Remember that when he called a couple of IndyCar races? That was awful. That should’ve never happened.

  5. I have worked with Allen indirectly as a TV camera spotter a few years back in KY and other nationwide venues. I listened to the director channel as well as the poodles (booth talent) on my radio to determine what shots were going out on the network feed. Allen was very easy to follow and I could glean more info from listening to him and the color commentary about what was happening n the race. This ability to paint a picture with words made a spotter’s job far easier than just listening to camera number calls and shot changes by the director. Allen will do just fine providing open wheel commentary.

  6. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I certainly appreciate an announcer with radio-grade chops. If you have the ability to paint a picture with words for people who cannot see it, you’ll do just fine on TV. He sounds the best we’ll have since Page/Jenkins era.

  7. Bestwick is a terrific choice. I suggested that he could be a candidate for ABC 2 or 3 weeks before the announcement/leak/rumor (see the comments in the Racer.com article about Paul Page getting the IMS Radio gig). Allen may not have known much about IndyCar before this season, but he has worked with Nicole Briscoe (Ryan’s wife) for several years at ESPN, so he has a “source” for IndyCar insider info. He should get up to speed by Indy. Except for Champ Car’s in-house broadcasting team, he’ll be the first good announcer IndyCar has had in 10 years.

    Frankly, almost ANYONE is a better choice than Mousy Marty. But can someone explain the love for Vince Welch? I’ve never been impressed with him; I’ve never found him more enthusiastic nor less gaffe-prone that Reid. Seniority alone doesn’t impress me; remember he’s one of the IRL’s old guard in the media, just like Mike King.

  8. Alan sounds promising! I look forward to his debut. Thanks for the input on his quals.

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