Who Will Join Bestwick In The ABC Booth?

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Although it has not been officially announced by ESPN, we all now know that Allen Bestwick will be in the booth when the IndyCar Series kicks off at St. Petersburg in late March on ABC. Most agreed with me on Friday that Bestwick was a good choice for ESPN. Few seemed to worry that he was considered too much of a NASCAR guy.

While that move was met with great approval, little has been said about who will be joining Bestwick in the booth. Scott Goodyear has been in the ABC/ESPN booth as an analyst since 2002, just after he retired from driving. Eddie Cheever has been in the role of a second analyst in sporadic duty since 2008. For years, he was mostly on Indianapolis 500 broadcasts. For 2013, Cheever joined Goodyear and Marty Reid for all the IndyCar races on ABC.

Unlike most, I’ve never really had a problem with Scott Goodyear. Some find his delivery to be sleep inducing, but I always liked his insight. I was sometimes put off by his condescending, elementary explanations for those that had never seen an IndyCar telecast before, but I understood that he was probably acting on instructions from a producer in his ear, telling him to do so. The problem with Goodyear is that he always rose or fell with the talent that he was paired with.

When Scott Goodyear teamed up with Paul Page in 2002 and 2003, he was quite good. When Page was replaced by the inexperienced Todd Harris in 2004, Goodyear’s game dropped noticeably. The arrival of Marty Reid didn’t do much to enhance Goodyear’s performance, and he has languished ever since.

When Eddie Cheever was an early out at Texas in 1998, he joined Page in the ESPN booth for the majority of the race. At that point, I considered Cheever to be a shoo-in for the broadcast booth. He was insightful and hilarious at the same time. He gave candid one-liners about his fellow drivers. His brutally frank approach was refreshing and we felt we were getting a glimpse at Cheever’s next career whenever he decided to retire from racing. Ten years later, Cheever returned to the booth as a talking suit. Gone were the one-liners, replaced with stale network clichés that added little to the coverage.

The decision as to who will join Bestwick in the booth is probably close to being made, if not already made. But so far, I’ve heard very little as to who it might be. Personally, I would have no problem keeping Scott Goodyear. He is smart and is funny in his own right. The problem is that his sense of humor is so dry that it is sometimes lost on the audience. It would also suit me fine to have the booth limited to a two-man booth, which would mean that Cheever would be out.

I really like NBCSN’s IndyCar coverage, but their booth can be a little too crowded with sometimes as many as four in the booth in addition to Robin Miller hanging out somewhere on the premises. ESPN could use the opportunity to offer a quieter alternative, proving out the theory that sometimes – less is more.

Chances are that ESPN may go for a clean start and completely revamp the booth. That would probably play well with most fans who think that Goodyear is way too boring. Although I don’t see it that way, I did find humor in one line of Robin Miller’s mailbag last week, when a fan said that Cheever and Goodyear come across as two arrogant funeral directors arguing with each other.

So the big question is; if ESPN doesn’t stick with the status quo – who will join Bestwick in the booth? The most common answer out there is Dario Franchitti.

There is little doubt that Franchitti would be good in the booth. He is candid, funny, personable and certainly knowledgeable. Most seem to think that ESPN would jump at the chance to get Franchitti if he would do it. The biggest question is; would he do it? No one seems to know.

Those that are closest to Franchitti thinks he would prefer to stay at the team level and work with Ganassi much the same way that Rick Mears works with Team Penske. If he has more than a symbolic role with Ganassi, he would not be able to put in the time required to be a good analyst. From what I understand, the job is much harder than it looks. You don’t just show up in the booth ten minutes before the race and start talking about whatever is on your mind pertaining to the race. There are multiple production meetings each week and much research is required by the analyst in preparation for each week’s race.

Perhaps Robin Miller had the best idea. He suggested that Dario join the booth for the Month of May only. That way, he could stay involved with the team for all of the other races. It would give Franchitti a taste of what the job entails. That way, he could make an informed decision regarding a broadcasting future, without committing for the entire ABC season.

What would ESPN/ABC do for an analyst for the rest of the ABC races? My thought is to keep Scott Goodyear for at least one more year and have the three of them together for the Month of May. If Franchitti likes the gig, they can go with the three of them for 2015 or dump Goodyear and have Franchitti as the exclusive IndyCar analyst for ESPN for 2015 and beyond. That would probably make most fans happy.

But given my inability to predict such things, I have probably not yet described any scenario that ESPN is considering. Who knows, they may bring Jamie Little, Rick DeBruhl or Vince Welch into the booth, like the year Jack Arute joined Goodyear and Page. That didn’t work out so well, however. No, I tend to think that an IndyCar analyst needs to be a former driver. After all, going all the way to Jim McKay and Rodger Ward – how many times has there not been at least one former driver in the analyst role? The answer is: none. It won’t happen this year either.

So who is it going to be? This out-of-the-loop fan thinks it will be Goodyear and/or Franchitti or some combination of the two. My gut feeling also says that Cheever has called his last IndyCar race for ESPN. We’ll know soon enough.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “Who Will Join Bestwick In The ABC Booth?”

  1. Candid one-liners and a brutally frank approach don’t always go over well with the suits. So if you need the money perhaps you modify your approach. Maybe that is what happened to Cheever. Just a guess from another out of the loop guy.

    At this point in Dario’s life being in a booth may be too far from the sceam of the engines and the sceech of the tires. He can still contribute a lot of relevant advice to a team.

  2. NASCAR announcing has gone the way of the driver/crew chief booth, is there anyone on the pit/engineering side who would be a good add to Goodyear/Cheever/Dario/whoever that you would pair up in the booth?

  3. One way to eliminate the crowding at NBC Sports and help ABC would be to hire Townsend Bell to work with Bestwick.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    While I would expect ABC/ESPN to make an effort to get Dario to the booth, I expect to see Goodyear and/or Cheever return even if they are able to do so.
    They’ve been so comfortable with the status quo since the Todd Harris experiment imploded, that I would be surprised to see a change made that was not necessitated by other circumstances. Had he not been fired for (apparently) issues unrelated to his Indycar calls, Marty Reid would probably still be leading the broadcasts this season.

    Not that I would not like to see someone different in booth, I just wish I was more optimistic about it happening. Gary Gerould back on the Indycar broadcasts tops my wish list, though. Maybe he could at least do the 500.

  5. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I’d like to see ‘Other’ – a complete break from the past which also does not include Dario (yet).

    Based on nothing but a hunch, I expect the conservatism that ABC/ESPN will show toward Indycar in the booth (and lacking better budgets/creativity in covering the sport in the future) my guess is Goodyear plus the usual cast of pit reporters.

    To me the weakest links in recent history may be those mysterious producers who don’t really appear to follow or understand the ongoing stories and how it plays out in the racing in Indycar. Maybe I’m wrong, again just a hunch.

  6. I realize Goodyear doesn’t have many fans, but I’m with you George. I think he’s very informative, and adds some good insight to the broadcast. Sure, he may not be yelling and putting over-the-top emotion into what he’s saying, but the context is good.

    Personally, I hope they go with a two man crew of Bestwick and Goodyear, although I would welcome Dario’s presence.

  7. I think if I were Dario, I’d be happier being Ganassi’s Rick Mears . Much as Dario reminds me of the Wee Scott, he is not ready to let go of racing yet I don’t think.

  8. I vote for Parnelli. Talk about being frank and ruffling feathers. Cheever’s got nothing on Rufus! lol Seriously though, a break from the ordinary. What about someone like Jeff Ward? Does he have enough clout? Or how about Lynne St. James. Now THERE’s an angle. I’ve had the pleasure to announce with Tom Bigelow and he’s got a lot of class, but sure as heck doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade when it’s obvious. Ok I’ll shut up now.

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