We Will Miss Jack Arute
The last couple of days have produced a flurry of news items regarding the IZOD IndyCar Series. Most of it pertains to who has signed a last minute deal or what driver is left on the outside looking in as the 2011 season is about to get underway. On Monday, we got the official word from Versus as to who the on-air talent will be.
The good news was that Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhuis and Lindy Thackston would all be returning. It was also revealed that Versus will have a weekly show, beginning May 3, that will be co-hosted by none other than Robin Miller. I’m a Miller fan, although I realize others are not. He tells it like it is, or how he sees it – but most of the time, he ends up being right. Versus also announced that Robbie Buhl and Robbie Floyd would not return. Not to sound insensitive, but whichever way they went with those two made little difference to me one way or the other. One change they made did upset me, however – Jack Arute will not be returning.
Like most bloggers, I have picked on Jack from time to time and had some fun at his expense. His props ranging from cheese graters to bowling balls got a little ridiculous, and at times he gave the appearance that he thought he was the reason that fans tuned in. We bloggers were also relentless at poking fun of his sweat-soaked blue shirt at Motegi that was only overshadowed by his poor sense of geography on the same telecast. But did I think Jack should be fired? Never.
If you take Jack Arute at face value and underestimate his knowledge or passion for open-wheel racing, you are making a serious mistake. His trade may be broadcasting, but his love is the Indianapolis 500. Like Paul Page, he was living the dream – being able to get paid doing something that he actually loved doing.
Up until last year, Jack Arute had been behind a microphone for every Indianapolis 500 since 1986. He did double-duty in 2009, serving as a pit reporter for the ABC telecasts, and into a more expanded role for the Versus races. For 2010, Arute moved over and did the Versus races exclusively. Whether or not that was his choice, I’m not sure. I have been led to believe that Jack voluntarily left ABC after 24 seasons in order to focus strictly on IndyCar racing and the fledgling Versus channel.
If that is the case, then Monday’s announcement is even more troubling. To make a career move and cast your lot with a network you plan on helping to grow is noble. To have new owners come in and tell you that your services are no longer needed or wanted is despicable. Despite his playfulness, Arute is no longer a young man. In today’s world, where a Paul Page is cast aside in favor of a Todd Harris, it’s apparent that experience and knowledge no longer matter in the booth, so long as you look like you’re under 25.
Aside from his props, it has been Jack’s passion for racing that has been his earmark. It was that passion that led him to cover Danica Patrick’s win at Motegi, Japan in 2008, then hop on a plane and be in Long Beach the very next day to cover the Champ Car finale. He wasn’t told to do that for ESPN – it was his idea.
During his time at ABC/ESPN, Arute served in many roles. He was an excellent college football sideline reporter for years, but it was always open-wheel racing that stirred his blood. At the Indianapolis 500 last year, it was odd not having Jack Arute in the customary role of interviewing the winning driver in victory lane for ABC. Still, he had a large role with Versus throughout the month of May with their excellent qualifying coverage and their post-race show.
Now, that’s not to say that I’m displeased with his replacement. Kevin Lee has been added to cover the pits alongside Lindy Thackston. Kevin has earned this shot over the years. He has been on the IMS Radio Network since 2001 covering the Indianapolis 500, then covering the series full-time since 2004. He and Curt Cavin are co-hosts of Trackside on 1070 The Fan. Kevin is also a sideline reporter for the Colts and covers the Indiana Pacers as well. Most recently, he has helped create an excellent 10-part radio documentary heard on Sunday mornings at 10:00 EDT on 1070 The Fan entitled "The Centennial Celebration". He likes to have fun on the air, but takes his job very seriously. His hard work has paid off and he’ll do well in this role. Lindy Thackston has proven herself for the last two years and I think they will make a great team.
But somehow, Jack Arute needs to have a presence on someone’s airwaves at some point this season. I don’t know if a return to ABC/ESPN is possible, but if it is – both parties should jump at the chance. Like Paul Page, Gary Gerould and Dr. Jerry Punch – Jack Arute’s voice is synonymous with the Indianapolis 500 over the past twenty years.
I’ve said many times that I live by the code “Change is Bad”. I understand that change is the one constant we all live by. Sometimes it’s for the better, many times it isn’t. While I welcome the paring of Lindy Thackston and Kevin Lee, I want Jack Arute to land on his feet. Hopefully that will happen somewhere involving the IZOD IndyCar Series. It would be a winner for everyone.