IndyCar Has Come A Long Way On Television
When the IZOD IndyCar Series visits Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio for the Honda 200; it will be a unique experience for TV viewers. Due to NBC needing to utilize all of their outlets for their ongoing coverage for the Olympics; the usual broadcast team that most of us prefer from the NBC Sports Network will be carried over the airwaves of ABC. I have to admit that I cannot ever recall such an arrangement, but I see it as the best of both worlds – assuming the race fits in the allotted time window. We get the announcing crew that most of us die-hards seem to enjoy the most, being carried on an over-the-air network with the potential of a much-bigger audience than NBCSN is likely to reach.
Some will say that the Olympics will trump anything else on any other channel and that may be true, but not everyone is a fan of the Olympics. Put the ever-grumpy yours truly in that category. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate the Olympics; I just don’t get wrapped up in all the hype that comes with it. And if I had to choose which Olympics I had to watch – it would be the Winter Games. Track & field, swimming and gymnastics just don’t really stir my passion. I like watching the basketball to some extent, but the US is supposed to win. It’s only compelling if their games are close, which they shouldn’t be. If I’ve found myself in front of the television these past few nights, I’ve watched some of the events – but if I can find a good baseball game on, I’ll watch it over the Olympics. I realize this is a most unpopular and unpatriotic stance, but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. That’s why I think there may be more than just the usual die-hards tuning into this weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio.
It’s not uncommon for IndyCar bloggers to critique the television broadcasts of the races. On each Monday morning re-cap following a race weekend, I’ll always devote a couple of paragraphs to that specific broadcast. Now keep in mind, I have absolutely no experience in televised sports other than the fact that I’ve watched a ton of sports on the tube over the years. With the advent of high-definition, I’ve become somewhat of an HD snob and will rarely go down to the analog channels anymore – but those are the only credentials I have that make me feel that I can pass judgment on a sportscast.
I think I share the opinion of most fans by saying that I prefer the broadcast crew of NBCSN to ABC. I’ll give a huge edge to the guys in the booth at NBCSN over Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear at ABC. Vince Welch at ABC really helps to close the gap with the pit reporters, but I think I’ll still give the nod to the NBCSN pit crew. But as much as I have ripped ABC/ESPN these past few years, they are still head and shoulders above what we used to have. I’m not talking about twenty years ago when Paul Page would team with Bobby Unser and Sam Posey on ABC, or when Derek Daly was paired with Page on ESPN races. No, I’m talking about races in the seventies and eighties. Have you gone to YouTube to sample many of those lately? Once you get past the novelty of the old cars and the nostalgia of the drivers in those races, the broadcasts are actually painful to watch.
As I mentioned, I have spent probably way too many weekend hours in front of a television. As a result, I’ve grown accustomed to many of the national sportscasters and their different styles. One of my favorite NFL announcers was Pat Summerall, because he always followed the “less is more” approach to how much verbiage and hype to fit into a telecast. On the other hand, I always found Jim McKay to be way too wordy. I’ve been accused of being morbidly verbose on this site, but at least the reader has the option to simply click away if they find my wordiness too annoying. It’s not so easy when such verbosity is accompanying something you really want to watch.
In the seventies and eighties, the networks didn’t have announcers that were dedicated strictly to motor sports. They simply pulled their star announcers from other sports and sent them to the track to cover a race. For years, Jim McKay was tabbed to call the Indianapolis 500 as well as USAC and then CART races for ABC. McKay is a Hall of Fame broadcaster, but he knew very little about open-wheel racing. He did his best to disguise it with his propensity to talk every second. Unlike Pat Summerall, Jim McKay seemed to always follow the motto of “a half-second of silence is a sign of defeat”.
To me, the television voice of college football is, was and will always be Keith Jackson. No announcer brought out the pageantry of college football better than Keith Jackson, but when he called the 1975 Indianapolis 500 for ABC – it was brutal. Likewise for Jim Lampley in the eighties. Lampley was an excellent boxing announcer and a fairly decent play-by-play voice for college football. But when he covered CART and the Indianapolis 500, he was way out of his element.
I’ve never understood why networks would turn over a novice to covering a race. Being an all-around sportscaster doesn’t qualify you to cover every sport. If an announcer couldn’t decipher that third and long was normally a passing situation, do you think they would be calling network football games? Hardly. Yet, networks didn’t think twice about turning someone loose to call a race in those days. You could argue that with Brent Musberger currently acting as host of the Indianapolis 500 – that they still don’t. I understand that Musberger’s presence brings credibility to an event. If he is on the telecast, that tells the viewer that this event is a big deal – especially when he begins the telecast with his trademark “You are looking live…”. But after he introduces the broadcast, Musberger should step aside. Instead, he mispronounces names and rambles on about things he clearly knows nothing about.
When Paul Page moved to the booth in the late eighties for ABC/ESPN, his name may not have resonated with the casual mainstream fan; but he raised the IQ level in the booth exponentially. Suddenly, the “expert” analyst wasn’t forced to dumb down his comments to the announcer and they could both converse on-air as knowledgeable participants. Consequently, the listening audience could learn a lot more from listening to people that actually knew what they were talking about. What a unique concept!
There was a time in the mid-to-late nineties when Page did the IRL broadcasts, while the eloquent and extremely knowledgeable Bob Varsha handled the CART duties for ABC/ESPN. Both were extremely competent and capable. Then Page was moved to the CART broadcasts and Bob Jenkins covered the IRL. Again, whichever series you chose to follow, you were treated to an excellent announcer.
Then CART moved around to CBS and Spike TV, so Page went back to covering the IndyCar Series (as it was beginning to be called). Then in 2005, Paul Page was inexplicably removed from the IndyCar telecast and replaced with the unbearable Todd Harris. Mercifully, Harris lasted only one season before being replaced at ABC/ESPN by current announcer Marty Reid.
Marty Reid at least knows his craft, but I always get the impression he would rather be covering just about any form of racing other than the IZOD IndyCar Series. Scott Goodyear has come under fire in recent years as being incredibly dry. Quite honestly, I thought Goodyear excelled when paired with Paul Page but he has never seemed to gel with Marty Reid. Their broadcasts always come across as very sterile, with no personality.
I will credit Marty Reid for a job well done under very difficult circumstances when he and Goodyear were covering the season finale at Las Vegas last year, when Dan Wheldon was fatally injured. As Wheldon’s fate had become very apparent but not official, they both treated the situation appropriately and they should both be commended.
But when you go back and watch broadcasts from the seventies and eighties – you realize how spoiled we have become to have any complaints about today’s telecasts from either network. The announcers, the camera angles and the technologies have come so far from those days; it baffles the mind to watch what we accepted back in those days.
So when you watch the Honda 200 from Mid-Ohio this Sunday on ABC with the NBCSN crew – enjoy it. It’s the best of both worlds and a world away from where things used to be.
Note: Speasking of bad TV, One Take Only makes a return to the blogosphere tomorrow. This is a special episode (to us anyway) for several reasons. It’s our one-year anniversary since our forgettable debut. It’s also the first show from my new digs and it’s the first time John and I have gotten together for a taping since the episode we did from IMS this past May. If you have time to waste, check it out tomorrow. – GP