Who Is Next In The Booth?
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.