Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Quick Thought About on Air Talent…

About six weeks ago a rumor went around that Versus was mixing up its on air talent for the upcoming IndyCar season.  At that time, the rumor had Lindy Thackson scrambling with Dan Wheldon to find a chair when the music stopped.  At the time several Bloggers took up Lindy’s cause, George at oilpressure.com was perhaps the most eloquent voice on the subject.  I offered the following comment to George’s post:
As for Lindy, again I don’t see an immediate reason why she needs to be replaced, but truthfully we don’t know the options or the motives for considering such a move. Suppose the person they are considering to replace her with is Kevin Lee? Take a crack at taking a stand on that one. Then too, if the goal is to grow the audience, it may be a better growth strategy to have someone on staff that tells the audience that NBC considers this to be a top shelf series and event, by placing someone with broader than racing name recognition there.”
Late last week word rumbled through the same rumor mill that Lindy had been spared, but as it turns out Kevin Lee really was joining the Versus team in the Pits.  As with IndyCar rides themselves, if someone is coming, it must mean someone is going, and as we found out the person without a seat was the tanned grizzled veteran of the pit crew Jack Arute.  I like Jack as a pit reporter, unfortunately his role last season morphed into something quite different and frankly at times a little weird.  Whether it was the alternating sweaty vs dry shirts at Motegi, the Cheese grater or the over the top “Bring out the Gimp” moment that featured a helmet, a chain and a bowling ball all connected to Jack’s head, while somewhat amusing, these bits were mostly strange.  I think Kevin’s joining the team symbolizes a return to basics with a focus on strong “in the Moment” brand pit reporting.
Most people who are really involved with following IndyCar racing know who Kevin Lee is and I think most of us are very happy that he is getting this opportunity.  George wrote a fine biography about Kevin in a post about the Trackside show.  I think Kevin resonates with so many of us because he grew up a westsider, a Ben Davis grad (his only prominent flaw) and he knows what the 500 means to his fan base, because it means the same to him as well. 
I was watching the end of the Phoenix nascar race Sunday and despite the critiques from many IndyCar fans about revisionist history and creative spins that come from the nascar on air personalities one thing is clear about all of them.  They LOVE their sport.  That enthusiasm comes through the television screen and an audience can sense that. 
Hopefully as the line ups evolve for the IndyCar broadcasting partners, this basic enthusiasm for the sport will be a factor taken into account for hiring decisions.  In George’s post about Lindy I also offered this comment. 
“I don’t see a particular reason anyone on the versus team needs to be replaced immediately, though I would suggest the lights races next year would be and excellent opportunity to groom a replacement for Bob in the future. They need to be thinking about that. In a year or two, Bob could move over the the narration role that Brent Mussberger has for the 500 with a younger more vigorous play by play guy taking the mic during the race. (I thought about blogging on this subject and off the top of my head the best I could do was Chris Denari of Butler BB, Pacer BB and IMS radio fame.”
I still think Denari would be an outstanding replacement for Bob if the day comes where it makes sense for Bob to move to a more stately position.  Likewise, should the situation change at the network broadcast partner in the next couple of years, Chris would be a great fit there as well.  He’s a Hoosier, he gets the race and what it means to its fans. 
And Finally, as it seems there might be some openings now or in the future at IMS radio, I thought I’d put my two cents in here as well.  A place @IMSRadio needs to be found for Greg Rakestraw.  Greg is a southern Indiana guy, who went to school at the University of Indianapolis and while there starred as a collegiate tennis legend.  After graduation he landed at Clear Channel communications and was involved with sports at 1260.  From there he went on to host an over achieving afternoon talk radio show at 950, the littlest brother of the three all sports stations in Indy. 
In Fact, since Greg left 950 for his new role at Hometown Sports, the ride home time slot has been pretty bleak listening for a racing fan.  The 1070 guy is a nascar guy who spends way too much time talking about what actress was naked in which movies and has turned the 1070 website into a hot or not site for stripper-tute head shots.  The 1260 guy does nothing but interview baseball types on how great his son will be in the big leagues one day.  And now 950 just sort of sounds like a high school station. 
Sorry.  I went off on a bit of a rant. 
Getting back to the point.  Greg always made a point to cover IndyCar as part of his show and has an enthusiasm for the sport.  Getting Greg on IMS radio would be restocking the shelf with talent that cares about IndyCar racing above and beyond the paycheck.  He gets it because he gets US.  I believe that On Air talent that can convey an enthusiasm for the sport because they feel it themselves, is part of the formula that will help the sport grow.


  1. Interesting points about grooming somebody to take over for Bob in a few years, but isn't Bob still relatively young? Seems like he could easily carry on in the traffic cop role for another solid 10 years, if not longer. Anyway, Kevin Lee could, with a few more years in the pits and then some time in the booth doing Lights or maybe even the occasional Big Car race, be the guy to take Bob's spot. I'm biased, since Kevin's taken the time to answer and/or address several of my questions or comments to Trackside over the last couple of years, but I think he's one of the true developing talents in motorsports broadcasting, right along with Lindy (who made big, big strides over the last two years, and really grew into the role of pre-game host that was previously held by Arute) and even Robbie Floyd (who I think is coming along nicely as a pit reporter).

  2. Geek, I hope I didn't come off as anti Kevin Lee, I am a big fan as well. My impression of the broadcast trade is that there are different career paths, sideline (pits) reporting, color commentary and then Play by Play. Kevin seems soundly entrenched in nomex while the other two have more Play by Play experience. Kevin's history here in Indy with the Colts, Pacers and IndyCar has been done from the sidelines or Pits. Chris and Greg have a resume in play by play. Chris with Butler and the Pacers and then Greg with IUPUI, Div III conferences and network coverage of HighSchool hoops.


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