A Needed Change at IndyCar on NBC

Toward the end of Robin Miller’s Mailbag last week, there was a question asking if there was any way to convince NBC to bring Jon Beekhuis back to the IndyCar broadcasts. That is something I have been advocating for, for a while now. In fact, I prefer Beekhuis in the booth instead of on pit lane. In Miller’s response, he alluded to an online petition that a couple of fans had started to bring him back.

Keep in mind, Beekhuis has not been fired by NBC. My understanding is that he is still on the IMSA broadcasts, also on NBC. However, I watched a pretty good bit of Sebring this past Saturday and I didn’t see him on the broadcast. He just didn’t do any IndyCar telecasts this past season, and that decision had already been made before the onset of the pandemic – so it is not a COVID thing.

I actually googled the online petition and found that it was on Change.org. I seemed to recall some bad press about that site about ten years ago or so, but I figured I would sign it anyway. When I put in my name and e-mail, it took me to another page asking for eleven dollars for some reason that I didn’t fully understand.

I ended up googling Change.org and found a lot of not-so-good things about it. I was surprised to learn that “.org” domains are not restricted to non-profit entities and that Change.org is a multi-million dollar for-profit private company, and not a non-profit entity that many believe it to be. I guess asking me for $11 is one of the many ways they make those millions.

In case you are wondering, I did not contribute any money. But I did receive an e-mail shortly thereafter, with a subject line saying “The petition still needs your help George”. I ignored it, but something tells me that I’ll continue to get bothersome e-mails. If I get a second one, I’ll unsubscribe.

So, I’ve tried to help the cause to bring Jon Beekhuis back to the IndyCar broadcast. Unfortunately, I feel like since I didn’t contribute money to the cause – my voice may never be heard, through Change.org. Therefore, I’ll write a post about it, hoping one of the powers-that-be might get wind of it. Better still, it won’t cost me a dime, just the time it takes to pound it out on my computer.

Jon Beekhuis drove in selected CART races from 1989 through 1992. He was the 1988 American Racing Series (ARS) champion, but like many accomplished drivers with no money – he struggled to get a sniff by most owners in CART. In those four CART seasons, Beekhuis started fourteen races, none of which included the Indianapolis 500.

His first ride in CART came with Tony Bettenhausen’s team at Toronto in 1989, where he finished a respectable thirteenth. He also drove that season at Road America and the season finale at Laguna Seca. In 1990, he joined Norm Turley’s P.I.G. Racing. Beekhuis drove in eight races for Turley that season, and his top result was eleventh at Road America. In the middle of that eight race stint, Beekhuis also drove at Michigan for Gohr Racing, a team that had previously employed the likes of Jim Hurtubise, Tom Bigelow, Gary Bettenhausen, Steve Chassey, Rocky Moran and Scott Goodyear. His one-off appearance at Michigan for Gohr ended up being the best finish in the IndyCar career of Jon Beekhuis – an eighth-place finish on the high banks. Beekhuis called it a career in 1992, after brief stints with AJ Foyt and Derrick Walker.

Though his IndyCar driving career was brief and somewhat obscure, Beekhuis had already begun serving as a pit reporter for the CART races broadcasted on ESPN, before he hung up his helmet for good.

Over time, he developed his niche as a reporter who enjoyed the technical aspect of racing. Not only did he understand and enjoy it – he had a unique way of explaining things to those of us that were not near as technical or mechanical minded, so that we could understand what he was talking about.

For years, I knew what a wickerbill was, but really had no idea what it did for downforce until I saw Beekhuis explain it on an old CART broadcast one day. He didn’t use fancy graphics or ridiculous props like some pit reporters did. He just used his hands while he talked and curved them around like any driver would do in a bench racing session, while effectively making a point. He comes across as a very good teacher, which may be how he earned the moniker Professor B. His lessons don’t just involve technical pieces to the cars or engines, but the strategy that each team uses. He is very astute as he explains to viewers what goes on in the minds of Mike Hull or Tim Cindric.

Over the decades, we have seen IndyCar broadcasters come and go. Some great, and some not so much. Jim McKay, Jim Lampley, Paul Page, Rick Benjamin, Bob Varsha, Derek Daly, Sam Posey, Bobby Unser, Danny Sullivan, Parker Johnstone, Tom Sneva, Todd Harris, Marty Reid, Bob Jenkins, Scott Goodyear, Robbie Buhl, Wally Dallenbach, Jr., Rusty Wallace, Leigh Diffey, Jack Arute, Dr. Jerry Punch, Gary Gerould, Brienne Pedigo, Robbie Floyd, Lindy Thackston, Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider are just a few of the many that have taken their turn behind a TV microphone during an IndyCar race over the past thirty years. Until last season, there was one constant face and voice that stayed throughout those years – Jon Beekhuis.

Jon Beekhuis will not blow you away with his bigger-than-life personality. The NBC booth has enough of those already. He is probably the most subdued and understated of the pit reporters as well, and that’s OK. His all-business approach gives him credibility.

Beekhuis is also quiet in real life. About three years ago on Race Day at Road America, Susan and I were eating an early lunch at the Honda Hospitality tent, when Beekhuis and his NBC spotter, Joe Berkemeier (formerly with Trackside Online), sat down at our table to join us. Joe, Susan and I probably did about 98% of all the talking, but when Jon Beekhuis spoke – it was worthwhile to hear what he had to say.

Not to compare their driving abilities, but Jon Beekhuis is probably a lot like Bill Vukovich was alleged to be like. Legend has it that Vukovich was an absolute cut-up to those he knew closely. But if anyone not from his inner-circle of friends were to enter the conversation, they say he would clam up and not say a word. I can see how Beekhuis could be like that.

The on-air banter back and forth between Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy is fun to listen to, but sometimes it can wear a little thin. Kevin Lee shows his humorous side each week on Trackside, but he is all-business in his role as a pit reporter. Beekhuis takes his job very seriously and does it very well, but I sometimes wonder if his seriousness has worked against him and gotten him pushed off of the IndyCar telecast.

If that’s the case, here is a message to NBC – you need both. I enjoy Paul Tracy on the broadcast. He sometimes misses out on what’s going on in front of him, but he adds a lot with his stories from his racing days, especially when they involve his time at Team Penske or his rivalry with Sébastien Bourdais. But no one will ever mistake Tracy for a technical guru when it comes to IndyCar racing. He needs balance and Jon Beekhuis provides that balance.

I’m not sure which genius at NBC made the call to remove Beekhuis from the IndyCar telecast after the 2019 season. Apparently some focus group or analytic matrix suggested that he was no longer needed there. What they need to do is talk to some real fans or scour social media. IndyCar fans can disagree on just about everything to the point of exhaustion. But there is one thing that they all seem to agree on, and that is that Jon Beekhuis is missed on the IndyCar telecasts.

If you feel the need to sign the online petition at Change.org to get that message to NBC, then go right ahead. If you want to send tweets to NBC, have at it. If you think commenting to them on Facebook will help, by all means – go for it. Perhaps go old school and send them an e-mail. Maybe you know someone on the broadcast and they can get your message to the top. Whatever it takes, do it. If you want Jon Beekhuis back on IndyCar race telecasts, do something to let NBC know it

In case you couldn’t tell, I want him back also. In a time of loud, bombastic and way-too-polished sportscasters that think they are the reasons that viewers tune in, I find the on-air demeanor of Jon Beekhuis to be a breath of fresh air. He’s just a serious and very credible guy that doesn’t try to bring jokes to his coverage. He just brings facts and presents them. What a unique concept!

George Phillips

5 Responses to “A Needed Change at IndyCar on NBC”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I have always been impressed with Jon Beekhuis’ ability to present his knowledge in such a way that it comes across as if he races AND engineers modern Indycars every day. There’s a place for Kevin Lee’s polish, Stavast and Snider’s enthusiasm, even Arute’s silly antics… and their should be a place for Beekhius’ technical expertise. Here’s hoping we see him back on the broadcasts in 2021.

  2. Change.org petitions are useless. There’s no incentive for the targets to pay attention to a self-proclaimed petition site, and if anyone can recall a change.org petition actually working, that’ll be the first I’ve heard of it.

    If people want to be heard, don’t use an intermediary. Using a site like that just makes your message generic. Write NBCSN **directly**. There’s a track record of direct contact campaigns actually working with media.

  3. I too enjoyed Beekhuis over the years and would certainly welcome him back on the broadcast team. As far as the $11…..maybe I should just renew my oil pressure.com sight for another year. It’s well worth the price in case you haven’t heard. 👍

  4. regular old Hand-Written Snail Mail is so rare these days, it has an inordinate impact…at least in consumer marketing. entirely hand-written (envelope, too) is the key.

  5. I always enjoyed Jon’s segments. Very informative. Would love to see him back on the air.

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