Going With His Heart, Not His Head

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Earlier this week, Norris McDonald reported that NBC would be trimming Paul Tracy’s schedule back to a handful of races on their broadcasts of the NTT IndyCar Series. This is not speculation. He interviewed Tracy who confirmed that he will only be in the broadcast booth a total of six times, including this weekend’s season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park, just east of Birmingham, AL. The other five events will be at Texas, Indianapolis, Nashville, Laguna Seca and Long Beach.

For those unfamiliar with Norris McDonald, he covers motorsports for The Toronto Star, and is sometimes described as the Canadian Robin Miller. Longtime readers of McDonald will bristle at that comment, because they consider him to be motorsport royalty. There are a lot more similarities than you might think. They both flunked out of college at one time, and they both dabbled in racing as a driver in their early days. They are also both famous for being very opinionated. They are also both getting on up in years, but McDonald is almost a decade older than Miller.

There is one big difference, however. While some may not like his delivery, Robin Miller is almost always right. When he says something is going to happen, it usually does. This will upset my Canadian friends, but Norris McDonald, in his later years, has seemed to speculate more with his heart and not his head.

In the summer of 2009, Robin Miller reported that Tony George was in the process of being ousted by his sisters, and would have to give up his control of IMS and IndyCar. When he first broke the story and nothing happened immediately, everyone was saying that Miller had lost it. They claimed that he had become desperate to remain relevant in a news world dominated by Twitter and Facebook, and concocted this wild story with no credibility – just to try and stay in the headlines. As time went on and nothing happened for a few weeks, Miller was written off as someone whose time had come and gone. That was until it finally happened. I never felt like Robin Miller got the deserved credit for being the first to break the story, weeks before it happened.

I don’t have any concrete examples of McDonald reporting with his heart, but I know there have been several times that I have read his writings and predictions over the years, and thinking to myself “That’ll never happen”. Guess what? They never did.

If you read the article he wrote Monday, you come away wondering if you missed something. McDonald takes the approach that it is a foregone conclusion that NBC is gone after this season. He says in the article that “…the broadcasting relationship is over after this year, and there is no reason for NBC to go the extra mile for IndyCar any longer”. He leaves himself no wiggle room. He doesn’t say it could be over or might be over. No, he just says it’s over.

Now, am I promising that NBC will be back in the IndyCar business next year? No, but I don’t think anything has been decided yet – by either party.

McDonald cited the fact that IndyCar has been shopping the TV rights around to other networks as a sure sign that NBC is gone. We all know the current deal is up after this season. Had 2020 been a normal year, hard negotiations would have taken place last fall, but the pandemic pushed everything back – except the clock, of course. It continued to run.

Of course, IndyCar is exploring their options. Regardless of how well things did or did not go with NBC; Roger Penske, Mark Miles and Jay Frye would not be doing their job if they weren’t exploring their options. Their job is to do what’s best for IndyCar, not keep things status quo.

Keep in mind, Norris McDonald has had an ax to grind with NBC and IndyCar ever since their international deal made it very expensive for Canadians to watch IndyCar coverage – especially in the first year of the deal. McDonald has portrayed NBC as the devil, ever since. He obviously has a bias against NBC and would love to see them gone. But either he has a pipeline of information that no one else has access to; or he is once again reporting with his heart, and not his head.

Am I missing something here? I’m not a journalist, like McDonald. I’m merely a fan, like everyone reading this. I have access to the same websites and podcasts that everyone else does, but I do consider myself a hardcore IndyCar fan. I think I keep my ear pretty close to the ground. Either I slept through a major news day, or McDonald is reporting something he hopes will happen instead of what has happened.

I’m not saying that McDonald will ultimately be proven wrong. If you connect a lot of the dots, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that NBC just might sever ties with IndyCar for 2022 and beyond – at least as the exclusive broadcast partner. Then again, it’s just as easy to connect what appear to be the obvious dots, and come up with a conclusion that ends up being very wrong. But it seems like Norris McDonald is being a tad bit irresponsible to report that NBC is gone after the season, when no one else is reporting it. He either has great sources, or he has gone too far out on a limb.

I know that Canadian readers will rip me for suggesting that Norris McDonald is reporting with his heart and not his head. I am sure I’ll be chastised for being a lowly blogger pretending to be a journalist, who isn’t worthy of wiping Norris McDonald’s shoes, or something else equally demeaning.

I am not comparing myself to McDonald. Far from it. He has developed an international reputation over many decades for breaking many stories. I’m just an overaged blogger that sits in Nashville and pounds out a few random thoughts from my keyboard. I’m not a reporter and I don’t break news. I simply comment on it and offer my opinion; and surprisingly – people read it. If I speculate on something, I label it as speculation. I don’t pass it off as a fact.

If it’s announced this week, this month or this year that NBC is leaving after this season, Norris McDonald will look like a genius and I’ll look like a chump. That’s fair. But I reserve the right to say “I told you so”, if NBC is announced as a/the broadcast partner beyond this season.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Going With His Heart, Not His Head”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    Surprised Tracy still has a job, he’s become an expert at saying the wrong thing and putting his foot in his mouth. Wonder who will be in his seat for the other races.

    • If I had to “speculate”, I’d say it would be Charlie Kimball. He did a good job last weekend during Peacock’s coverage of the test. He may not have Tracy’s pedigree from a generation ago, but his driving experience includes every version of the DW12. He is a lot more relevant today than Tracy, who won his only title 18 years ago. And that comes from someone, who likes having Tracy in the booth. – GP

  2. Nathan Brown of the Indianapolis Star interviewed Paul Tracy and they seem to believe the broadcast team will be scaled back. Only 2 in the booth and fewer pit reporters. Sounds like a cost cutting move and could also signal that NBC has lost it’s enthusiasm for IndyCar. PT was pretty blunt with his opinion so I wonder how that will go over with the bigshots.

  3. James T Suel Says:

    You pose one good question, I think its up in the air. If ratings improve maybe we can keep NBC. I hope so.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Too bad, Tracy was the color commentator I’d have preferred to keep because he didn’t talk over clips of the driver radio…. Half-kidding here. I don’t mind Townsend, but he is flagrantly chatty sometimes when he doesn’t need to be.

    Tracy does have a few schedule conflicts or challenges when he is racing in the SRX series.

  5. Chris Lukens Says:

    I have no idea if IndyCar and NBC are done for ( I hope not ). But I did notice that we get a whole one hour qualifying program at 10 o’clock PM, EST.

  6. this resembles the path that ABC took.

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