The Curious Talent Choices for NBC This May

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Earlier this week, NBC revealed their broadcast team for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. As expected; Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth covering the race. Pit reporters will be Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast and Kevin Lee. None of those presented any huge shock, although I am glad to see Kevin Lee will be back on a true race broadcast for the first time this season.

The curious part of the announcement involved some of the other players. Mike Tirico returns for his third year as host of the broadcast. To me, that’s an excellent move. I’ll say the same thing about Tirico as Kevin Lee used to say about Al Michaels. If you heard his voice, you knew you were tuning into a big event. Mike Tirico’s delivery is about as smooth as they come. He hosts or announces NBC’s biggest events. I’m glad they choose to use him for the Indianapolis 500 pre-race, in-race and post-race coverage.

Danica Patrick also returns for her third year alongside Tirico. I’m not sure why her presence is necessary. She is not overly popular with the IndyCar fan-base, at least not most die-hards. NASCAR fans certainly are not enamored with her. I don’t even think she is popular with other women drivers. I’m not sure she shares the same agenda with most people in the sport that are leading the charge for more women in racing. But we get to have her again for the third year in a row.

Jimmie Johnson will join former NASCAR crew chief Steve Letarte on the Peacock Pit Box for in-race analysis. I am happy to have Jimmie Johnson on the telecast. He is a current IndyCar driver and is already hinting he may want to give the Indianapolis 500 a try next year. What I don’t understand is why Letarte needs to be an integral part of the broadcast. Are there no former IndyCar race strategists available? As far as I know, Letarte knows nothing about IndyCar.

We learned from Rusty Wallace over a decade ago, that the two sports are not interchangeable in the broadcast booth. Wallace brought nothing to the IndyCar broadcasts the year he was on there for ABC. All he did was talk about how much faster the Indy cars were. He tried to tell stories of how what we had just witnessed on the track somehow related to some of his stock car experience. It did not translate well. He ended up just telling us what a cool hot-rod that cat had under him. I hope someone can convince me I’m wrong, but I’m just not seeing why Steve Letarte needs to be a part of the Indianapolis 500 broadcast.

Another NASCAR alum, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will also be a part of the broadcast – at least the pre-race. I really have no problem with that. Junior has proven himself to appreciate all forms of racing, and I think he has a genuine appreciation for IndyCar – especially the Indianapolis 500. But I am not looking forward in any shape, form or fashion to more segments from the infield from Rutledge Wood. His presence is akin to showing a bad cartoon, just before a cinematic classic; meaning he is totally unnecessary.

The last part of the NBC announcement was that Jac Collinsworth (son of Chris) will serve as the host of the early morning pre-race coverage on NBCSN. I don’t hate Chris Collinsworth like a lot of people do. In fact, I actually like some of his football commentary. But other than shared DNA, I never really understood why Jac was on the NBC Sunday Night Football telecasts. I am even more perplexed as to what qualifies him to host an Indianapolis pre-race show – even if it will be on the junior varsity channel in the morning before the shift over to Big NBC at 11:00 am EDT.

The good news is that most of the familiar faces we know throughout the season will be on the Indianapolis 500 broadcast – although I’d still like to see a role for Robin Miller and Jon Beekhuis. The bad news is that there will be a few faces that I’m not sure really need to be on there, but believe it or not – they didn’t ask my opinion. Regardless of some odd on-air talent choices, I expect NBC to do an excellent job with this broadcast. I also suspect they will have this broadcast again next year.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “The Curious Talent Choices for NBC This May”

  1. Dave from Mukwonago Says:

    100% agree with you George. I really like Kevin Lee and we need him broadcasting at every race. Having gotten to know him in some form in the last 13 years or so just by listing to Trackside, I appreciate his passion for the sport and what a genuinely good person he is. When Trackside started it seemed to me that Curt Cavin was the expert and Kevin was just a somewhat familiar host. I t has totally flipped in my mind even though Curt works full time for IMS.

    I cringe every time Marty Snider comes on and might also toss out some expletives at the TV. (Mr “I will only cover Penske and the top drivers.) NASCAR can keep him as far as I’m concerned. Kevin does a yeoman’s work all year long sharing his enthusiasm for the sport. And I have no problem with his using his platform to further his and Jackson’s career.

    My vote is to swap Jon for Marty and Kevin for Diff. I also don’t think we need this many NASCAR celebrities on the broadcast as well as the uselessness of R. Wood.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I mostly agree with the last letter but I love Diff as the lead. He is the best! Letarte, Patrick and Rutledge Wood need to find another race to cover. They add nothing except boredom. Well, to be honest, I’ve never heard of Letarte until he was announced for the race. But he’s NASCAR and I don’t want him on the broadcast. I’m just unsure why the Indianapolis 500 has to be taken over by so many NASCAR announcers.

  3. David Fort Wayne Says:

    Agree with majority of your thoughts . Why NBC chose not use Robin Miller is beyond my comprehension. Miller could do the prerace show easily. Heck use Steve Matchett for technical issues rather than Letarte. This is the Indianapolis 500 not the Shake and Bake 500 of the week. Danica really brings nothing to the show anymore, if it’s to gain the cisfemale audience I don’t know what focus group they used as I don’t think she is popular with cis women.
    Rutledge Wood segments are a waste of time actually an insult to the viewers. As there will be no one in the infield or snake pit what dumb shtick can he do? I understand Earnhardt as he has high name recognition and seems like a nice guy. I understand Johnson as well for current driver view but I hope this doesn’t become another Jimmie Johnson / Carvana love fest . There are at least 33 or more individual stories NBC can show case to entertain and inform viewers we don’t need or want the TV presenters to be the center of attention. I am considering during the race to turn the TV sound off and just listen to the radio broadcast .

    Unfortunately my normal third party ticket sources have chosen to defer their tickets to next year so I may miss this year unless I can find 1 decent seat , hint ,hint . So live TV may be my only option.

    • David Fort Wayne Says:

      Heard today from IMS ticket office and they have come through finding room for me in E Stand Penthouse and parking across the street . IMS ticket office staff is terrific and individual kudos to Allie.

  4. Andrew Says:

    I’m going to assume that Robin isn’t healthy enough to commit to doing anything for the race this year, he mentioned in his mailbag that he’s having trouble getting around right now. I’ve always thought Kevin Lee deserved a bigger role for years now. The continued catering to NASCAR personalities seems to be an NBC thing and hopefully it’ll lead to increased viewers at some point. As an ND fan I’ve seen a lot of Jac Collinsworth, he did several things as an undergrad and has been doing more for NBC Sports since graduating, I’m fairly certain he’ll do a great job in covering the Indy 500, as well.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I’m willing to give Letarte the benefit of the doubt, he’s a tremendously successful racing mind and a solid broadcaster (which Rusty Wallace was not, even for NASCAR). The real reason he’ll be at Indy, of course, is because NBC already has him on payroll.

    Rutledge Wood’s role seem superfluous if there aren’t really going to be fans in the infield. If he visits a museum on the broadcast, I hope it is the IMS museum.

    Danica Patrick’s role sounds like it will once again be limited to the segments with Tirico, which I had no issue with the last two years. She has as many top 10 finishes at the 500 as Dario Franchitti and she remains well known outside the sport.

    More Kevin Lee is always appreciated.

  6. Patrick Says:

    I feel that NBC might be bringing too many cooks into the kitchen. They will all have to be given a certain amount of air time to yap away and that could interfere with covering the actual race. I agree that Steve Latarte probably knows nothing about IndyCar but he showed at the Daytona 24 that he is interested in different types of racing and is eager to learn. But they had 24 hours of time to fill for that broadcast. I expressed my negative opinions of Marty Snider and Rutledge Wood a few days ago.

  7. More Rutledge Wood? Please deliver me from such useless chin music. He adds nothing to the broadcasts. It was a relief to not have him at Texas last weekend. Excellent news that we will have much more of Kevin Lee. I have always liked him immensely and looked forward to his coverage at Indy. And yes, Jon is so solid and sorely missed. Does anyone know if he is covering any racing? I learn something from him all the time and he does not talk down to the viewer. Last but not least, life would be back to near normal if we had interviews from Robin, but I would be happy to have a few of his essays during the month of May. Memorial Day cannot come soon enough!!

  8. David Fort Wayne Says:

    I failed to mention yesterday May 7 1968 Mike Spence died while testing Lotus Turbine at IMS

  9. I don’t like football meatheads in racing broadcasts. Never heard of Tirico until a couple of years ago, or Collinsworth until this blog post. I can’t think of anything of value their presence adds to the telecast. I can’t respect someone on TV who clearly doesn’t know my sport as well as I do. Why not have a known entity like Kevin Lee or Dave Furst host the show?

  10. Ron Ford Says:

    I like Danica Patrick. Lots.

  11. Ron Ford Says:

    Danica Patrick has a good record at IMS. Go to YouTube and listen to the fans cheering when they realize she is leading the field as they come into turn one. That is the loudest cheer I have ever heard at any sporting event.

  12. 35Salty Says:

    The only thing I can disagree with you on is that I do in fact hate Chris Collinsworth and his whiney, ass-kissy delivery of NFL games. His son isn’t quite as annoying but he does sound just like Chris so there is that. Danica has the personality of a mushroom and Rutledge Wood represents all that is wrong with society today. Other than that, just stay off my lawn!

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