Celebrating a Return

When it comes to sports, few topics are as polarizing as that of TV sports announcers. Now I’m not saying that the resulting disagreements are anything like political arguments have become lately, where friendships end and some people refuse to get together for Thanksgiving; but the variety of opinions on TV announcers are wide-ranging.

For the record, I’ve always felt that the consummate voices for different sports on TV were indisputable. For the NFL, none did it better than Pat Summerall. In College football, Keith Jackson set the standard, while Dick Enberg just sounded like College Basketball. For Major League Baseball, I was always partial to Vin Scully, but Jack Buck was a close second. Of course, the common denominator of all of these iconic voices is that they are all deceased.

Some will have a personal favorite over those that I mentioned, but I doubt I will get a strong or passionate argument over any of those legends.

For the current crop of broadcasters, it gets a little more complicated. I have found that many of the broadcasters who I like, or at least am neutral about – are despised by many. The first that comes to mind is Joe Buck, son of the legendary Jack Buck. I’m sort of ambivalent on Buck, but for many – the hatred is strong. Following his famous father’s footsteps, Buck had pressure on him from Day One. While Jack had a distinctively raspy voice that was strangely pleasing to the ears, Joe has a smooth voice and delivery that is easy to listen to. He is very knowledgeable about the teams and/or sports he is covering, yet people seem to despise him. When I ask a hater why they dislike Joe Buck so much, all I get is that he is intolerable or just plain awful. Yet no one can give specific reasons or examples of why he is so awful.

Another roundly hated TV voice is CBS College Football analyst Gary Danielson. Maybe some in the Midwest still have a grudge against him from his playing days as quarterback for Purdue and then the Detroit Lions. My SEC friends all claim that he is way too openly biased toward Alabama, but my Alabama friends can’t stand him either. I find him pleasant, humorous and usually spot-on with his analysis. Personally, I think he is second only to Kirk Herbstreit as the best current college football analyst in the business – but a lot of people don’t like Herbstreit either.

Many really like ESPN’s Sean McDonough, but I don’t care for his style of delivery. His voice seems to rise to another decibel level at inappropriate times. I also find any college basketball broadcast with Bill Raftery on it to be practically unwatchable.

Although he is approaching the age of 78, Al Michaels has not lost a step in the NFL announcer’s booth. His move to Amazon Prime was his choice, but he still gives the same performance he did on Monday Night Football decades ago. If Michaels is my top NFL announcer, Jim Nance and Mike Tirico are tied just below him. They are both smooth, consistent and always well-prepared.

But this site isn’t about football; it’s about the NTT IndyCar Series. What does all this have to do with racing?

There are varying opinions on who was best behind the microphone in the IndyCar TV booth over the years. I have gotten into some friendly, but heated exchanges on this topic. I’ve always been of the opinion that Paul Page set the standard for others to follow. He is a Hoosier by birth and spent most of his adult years in Indianapolis. His first love is the Indianapolis 500, but has always been just as passionate about the IndyCar Series, whether it was sanctioned by USAC, CART or the present form of IndyCar.

I always felt he was passionate, smooth, prepared and worked well with a variety of analysts from Bobby Unser and Sam Posey, to Derek Daly, Parker Johnstone and Gil de Ferran – some of which were better than others. When he was unceremoniously kicked to the curb by ESPN, in favor of the underwhelming Todd Harris – I thought it was one of the bigger atrocities in the history of TV sports.

Harris lasted one year, before being replaced by game-show worthy Marty Reid. Allen Bestwick mercifully replaced Reid on ABC/ESPN in 2014 and held the role until NBC took over the entire season in 2019.

During the split seasons beginning in 2009, five races (including the Indianapolis 500) were carried by ABC/ESPN – while the rest were covered by Versus, a re-branding of the Outdoor Life Network. Bob Jenkins was selected for the broadcast booth. The result was making the Versus booth an instant favorite among fans. When Comcast bought NBC in 2011, Versus was re-branded as NBC Sports Network, and Jenkins remained in the role. However, Jenkins retired at the end of the 2012 season to care for his sick wife. Shortly after the 2012 season ended, Pam Jenkins passed away from brain cancer – the same disease that would ultimately take Jenkins’ life, almost nine years later. For the 2013 IndyCar season, NBC named Leigh Diffey as the replacement for the retired Jenkins.

This past Friday, it was announced that Leigh Diffey has signed a multi-year contract extension with NBC Sports to continue as the TV Voice for the NTT IndyCar Series, as well as IMSA and track & field and luge for NBC’s Olympic coverage. The announcement was met with mixed emotions on social media.


There is no shortage of opinions on Leigh Diffey as announcer for IndyCar on NBC. It’s hard to believe that next season will be his tenth in the NBC IndyCar booth. Some celebrated his return for his tenth season and many more, while others lamented it.

One of the main complaints I hear about Diffey is that he is talking about other racing series during IndyCar broadcasts. If Chris Fowler makes an NFL reference during an ESPN college football game, is that held against him? Is it a sacrilege if Jim Nance alludes to the NBA while doing the NCAA Tournament? The answer to those questions is No. So why is Diffey heavily criticized for mentioning Formula One or IMSA during an IndyCar telecast? Yet, IndyCar fans become outraged when Diffey brings up another racing series, no matter how relevant it is to the on-air conversation.

I’ve also read the criticisms that Diffey is not an American, and it puts a bad light on the series to have an Australian accent broadcasting an American-based racing series. Seriously?

First of all, Diffey has been an American citizen since 2011 and currently lives in Connecticut. Secondly, although this is an American-based series – it has international appeal. Seventeen of the twenty-five fulltime drivers in the 2022 season were foreign drivers. When over two-thirds of the drivers in the series hail from another country, what’s the crime in having a foreign-born US citizen in the broadcast booth?

My only complaints about Diffey are simple ones. I don’t care where he comes from or what he mentions on-air. My complaints are that he yells too much when he gets excited about things, and that he gets too excited about things – meaning he has the tendency to over-hype – much like Sean McDonough.

I’m not sure who the Diffey haters want in the booth. Like the Joe Buck haters, I’ve never been able to learn what justifies the level of hatred they feel for Diffey. I’ve always advocated for Kevin Lee to get the job fulltime, but I have no problem with Diffey in that role. He is enthusiastic and makes those around him better. I liked Allen Bestwick, but he was never able to pull Eddie Cheever nor Scott Goodyear out of their collective on-air comas.

It comes across on-air that Diffey would be a lot of fun to work with, manly because he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously – which carries a lot of weight with me. Diffey never seems to think he is the star of the show, unlike when Darrell Waltrip was in the FOX NASCAR broadcast booth. Diffey recognizes that the race and the drivers are why people are tuning in, not him. He just does what he can to elevate the broadcast.

Count me as one that is happy that Diffey will be returning to the IndyCar TV booth for many more years to come. We could certainly do a lot worse.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Celebrating a Return”

  1. Agreed, I like Diffey but I really miss Paul Tracy……

  2. Great blog. I love Diffey!

  3. Jack in Virginia Says:

    Just as long as Howard Cosell remains deceased, I’m happy.

  4. Same thoughts on Diffey. The overexcited delivery sometimes is a little much. I will take that any day over other annoying attributes. Even more importantly though is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously that is probably the most important attribute a t.v. Sports announcer could have. That and having fun are my top requirements. Good post George.

  5. Aside from his shouting near the ends of races, Diffey mispronounces many words and mispronounces names. In a sentence of nine words and names he may only pronounce “wins” and “in” correctly.
    Bob Varsha should have been heading the commentary teams for a decade.
    I would have loved for Jon Beekhuis and Kevin Lee to comment, unlike Cheever and Goodyear.
    thanks for blogging

    • billytheskink Says:

      I don’t think I’ve heard Diffey mispronounce many words so much as pronounce them in an accent. Not sure that’s any worse than the many announcers over the years who have called Mario Andretti “Mary-Oh”.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Diffey can be a shouter, but so could Page (and so could Murray Walker, for that matter). I like him well enough. I do think Kevin Lee plays off the analysts better than Diffey, and that Diffey is better at taking command of the call when the analysts need to shut up and let the play-by-play guy describe the action.

    YMMV on Diffey’s Australian accent… I do believe it helps show that Indycar has international participation and something of a global reach, things that certainly appeal to many fans. On the other hand, one could argue that setting such a tone with the lead announcer could make Indycar seem less accessible to domestic fans. I think it is a net positive over all.

  7. I’ve always felt the networks for many years of Indycar coverage somehow, someway, either overanalyze or fail to understand fully how their audience receives the broadcast.

    Since NBC has taken over, I’ve not felt that. What I appreciate about Diffey is that he is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, has good command of the vernacular of Indycar, develops good rapport with other boothmates, and especially for me, now has a growing history of the series, drivers, crews, venues, etc. to pull from which is always easily recognized by longtime fans of Indycar.

    What I’ve learned to appreciate more however, is how my son reacts. He’s now 19, been following Indycar with me since he was 7. Over the years he’s mentioned multiple times without prompting that he likes Diffey (which actually surprised me that he considers the coverage voices). If my sample size of one is any indicator, we should also note and appreciate what keeps younger generations engaged.

    Just as we had those voices you noted; Jackson, Summerall, Buck, Scully, (and I’ll add Ken Squier here) and Page for so many years, they become a direct, sensory association with our experience over time, and consistency helps develop that ‘tradition’ and comforting sameness we come to expect throughout the seasons.

  8. A racing broadcaster (the same is true for other sports I imagine) needs to cater to diehard fans, and new viewers (potential fans). As a diehard, I need to see that he knows the sport at least as well as I do, if not better, and is genuinely enthusiastic about it. Newbies need this, too, because if the lead announcer isn’t excited by the action on the track, why should a first-time viewer get excited? Also, a knowledgeable broadcaster can drop a few nuggets on the air that can draw in new fans; even the mention of a driver’s hometown can make a new fan.

    Diffey is exceptional, and does both of these things well. Fortunately, he’s only 51, so he has another 15-20 years in the booth if he wants it. Unfortunately, legends like Bestwick, Joy, and Varsha are all past 60, so how much longer can they be on TV? I don’t see any younger broadcasting talent worthy of succeeding Diffey anytime soon.

    • Bob Varsha is expert and could have been serving us for the past decade. Kevin Lee and James Hinchcliffe are certainly knowledgeable and are adept at speaking to us.
      They can replace Diffey and Bell now and not mispronounce many, many English words and many names of entrants, racers, tracks, cities, states, and nations.

  9. Scott K Kenney Says:

    Id gladly take Kevin Lee and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekus in the Pits

  10. I have no problems with Diffey. He obviously enjoys the IndyCar broadcast and that goes a long way in my book. Bring on 2023!
    And my motto is “Anybody but Cheever and Goodyear”

  11. My issue isn’t with Diffey personally, or his job performance per se. It’s just that NBC has another guy in house who (in my opinion) has proven time and time again when given the opportunity to be so much better at this than Diff……….Kevin Lee. Kevin, for whatever reason, just seems to have better chemistry with T. Bell. Plus, he doesn’t bring that yelling cheerleader effect that Leigh does.

  12. Bif Buffington Says:

    I think that the reason it’s not okay to mention F1 or NASCRAP on a IndyCar broadcast while it is okay to mention college sports on pro broadcasts is because the college sports are not IN COMPETITION with the said sport but are FEEDER SERIES to the said sport. Big difference, in my oh, so humble opinion.

    Thanks for reading,


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