❺ Proud as a peacock
Only one TV/ sports partnership has lasted longer: CBS and the Masters (since 1956). For 54 years ABC had been the exclusive broadcaster for the largest single day sporting event in the world. Until now. Before the 2018 season NBC Universal partners dropped a couple Million dollars to take over the reigns for the entire IndyCar schedule, but their eyes were set mainly on the crowning jewel of it all: The Indy500. As part of NBC’s exclusivity deal, fans can utilize the NBC Sports GOLD package to stream all practice sessions during the month – produced to full show quality and complete with a fleet of commentators (see next point.) The two-day qualifying shows May 18th and 19th have been overhauled as well to accommodate more interviews and more action. The main event itself will be on prime time NBC and will include the most comprehensive pre and post race coverage that NBC can muster. Keep a sharp eye out for revamping old traditions and staring new ones.
❹ Commentary, shaken—not stirred
The Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever bit worked well enough over the years but as the sport constantly evolves, so should the additional elements of the show. NBC plans to throw everything and the kitchen sink at their new baby including an unprecedented 14-broadcaster lineup. Why? Because NBC will do something that has never been done in motorsports broadcast history. They plan to be ‘on-air’ from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in some capacity or another for 99% of the days in May. In addition to Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy, NBC is clearing the NBC NASCAR and the NBC IMSA benches as well. Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick are only part of the dizzying lineup. So many points of view can only create a cocktail of commentary never been seen before around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
❸ Fernando fever
If you keep up with motorsports news, you have undoubtedly heard about Fernando Alsonso’s return to IndyCar. After an extensive career in Formula 1, Fernando and McLaren team owner Zac Brown have decided to dip their toes in the IndyCar pool. A couple of years ago Fernando shocked the Formula 1 community by bowing out of the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy500 for Andretti Autosport. Such a daring statement was clear: IndyCar is where the party is. A clandestine engine failure took out the contender, but not without an impressive surge to the front. Alonso was met with overwhelming excitement from fans and the Spaniard vowed to return.
This time is a little different. With the Andretti stable full, team McLaren sought support from Carlin Racing to field an entry. This also raises eyebrows, as Carlin is a Chevrolet team where Fernando has a long-standing relationship with top-competitor, Honda. Think of it like Michael Jordan suddenly appearing on an Adidas commercial after building an empire with Nike. Carlin is also an interesting choice as they are pretty fresh on the IndyCar scene themselves and have struggled with consistent finishes. Regardless, this will be a strong point of interest throughout the entire month.
❷ This ride is about to get bumpy
In case you didn’t know, only 33 cars can start the Indy500. It has pretty much been that way since the beginning. With the exception of some odd years in the 1910s and 20s, the historic 11 rows of 3 have stood the test of time. That was deemed to be a ‘safe’ number of cars to fit on the impressive 2.5-mile oval and is a strong tradition still carried on today. Through the 40s, 50s and 60s simply being fast enough to start in one of those 33 sports was a huge accomplishment. In that era, literally hundreds of drivers would flock to the speedway for a chance to make a qualifying run. On qualifying weekend, that pool would be narrowed down to the fastest guys—‘bumping’ the rest out of the field.
As the sport progressed and it became more expensive to race, people with deep enough pockets to fund these rides became scarce. Prior to 2017, it was a stretch to fill the field; therefore no one was ‘bumped’ out. Last year drama ensued when one of the regulars of the IndyCar field, James Hinchcliffe did not go fast enough to make the race, and therefore missed his chance to finish well in the points championship at the end of the season.
At this moment, numerous drivers have announced ‘one- off’ entries to stack ontop of the 24 IndyCar season regulars. Only 38 engines are available to use (19 Honda and 19 Chevy) and so far 34 have been spoken for including Conor Daly steeping into Andretti Autosport’s 5th car, Pippa Mann for Clauson/Marshall Racing, Fernando for Carlin, Sage Karam for Dreyer and Reinbold, and more. There are rumors that we will reach the full 38, but that is dependent on sponsorship dollars. There is always an abundance of drivers waiting in the wings to take their shot at the most prestigious crown in racing.
❶ It’s the *@&¤¥§£ Indy500
The sight, the sound the spectacle. The on track competition has never been tighter or more dynamic. This era of drivers hang it out on the line and have proven their talent, courage and luck lap after lap and year after year. If you are a consistent 500 viewer, this year will be a treat. If you have stopped watching over the years—no matter the reason— its time to come Back Home Again. Need I say more?