Wednesday, March 20, 2019
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. As you probably saw this morning, we announced that Danica Patrick is joining our coverage of the 103rd Indianapolis 500, which is NBC Sports’ first-ever broadcast of the event.
We’ll have an opening remark from Sam Flood, the executive producer of NBC Sports.
SAM FLOOD: When we got the Indy 500, first of all, we were thrilled to be able to cover this iconic event. We love at NBC Sports making big events bigger. That’s our intention here, taking advantage of this incredible scene in Indianapolis.
As we talked about with our team, it’s more than a race – it’s an event. It’s one of those points in the calendar you look to. We want to make sure we celebrate this event in the most amazing way possible.
When we got it, the first thing we talked about – who is going to be the face of this event? In terms of a racecar driver, someone who has crossed over the sport, is fearless in the car and in her commentary, is Danica.
We had some good conversations about how to get this to happen, to pair her with Mike Tirico, we thought would be a winning combination.
Their role in the pre-race and also dropping into the race to get a reset throughout the course of the afternoon is going to be important to the overall feel and overall experience for that audience. We were thrilled when Danica agreed to join the team.
I’ll hand it over to her as she’s part of the NBC Sports first-ever telecast, which sounds great to me.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you, guys, for all being on the line.
I am really excited about the idea, which got floated around quite a while ago. For it to come to fruition the way it has is amazing. To be invited to do it in the first place, but then to be paired with Mike Tirico, as well, it’s a winning combination. I sure hope so. I have to carry the load because Mike is a total pro and I’m more of a rookie, for sure.
I do carry some non-rookie stripes as far as the race goes. I hope that’s the part of the broadcast that I can include that will be insightful and interesting and good for the viewers.
I’m very honored. Every time I come to Indianapolis, especially when I come to the track itself, I drive through the tunnel, I come in, I can see the pagoda, I can feel the track. I always had a deep respect for Indianapolis Motor Speedway as your best and worst friend. It’s like an entity to me. I’ve always respected that. It’s the track we would go the very fastest on. You were threading the needle a lot of the time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really great races there. Really, the Indy 500 is where it all started for me as a well-known racecar driver, what was called back in the day Danica Mania. To not only finish my career last year with the Indy 500 but to come back and have this be somewhat of an encore is a real honor.
I’m getting more excited by the day. When it comes time, I have no doubt that I’ll feel comfortable, be ready, we’ll put on a great show.
What are some of your favorite memories about driving at Indianapolis? Do you see this new role as something you might want to pursue as a broadcaster in sports?
DANICA PATRICK: As far as driving goes, my favorite memory, I can’t put anything above my first Indy 500. The month itself, the whole thing, back when it used to be a month or very close. It was just a magical month.
I’d come off of qualifying on the front row at Motegi, finishing fourth, then nearly starting on the front row again at the Indy 500, finishing fourth. It was a transformative time for me as an athlete and a brand. It was crazy. That was for sure my top memory.
As far as other memories, for me, I enjoyed even the peacefulness. I would get up early in the morning, run around the outside of the facility, just take it in. I remember those being nice, crisp, fond memories. They were crisp mornings, beautiful, quiet, a different atmosphere.
I feel like through those moments of chaos and craziness, I got that side of it as well as the other side, which was the calm, peaceful side of the track. When I feel like it’s home, I really mean that.
As far as more broadcasting, I don’t know. I think one of the things that I wanted to do moving out of racing was being able to move into the other businesses that I have started, that need my attention. If anything is going to be successful, you have to put work into it.
I think doing regular broadcasting would be something that I’m not sure would fit, although at my age you learn to never say never because things change quickly. At this point in time, it’s just the Indy 500. I say ‘just,’ but I only mean that in one event, not that it’s just this race. It is the biggest race. I’ll do my preparation and be ready.
When they said they wanted to look for someone to be the face of this new event, was this something they had to sort of convince you to do or did you want to do it right away? Do you miss racing, and did that play any role in wanting to come back and do this opportunity?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, no, I mean, this is an event. If I was going to be part of a broadcast, the Indy 500 tops the list. Again, I say this a lot, but it does feel like home. There’s so much deep history there for me.
Then I have this, like, other perspective of home. My whole family lives there, my sister, my parents. They all live in Indianapolis. For multiple reasons, but the most important being the track itself, it really feels like home.
It was not hard to make this something that I wanted to do. The concept was thrown around, the idea was thrown around a while back, but these things take time just at least to flush out and understand the dynamics, who is going to do it, the timing, requirements, what the ask is.
Once it really formulated, the answer was easy, and that was a yes. Being with Mike Tirico, which is something I found out afterwards, is icing on the cake.
I mean, I really don’t miss racing. I’m really happy. I selfishly set out the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.
No, I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward. This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.
No, I’m good. I mean, I watch it when I can. I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.
Is there anybody you’ve reached out to since you finalized this agreement, whether that be your fellow NASCAR peers who have retired and are now in the booth, like Dale Jr. or Jeff or anyone? What is your guide for how you’re planning to prepare for this?
DANICA PATRICK: I talked to Mike (Tirico) yesterday, just kind of touched base. We’re both excited about it. I told him I’m coachable, please let me know what to do. He was going to help me with that, sending me on some past pre-races and things like that.
I said, I’d like to have dinner. Oh, yes, small group of people, make sure we’re on the same page. The more we talk about it, the more fluid things will be when we get on camera.
To me, he’s probably the most important person to talk to just because we’re going to be doing it together. But now that the news is out, wouldn’t do any harm to ask other people some questions.
Dale Jr. is a great one, having transitioned into that world, and having done a great job with it. I’m going to take that idea and run with it.
You were talking earlier about memories of Indianapolis. What sticks out to you as potentially being a new memory, something special that you may remember from this opportunity? You were a part of the booth with a couple Xfinity Series broadcasts. Do you feel like that experience will help you in May?
DANICA PATRICK: To answer the second one first, yes, of course. It’s very good to have had that experience. I think that my role in the past with the NASCAR races, with the Xfinity races, I mean, obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.
This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.
Again, Mike is going to carry me, I have no doubt. Just going in and out of information breaks, and whatnot. Again, I don’t really know what to expect exactly. I’m just assuming, based on what I have seen in the past, there’s a leader to the program. I played a very guest role. It’s going to be a bigger role.
But it was good to have seen it. It’s good to see the dynamic. It’s good to see how when you’re in the booth with other analysts, while you’re not on camera, you’re speaking, trying to not talk over each other. Just knowing how to give each other looks to go like, I’m next, I have something to say, so the conversation stays clean, but informational, people don’t get confused by too many people talking at once. That kind of information is good information for me. For sure, it’s going to help me.
As far as what new memories do I expect from the Indy 500? I don’t know, they’re going to be new. I purposely didn’t really pay too much attention to when I did the Indy 500 and I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day. I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.
This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.
Is there a particular broadcaster that you admire or would like to emulate when you imagine yourself doing this?
DANICA PATRICK: Your question makes me think along the lines of having an idol or role model. Anyone that’s listened for me for too long knows that I don’t have those. I think the worst mistake you can try to do is be like somebody else.
Now, you can learn tips, tricks of the trade. I will be leaning hard on Mike for that and the people that work around him, the NBC crew, the professionalism they’re going to bring to the table, the knowledge.
But being me will be what makes me good, if I can deliver that in a nice way, in a good package. You can’t be anyone else, so the biggest mistake you can make is to try to emulate someone else. It’s really about learning from them, then honing in on what you have to offer that’s unique and different, bringing that to the broadcast in a clear, concise, well-delivered way.
From your perspective, why would a casual sportsfan watch the Indy 500?
DANICA PATRICK: That’s a great question.
I think unlike some other events in the series, or some other just in general sporting events, there’s so much buildup, information. Storylines are really established. I think that’s what draws you in.
The weekend before is qualifying where we’ll be giving the insights on how the month has gone, who is fast, who is not, the trials that they’ve gone through, the things that they’ve had to overcome, the triumphs. Going into the race, you’ll continue down those storylines.
As a viewer, watching the entirety of it, you should hopefully get a feel for the heroes, the villains, the underdogs, favorites. It will give you someone to cheer for.
I think that’s something that, as a fan, a casual fan, it makes the race a little bit more exciting and also easier to understand instead of just watching cars go around.
I’ve always said with racing, unlike a lot of other sports where you can cheer for your home team, in racing there’s not really a home team. Nobody cheered for me, I don’t feel like, Illinois didn’t cheer for me because I grew up there. You have to figure out who you like based on their personality. That is something that takes time to show, to get the driver in an interview long enough that they can actually relax and you get a sense of their personality. I think that’s always been the difficulty with racing versus the other sports of the world.
As a casual fan, you should be well-informed and you should find someone to cheer for easily. It makes the race so much more enjoyable. Of course, it’s iconic. For myself, I always loved to watch the Kentucky Derby. I don’t know the horses, I don’t know the owners, right? It’s an iconic event. Then there’s that overlying fact that it’s an iconic event and legends are made that day.
As a driver, you were always known for telling it like it is. As an analyst, can we expect that same candor?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, yeah. Can’t change my stripes. I think I’ll have some extra insight, understand some storylines better. As a driver, you don’t really care about the rest of them, you just want to beat them.
As someone who is paying attention to the storylines going on, the drivers individually, hearing the stories and watching them unfold, there will probably be a little bit more of a sensitivity chip to all of it.
At the same time, I won’t be afraid to call out the subtleties that exist on track that perhaps the viewer or someone that hasn’t been on track wouldn’t know. The way that the air moves from car to car behind, alongside, in front, how you can manipulate other cars based on your line. I definitely have watched plenty of racing and plenty of commentary on it. I can watch it and see what’s happening.
They’re like, he didn’t touch him. I’m like, well, he doesn’t have to. I understand how it works.
I’ll be happy to call out those subtleties because I have that knowledge and I have that feel for it. But I’m sure I’ll be educated in the stories that will make me more sensitive to them and understand everyone is doing their best out there, that we’re all just facing different challenges.
Don’t worry, I won’t be afraid to give my opinion.