A media conference call was held today to discuss ABC’slive telecast of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Participants on the call were ESPN vice president, motorsports, production, Rich Feinberg, along with the three members of ESPN’s booth for the telecast: lap-by-lap announcer Allen Bestwick and analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever. This is the 50th consecutive year that the Indianapolis 500 will air on ABC. A transcript of the call follows:
RICH FEINBERG: 50 years on ABC. For me, that starts with a ‘Wow.’ What a run. My personal memories of the Indy 500 and ABC’s coverage of it date back to when I was a kid. Memorial Day weekends with my family, appointment viewing. Those days it was on a tape delay at night. To see it come around now to the 50-year anniversary is just amazing.
Our team looks at it like it’s a privilege to produce the Indy 500. It always has been. It always will be. It’s a cherished assignment that everybody embraces. Our goal is quite simple, and that’s to uphold the tradition of excellence in coverage that’s been established by our ABC colleagues over the past 49 years.
That may sound a bit cliché, but it’s a fact. We do that by focusing our coverage on the drivers and their stories, their team’s race strategy. Perhaps the most intriguing thing for the casual fan, that’s the speed. When you’re talking about cars doing over 230 miles an hour, that’s an off-the-charts number.
Through our coverage, we want to make sure our viewers feel like they’re not only enjoying the race but thirsting to be there. I look forward to being a part of it as I do every year.
ALLEN BESTWICK: The history for me, when I was a young kid, my dad had racecars at a racetrack in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Didn’t get much racing on television then, except for the Indianapolis 500. That was appointment television for us. As a young boy, watching this race every year sparked my fascination with the broadcasting business, in particular as I continued to follow, watching Jim McKay, the role he played, the variety of sports he did, the excellence with which he did them, and how much you felt like even though you never met him, he was a friend through the television.
So for me all these years later to get a chance to sit in that seat on this occasion, it’s not just bucket list, it’s beyond bucket list. It’s a little overwhelming to think about how fortunate I am and how honored I am to be part of this.
I can’t wait for Sunday. It’s been a wonderful month so far and I really look forward to a great race.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: I can certainly remember the very first time I went to Indianapolis in 1973 with my father. It was a bit of a surprise visit because I was racing a go-kart and he surprised me on the Saturday night and said, We’re not racing tomorrow, we’re going to drive all night and go to the Indianapolis 500. It has been a part of my life for a long time.
Then having a chance to go there as a rookie in 1990 as a driver was pretty cool. Having some reasonable success there, and now having an opportunity as I have done for many years to be in the booth with ABC is truly a privilege. When we get together for meetings, there’s a lot of passion and pride to being involved in this race.
For me, I view this race now from the television booth almost like a driver. There are the super teams that you anticipate will do well, there are teams in the middle of the road that have a good shot at it, then there are teams there participating, if they’re in the top 10 at the end of the day they feel pretty lucky.
The split between group one and group two seems like it’s been shrinking for the past couple years. This year, smaller teams winning some events, Long Beach and the Indy GP, that might be true this weekend.
Ed Carpenter, surprising everybody. Neat to do qualifying, see the frustration on the big teams’ faces because they are missing some answers.
Indianapolis is all about the weather literally, the sense of what it can do to your racecar; emotions, what it can do to you as a driver. That’s just qualifying. The race is no different.
What I watched in practice yesterday from the group racing, last year practice shows it’s going to have the same thing for this coming Indy 500. Excited about it.
Somebody asked me the other day, Pick a winner. I don’t think I can. I think there’s an honest 10, 12 people that can win this event. Eddie and I were talking about it. If you were betting in Vegas, it would be hard to put your money on somebody. Looking forward to it.
EDDIE CHEEVER: I dreamed about it as a child when I was living in Italy, I heard it on the radio. I kept racing. I was lucky to come here and race. I was lucky enough to win it. Now I’m going to be sitting in the booth with two friends calling the 50th anniversary of ABC calling the Indy 500. I don’t know how it could be any better than that.
It’s going to be a very exciting race. There’s too many stories to sit down and go through them one by one, so many different possibilities, that I really think it’s going to go down as one of the most exciting races we’ve ever had at Indy. And when you consider how we ended last lap, the result would have probably changed if the race would have gone another 400 yards, and I expect we’ll see the same thing on Sunday.
Q. Eddie and Scott, there’s two names that have returned this year that link back to some important moments in IndyCar recent history, with Villeneuve coming back, and Montoya being back. What do you think about having both of those names back in the field? Have you heard from fans? Do you feel there’s a different vibe having them back?
EDDIE CHEEVER: They’re two totally different types of drivers. They have been extremely successful in Formula One. Villeneuve is a Formula One world champion, which in my books is as high as it gets in open-wheel racing.
I knew Villeneuve’s father very well when we were racing together in Formula One. I remember driving back around in a car where I was doing the steering and — he was doing the steering and I was doing the throttle. I was never pushing on the throttle strong enough.
I have a great interest in seeing him do very well. I think he’ll approach the race differently. He’s with a smaller team. He already looks like he’s starting to think about how he will prepare himself for those last laps.
A lot of people have gravitated to him during the race. As the race goes on, people will remember the great win he had not too long ago.
Montoya is racing for Penske. He’s committed to the series for the whole season, whereas Villeneuve is committed for one race for the moment.
He’s had an exciting beginning, but not quite up to pace where everybody expected him to do well. He all of a sudden laid down a very good lap on the day of qualifying.
I think you’ll really see a lot of aggressive moves from Montoya early on. He’s going for a perfect record, having competed only twice. I really think he has a good chance of winning.
There’s a lot of excitement whenever you mention the word ‘Montoya’ in the pits, even amongst the drivers. Whereas Villeneuve, he’s going to have to build that back up, but there’s a lot of respect for what he has done.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: I think everything Eddie said is spot on. The interesting thing for me is I had an opportunity to spend half an hour with Jacques in the garage area a week ago. Through all the questions I was asking him, catching up with him, I asked him, Why come back to something that you’ve won, have great memories with? Why come back after a 19-year absence?
He said, Racing is my oxygen. I need to race something. I loved it. It didn’t really interest me for quite a few years. But I’ve been watching it for the last year, year and a half, and he said it’s something he would like to go back to.
He said he would like to come back to the series next year and run full-time, if it’s possible. If this is an audition to get his feet wet and make sure that he can go out and let people know his interest, it may be. I’m not sure that if everybody is running strong at the end of the day that he has enough experience in these new cars, which he says are different to drive, to be a contender. I think finishing in the top 10 would be a success for him and the team.
With Montoya, I’ll add to what Eddie said, every driver you speak to in the paddock says that when he has enough time underneath his belt in these cars, from being in the tin tops for the last little while, they’re going to worry that he’s going to be dominating like he was before, from the factor that he’ll be one of those guys you’ll be battling with in the top 3-5. As.
The drivers say, they have enough drivers they have to contend with. A lot of respect for Montoya in the garage area.
Q. Is it good generally for the series to have both of those drivers back?
EDDIE CHEEVER: I think it’s phenomenal, exceptional. Montoya brings a lot of Formula One sense. Montoya brings a lot of people back to watching open-wheel racing.
Villeneuve, I can’t repeat it enough, was a Formula One champion. His father was, I would say, one of the top three drivers that ever drove for Ferrari. The history, the whole amount of energy they bring is tremendous to anything they participate in.
Q. This is the first time we have a youngster from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, not named Andretti. I wanted Scott and Eddie’s take on the young Sage Karam, in high school still. Your thoughts of his challenges, how he might add to the storyline on Sunday.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: When I met him earlier this month and spent some time with him, speaking with him in the garage, nice young man. At 19 years of age, times have changed, because at 19, I was just finishing karting and about ready to take my first day of Formula Ford school.
We were talking about this on our conference call this morning. They almost have harnessed him back a little bit because the team says he is very eager to get going and is trying to get so much accomplished in a short amount of time.
As a rookie here, you can be very fast. But 500 miles is such a long, long time on the racetrack. I always broke it up into five 100-mile races. You have to get yourself through it and not rush.
This will be interesting for Villeneuve and Montoya. It’s been a while since they’ve come here and run this race. Everybody is anxious. Seems like it happens between 250 and 300 miles. Everybody seems like they want to get going. I always did.
For him as a rookie, he’s going to have to be throttled back, have somebody good with him on the radio talking to him, his spotter is going to have to do well. He has enthusiasm, good looks, an American, so he has a bright future ahead of him.
EDDIE CHEEVER: Just to add to what Scott said, talent and youth and energy are wonderful things to have. Don’t really fit in that well in how you approach the Indy 500. Here you have to have an enormous amount of patience. You have to be willing to listen to the pits. You have to be able to pick yourself up from a bad stint with the tires not working or you have some sort of problem.
It will be a great testament to his ability if he can finish the 500.
We saw another youngster last year from Colombia called Munoz, Scott and I were betting which lap he was going to crash because he was almost in the grass, but he made it.
Those things that carry you forward in open-wheel racing on a street course don’t really come much into play around the Speedway.
Q. Marco Andretti, your take on Marco? Seems like he can’t get over the hump. Very close, very much in contention for a good portion of the race last year. It just didn’t happen for him. Same thing happened a couple weeks later at Pocono where he had the dominant car all weekend. Seems like he’s there every week.
EDDIE CHEEVER: He is always a threat to win. It’s his family’s team. He has been very quick. His rookie year at Indy was unbelievable. He lost by the smallest of margins. He is unfortunate in that he has some incredibly talented teammates.
He’s really going to be judged not so much by the fact that he wins or doesn’t win, but how he compares with his teammates. That’s a tall order.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: I would be delighted to see Marco win from the standpoint that I understand what it’s like to come to win this event, but not, obviously in ’92 and ’97 being second, obviously ’95 across the line first and being disqualified.
Regardless, it’s a scenario that weighs on you every racetrack you go to. It weighs on you when you come back here to the Indianapolis 500. For him, I’m sure he thinks about it. I talked to him about it. He said, No, it’s behind me, I don’t think about it too much.
But you do. I always looked at it like you’ll get another chance. I’m sure he feels the same way.
When you get close to the end of your career, then when you retire, and you haven’t accomplished that goal, which is the reason your living, breathing and racing, and your last name is Andretti, and the pressure that’s on a third-generation driver, I would love to see him win. It would be great for him, his family, and our sport to have Andretti win again.
Q. Allen, from everything I understand, Kurt Busch is resonating well with the fans and other drivers at Indy. Have you noticed anything different in his demeanor or mannerisms or attitude when he’s out there in an IndyCar than you’ve noticed when he’s maybe in the NASCAR garage.
ALLEN BESTWICK: I think anytime you go someplace and try something new and different for the first time, have a little bit of success at it, you’re going to have a little pep in your step.
Think about how much Kurt has hung himself out there by doing this. I’ll borrow Eddie’s thought about this. Here is a guy who is a NASCAR champion. All the race wins he’s accumulated. He was willing to put that reputation out there on the line for the world to step out and try and drive a type of racecar he’d never driven before.
I’ve seen nothing but good things from Kurt. I see a guy who is determined to master it, has fit in very well with his teammates, has dug into the engineering, the aerodynamics, driving techniques, soaked it up like a sponge, acquitted himself very, very well in an IndyCar. I’m not surprised by that. We know Kurt is a heck of a racecar driver.
I’m not surprised he’s acquitted himself well. He’s having fun. He understands the challenge ahead of him. He got a taste of the difficulty of that challenge yesterday. You can say he’s gotten the full Indy experience now.
But I’ve seen nothing but smiles from Kurt. Why not, right? He had the guts to put himself out there and try this. He’s doing well. He has the opportunity to have a good, solid race experience on Sunday and do something he probably never thought he’d get the chance to do in his life. I can relate to that. It makes you smile.
Q. Eddie, I’ve seen some of your comments in recent weeks. What are your impressions of Kurt in an IndyCar?
EDDIE CHEEVER: I am totally impressed by everything he has done in the car. Going out and turning into turn one when you’re up at speed, and engineers have told you, Don’t take your foot off the throttle, you’re talking to yourself telling yourself it’s going to be okay. That’s a difficult moment even in a racecar driver that’s done it his whole life, to be committed to doing that.
He’s been incredibly fast. Every hurdle he got to, other than yesterday, when he got very lucky and hit the wall at the right angle. Other than that, I am just impressed. When he had to go out and do his qualifying run, that’s 230, that is really moving the mail. That’s fast. Turning into turn one at 236 miles an hour, and everybody said that the cars were sliding at the end of their run because they were so much on the limit trying to trim them out. He went and did it as if he’s been doing it his whole life.
He is talented and incredibly brave. If he digests this last hit he had, it took me a long time to digest, if he can go through that, he’s in that leading group at the end of the race, I would consider him a possible top-three finisher, if he gets through all the problems during the race. But he’s been incredible. I’m very impressed.
Q. Rich, 92 cameras planned. Why the increase this year? Are any of those specialty cameras?
RICH FEINBERG: The 92 is actually in concert pretty close to what we did last year. 36 of those cameras are on racecars. We will have this year a complement of 12 different teams, including Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, all carrying on-camera systems. All 36 are on track, if you would.
The remaining cameras include some specialty things. We will have a helicopter cam for the entire race. We have several ultraslow motion cameras that we have strategically placed around the track. We have wall cams. We have grass cams. We have hand-held cams. We have robotic cams. I think we got the place pretty well wired up.
The unique thing about this race, racing in general, is the size of the playing field is gigantic, so it takes more. We’re always watching multiple things. A lot of our camera systems allow us to focus on multiple battles on the track to make sure we can document as much of the action as we can for the fans.
It is a very large production, one of the largest that we do every year. Tremendous credit to our technical and engineering staff to put together this system and ultimately I think our fans are the benefactors of it.
Q. Are there any other production enhancements planned?
RICH FEINBERG: Well, we’ve made some changes since we were at the track last. I’d start with probably the most noticeable one for our fans will be welcoming Allen Bestwick to the family. Allen and I have worked together for many, many years. I know not only he’s excited about doing the project, but I’m just as excited to have him along. He’s one of the best in the business, and I think our fans will really enjoy his call.
We have some new graphic elements we’re using. We have some good feature stories we’ll tell before we get going with the race. As I said earlier, our ultimate job is to tell the stories of the drivers, and to the best of our ability, through the pictures and through the sounds, create that thirst for our viewers to want to be there and enjoy this very special sporting event.
Q. Allen, you’ve had a very long career in calling NASCAR races. How does it feel to be in the open-wheel world now?
ALLEN BESTWICK: It feels pretty good. It’s been a great experience so far. It’s funny because for as long as I’ve been around racing, I’ve spent my whole career in the month of May in Charlotte basically and watched the 500 from afar.
I’ve been at the Speedway, around the NASCAR race there since 1994, so when I walked in the gate this month, it wasn’t a new experience for me to be at the Speedway. I knew where the gate was to get in and I knew where the TV compound was, where the booth was. I knew where to find things. It’s not a completely new experience at the Speedway.
Then I’ve had great support from Rich and my bosses to do the research that I needed to do. I spent time in Indianapolis in February just after the Daytona 500. Some of the race teams were more than gracious in welcoming me in. I went through IndyCars from top to bottom at team shops. Had dinners and lunches with drivers and team managers. I’ve had plenty of time to acclimate myself – short way to say it – the same thing done differently.
It’s still an auto race. The object is still to get the distance covered from start to finish in the least amount of time possible. Terminology, styles, strategies are a little different.
I look forward to the race. Obviously it’s the premiere auto race in the United States, maybe the world, every year. To have the opportunity to call it is a fascinating thing. I’m more excited than anything because it’s been a great experience so far. I can’t wait to see what race day is like in person.
Q. For Scott and Eddie, obviously you have a lot of experience on both sides. There’s so many changes in TV in 50 years. Probably what hasn’t changed much is the raw talent that open-wheel drivers share. What special traits do you think open-wheel drivers have to be able to perform so well in what is basically a road rocket before enormous crowds on prime ABC TV?
SCOTT GOODYEAR: I think for me, now that I’ve stepped away from it, I honestly believe that you can be trained to be a very good, proficient driver that can compete at IndyCar level. But I think the ones that are winning and are just a little bit faster have something different. I think it might be something that you’re just born with.
There’s been that question for years and years, especially when we talk about different generations of drivers. When you stand at a road course, you watch a guy like Will Power drive around, even his fellow competitors say that they expect him to be on pole everywhere they go to on a road course.
You go to ovals and see the smoothness of guys like Scott Dixon, and honestly a very impressive Ed Carpenter. Ed obviously trained hard, not through the road courses, because he’s not that great on a road course, but he spent so many years doing the midgets and the dirt cars.
I think it’s training and then I think you have to have a little bit of a gift.
With that I think I am more impressed now than I was when I was doing it. When you’re doing it, you eat, breathe and sleep it. You expect to be good. You expect to be competitive. You don’t feel that you’re doing anything different than anybody else ’cause you’re getting up, going and doing your job every day.
It’s only when you step away from it like I have, and maybe Eddie feels this way, you truly understand how different your occupation was when you’re sitting in a racecar.
Our racecar happened to weigh 1500 pounds and have in our day 900 horsepower, now they’re about 725. And, oh, yeah, as Eddie mentioned earlier, we go into turn one at 230, 240 miles an hour and don’t take our foot off the gas.
The last comment I’ll make on all that is when you’re doing it back then, it seems like it’s in slow motion. It seems like the straightaways are long, and I guess that’s what I guess they call being in the zone in other sports.
When you’re getting ready to retire, you notice that life is going by a little quicker in the racecar than it did before. That’s probably the first indication it’s time to go find something else to do.
I know how difficult it is, I know how brave you are when you’re doing it. That’s the neat thing I think when I watch the cars go around today.
EDDIE CHEEVER: Having raced for a decade in Formula One, Monaco, Spa, everywhere else, then coming to Indy, I don’t say this trying to make a joke of it, I think you have to be a little bit crazy when you’re racing on the limit at the Indianapolis 500.
It is, I would say by far and away, the most dangerous and most intoxicating race that I have ever been a part of. When you have to throw a car into a corner at 235 miles an hour, two feet behind a car that’s doing the same speed, another car that’s trying to pass you, do all this and stay away from that horribly hard wall, you have to be a little bit different.
The more time I had spent with A.J. Foyt, Unser, Andretti, there’s a common thread: they’re all capable of dealing with the danger very well and yet perform at such a high level.