INSIGHT: NBC’s second take on its first Indianapolis 500

Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: NBC’s second take on its first Indianapolis 500


INSIGHT: NBC’s second take on its first Indianapolis 500


Sunday is going to be strange. Uncomfortably strange. For many of us, Memorial Day weekend in motor racing equates to one thing, the Indianapolis 500, and as creatures of habit, there’s a feeling of loss for those of us who aren’t exactly sure what we’re going to do with ourselves on May 24.

Moved back to August 23 in reaction to the coronavirus, the Indy 500 — our personal holiday — won’t fall at the place on the calendar where our minds and bodies have been conditioned to expect its magnificence.

Thankfully, the NTT IndyCar Series, its broadcast partner NBC Sports, and veteran motor racing TV producer Terry Lingner anticipated the sense of loss Indy fans would be feeling, and went to work on a four-hour feature that debuts Sunday at 2pm Eastern on NBC.

With the 104th running of the ‘Greatest Spectacle In Racing’ months away, Lingner and company made use of a popular sports programming style rarely employed in IndyCar, but commonly found in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, with MBC’s Mike Tirico as the host.

“It was an idea that I had had of just the old coach’s format, where you go back and look over tape together with coaches and players, but having, arguably the biggest name and in sports broadcasting with Mr. Tirico there to lead it, sitting in the Speedway, with Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud going back over last year’s race and breaking the most important parts down for us. Both Simon and Alex were really outspoken and up and enjoying it,” Lingner told RACER.

Pagenaud and Rossi battle it at the end of the 2019 Indy 500. Image by Scott LePage/Motorsport Images

In re-broadcasting the 2019 Indy 500 with a new insider’s view of the fierce action between Rossi and Pagenaud, the eventual winner, Lingner says a number of detailed insights were revealed by the protagonists.

“I think the people are all getting new information about the fuel hose nozzle problem that Rossi had,” he added. “How lucky he felt to have the yellow come out. A little luck is always important and obviously he knows a thing or two about that with fuel mileage. Alex really had a lot more to reveal and we actually even have fun with this. At one point Tirico says, ‘Sorry, Simon. We haven’t showed you much because you were out front and Alexander was putting on the show,’ which is kind of an offhanded compliment, I guess.

“Then Alex revealed a couple of things that he was trying to do to get around him that really surprised Simon. You can see him actively… When you go back and watch it, Alex is trying everything he can to adjust the car, so they go into that. For the real purist and the knowledgeable viewer, they’re going to be interested to hear what he had to say about that All the high points in the race will definitely be analyzed coming in or out of breaks.”

With four hours to fill, the new segments with Tirico, Rossi, and Pagenaud will be complemented by some of the favorite pre-race elements aired in 2019 and some fresh offerings for Indy 500 fans.

“The body of the show is the great race we had last year on NBC, and we’ll go back over the stuff that we enjoyed doing with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and having Danica Patrick with us,” Lingner said. “We’re going to rerun ‘If These Bricks Could Talk,’ paying tribute to the veterans and the forerunners of the race. All of that will be woven in. The whole design of this show was to still try and pay honor and respect to Memorial Day expanded out through the situation the world is in right now, with first responders.

“There’s a brand-new Anthem. There’s a brand-new God Bless America. There is going to be a spectacular Star-Spangled Banner, but no Back Home Again in Indiana. We decided that song should not be performed to an empty house because we’re truly not back home yet.”

Some of the renovations and improvements made to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will also be revealed on Sunday, along with a car that just might be named as the official pace car. And if everything goes according to plan with the broadcast, and enough interest is shown, the practice of replaying and breaking down the most recent Indy 500 with its major players could become more than a one-time production.

“It’s a cool idea,” Lingner said. “I’ve got a few things up my sleeve, and I’m hoping this happens more than once.”