The RACER Mailbag, December 15

The RACER Mailbag, December 15

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, December 15

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Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for Marshall Pruett or any of RACER’s other writers can be sent to mailbag@racer.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for style or clarity.

Q: What are the decision-makers at IndyCar thinking? Huge mistake to drop Paul Tracy! IndyCar needs some history, humor and plain speaking from the commentators in the booth. No one offers all of this better than Paul. He knows the drivers; he knows the tracks; he knows the owners; and he injects humor and clarity into his responses. With Robin Miller gone, IndyCar sorely needs someone who tells it like it is. Very, very poor choice. Is this because Penske and Tracy have a “checkered past”?

Cheryl Schwartz

MARSHALL PRUETT: The sentiments in your letter have definitely been echoed in a number of responses I’ve seen since Paul made the news public. Couple of things worth clarifying: IndyCar doesn’t select the broadcast team; they’re hired and paid by NBC Sports. I know it’s easiest to blame IndyCar for such things, but this is one instance where it doesn’t fit.

Paul definitely had some fun and spicy comments to offer on occasion, but I’ll admit I’ve never seen the big “he tells it like it is” with his work on NBC. I wonder if his body of social media posts sometimes gets confused with his racing commentary, because I just can’t recall many instances — other than the Marco Andretti/Uber driver line — that stood out in the “tells it like it is” persona he’s credited with bringing to NBC Sports.

Regardless, if Paul’s upcoming absence from IndyCar’s broadcasts has delivered a message, it’s how many of the series’ more tenured fans aren’t happy with his loss. It’s also revealed how many of IndyCar’s newer fans are thankful for the change. Like PT’s life and career, everything is polarizing, as two camps have emerged with very different takes on this news.

I’ve probably texted with PT a dozen times since the news broke, and he seems to be incredibly happy and has rediscovered a passion for racing that’s grown stronger since he did the SRX series last summer. As I wrote last week, he’s wanting to do SRX again and add in some IMSA racing, said they couldn’t come with a workable schedule for him to continue, and said the split with NBC Sports wasn’t ugly or negative.

According to PT, he isn’t a victim of a vendetta by RP, cancel culture, censorship, etc. If NBC wanted to fire him, it had all kinds of ammo to use years ago, and even leading into 2021, but they did not. And since he’s celebrated for telling it like it is, we should believe what he said about the reason behind split with NBC. He has nothing to lose by telling the truth. And as a closing aside, FOX, CBS, and ABC/ESPN all air motor races. If you want PT back whenever he might be free, let those networks know.

Tracy’s 2022 will involve a lot less blazer-wearing, and probably a lot more of this sort of thing. Dylan Buell/SRX via Getty Images

Q: Just read your article about Paul Tracy not returning to IndyCar broadcasts this year. Any possibility that NBC might bring Jon Beekhuis back? Fans would love it, and I really think he would be great in the booth with Townsend. I think Hinch would also be really good, and also RHR if he doesn’t get a full-time ride.

Also, now that IndyCar has run a simulation of the hybrid power plant, are there any thoughts on how they will handle it on ovals? I can think about six different ways they could control it (always available, never available, limited by reduced battery size, straights only, DRS-like, or last ‘n’ laps). My concern is the dangerous combination of higher speeds and pack racing, which can lead to crashes, reds and yellows, and extended race times cutting off TV race coverage. Even though it’s part of racing, I hate it when they bring out the ambulances. (I still remember Las Vegas among other incidents).

John from Madison

MP: I’ve always appreciated Jon Beekhuis as a driver and as a pit reporter, John, and want him back, ASAP. But not as a booth commentator. His low-energy style might not be the thing the average network producer is looking for as a primary voice these days. As I’ve said many times in recent years, though, his loss from the IndyCar broadcasts has been to NBC’s and IndyCar’s detriment.

Diffey, PT, and Towney weren’t the ones to track the strategy side of the races, and no disrespect to the other pit reporters, but in Jon’s absence, nobody emerged with much of an eye for seeing and delivering the race taking place within the race. For the sake of our fans, I’d fully support a #BringBackBeekhuis Twitter campaign to get Jon back where he belongs on pit lane.

Q: NBC’s loss. PT, we will miss you. The knowledge, the insight, the jokes the verbiage, the back and forth with TB and the “been there done that” swagger. Keep it with the Canadians. Bring on Hinch.

Jeff, FL

MP: For those who were around in the Champ Car days, an extra-young Hinch was doing commentary with Jeremy Shaw, and The Mayor was excellent way back then. He’s just as excellent now, but if there’s a knock against him that I’ve read from fans, it’s his bubbly personality and non-threatening humor. Trust me, he’s got spicy opinions to share, so for those who want to see The Mean Mayor, he’s capable of delivering.

What I’d like to see more of from Hinch is the superb car and driving analysis that, due to the growing distance from their last IndyCar races, PT and Towney can’t or couldn’t deliver. Towney’s also more than capable of getting the knife out and carving up teams and drivers with sharp opinions, so if Hinch is headed for the booth, maybe Towney takes on more of PT’s freer role and Hinch dives in with tack-sharp on-track analysis. Also, and I know he’s super busy racing in two different series and raising his 437 kids, but Tony Kanaan is brilliant as well in the booth.

Q: Paul Tracy was the only one that made the commentary interesting. IndyCar champion, raced at most of the race courses, was controversial and historically interesting. I could go on and on.

This really pisses me off.

Bruce McLeod

MP: PT was definitely controversial, but again, I think we’re confusing PT the guns-blazing social media crank and PT the employee of NBC Sports. Two very different people. I thought most of his commentary through 2020 was uninspired and repetitive; lots of “phoning it in” while Towney did most of the solid analysis and commentary.

Last season, I thought PT was the best he’s ever been in the booth. There was real life and effort on display most of the time, and like you, I’ll genuinely miss those contributions. He also seemed to spin more yarns from his CART and Champ Car career, which were enjoyable. Among the possible candidates, only TK can bring that kind of history to NBC Sports to fill that void.

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