The rare opportunity to call the television broadcast of the 100th Indianapolis 500 is not something lost on Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr., who share the ABC broadcast booth with Allen Bestwick for their Verizon IndyCar Series telecasts.
Though fans may not see it and may critique their style and dynamic, both Goodyear and Cheever – two past drivers – have truly committed themselves from both preparation and presentation standpoints.
Goodyear celebrates his 15th consecutive call of the ‘500 this year, having been on air every year since 2002. His last start as a driver came in 2001, when Sarah Fisher and he collided on the first lap, which left Goodyear with a back injury.
The chance to call the ‘500 in 2002 came as a surprise then – Goodyear had had his first race call six years earlier under unusual circumstances at the 1996 U.S. 500 in Michigan – and the Carmel, Ind.-based Canadian admitted he’s surprised he’s been able to carry on the call this long.
“When I started this in 2002, after I got crashed out in 2001 at Indy and broke my back for the second time, they came to me and said ‘Why don’t you become an (TV) analyst?’” Goodyear told NBC Sports.
“I let it go for a few months and then they came back to me in November and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it for a year.’
“The kids were growing up and I’d been away from them so much (while racing). I wanted to slow down a little bit and my wife said, ‘You might enjoy it,’ so I signed for one year. And I really didn’t think it would be going on as long as it is.”
Cheever’s entry into the broadcast booth at Indy came six years later, in 2008, 10 years after his 1998 Indy race win. His last ‘500 start came in 2006, and this is his ninth ‘500 call.
He described his preparation process for the race.
“It’s an honor and great privilege to call the 100th,” Cheever told NBC Sports. “I have looked at the first race and from there it’s about studying whatever film I can see, whatever photographs I can look at, and whatever books I can read.
“I’ve dived into the first one, the Ray Harroun race, to look at it both from a driver and from the fans’ perspective, and gone from there.”
Being part of an Indy 500 TV broadcast is a lot like being behind the wheel, Goodyear said.
“You’re not driving a race car, but in a way a lot of it is wrapped around like driving a race car,” Goodyear explained. “In a race car, it’s going, going, going and you’re multitasking. When the light goes yellow, you’re talking to your pit lane and have a conversation about what you’re going to do when it goes back to green.
“In television, when it goes on-air live, you’re going, going, going and multi-tasking because you’re watching everything that’s going on, and then when it goes yellow and you go to a commercial, you’re talking with the truck, not the pit box, and you’re coming up with what’s coming up in the future.”
Goodyear’s learned quite a lot about TV in the process.
“For me, it was an adrenaline rush in a sense, and I’ve learned a lot about television as I’ve gone through and how to get to our demographics and our fans,” he said.
“The thing is, I just didn’t think I’d be doing it as long as I am. It’s gone by quickly and on the other side, I now have more respect for the drivers and what I did because I didn’t realize it when I was doing it.
“You’re so consumed by it and you think it’s natural and that a lot of people can do it, and then the world’s going slow for you at Indy driving over 230 mph.
“I now have more respect being in the booth, watching what’s going on, how close the wheels are on oval races and how hard it is to win. So I have much more of a respect for our sport now in television than I probably had when I was driving.”
For Goodyear, who famously came up short three different ‘500s (1992, 1995 and 1997), having the opportunity to understand what race morning is like from another perspective is what makes the race for him.
“The overall event makes the race for me, in a sense. I didn’t know all the spectacle and pageantry that went on with the 500,” he admitted.
“The first year I did it, I was working it with Paul Page. He said to come early and see everything’s going on. … So I came early and I see from 6 o’clock (a.m.) onwards, everything starts to fill in, the people start to fill in, it’s like a time image. I said, ‘Hey look at this!’ and he let me go on for an hour. He said, ‘I told you’, and it was like I get it.
“Jim Nabors was there singing ‘Back Home Again In Indiana’, there was the National Anthem and the flyover – if you didn’t get goosebumps and something rushing through your body, you don’t have a pulse. To me, this was a much bigger event than I realized when I was driving it. It’s really pretty cool.”
Cheever, the 1998 winner, reflected on the fact the commentators have to understand the importance of the race because they’re a huge part in living and telling history.
“I think the Indianapolis 500 is one of the great American institutions,” he said.
“There’s not many events that have even half the longevity. We just celebrated the 50th Super Bowl. It’s something the whole world knows as very American.
“It’s a document left long after I’m gone.”