Five men have served as the “Voice of the 500.” It is a title that holds a place of honor in broadcasting.
I have the held that title twice on what was then the IMS Radio Network and is now the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. First from 1977-87, then again in 2014-15. Mark Jaynes assumes that title now as I return to the role of “emeritus” and add comments during future races. The formal hand-off to Mark comes on race day for this historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
What a ride it has been. I started on the radio network along with Jerry Baker in 1974. I’d worked with the network founder, Sid Collins, at WIBC Radio for four years in the news department. It was through almost nightly sessions after work that Sid and I would talk radio. It became a post-graduate course in news/sports broadcasting.
In 1987, I left radio to join ABC Sports. ABC finally was able to broadcast the race live and wanted someone closely involved with the sport. My full-time job at that time was at NBC Sports calling CART races and other events. I served as the “TV voice” for 15 years (and is shown above, at left, calling a race with three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford) and returned to radio two years ago. Twenty-eight years of anchoring “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
When asked about the “greatest moments” I’ve seen, I’ll talk about great broadcasting moments like the Johncock-Mears finish in 1982. What you don’t hear about are the background stories.
There was the time the announcers couldn’t hear one another on our circuits and had to use radios held to our ears to cue each other. Or the several times on radio our announcers were pulled out of live interviews by guards because “TV needs the interview.”
The time I accidentally nearly knocked Bobby Unser off his stool with the back of my hand. Bobby had scooted over close to me to watch my monitor. When Scott Goodyear chased Al Unser Jr. to the closest finish in 1992 and Bobby and I crawled on top of the monitors to see down on the finish line.
Bobby, innovative car designer Smokey Yunick and I would sit and talk about the many ways to cheat back in the day. It’s a long list.
I love talking with 500 fans. Hanging on the fence or on the walk from Gasoline Alley to pit road. Anywhere.
I’ve run into Indy 500 fans everywhere in the world. On the northeast Australian coast with the Coral Sea at Palm Cove, an Aussie Indy 500 fan walked up on the beach. In 1983 in Moscow in the then-Soviet Union, two uniformed men approached in Red Square and asked if I was the Indy 500 guy.
The hard part has always when I was late for something important at the speedway and would take off on a fast walk to get where I needed. Fans would want to talk and I had to blow past them to be on time for my job. I felt terrible.
But it is the fans that make this so much fun. Conversation about how TV sucked or was great. Stories about the drivers and crews are common or just favorite race moments to share. Fans ask for autographs and it still feels strange. Why me? Rick Mears is right there. The fans that have told me they grew up with me watching or listening to the 500. The affection of fans has given me some of the “greatest moments.”
So it’s not over for me. Just changing. I’m hanging out as long as I can. I have time for more public appearances now and my book is almost finished. The last chapter will be written May 29.
Just think, I sit in one of the best seats in the house – for free. Thank you all for the great ride.