The Verizon IndyCar Series put on a pretty good show at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. There was a great pass for the lead that viewers saw on TV, and many passes for position that fans only knew if they listened to the IMS Radio Network or read post-race media releases. Even if you were in attendance at the race, you only knew about in-pack action if you actually saw the pass or listened to a scanner or radio. And since the series is hoping that the TV audience will eventually supersede the spectators at the race, it’s incumbent on both the series and television to, you know, kind of get things right for the viewers. That was not the case at St. Pete.
Television, whether it is ABC or NBC Sports, simply cannot show everything on a street course; there is just too much going on in too many places. Both networks do as well as they can under the circumstances, I guess. It would be a Herculean effort to pick out the most interesting battles and find time to show them. All the fans really ask is for the broadcast to be accurate. Therein lies my issue with the ABC booth at St. Pete.
Up to Will Power’s restart kerfuffle/gamesmanship/screw-up, the booth of Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear had been acceptable. Bestwick brought enthusiasm and certainly seemed prepared. The scenario should go like this: Bestwick tells the audience what just happened and Cheever and Goodyear explain why it happened and the consequences of it happening. The fans only ask that they be given accurate information and commentary. This did not happen on the lap 82 restart after Charlie Kimball’s spin.
Will Power, as everyone watching the race knows, brought the single-file field around for the restart very slowly and waited until the acceleration zone to, you know, accelerate. Even though this was, according to Verizon IndyCar Series president of operations and competition Derrick Walker, exactly how the drivers were instructed to restart, ABC’s Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear vilified Will Power, comparing the start to something you see in go-carts and placing the blame for drivers in the rear of the field laying back and accelerating to pass on the lead driver doing what he was instructed to do.
It was the new play-by-play guy Bestwick who knew that Power had not reached the acceleration zone. This begs the question of the preparation of both Cheever and Goodyear. The viewers want to know both facts and opinions on those facts. The color guys need to know what the play-by-play guy knows. Shouldn’t both Cheever and Goodyear know what the drivers have been told? Fans don’t need to be confused; they need to be enlightened. Uninformed knee-jerk commentary does not help achieve that goal.
To top it off, on the next restart Power accelerated much earlier, and Cheever lauded him by saying, “That’s how you’re supposed to do it.” Really? Derrick Walker later said that Power received a warning on the second restart for accelerating too early. Confusing, huh?
Gamesmanship will always a subject of debate on restarts. Power did admit to lifting on the first restart to keep his teammate Helio Castroneves in line. But according to the IndyCar rulebook as explained by Derrick Walker, no rules were broken. I liked the enthusiasm of both Cheever and Goodyear, but do the fans a favor announcers: know the rules and tell us when they are broken or when they are followed. Maybe Cheever and Goodyear visited the Dali museum inside the track at St. Pete and were inspired by Salvador Dali himself, who said, “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.” If that’s the case, then carry on.