Continuing a Memorial Day weekend TV tradition that began in 1965, ABC will air the Indianapolis 500 for the 50th consecutive year on Sunday, May 25. The telecast of the 98th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing begins with a one-hour pre-race show at 11 a.m. ET with the green flag waving at 12:12 p.m.
What began as highlights in black-and-white on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1965 has evolved into ESPN’s massive production of the modern telecast for ABC, one of the largest and most complex that ESPN does each year. The production will utilize 92 cameras to televise the premier event of the Verizon IndyCar Series, including three onboard cameras per car in 12 of the 33 cars competing in the race.
The relationship between ABC and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the longest-running between a network and a sporting event. Weekend coverage of the Masters has aired on CBS since 1956, and ABC has aired the Little League World Series since 1963.
“The stewardship of ABC’s storied history at the Indianapolis 500 is something we take very seriously,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer. “The heritage of this event, and the pure excitement and spectacle of it, are what we look forward to bringing to our viewers every year.”
During the past 49 telecasts of the race, some of the most familiar names in sports television history have been part of ABC’s coverage, led by the legendary Jim McKay, who called the race for 18 years and served as telecast host for two others. Chris Schenkel, Bill Flemming, Keith Jackson, Al Michaels, Jim Lampley and Brent Musburger have all served in various roles on the telecast.
The “Dean of Motorsports Journalists,” Chris Economaki, originated the role of pit reporter and was part of many Indianapolis 500 telecasts on ABC, while former Indy 500 winner Rodger Ward originated the driver-analyst position that was later filled by Jackie Stewart, Sam Posey, Bobby Unser, Rusty Wallace, Tom Sneva, Arie Luyendyk and others. Paul Page anchored the telecast 14 times and before his late night career, David Letterman was a pit reporter on the 1971 telecast.
Allen Bestwick will become the 10th person to call the race on ABC when he makes his debut this year.
“One of the things that sparked my fascination with broadcasting was that appointment viewing of the broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 with Jim McKay behind the microphone,” said Bestwick. “It’s one of those things that attracted me and inspired me to get into the business and to think that I’m going to have the opportunity to sit in that chair – THAT chair – is mind-blowing.”
Joining Bestwick in the broadcast booth will be analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever, both former Indy 500 competitors. ESPN SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak will host the telecast from the Speedway’s iconic Pagoda while pit reporters will be Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little, Dr. Jerry Punch and Vince Welch.
ABC’s Indianapolis 500 telecast will be produced under the oversight of ESPN vice president, motorsports, production Rich Feinberg. Shawn Murphy will produce the race telecast and Bruce Watson will direct, while Terry Lingner will produce the pre-race show with Chip Dean directing.
Viewers of the ABC telecast will have the option of a second screen experience through a choice of live streaming video from the onboard cameras on ESPN3, ESPN’s multi-screen live sports network. ESPN3 will carry the feeds exclusively through WatchESPN and on Indycar.com. ESPN3 is accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app and streamed on televisions through ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Roku. The network is currently available to more than 92 million homes at no additional cost to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection or video subscription from an affiliated service provider. The network is also available at no cost to approximately 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers, smartphones and tablets connected to on-campus educational and on-base military broadband and Wi-Fi networks.
Among the features that will air during the pre-race show or in ESPN SportsCenter’s Indianapolis 500 coverage:
- ESPN’s Chris Connelly tells the story of Tony Kanaan’s lucky charm, a medallion given to him by his mother, shared by him to a girl facing life-saving brain surgery, and returned to him, days before he won the most important race of his life.
- ESPN The Magazine senior writer Ryan McGee interviewed some 30 current and former ABC announcers and behind-the-scenes production personnel in search of unique and interesting memories of some of the greatest and memorable Indy 500 telecast moments over the past 50 years.
- Helio Castroneves was the first driver to climb the fence to celebrate his wins, a tradition so loved by fans that he is forever begged by fans to climb in their seat section. And so enjoyed by the racing community that even Tony Stewart couldn’t resist copying ‘Spiderman’. Now he’d like a 4th climb at the Indy 500.
- A Memorial Day feature: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honors those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. And so the sentinels stand guard. Their uniforms meticulous, their movements precise and their commitment unflagging, Every hour, every day, year after year.
- Former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch, competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day, will be interviewed prior to the race.
In addition to television in the United States on ABC and Watch ABC, ESPN also distributes Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts through a combination of ESPN networks and syndication to more than 198 countries and 101 million homes. Also, U.S. troops serving overseas and on Navy vessels around the world can watch live via a broadcast agreement between ESPN and the American Forces Network.
Timeline – 50 Years of Indy 500 on ABC
- Charlie Brockman, an Indianapolis media personality who had called the closed-circuit broadcasts of the Indy 500 in previous years, is play-by-play announcer for the first telecast in 1965 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
- ABC veteran Chris Schenkel calls the 1966 race telecast.
- In 1967, the race appears in color for the first time and Jim McKay calls the first of his 18 Indy 500 telecasts.
- Former race winner Rodger Ward joins McKay in the 1967 telecast in the new role of driver-analyst.
- In 1971, for the first time, ABC’s coverage of the Indianapolis 500 airs as a same-day, stand-alone, tape-delayed telecast in prime time rather than as part of the Wide World of Sports program.
- In 1975, Keith Jackson handles anchor duties for ABC as Jim McKay misses the race for the only time between 1967 and his final race in 1987.
- In 1983, Al Unser and Rick Mears carry onboard cameras, the first used in Indy 500 coverage.
- In 1986, after many years of tape-delayed telecasts, the race is televised live for the first time.
- In 1987, Jim McKay, who serves as host, works his 20th and final Indianapolis 500 for ABC (18 years in play-by-play role, two years as host).
- In 2004, several rain delays take the telecast to 8 l/2 hours, making for one of the longest single-event telecasts ever.
- Also in 2004, Jamie Little makes her debut as a pit reporter, the first woman ever in that role at the Indy 500.
- In 2006, ABC introduces the “side-by-side” format, allowing viewers to continue watching the action during national commercial breaks.
- In 2007, the race is televised in High Definition for the first time. Also, for the first time, two women work as pit reporters in coverage as Brienne Pedigo joins Jamie Little in the pits.
- In 2011, ESPN and Indianapolis Motor Speedway announce a new six-year agreement to begin in 2013 to keep the Indianapolis 500 on ABC through 2018, including the 100th running in 2016, and make ABC the exclusive broadcast network partner of the IndyCar Series.
- The 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 airs on ABC in 2011, the 47th consecutive year the network has televised the event.
- In 2012, ESPN introduces a second-screen experience to the Indianapolis 500 telecast with streaming onboard cameras available for viewing on ESPN3 during the race telecast.
- In 2013, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak becomes the first woman to host ABC’s Indianapolis 500 telecast.
Indianapolis 500 lap-by-lap announcers on ABC
1965 – Charlie Brockman
1966 – Chris Schenkel
1967-1974 – Jim McKay
1975 – Keith Jackson
1976-1985 – Jim McKay
1986-1987 – Jim Lampley
1988-1998 – Paul Page
1999-2001 – Bob Jenkins
2002-2004 – Paul Page
2005 – Todd Harris
2006 – 2013 – Marty Reid
2014 – Allen Bestwick
Jim McKay – 18 years (two additional years as host)
Paul Page – 14 years
Marty Reid – 8 years
Bob Jenkins – 3 years
Jim Lampley – 2 years
Charlie Brockman, Todd Harris, Keith Jackson, Chris Schenkel – 1 year
Media Contact: Andy Hall, 386-492-2246 or [email protected]