The Indianapolis 500 is all about tradition. Today’s telecast on ABC could be the start of a new one when Lindsay Czarniak becomes the first woman to host the TV coverage.
Czarniak, 34, is an anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter. She previously covered motorsports for TNT and NBC as a pit reporter and feature reporter, and spent six years working for the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C.
As part of her preparation for today’s race (coverage starts at 11 a.m. on Channel 7, with the race at 12:15), Czarniak last weekend took a ride around the track in an IndyCar with the legendary driver Mario Andretti behind the wheel.
“At first, I was terrified, and then there was a point where I realized, ‘All right, we’re not going to crash, and I’m just going to sit here and look around and take in this moment.’ It was just the ride of a lifetime.” Czarniak told ESPN’s Front Row. “And he was so gracious and he’s so funny. The next day the whole left side of my neck was in pain because you realize that you’re compensating, and it’s just incredible thinking about what these drivers deal with and it’s no big deal” to them because it’s what they love.
Brent Musberger was ABC’s most recent Indy 500 host. Jim McKay, Al Michaels, Bill Flemming and Chris Schenkel all filled the role at one time.
Czarniak said visiting Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month has given her a sense of what the big race and its traditions mean to the people who attend every year.
“As a broadcaster it gives me a different sense of how I want to approach it because it’s like I want to make sure that I’m really transmitting what a big deal it is to them,” she said. “And to Brent, he’s such a legend, and they were big shoes to fill before, but now that I’ve been there it’s just an even greater sense of ‘give it its due.’ ”
Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear are ABC’s analysts today, with Marty Reid the lap-by-lap announcer.
Reid, speaking in a media conference call, said Czarniak is “wide eyed. She was here this past weekend for qualifications, and she’s absorbing everything and really just been a sponge, she loves it so much. That really excited me also, because I knew she knew motorsports and loved it, but she’d never been here for the 500. Now she’s got the same kind of fever that we all have.”
Reid said he began covering the race in 1982, when he worked for a TV station in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s now my eighth of being in the play-by-play seat. I still get the same feeling every time I pull through that tunnel, and for all of us that love motorsports, this is hallowed ground.”
ESPN early last week announced a round of layoffs, elimininating an estimated 300 to 400 positions, about 6 percent of the company’s work force. Most of the job cuts were said to be from the technology and sales departments. That same week, the company advertised a number of job openings in Bristol, Conn., New York and elsewhere, suggesting the Worldwide Leader is trying to “get younger,” as they say in the sports world.
The people losing their jobs probably aren’t too happy about the fact that the network just put an estimated $125 million into a new 193,000-square-foot studio at its Bristol headquarters.
The network also has billions tied up in rights fees to broadcast sporting events, so the corporate overlords at Disney obviously are trying to protect their profit margins.
Fox lands Roddick
Fox Sports 1, the would-be-rival to ESPN that is set to launch in August, signed a big name to its roster with the hiring retired tennis star Andy Roddick. He will appear on the nightly Fox Sports Live program, a three-hour news and highlights show. TSN SportsCentre anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole from Toronto will also be part of Fox Sports Live, as will Charissa Thompson from ESPN.
“I don’t think I will be the guy questioning Bill Belichick’s coaching decisions in the fourth quarter,” Roddick told Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated.
“I think that’s stupidity. But I think I can give a decent look on the preparation side of athletes, the business side and maybe what they are thinking going into a big situation or moment.”