Allen Bestwick and Dr. Jerry Punch’s release from ABC/ESPN is a sign they need to terminate their IndyCar Series deal and end a relationship dating back to 1965.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports became the “Worldwide Layoff” in sports Wednesday as hundreds of ESPN employees were released and auto racing announcers were among the notable victims.
Two released broadcasters have left anger from motorsports fans and began demanding other networks to pick them up. The two were long-time pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch and the television voice of the Indianapolis 500 Allen Bestwick.
Bestwick tweeted Friday he was let go by ESPN but will still be the lead announcer for the Indy 500 May 28 and wrap up his tenure at ABC June 3-4 when IndyCar travels to Detroit for the dual races at Belle Isle Park.
Punch also responded Friday morning he will still pit report on Memorial Day Weekend.
Excellent news they’ll be kept for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” but after 2017, ABC has put themselves in an irreversible problem.
ABC/ESPN has one year left in their current deal with IndyCar and releasing Bestwick means there’s no play-by-play announcer.
The role has seen its share of rotations since the network dropped Paul Page of covering IndyCar after 2004. In a span of 13 years, they’ve had three play-by-play guys.
Page’s successor Todd Harris flopped and lasted a year. Marty Reid was let go days after botching a call during a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway Sept. 29, 2013.
The incident gave Bestwick the gig as play-by-play announcer for IndyCar since 2014. It came as a surprise by race fans because they’ve known Bestwick as a NASCAR commentator for over 20 years. ABC was willing to take the risk but in their eyes, it didn’t pan out.
Bestwick has done a nice job covering IndyCar and kept the ball rolling. Sure, he had shoes to fill bringing excellent coverage ABC hasn’t seen in years but he held his own and provided an exciting flare fans known to expect.
Bestwick knows how to tell a story and grab his audience’s attention to think about a situation on the track. Whether its pit strategy or asking his colleagues when’s the right moment for a driver to make a move, Bestwick delivers in key moments of the race.
There aren’t many options available for someone carrying the torch or surpassing Bestwick because most motorsports coverage has shifted to NBC, IndyCar’s main network as it carries 12-of-17 races, and Fox Sports.
No signs have shown Page making a triumphant return to television after handing over radio duties at Indianapolis to Mark Jaynes last year.
Bob Jenkins would be ideal but has also stepped away from television and serving as Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s public address announcer since 2013.
This leaves Bob Varsha as the best option available to replace Bestwick should ABC finish their deal in 2018.
Varsha’s motorsports role has been reduced the last few years and returning to IndyCar will be a smooth end for ABC.
Outside of those open options, DeBruhl has previously done play-by-play in Formula One on the defunct-Speed Channel including calling Fernando Alonso’s first win at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The issue becomes if he’s chosen as Bestwick’s replacement, Jon Beekhuis will become the sole pit reporter with Punch gone. It’s a recipe for disaster on managing the broadcasting team without Bestwick and Punch.
If signs show that ABC/ESPN aren’t interested in motorsports, bringing an ESPN guy with little racing knowledge next year isn’t a smart choice either. It didn’t work then with Harris and it won’t work today.
Fans want a play-by-play who knows what they’re talking about and show some sort of knowledge when working with guys who’s been around the sport for decades.
This concern leaves ABC/ESPN no choice, bring a guy who can carry IndyCar’s coverage for one year. Once the deal is over, give up the rights to NBC Sports. If they can’t find a qualified guy to cover IndyCar in 2018, it’s time for ABC/ESPN to abolish the deal altogether and NBC buys out their contract.
IndyCar needs to continue its slight ratings boost with a network they can rely on and expand onto new horizons including broadcasts on NBC itself.
ABC’s contractual clause won’t allow IndyCar to air on NBC as all 12 of their races are on NBCSN.
NBC has done a phenomenal job covering the sport and no question the best IndyCar coverage since they’ve started showing races in 2009. It has also been known NBC wants to air the Indianapolis 500, an event ABC has aired since 1965.
Their interest may become a reality sooner than later because ABC has done the bare minimum outside of the Indianapolis 500 and doesn’t value IndyCar racing like it did during its peak in the 1980s to the mid-90s.
NBC Sports has gone a step and beyond to give IndyCar fans the details of what’s happening with a lengthy pre-show and graciously interviewed drivers without worrying about being rushed.
ABC/ESPN has been bombarded with obligations of other programs and you’ll barely get any intake from drivers outside of the winner.
The practice isn’t new as the network has been notorious for time restraints where the winner wasn’t interviewed live, facing several immediate sign-offs and one time, dismissed the finish entirely.
Outside of Indianapolis, ABC/ESPN hasn’t shown me they’re willing to commit another contract with IndyCar and put in the effort like NBC on a race-by-race basis. The blame is on the powers that be for the downfall as a 60-plus year marriage is on its last breath.
Bestwick and Punch’s dismissal with one year left may have been the final straw of a strained relationship between ABC/ESPN and the IndyCar Series.