It was Media Day all over Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The NBC Sports broadcast team met with the Media, Team Penske & Shell had a big Media function, Dreyer Reinbold had a media function with AJ Foyt, and it was time for the annual IndyCar Drivers Media Day, where every driver had to make an hour-long appearance to meet with the credentialed media for open Q&A and photo ops. And this was after said drivers had been dispatched around the country on Tuesday/Wednesday to make appearances in various media market, on behalf of the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
Meanwhile, while the drivers and handlers were making the rounds, back in the garages, the teams were practicing pit stops on their ‘pit stop cars’ and tweaking their final tweaks before going through the Tech line. But no engines were fired. The sounds of racing came from the Indy Lights teams who were on track practicing and qualifying for their Freedom 100 race on Carb Day, and the Historic Indy Cars doing Exhibition Laps.
Watch out mainstream media – here comes Retro Rebel, the youngest media star at age 11. She is working with NBC Sports. Olivia, who has a YouTube video following for her Retro Rebel features, interviewed all the TV broadcasters. You’ll notice her Retro Rebel microphone with Paul Tracy. When she was interviewing drivers later on, such as James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, she had a NBCSN microphone. NBC Sports is doing a video on her which will be used on NBC “On Her Turf”, showingcasing what women can do (Be the best version of yourself, both on and off the field,) as well on various Social Media outlets including Instagram, NBCSN and IndyCar. Olivia was first spotted by NBC Sports at the St. Pete race this year. She is a huge Star Wars Fan, especially of the character Rebel. Olivia combined that with her love of retro in racing, the history and such. Thus, Retro Rebel was born.
Doug Boles, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Dr. Geoff Billows, IndyCar Medical Director met with the media to go over some logistics for the weekend. The Elephant In The Room – thunderstorm forecast for race day Sunday – was on everyone’s mind. Boles reminded everyone that last year’s race day forecast was for rain and it didn’t materialize. It was one hot day. Thursday was a mixed bag of weather, starting with a horrendous thunderstorm with lightning. Rain lasted until 9am or so. And then it dried up, was overcast but not cold. It turned out to be warm and muggy hot for the rest of the day. Currently the forecast is for Thunderstorms through Monday. However, Boles reminded everyone, this is Indiana. Weather is changeable. The track has its own weather forecasting systems in place at the track, and work with a local TV station on weather forecasting. There will be no working on Plan B – in case of rain on the race – until Saturday night. Putting the race off until Monday has been discussed, but is something Boles wants to avoid if at all possible. The race can be started Sunday up until 6pm. Sunset is set for 9:02pm or so, and it only takes 101 laps for the race to be complete and legal.
The 1986 Indy 500 was rained out on Sunday and Monday, and run on Saturday 31 May. It was won by Bobby Rahal, running for Jim Truman, who died 11 days later. The 1997 Indy 500 was rained out completely Sunday, and Monday after 15 laps, and ran full length Tuesday 27 May. It was won by Arie Luyendyk.
Regarding threats and warnings, Boles said that when it’s just rain, the fans can stay or move. When there’s thunder or lightning, the warnings go out to vacate the grandstand and follow your own personal safety plan. He explained that a personal plan can vary depending on where a person is located and where their transport is. Some involve more distance than others, so warnings can’t be more specific on time frame. So have a Personal Safety Plan in mind ahead of time.
On a medical note, Dr. Billows indicated that there has been some concerns about measles, so there will be a limited number of free measles vaccines available Carb Day in the Medical Center.
Here Thursday and for the weekend is Damon Hill, who is experiencing his first-ever Indy 500. His father, the late Graham Hill won the Indy500 in 1986, and was the only driver to win the ‘Triple Crown – Indy 500 – Le Mans 24 – and Monaco. This is the feat to which Fernando Alonso aspired when he entered this year’s (and the 2017) Indy 500.
Dale Earnhardt and Danica Patrick will be providing color commentary for the Indy 500, for perspective and what they’re seeing and experiencing. For Earnhardt, this is his first Indy 500 as a broadcaster. He said he didn’t want to learn too much about it ahead of time, over- learn about it, since NBC wanted his first-time experience outlook … “to share my experience.”
Earnhardt said “I want to sit in a real Indy 500 car, not a show car; and I can’t wait to talk to some drivers, pick their brains a bit. I got a lot to learn. At 9’clock I got to hop around, to six or seven locations for the Pre Race. I’ll probably check them out a bit the next couple of days, so I have sort of an idea of what I’m walking into. But I don’t want to know everything. I want to be surprised, to have a reaction to it. I’m a fish outa water, and they’re trying to capture my reaction to it, as seeing it for the very first time. So it’s about finding out a little bit but not too much. I don’t need to know the background and history of every driver. That’s for the guys in the booth. I’m not going to be playing that role in this race. I’ll be on the pit box, and they’ll come to us to explain my reaction on how it’s playing out. That’s more tricky to do. You gotta find things that pull you, intrigue you. Such as an underdog. I love an underdog. So I’ll be trying to find the guy that plateaued out, or doing things really good. So they’ll come to us, for our reaction, not anything technical. But here I’m coming in as a fan. I would be here whether I was working for NBC or not. Something they told me at the beginning. We’re not going to put you in a situation where you fail.”
Patrick was the most relaxed and open as I’ve seen her, and she admitted she liked “having makeup and hair.”
In terms of what she did for her preparation for this weekend’s TV coverage: “Fourteen years, starting out in 2005 at the Indy 500. That’s what I’m here for, not to be someone like Marty Snyder directing and throwing to the other on air talent. That’s not my role. That’s what they do and they’re very good at it. I have the information, so I guess, essentially we’re all professionals in our own little way. I’m enjoying this new role. It’s a lot more fun and less stressful than driving a car. It doesn’t mean it’s not a little challenging at some points in time, but you know, you want to do a good job. I think the hardest thing is that when you’re doing an interview, you realize you’ve got all kinds of time and the more I say the better. But when you’re on air and you’re transitioning from everything from an interview on pit road to the booth to a pit road reporter or to a commercial, there’s a clock on. So you need to get very concise with your thoughts because you don’t have a lot of time and they’re in your ears telling you to hurry up. So that’s a little bit of the challenge. But other than that, it’s stuff I know. It’s a little bit different, transitioning to that kind of editing. You realize you’re part of a production, instead of making a story of whatever you say, you’re working on a team a little bit more when it comes to what you say. So it’s just speaking in sound bites.”