Insight Richard Craill May 28, 2024 (Comments off) (370)

How broadcasting greatness added to Indy’s thrilling finish

PERHAPS lost amidst the breathtaking, extraordinary finish to this year’s Indianapolis 500 was a similarly outstanding job of telling the story by the race’s host broadcaster, NBC, to millions of people watching around the world.

NBCs coverage of the 108th ‘500 was broadly excellent but, in the closing stages, a combination of factors created what is one of the better pieced together pieces of live motorsport television that has been aired in years.

A combination of superb direction, an outstanding audio mix that truly elevated the pictures and a broadcast team at the very top of their game conspired to do a phenomenal job of painting the picture of the dramatic final few laps.

NBC’s on-air team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe is already among the best in global Motorsport, a great mix of energy, enthusiasm, easily distilled information and relevance that make IndyCar’s TV product highly enjoyable.

The trio were at their best in the closing stages of the ‘500, laying out the plot and the key storylines so no matter if you were a casual fan – as many ‘500 viewers are – or a rusted-on veteran you were engaged, understood the key storylines and plot points.

Commentary is about telling a story and the better job the broadcasters do of that, the more likely the audience is to become engaged with the product they’re watching.

Mix that with great direction, audio for atmosphere and all of the other factors that go into broadcasting motorsport? It’s almost as good as being there and, in some cases, better.

In the case of this year’s Indy 500, it doesn’t get any better.

Here’s how the last two laps played out on TV.


JOSEF NEWGARDEN leads Pato O’Ward to the line to start the penultimate lap.

The field crosses the line and heads into and through Turn one. Leigh Diffey sets the scene succinctly, listing the key contenders, noting that Pato could have some help and then listing the top five most likely to win. It’s a nice way to kick off the final five miles.

Leigh Diffey: Two laps to go, and Pato’s got his teammate, Alex Rossi behind him as well. Newgarden, O’Ward, Rossi, Dixon and Palou.

O’Ward’s McLaren is visibly hard to drive, he’s working hard on the wheel through turn two. Hinch, who contested Indy 11 times and as recently as 2021, offers relevant insight from the drivers’ perspective, telling viewers exactly what the young Mexican is feeling.

James Hinchcliffe: You can see the balance in that race car, he’s nervous, he’s balancing that thing on the absolute edge.

Townsend Bell: Great job hanging on to it, he’s got a nice run coming to Turn 3!

The field fires up the back stretch and Pato gets in Newgarden’s tow and has a monster run on the leader – but lifts dramatically, opting to remain behind the Penske Chev rather than passing. Six corners remain. Diffey interjects:

LD: And decides not to take it! That tells you everything you need to know. 

TB: That shocks me..

JH: If a yellow comes out now we can’t red flag it.

Great insight from Hinchcliffe and relevant, especially to anyone who watched the dramatic, one-lap sprint that ended the 2023 race following a late red flag. He’s basically just said the next flag ends the race and implies that O’Ward’s decision could have been risky.

‘White flag amigo’ McLaren’s team radio to Pato confirms the start of the last lap. The American’s do team radio better than pretty much anyone on TV. There, it becomes a key part of the storytelling more than anywhere – including F1 – because it’s live and raw.

LD: White flag amigo.. There has never been a Mexican driver win the Indianapolis 500..

This is a great line from Diffey as it raises the stakes – with that one line you realise that all of a sudden there’s 120 million people South of the border who care about this now, not just the 300,000 at the track.

O’Ward draws alongside and passes Newgarden as they sweep up the front stretch towards Turn one.

Diff is up in his seat now..

LD: .. maby that time is now! With one more lap to go, Pato goes to the lead!!

The crowd goes crazy behind the callers – with that noise, the cars and Leigh on the limiter it’s a glorious mix of intensity to the ears as well as a thrill to watch.

TB: He’s not going to lift this time, he did it against Ericsson and lost – Pato O’Ward to the front off of turn TWO.

With a fun emphasis on the corner number, Townsend Bell gives a reminder of how Pato lost the race last year. It’s a handy throwback, a reminder that he’s been there before.

There’s a few valuable moments of silence from the broadcast team as the crowd goes crazy as the leaders sweep through the second corner and onto the back straight. Richie Benaud always used to say, if you can’t add to the pictures, don’t say anything. This is that moment; the vision and the crowd behind are telling everything we need to know.

Five back.. six back.. O’Ward’s spotter calls the margin to Newgarden as the Orange and Black McLaren dips all four wheels below the white line, onto the apron, in a desperate attempt to break the tow.

LD: O’Ward tries to break the draft!

Newgarden draws closer as they weave up the back straight. Leigh reminds us that Josef has played this game before moments before the Penske car sweeps to the outside of the McLaren and they go side by side.

LD: Newgarden’s like, “I’ve been in this situation before!”

The Shell-sponsored Penske sweeps across the bows of O’Ward’s McLaren, taking the lead. It’s big.

LD: JOSEF NEWGARDEN! AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF PATO O’WARD.

Leigh calls it as it is. The place continues to go insane. The awesome sound mix from the NBC crew really adds to the broadcast with the crowd in full song – not that you could miss it.

LD: THIS IS MIND BLOWING..

This is a mega line. Incredible. Remarkable. Phenomenal are all verbiage he could have chosen but ‘Mind Blowing’ really sells it, sells the stakes, what that move meant and how the whole race had been building to that crescendo. It’s hair-raising stuff.  

There’s a brief pause as Newgarden heads through Turn four. As the lead caller, there’s no room for the experts here so Diffey picks up.

LD: Josef Newgarden had to wait 12 times to win it, and now he’s going to do it back-to-back!

More context. If you’d not seen any of the race until these final two laps, now you know how big this is for the would-be winner.

The leaders sweep to the line.

LD: Josef Newgarden is a two-time Indy 500 winner!

LD: Oh My goodness!

Like his ‘Mind Blowing’ line, this properly sells the stakes because after all, If the broadcaster can’t quite believe what just happened, it must be impressive and Leigh’s authenticity means that you know he means it. That’s what he truly feels and that, folks, makes for great broadcasting. For that, he can have the next few seconds off.

Newgarden is elated; Fuck yeah guys! He screams on his radio. Live, raw, unfiltered.

The director cuts to the shot of his wife and friends / family celebrating in the #2 car pit box.  

His wife screams ‘Oh my god’ in the lane as the team celebrates.

Lets go! Lets go! Newgarden screams as they cut to his in-car looking directly at the winner. The broadcast team lets these moments sell themselves. What else could they add?

LD: For the first time in twenty-two years, a driver has won back to back Indy 500s and it’s Josef Newgarden!

More context, this time using the Indy 500’s remarkable history to offer perspective to Newgarden’s victory. Behind this there’s more team radio, mostly untranslatable celebratory noises from the champ.

LD: Win number twenty for Team Penske.

Remember, there’s a loser here too. The director switches directly from Newgarden with a soft cut to a much more subdued O’Ward. It’s the same in-car shot as Newgarden, looking directly back at the driver, but the change in tone is immediately felt.

LD: And Pato O’Ward’s heart has been broken again.

What a line.. If you still had any emotions left after the last 50-laps of particularly intense motor racing, this line copped you right in the feels.

I’m proud of you there friend. O’Ward’s engineer tries to console the Mexican. Awesome job today.

I tried my best guys.. O’Ward’s return message is slightly clipped as the camera cuts to Roger Penske celebrating with his family. What great storytelling, if a tad uncomfortable if you were cheering for Pato.

LD: The Captain and his family, the kids and the grandkids are there, to watch win number twenty.

Josef Newgarden pulls to a halt on the yard of bricks. There’s a solid five seconds of silence from the broadcast team, just letting it soak in, before they ponder what he’s going to do next – which as it turns out, was join the fans on the front stretch to celebrate.

And with that, in just over two minutes and twenty seconds, the broadcast team told an entire story, offered context, offered emotion and showcased the genuine life changing achievement that winning the biggest car race in the world delivers and also what it means to lose it.

None of it was scripted, you just can’t plan moments like that in live sport and it takes a truly great broadcaster to nail it. It was as raw and as unplanned as the race itself.

But man, the trio – led by Diffey’s excellence as a lead broadcaster – sold it and sold it hard, matched by shot selection from the director, audio mix from the gurus controlling the microphones and all of the other thousands of moving pieces that go into producing a broadcast of that scope.

The race was fantastic, the finish even more so – however it would have been lacking had it not been delivered in such a polished and informative yet at the same time deeply emotive and personal way as the entire NBC crew managed late on a Sunday evening in Indianapolis.

That, folks, is the power of good TV.

You might also like!