Help fans out, IMS Radio

IndyCar commentary — By on April 16, 2011 12:06 pm

As a follow-up to the post about the failings of INDYCAR Race Control during the St. Pete weekend: although the technical aspects of Race Control are not yet perfect, they have improved significantly over the past two race weekends. Randy Bernard has been very clear about the fact that getting timing and scoring reliably operational is a high priority for INDYCAR, and although it’s not ideal that the issues haven’t been completely worked out, the continued efforts are appreciated.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have something more to say, would I?

I need to tread very carefully on this one. Every member of the IMS Radio Network’s broadcast team is a professional who is extremely proud of his work. Having worked in broadcast media myself for a number of years, I’m also well aware that live television and radio shows are no walk in the park. The pace is fast, expectations are high, and there’s always some cheeky so-and-so who loudly declares that he or she could do a better job.

So, let this be stated up front: the current issue that many fans are taking with IMS Radio’s booth commentators is an honest mistake on their part. It’s entirely possible that the problem simply hasn’t been pointed out to them yet.

For the last couple of years, the style of commentary on IMS Radio during practice and qualifying sessions has worked fine. When listeners at home had streaming video in sync with the radio broadcast, they could make assessments of the on-track action on their own. In those days, the radio show could play the role of providing supplementary information, and it did so well. Focusing less on the on-track action and more on the latest IZOD IndyCar Series news was appropriate and helpful.

However, streaming video has been lost this season, and the commentary from the booth hasn’t been adjusted to compensate. At-home viewers of Race Control now fully rely on IMS Radio to be their eyes and ears and to provide timely detail of what’s happening on track. Of course, there will always be lulls in the sessions such as yellow flag periods, and discussing paddock news at those times is expected and appreciated. But when cars are running, listeners need more analysis. Who’s working their way to the top of the speed charts? Who’s handling well, and who’s clearly wrestling with the car? Who’s taking the quickest line through the hairpin, and who loses the back end every time? This is the sort of information that fans at home are now clamoring for, and IMS Radio isn’t providing it.

During the last five minutes of the second practice session yesterday — while timing and scoring was lighting up and the qualifying order for today was being decided — Mike King and Davey Hamilton were discussing how long the line-ups will be for autograph sessions at IMS in May. It should be quite evident how frustrating this was for the fans listening at home.

With some consideration to and awareness of the issue, these problems can likely be rectified easily. If IMS Radio’s commentators are able take the steps necessary to provide listeners with the most relevant, timely information possible, IMS Radio can transcend its add-on status and become a more valuable fan resource than it has been in many years.