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May 2020 IndyCar Interview with Kevin Lee

After we wrapped up talking Rugby with ex-Wallaby and veteran of Randwick & Waratahs, Stephen Hoiles, we’re also delighted to have IndyCar broadcaster Kevin Lee contributing this post on Sports Benches.

From there, I asked Kevin a few questions, such as real-life racing, on the verge of going back to normal.

How will racing officials use the best practices as set by the federal and local governments so they can safely complete the season?

We’ll find out.

Plus, he reflects at the memories on the races that won’t host IndyCar for the rest of this year as well as the teams & drivers to watch & Penske’s acquisition to the series & the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Questions to Kevin Lee

  1. After two months of careful planning due to the pandemic, how do you feel having real-life Motorsports back to normal & be able to cover the events again going into Texas Motor Speedway in under a months time?

I think everyone is happy to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  

Although it appears we are still a long way away from a full return to normalcy, it will be good to have something to look forward to as a racing fan.  

For me, I’ll simply be a fan again for now.  I’m not scheduled to work the Texas event.  All broadcasts crews for all sports that are permitted to operate right now will be doing so with the least amount of people possible – especially at the venue. 

So, the plan is to have only one pit reporter at the track (Marty Snider).  NASCAR on FOX is operating with the same guidelines.

2. While everyone has to stay home as required by every individual countries and state regulations, any interesting ideas you have been doing personally?

Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with anything significant.  

I’d love to create a new revenue stream that allows sports broadcasters to make a living without live sports :-). 

I’ve mostly been working on some home projects I’ve been putting off (or calling the experts to take care of issues I can’t), reading, watching lots of old games and races on TV and YouTube and getting outside whenever the weather allows in Indiana.

3. Looking at the now revised 2020 IndyCar calendar, which events that have left out will you miss the most in the short-term & why these places contributed something special to IndyCar?

It’s easily Long Beach.  While I will miss COTA, Barber and Detroit (we are still hoping to get back to St Pete this year), Long Beach is just below the Indy 500 for most of us that are lucky enough to attend races.  

It’s Southern California and the beach in the Spring, great restaurants walking distance to the track, most of the paddock staying at the same hotel inside the track, a great running path on the beach that starts at the TV compound, IMSA also racing, and essentially a reunion of the motorsports community.  

Long Beach is the weekend where I see people in the industry I don’t see the rest of the year.

4. Regarding the teams & drivers, there’s McLaren pairing up with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports & placed their faith in young & proven champions from Indy Lights,.

You also see Andretti & Ganassi re-expanding their cars plus the return of Conor Daly in full-time mode once more with two different teams.

How does the recent changes during the offseason benefit the way what this year’s IndyCar season will look like with the regular championship points plus special rewards during the Indy 500 & season finale up for grabs between next month & early October?

There are many interesting changes, as you note.  

But, from a team standpoint, the championship conversation still begins with Team Penske.  

If you had to pick a team most likely to field the drivers champion, it’s Team Penske.  

They’ve won three of the last 4 and all three of their full-time drivers have titles.  

Five-time champ Scott Dixon is obviously still just as much of a contender and Alexander Rossi has come close the last two years.  

Others like Felix Rosenqwist and Ryan Hunter-Reay could contend, but most would be surprised if the champion is anyone other than the aforementioned group of five.  

A great story will be that next tier.  Can someone outside of the championship favorite group of five finish in the top five?  

The rookie battle will be fascinating.  

There could even be drama within Team Penske if Scott McLaughlin joins the team full time in  Will he be in a fourth Penske car or is he replacing one of the three current drivers?

5. I may be biased because I live in Australia but let’s talk about an emerging superstar who currently lives there & he’s a New Zealander by the way alongside Scott Dixon.

His name is Scott McLaughlin, he’s a current two-time Supercars Champion & also won the Bathurst 1000 last year and is making such a decent impact in the temporary eSports equivalent of this series.

Whenever the travel ban is lifted after this year, why McLaughlin can be a decent fit in IndyCar and where he will replace at Team Penske?

As mentioned, McLaughlin’s future in IndyCar is a major storyline and source of speculation.  

Beyond eSports, more impressive is how immediately quick he was at the preseason test at Circuit of the Americas.  

With so little formula car experience, finishing with the 3rd fastest lap of the day at the test was remarkable!  

Everyone paying attention believes he’s the real deal. 

Team Penske had already confirmed they had planned (before the pandemic) running him in as many IndyCar races as possible this season.  

It’s clear they were planning to prepare him for a full-time ride in 2021, if all went according to plan.  

The question is will it be a four-car team or is someone going to lose their seat in IndyCar?

6. There has been a change of ownership from Hulman to Penske during the off-season, if you can pitch any ideas to them on ways to improve the NTT IndyCar Series, what would it be?

There’s nothing I can suggest at this point that Roger Penske and his team hasn’t heard.  

From the moment the transition was announced, Roger was soliciting ideas.  Most of the early action is focused on the Indianapolis 500 and IMS.  

That’s likely because his group has total control over that race and facility and that is a strength the rest of the series can feed off of.  

Many of the ideas I’ve had have already been implemented:  No guaranteed spots for the Indy 500, improved video boards and fan experience at IMS, upgraded WiFi, and an increase in the purse.  

Outside of the 500 becomes more difficult.  

The search for a 3rd engine partner will continue, but will likely have to be put on hold until the world returns to normal after the pandemic.  

I’d also love to see a January or February race in Australia – but someone local will have to take the lead to promote and finance it.

7. In addition of Penske’s acquisition of the series, the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also part of this deal, would you welcome back Formula One plus add floodlights to potentially bring night racing to the track too?

I’d love to have Formula One back at IMS and I know Roger is interested.  

But, I’m sure it would have to be in the right circumstances.  

A 25-30 million dollar sanctioning fee is almost impossible if the government isn’t helping to subsidize the event.  

That is common in other countries, but very uncommon for motorsports in the US (although COTA was receiving $ from Texas).  

Liberty will need to offer a discount for a desire to strengthen F1 in America or provide a link to a title sponsor for it to happen.  

This is more likely if the proposed race in Miami falls through and/or COTA is unable to continue to finance the event…Lights would not seem to be likely for an F1 event in America.  8pm in Indianapolis is 1 or 2 am in the UK.  But, it would be cool!

8. Last question, apart from IndyCar, which other racing and sports series you’re looking forward to later this season both as a sports fan and broadcaster & where they can see you cover these events on TV?

I’m a fan of all sports, so I’m missing everything.  I’ve worked as a broadcaster in the NBA, college basketball and NFL.  

In recent years, I’ve done football and basketball games as a freelancer around my motorsports schedule, but with no firm schedules for any sport – there’s not much opportunity to pursue anything right now.

Before you go…

We thank Kevin Lee for his time to help me out on Sports Benches.

He wears a lot of hats where you can see him on TV such as IndyCar, IMSA Sportscar Racing & College Basketball on NBC/NBCSN.

Plus, Kevin can be heard on the radio where he announces NFL & College Basketball games on Westwood One & regularly contributes to Trackside on 107.5 The Fan.

For now, you can follow him on Twitter here.

Plus, make sure you watch a series of my four-part interview with Stephen Hoiles where talk about anything and everything about Rugby on my YouTube Channel here.

Note: The featured image of Kevin Lee via this post has been asked and approved to put on with consent.

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