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Canada’s Scott Goodyear is about to call it a career – for the second time

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Photo, above: Scott Goodyear (left), Eddie Cheever and Allen Bestwick stand with the Borg-Warner Trophy at the  Indianapolis 500. The 102nd race Sunday will be the last one for ABC and will mark the end of an era. Photo by Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images

INDIANAPOLIS – Although ABC will continue to hold the broadcast rights for Indy car racing in the United States through next weekend’s two Duels in Detroit, Sunday’s telecast of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 will really be the end of an era.

Every May since 1965, ABC has covered the 500 in one way or another – first via edited tape delay for Saturday afternoon’s Wide World of Sports magazine program to same-day coverage delayed till prime time to, finally, live and in colour as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing actually happened.

When the telecast goes off the air on Sunday afternoon (NBC will take over broadcasting duties in 2019), it will also mark the end of a second career enjoyed by one of Canada’s most famous racing sons, Scott Goodyear.

Goodyear retired as an Indianapolis 500 driver after being involved in a serious crash at the Brickyard  in 2001 and will now call it a day after 17 years of working as a colour analyst on Indy 500 broadcasts.

He holds the record for the most Indy 500 starts by a Canadian driver – 11 – and when he gets the “go” signal to start talking on Sunday, he will officially become the longest-serving ABC Indy 500 colour analyst over retired driver Sam Posey, who did the job for 16 years.

Is he at all melancholy about another chapter in his life closing?

“I haven’t put much thought into it,” he told me in an interview at the Speedway on Friday. “There’s just so much that has to be done. There are 33 drivers in the race and you have to know everything about them; you have to talk to them, their team, their friends and family. Things change daily. We have the new car here (the IndyCar Series introduced a new aero kid for 2018), so there’s a lot going on.

“I don’t think it will dawn on me, really, until Detroit. Then it really will be over.”

Goodyear did acknowledge that there were reminders that the end of the line was approaching. Yes, the 500 is a big auto race but it is also the social event of the IndyCar season – much like the Grand Prix of Monaco is the crown jewel of F1 racing – so there are all sorts of things going on.

“Yes, my friend and colleague, Dr. Jerry Punch, was honoured here Friday (Punch, who will work the 500 as a pit reporter, was presented the Bob Russo Founders Award for dedication to auto racing) and we had a dinner on Monday night of all the past ABC guys who live here – Paul Page, Marty Reid, those guys. But those were the only times.”

Goodyear said he was going to retire as a race-driver after the 2000 season but was talked into doing a one-off for Indianapolis by team owner/driver Eddie Cheever, who now works beside him on ABC broadcasts. “I did a ton of testing for Infiniti over the winter (Cheever was running their Indy car program) and then was crashed out early in the race. I had a broken back and that was it; I was done.”

Goodyear was wearing a brace that summer, and not doing much of anything, when he was approached by ABC about doing some television work for them. ABC was the Indy 500 broadcaster and, as part of the deal, would telecast up to another half-dozen Indy car races every season.

“I said I had to think about it. I really wasn’t sure. It was around Thanksgiving (late November, 2001) when they called me and said they really had to know one way or the other so I said I’d try it for a year. It’s been a series of three-year-contracts ever since.”

In our interview, Goodyear said doing live television is very much like driving a car in a race.

“When you’re in the car under green,” he said, “you’re going, going, going. And it’s like that on television. When you get a yellow in racing, you slow down and strategize with your pit box. When we go yellow in television, we end up talking to the truck, to our producer, to strategize and get ready when  they say 30 to air, 20 to air and then when you go to air it’s like getting the green on the track.

“The adrenaline is there and you’re around people who love racing. That made it all worthwhile for me.”

Goodyear said he was aware that some in the IndyCar community weren’t among his biggest broadcasting fans and some drivers would even text him to complain about some of the things he said on the air. But, in the end, his loyalty was to the television audience.

“I think being able to share what was happening on the track with the viewer was the most important and satisfying thing for me,” he said. “To do it for a general audience, to try not to get too technical, was the challenge for me.

“I’d get heat in the garage area. They’d go, ‘You explained what oversteer was two or three times last show,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know. I’m not doing the show for you, the guys in the garage. Do you know your audience changes at the top of the hour and the bottom of the hour? I get training. ABC/ESPN conducts seminars several times a year. Maybe I didn’t make the people in the garage happy but I made the audience happy and that was my job.”

I reminded him of the race on the oval at Las Vegas in which Dan Wheldon died. To this day, I think Goodyear and his then-play-by-play partner, Marty Reid, should have been awarded an Emmy for their performance on that broadcast that went well beyond the two-hour TV window.

They didn’t get maudlin; they didn’t get ahead of the news. They were eloquent. They were sympathetic to the sport and the audience and they were consummate professionals throughout. But it had to have been an emotional wringing-out.

“It was so much that I almost didn’t come back the next year,” Goodyear said. “Dan was a friend, No. 1, and he spent a lot of time at Mark Dismore’s kart track in New Castle that year because he wasn’t running full-time. My son Michael got to talk to him; Dan would give him pointers. For a young kid in karting, it was amazing for him. I didn’t realize till I got home the impact it had on my son and so many other people.”

Goodyear said when he got back to Indianapolis that ABC wanted him to report to a satellite office so he could do interviews around the country.

“You find yourself dealing with people who think auto racing is a death sport,” he said. “They become an expert in 10 or 15 minutes and they don’t understand it. I was really being raked over the coals about how could this happen? How could they be going that fast? I finally said to Andy (Hall, the ABC/ESPN PR chief), ‘I have to get out of here; I can’t take this any more.’

“I almost didn’t come back. I was done. If it had happened earlier in the season, I don’t think I would have been able to come back. It happened at the end of the season and I had the off-season. I was drained.”

But that was then and this is now. Scott Goodyear’s worked with some marvelous people, from Paul Page to Marty Reid, Todd Harris and now Allen Bestwick. He’s been solo at times and in recent years he’s been accompanied by his old racing team employer Cheever. Is it really the end?

“I work for ABC/ESPN,” he smiled. “That’s all I know.”

Rogers Sportsnet will carry the 102nd Indianapolis 500, starting with the pre-race show at 11 a.m. EDT Sunday. The race is scheduled to get the green flag at about 12:20 p.m.