NBC Sports Network’s Leigh Diffey chuckles at the mention of his modest start as a sports commentator in Australia.
It was 1990 and the 19-year-old Brisbane native was calling the action of the Ipswich Motorcycle Club at Tivoli Raceway. In the succeeding five years, he juggled teaching physical education at Ipswich Grammar School and pursuing on-air sports opportunities across the country. Great experience, but it was a difficult schedule to perpetuate.
So he made the decision to pursue sports broadcasting full time, and after varied assignments across the globe for the BBC, Network Ten and SPEED he’s joined the IZOD IndyCar Series’ cable network partner to call its 13 races in 2013 (six events are on ABC). Diffey also will transfer his membership in the broadcast team for Formula One events, which move to NBC Sports Network next year from SPEED.
“This is my 17th year of network broadcasting and this is what I’ve been working toward all along,” says Diffey, who was selected to replace to retired Bob Jenkins on the IZOD IndyCar Series telecasts. “To say it’s a dream come true is an understatement. It was always the goal to end up someplace like NBC, and I’ve had the privilege of working for large networks. But to work for NBC Sports Network and on INDYCAR and Formula One is something else.”
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It’s a 360 degree turn for Diffey in the States, as his first assignment after departing the UK in 2001 was broadcasting CART races.
“I have such good memories of covering open-wheel racing here and this is like Phase II -- a continuation -- and I’m so excited about it,” says Diffey, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2011. “I’ll bring some energy to the broadcast; everybody knows that’s my style. I look forward to expanding on the stories about the series and the drivers, bringing out their backgrounds and history. The series has some terrific years ahead of it and I’m looking forward to delivering those stories on NBC Sports Network."
Diffey attended the race weekend at Infineon Raceway in August and followed the series closely through its dramatic mid-September conclusion at Auto Club Speedway in California. He says the first season since 2003 with a new car and the re-engagement of engine manufacturer competition after a six-year absence was stellar on multiple fronts.
“The new car proved to be great this year, there is good driver diversity and engine manufacturer involvement, and all of those ingredients make for an exciting future,” Diffey says. “For this year to be the first with the new car, to have the quality of races we’ve had is just amazing. Dallara delivered a good car and at the various tracks it worked differently and different drivers prevailed.
“The drivers had to really get their heads around the car. A year ago there were some raised eyebrows and some uncertainty about the car but it worked well. It’s not like good, close racing wasn’t present in the past, but what this year did was give us a lot of positional passes, a lot of lead changes and good variance. I think that’s one of the most crucial ingredients to a successful race and in hand a successful broadcast.”
Diffey says he’s looking forward to the initial production meeting, developing story ideas and diving in. NBC Sports Network will have coverage of the first four IZOD IndyCar Series races plus Indianapolis 500 qualifications through May. Its broadcast of the Milwaukee IndyFest will be sandwiched by the ABC races, and NBC Sports Network will carry the final eight races (including Saturday-Sunday doubleheaders at Toronto and Houston).
“When the formal announcement went out it was one of the best days of my life,” he says. “People have been so complimentary. I got a congratulatory tweet from Mario Andretti so that just made my day.”