I’m too young to have seen Willie Mays chasing flyballs at Shea Stadium as a New York Met or Joe Namath take snaps as a Los Angeles Ram, but every year on the office balcony, I empathize with the guys who let the world witness that Father Time was, indeed, still undefeated.
While my broadcast ability will never be confused with the “Say Hey Kid” making a basket catch or “Broadway Joe” leaving Super Bowl III with his victorious finger held high, I always feel the warmth of the St. Petersburg sun while wondering if my twilight was beginning to rise in the East.
Yes, with the start of each NTT IndyCar Series season, the new sponsors (title sponsor included), their accompanying debuted car paint schemes, drivers embarking on a new season with a new team, and the occasional car number switch always throw me the proverbial spring training curveball. Each year, I wonder: Is this the season where the cars no longer whizz past as quickly as my eye can identify them? It’s an insecurity that comes each year as my personal Ides of March, and each year I do the same to prepare. That time is now.
I can’t imagine I’m alone in my winter uneasiness. Surely, my co-workers on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network feel the same. While we never discuss such a quandary, I can only guess my colleagues feel the need to stave their own self-doubt. Then again, maybe it’s just me.
We stay in touch during the offseason. Group texts range in subject from Nick Yeoman bemoaning the shortcoming of his cherished Carolina Panthers’ struggles, to Mark Jaynes’ daily countdown before he’s back in his beloved Florida sunshine. Yet, we talk more than just about my passion for Clemson football or Dave Furst’s travels covering Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo for his job at WRTV in Indianapolis. We keep abreast of INDYCAR news, making each other aware of the latest forecasted announcements, confirmed driver changes or new sponsors that will adorn the sleek machines we’ll describe soon.
The February open test -- this year at Circuit of the Americas on Feb. 12-13 – provides good preparation for us, the broadcast team, as much as it does the drivers. It indoctrinates us back into the sport for which we share a common passion. The same passion possessed by the sport’s loyal fans that allow us the privilege to call its races.
We can study press notes, memorize driver lineups and chronologically set the roster in our minds. Yet, nothing is quite like a full field coming at you with the rev limiters screaming into your area. It’s the flyball in center field that Mays saw coming. It’s just up to us to determine if we basket-catch it at the Polo Grounds as Mays did in his prime with the Giants or fail to chase it down at Shea Stadium as happened when he finished his playing days as a Met.
It’s our job to be ready as the radio network crew when the St. Pete sun dances off the shimmering car nose cones at the opener in seven short weeks. It’s our job to again anticipate the story lines. Will Simon Pagenaud bounce back from his frustrating 2018 to return to championship form? Will Scott Dixon again pace the series toward another season title? Will newcomers Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta immediately flash the speed that captured the eye of so many last year? Will Alexander Rossi capture the championship that so narrowly avoided his grasp a year ago, or will Sebastian Bourdais or Tony Kanaan seize what they claimed in years past?
The time is now. It’s time to use the preparation – to put our offseason group texts to work and keep the listeners informed. It’s our job to do so. Yet, it’s not really a job when it’s a passion.
No one will ever mistake my broadcasting for the legend of Namath. However, I can at least draw two parallels. Inevitably, despite all the work, I’ll look down from my broadcast perch from a 12th-story balcony of St. Petersburg’s SunTrust Bank building and wonder if I’m not toiling my craft as an aging Los Angeles Ram, like the gimpy-kneed Namath did as his career came to a close. For Namath, that time came after his legend was cemented from his famous guarantee that the New York Jets would win Super Bowl III. He was right.
Which leads me to this: The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, with a return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the addition of COTA in Austin, Texas, and all the familiar courses in between, will be a breathtaking display of speed, skill and show.
I guarantee it.
(Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and offers his musings regularly on IndyCar.com.)