Whether you’ve sat in the stands for the Indianapolis 500 five times or 50, watched from home or listened on the radio, anyone with even a taste of the traditions surrounding the Greatest Spectacle in Racing knows the event is about so much more than 200 laps around at 2.5-mile oval track.
How do you pull together an extraordinary 240 minutes of television with NBC’s offices shutdown, with members of the company unable to travel anywhere outside of driving distance? How do you produce something worthy of the Indy 500, but isn’t the race, yet feels and breathes and emotes the way lifelong fans are used to?
You luck into a down-to-the-wire race from a year ago involving two of IndyCar’s most well-spoken athletes, have one of the faces of your network living a six-hour drive from Indianapolis in Michigan and lean into the pageantry, history and honor that fans have grown to expect for four-plus hours the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
The final product: “Indy 500 Special: Back Home Again”, a made-for-TV event Sunday, shown from 2-6 p.m. on NBC that’s more cinematic masterpiece than athletic battle.
The show’s producer, Terry Lingner, a motorsports TV veteran who previously worked on 500s with ABC as well as last year with NBC, understood the show’s goal for a tone before he was given the pitch.
In the show, Lingner said, Rossi in particular, bares everything. After winning on fuel strategy that had him on his final fumes as a rookie, he was in his first serious down-to-the-wire battle at IMS, and the show's producer said that, maybe more than ever, Rossi reveals the pain of that defeat.
“He was really on his game,” Lingner said. “Alex doesn’t come out and say it, maybe, but you can read between the lines that, until he wins again here, he’s not going to be fulfilled.”
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