Wednesday, May 21st, 2014


May 21, 2014

12:15 p.m. ET

Chris McCloskey:  Thanks everyone for joining us today.

This is a big motorsports week for the entire industry and for the NBC Sports Group, and as a result, we’ve got a big conference call for everybody today.

First a little background for those who don’t know, NBC Sports Group is currently the exclusive home of F1 in the U.S. We’re the exclusive home of IndyCar, and beginning in 2015 we’ll be the home for the second half of the NASCAR season. NBC Sports Group will be the only media company ever to have telecast rights to all three racing circuits simultaneously.

This week our live and studio programming reflects our unique position in the industry as it cuts across F1, IndyCar, NASCAR as well as AMA Motocross, Global Rallycross and some additional motorsports original programming. Of course it’s all highlighted by the Monaco Grand Prix which will air live on Sunday on NBC at 7:30 am.

And for a full rundown of all 50-plus hours of our programming this week please go to To discuss this massive motorsports offering today on our call is NBC Sports’ executive producer Sam Flood, NBC Sports Group’s lead motorsports play by play voice Leigh Diffey who calls F1, Indycar and occasionally hosts NASCAR America on NBCSN. And of course also joining us are three of our motorsports analysts, David Hobbs who calls F1, currently in Monaco right now; Townsend Bell who not only calls IndyCar for NBCSN but is also driving in Sunday’s Indy500; and Jeff Burton, our lead NASCAR analyst this year for NASCAR America and of course next year when live coverage begins. He’s in Charlotte. So we have people really covering all the meccas of racing in Monaco, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Stamford, Connecticut as well. We will begin today’s call with some opening remarks followed by Q&A.And first up we’ll hear from Sam Flood our executive producer.


Sam Flood:  Well thanks Chris. When I get a press release from our group that Chris leads with eight pages on the motorsports weekend you know it’s a big weekend. There are eight pages in this press release that I got today. So excited about all the content we have.

It actually starts today with this NASCAR America live Hall of Fame Special as the Hall of Fame vote down in Charlotte’s taking place. We’ll be on live with that at 5:00 today. We’ve already got our cast of characters on-site in Monaco. The casinos are safe right now because it’s still the early evening over there.

So Leigh and David Hobbs are scouting out the track on a daily basis, making sure they’re fully set up for the race on Sunday. But being on site there is so critical as we continue to grow in the huge rating we got last year for the race in Monaco — we want to continue that tradition on the “Biggest Day in Motorsports,” which is Sunday.

In Indy it’s such a great event and to have one of our own racing it is incredibly exciting. And shows how current our staff is.

Then you get to Jeff Burton, whose garage in Charlotte opens with our live cameras in there. And Jeff is going to be reporting from there and still in and out of the race car this year has he builds to next year where he and Steve Letarte will share the booth for our NASCAR event — all our races with Rick Allen.

We’ve got motorcross and rallycross this weekend. And it all – the big start is Friday with a 90-minute special which shows we tough all of racing. We’re hitting motocross with James Stewart. We’ve got the gang from Monaco. We’ve got the gang from Indy. We’ve got our premiere of Global Rallycross – Kanaan, Patrick, Bush, Andretti — all names that’ll appear in that show and across everything we do.

It’s really safe to say we are motorsports in this country now. Next year champions will be crowned in F1, IndyCar, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series. It goes on from there. And between NBC, NBCSN and Live Extra it’s going to be the place to be to watch racing. And we want to build the team, make it bigger and better every day. And one of our first big hires a few years ago was Leigh Diffey when we came into the F1 business. And Leigh I’m going to pass the car over to you.

Leigh Diffey:  Thanks Sam and hi everyone. Thanks for calling in. It’s so exciting to be part of what we’ve got going on now. And Sunday is a day that we look forward to each and every year being the greatest day in racing.

And for us to kick it off here in Monaco is something that’s not lost on any of us. You know, for myself, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Will Buxton, the F1 team we feel very privileged not only to be here on site but to kick off the greatest day in racing. Fantastic vibe here again. It’s obviously the early part of the week. Practice is tomorrow. The traditional Monaco weekend with Friday being a day off or a quiet day and then qualifying in the race.

But given the reaction that we got last year from the viewing audience and the viewing public -Sam touched on the ratings a little bit earlier. And the way that we’ve seen our ratings on NBCSN just go through a steady growth pattern — that’s really encouraging that the Formula One fans in the United States now know that NBCSN and NBC is the place to go for Formula One.

We’re going to continue to highlight that and underscore it this weekend by being here on-site in Monaco. It’s very important for us to be here at an event like this.And see our peers in the industry — the BBC, the Skysports, the Canals of the world, you know, see the peacock here en masse. And so it’s great.

We’ve got some terrific storylines with Mercedes this weekend. Can they continue their whitewash on the season, or is Red Bull going to bounce back with their four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel. I had lunch today with Daniel Ricciardo who’s been consistently outscoring Vettel. So there’s a good inter-team fight going on there. So there’s lots happening in the world of Formula One. But to be back at Monaco and to have it live on NBC on Sunday is going to be tremendous. I think that’s you David isn’t it?


David Hobbs:  Yeah well of course the thing about Monaco is obviously like the Indy 500 or like the Daytona 500 — this is the race they all want to win. Half of them live here of course because it’s a low taxation zone.

But of course the track has been the same since the 1920s. It really has changed very, very little in all that time. It’s only a short track. It’s only just over two miles long.

And the average speed in spite of the fact that it has got a 19 corners stuffed into the two miles and it goes right through the city streets — it’s exactly the same shape it’s always been. It uses all the city streets — none of it’s extra. It’s all city streets. And it’s very tight. And of course for the drivers it’s particularly exacting. And one of the big problems here is qualifying.Because as I say it’s very narrow, there is no runoff area.

If you put a wheel over the edge, I mean the edge is the guardrail. So you have to be extremely precise all weekend. Everything counts on Saturday because it’s also extremely difficult to overtake here. So if you get near the front it’s very important to be on the front row or in the first couple of rows.

That makes Friday and Thursday’s practice and Saturday’s qualifying absolutely crucial. I had lunch with Mark Webber who of course is no longer in Formula One but has won here twice.

And he was saying, you know, the teams are really uptight here because of the dangers of coming off the track and damaging the car. The cars this year are much more complex than they’ve ever been before, much, much greener. Almost as fast using a third less fuel. So they’re very, very, very high tech.

Unfortunately this means they’re not easy to fix. So the teams are going to have their hearts in their mouth tomorrow during the first two practices and then the practice on Saturday morning and qualifying.

So it’s very important for these guys to get near the front. But it is a most exacting course which of course it’s why it’s the one they all want to win.

Chris McCloskey:  Thank you David. Next up we’ll go to likely the only man who’s driven 229 miles an hour in the last week or so, Townsend Bell.


Townsend Bell:  Well thank you. 230.8 to be precise in practice. That was my first 230 mile an hour at Indy.

I was supposed to be running in clean air to try to do a qualifying practice but I could see on my dash that if I stayed in the draft I could do my first 230 lap. So the teenager got the better of me there, and I kept the hammer down. But really looking forward to this weekend. You know, the Indy500 is still the greatest spectacle in racing. But we’ve got Carb Day Friday with NBCSN. And that’s our final one hour practice.

Carb Day is really a misnomer because our cars are of course fuel injected. In the old days it was the final chance to tune your carburetor.

But now it’s really just our final one hour practice. And so many teams, the Honda teams all having a universal issue.

They had to get shutdown on our final practice this past Monday. It’s going to be fast and furious as everybody tries to refine their final race setup for the big show on Sunday.

So that one hour show is really important if you’re a fan to get a sense of how you do in traffic. Because running around by yourself at Indy is one thing, but in a freight train of 20 cars there’s just a vicious turbulent air that Kurt Busch unfortunately learned about in the practice on Monday.

He had a big wreck in turn two, and it’s just a critical session for everybody. Not just to be the balance but it’s really your only chance to do full pit stop practice with the fueler plugging in and all the chaos that we’ll see on pit lane on race day.

So I’m looking forward to doing the practice and then jumping up with my friends in the booth to cover the pit stop competition and, you know, hopefully kind of do a deep dive into everything. But for me personally I’ll be in the number six car. Didn’t have the greatest of qualifying runs. But really, really happy. I ran 148 laps in practice on Monday. And more than anybody and I was really pleased how close I could follow other cars. So I’m looking to pass a lot of guys as quickly as possible and make a charge to the front on Sunday.


Chris McCloskey:  Thank you Townsend. And finally we’ll go to Jeff Burton who can touch on NASCAR.


Jeff Burton:  Well thank you. First of all I’m struck by this weekend because not only is it three events and all on the same day, but the magnitude of the events are so large — Monaco being what it is, the 500 being what it is and then of course, you know, the Coca-Cola 600 on the NASCAR schedule.

It’s incredible — not only that you have all three races, but what separates this day from every other day in racing is the magnitude and the importance of these races.

I know that for the 600, there’s a completely different mentality from the engine builders, the car designers, all those guys. They don’t’ like the 600-mile race. It puts them on edge…the drivers don’t really get concerned about it.

But there’s always an undercurrent of nervousness for this race because that teams are just terrified something’s going to break or fail in that 600 miles that we don’t normally do. So an interesting weekend, a great weekend to be a participant and a great weekend to be a race fan. And I’m looking forward to all of it.


With three totally amazing and different races let’s talk a little bit about the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s like watching a postcard come to life. You were saying earlier that the cars — the size of the cars have gotten so large that there’s bit of danger. Could you talk a little bit more about the course and what are some of the unique challenges that they face come Sunday?

David Hobbs:  Well the course, as I say, has got 19 turns in just two miles. And the course is very narrow because it’s just the city streets. So obviously overtaking is critically difficult.

And the speed is very high. They average 100 miles an hour around this place. There’s a lot of elevation change. As you go up – and nowhere straight – I mean the front straight, we just walked down there today, is in fact, very curved.

And so the guide, the back of the grid for instance, can’t see the front of the grid just from the standing start point of view.

Turn 1 is a tight right-hand which leads uphill to a thing called Beau Rivage, which is really, a two-lane street with a guardrail to the right to the side of the road. And it moves around; it doesn’t go straight up the hill. And then you come into the fantastic Casino Square where the road starts to go downhill; you’re dropping away, and it is very bumpy because it’s a street course.

When they go out tomorrow, the track will have oil and debris from buses and trucks and taxis from over the last 12 months; it will be very dusty. There will be no lines so there’s no grit. Tomorrow morning there will be very, very little grit.

And they’ll have to lay rubber all weekend because as you get towards the end of the race on Sunday, the track is actually at its fastest. So that’s the thing they have to work into all their calculations; when they’re setting the car up.

You don’t want to go off down the wrong line because the thing is skating around so you make adjustments to stop skating around. And then as the weekend progresses, the adjustments you made will then be wrong. So there are a lot of challenges here. The fastest part if through the tunnel, and the tunnel is not straight either; it goes through about 60 degrees. So as you go into the tunnel, obviously you can’t see the end. And by the time you come out, you’re up to about 185 miles an hour.

And of course you come out of the dark tunnel into the bright sunshine and downhill into possibly the best parting zone here, into the new Chicane which is right on the edge of the water.

And so the spectacle here, of course it’s really unparalleled because you’ve got all these multi, multi-million dollar boats. And the cars and racing in and around all these multi-million dollar apartments and condominiums and so forth.

It is a desperately exciting event. And very easy – you don’t want to just as Mr. Townsend just said, “Let the youth take over.” It’s the one thing you’ve got to be very careful here.

I mean this is absolutely controlled aggression from start of the weekend tomorrow to the end of the weekend on Sunday afternoon.


So does that make qualifying probably the most important part of the race from the standpoint of you don’t want to be back below say fourth or fifth?

David Hobbs:  Yes.

Leigh Diffey:  Yes absolutely, absolutely; it’s paramount.

David Hobbs:  It’s paramount. Leigh?

Leigh Diffey:  Well I think and over the last 50 years, I think it’s something like 83% have won the race from like the top three positions. You know, if you qualify well here so long as everything goes to plan, I mean you can never be assured of a victory, but it certainly goes a long way.

So it’s going to be interesting for our Saturday broadcast; it puts a premium on our Saturday broadcast for qualifying well. You know, that generally transitions into a very successful race result.


Jeff, you know there’s always been a lot of curiosity in the Cup Garage about the Indy 500. So if this double attempt goes well for Kurt Busch, I mean do you think it would tempt more NASCAR drivers to try it?

Jeff Burton:  Well that’s a good question. You know, on a funny side, with the Indiananpolis 500, the end of that race always happens right when the NASCAR drivers’ meeting starts.

And for years we’ve asked if we could finish the Indianapolis 500 during that drivers’ meeting because the drivers, they want see the end of it.

So you know, there is a tremendous amount of curiosity. You know, the racers are racers. I know drivers get up and watch the F1 race; they watch all of the Indy 500 that they can watch.

You know, the only thing that I look at is I just don’t know how it doesn’t take a little bit away. You know, if Kurt was in the situation that he hadn’t won a race, he didn’t look like he was good in the points as far as being able to get in the chase, I would think that he would be under a fair amount of criticism for taking away from this Cup Program.

So it’s got to be a unique situation where the car owner is 100% for it; he understands that it is going to be a distraction. There’s no way it’s not a distraction. And in some way, the Cup Program is being helped by it. Because ultimately, the sponsors and the car owner, you know, they’re there to win the Cup race.

But you know, this is the fourth time it’s been tried. It’s going to be very difficult for anybody to be able to pull it off.

The interesting thing about this is it’s kind of, you know, it’s always been the other way around where a guy was an Indy car racer who had gone Cup racing and now he was going back.

Kurt has no Indy car experience. And for his first Indy car event to be the 500, that’s a lot – that’s a big deal. I think that’s going to be really difficult on him.

But I don’t know. I just think it takes so much time away from the Cup thing to do it right. It takes commitment. I just don’t know how many people are going to raise their hand and want to do it because there’s just no way it can’t be a distraction from your Cup program.


And one quick follow-up. I see your test to get Pocono next week. Is that just a test?


Jeff Burton:  Yes, I do a bunch of testing for MWR and it’s just one of the tests that we had on the schedule. So my next race is Michigan.


I have a question for Jeff. But first if I could ask the other gentlemen, I have the people at the Philadelphia Daily News crazy. Every year this week I write that Sunday is the greatest day in sports, not just auto racing, sports. And they look at me like I’m crazy. So I’m curious. If someone actually watched every lap of all three races Sunday, do you think they’re just die-hard fans or do they need a little help?


Leigh Diffey:  They’d clearly not be married.

David Hobbs:  Not for long anyway.


And for Jeff, I just wanted to follow-up. How has the transition been? I mean I know you’re still testing, you’re doing a little racing. But, you know, you’re evolving into a full-time TV analyst. How does that work for you?


Jeff Burton:  You know, I have really enjoyed the situation that I’m in; I really have.

You know, when Sam Flood and I first sat down and talked, you know, one of the things that he asked me was, are you going to be ready to do this. And I told him I was and I thought I was, but to be perfectly honest, how do you really know, you know? It’s all I’ve ever done, and it’s been such a huge part of my life.

But yes, I have transitioned very nicely. I’m very comfortable. I enjoy the people that I work with.

I think one of the things that people don’t understand is that, you know, it’s still a team. Wewant to be the best. We want to be, you know, we want to do the best NASCAR broadcast so to us it’s a competition and we’re going it with a group of people – we’re a team. And we’re all working together and trying to be the best we can.

So although it’s a different competition, it’s still a competition. And I really enjoy it, I’ve enjoyed my role at MWR, and I think that’s been good for me to – and honestly, that’s what I’ve always been good at, is helping teams work. And being part of MWR has been good for me as well.

So yes, I’m really happy with where I am and I’m transitioning nicely.


The question is for Townsend and similar to what Bill just asked Jeff. Townsend, you’re working as an analyst on television and you’re also clearly driving still actively in the sport. Has being on television, has it made you a better driver or allowed you to see things you didn’t see before as a driver, or working in the industry, has there been a benefit or possibly a downside to doing both?


Townsend Bell:  It’s a great question, and I never would have imagined how much analyzing the sport from the point of view of a television analyst would sort of improve my own analysis when I have the helmet on, when I’m in the car or working with the team.

You know, frankly as racing driver, and Jeff I would imagine is the same way, you don’t really care what the other guys are doing so much. You want to know how fast they are, but other than that, it’s all about you; it’s all about you and your team and performing. And you don’t really take the time to study other people; you don’t really have the time to do that. You’re so focused on your own program.

Taking a step back and working in the television situation while I’m still in my racing career has really allowed me to – and forced me – to do a good job as analyst, to analyze drivers and teams objectively. And I’ve been really surprised at how much I’ve learned frankly. And it’s been fun to apply the learnings back, you know, as a driver again and back-and-forth.

In terms of any downside, I really don’t see any. You know, I love being at the racetrack whether it’s commentating or driving. And working with NBC, and Jeff mentioned this also, they’re such a competitive attitude at NBC that I love which is an insistence, and I think it comes from Sam all the way down through the organization. It’s an insistence on quality and being the best, telling the best stories, and we never settle; we’re always analyzing how we can do a better job.

And I’ve taken great lead from guys like Leigh Diffey who were, you know, David Hobbs, the best in the business; they’ve been doing it a long time. And it’s a real pleasure for me to just learn and feed off of their energy and expertise.

So all around, it’s been a real plus for me.