SRX: A Perfect Fit In ESPN Programming

SRX Series goes to Thursday nights on ESPN - Credit: RacinBoys

An original motorsports program returns to ESPN platforms this summer, how can SRX be a perfect fit for their sports lineup?

We rode a while, for a mile or so down the road to the 18th Avenue.
The people we saw and the people we knew all came down to take a view.

The words of Yusef/Cat Stevens set into motion the memory of a familiar piece of music. One that graced our ears as we prepared to watch automobile racing across a familiar basic cable network. A melody that shares the same emotional pull Annie Roboff and Bob Christianson created for that very same network in their respective compositions of SportsCenter and coverage of the NHL.      

Speed World

If one were fortunate to walk the hallways of ESPN’s main campus, they would witness the importance of automobile racing. An important piece in what led ESPN to be where they are today. They value the importance of the sport and its placement in the realm. Moments of history are highlighted through athletes of open-wheel and stock car racing.  Moments from events covered by Kenny Mayne, Paul Page, Dr. Jerry Punch, and Allen Bestwick (among others).

Heroes of automobile racing. Heroes who live for the sound of thunder. In a press release from December 12th, ESPN and the Superstar Racing Experience issued words that enthusiasts of United States automobile racing thought they might never hear again:

ESPN Thursday Night Thunder is Back!

For the first time since ABC’s live telecast of the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, original motorsports programming will grace the presence of ESPN platforms! While the turnkey presentation of Sky Sports provides ESPN platforms with Formula One’s highest Nielsen ratings in 27 years, it is a presentation of Sky Sports, not ESPN. As James Pitaro’s vision continues to innovate, it was not a question of if, but rather a question of when?

Don Hawk, SRX CEO, stated:

“When we had the opportunity to pitch the concept of Thursday Night Thunder on ESPN, it was my firm belief this would be another disruptive and monumental moment in SRX and racing history – reuniting race fans with ESPN on short tracks with Superstar drivers all across the U.S. for years to come…Thursday Night Thunder is where I met Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. A relationship between SRX and ESPN seemed like the right fit at the perfect time, and I couldn’t be more excited for this summer.”

The constant variety of sports. An ingredient that presents compelling television. Not merely the ingredient that made ESPN what it is today, but the one designed to bring outside viewers in. The tradition of excellence in the name of compelling television. With that in mind, what could be brought to the table in making the Superstar Racing Experience among ESPN’s most original and comprehensive coverage across their variety of platforms?

Familiar Face, Different Place?

In a hypothetical scenario, a meeting is set up with Burke Magnus, the President of Programming and Original Content.  Even before a potential budget is discussed, an old strategy is utilized, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The ESPN family features a talent roster symbolized by the aforementioned constant variety. An outsider may look upon the notion as merely a cost-efficient measure. It is not. It provides an opportunity for the conglomerate to take SRX programming and evolve it into its own.

If the original presentation format continued over from CBS, the ESPN viewer would see the same implemented number of on-air talent.

With that in mind, who would you place as a host? Burke would ask.

Without any hesitation, two words would immediately come out of my mouth – Get Victoria! 

Host: Victoria Arlen

Twitter and Instagram: @arlenv1

An automobile racing connoisseur through a love of Formula One, Victoria presents a vibrance that connects with the viewer. A similar demeanor to when Bob Jenkins and Paul Page welcomed viewers a generation prior. One bearing resemblance to having an old friend over to watch Thursday Night television.

Lap-By-Lap Commentary: Molly McGrath

Molly McGrath Headshot

Twitter and Instagram: @MollyAMcGrath

Opportunity. Seizing opportunity. The next step forward in a remarkable career.

Molly McGrath has crushed it in her career as a presenter, host, and sideline reporter across platforms of both ESPN and FOX Sports. The only thing missing from her resume is an opportunity at calling play-by-play.

An automobile racing coverage historian may look at this suggestion and wonder what Molly would bring to the table in lap-by-lap commentary. During the early days of COVID Lockdown, she posted this short clip of Stuart and Matthew and didn’t miss a beat.

This potential transition draws parallels to when Mike Joy made the transition from pit-road to lap-by-lap commentary for CBS. If one were unfamiliar with his work for motorsports coverage on MRN Radio, ESPN, and what was then known as the Nashville Network, they would think the transition was long overdue. Today, Mike Joy is recognized as one of the more versatile to call a sporting event. A capability that Molly herself has.

All she needs is an opportunity. What does ESPN have to lose?

Color Commentary: Hannah Newhouse

Hannah Newhouse | Motorsport Reporter - Behind Sport

Twitter and Instagram: @HannahNewhouse

Knowledge. Experience  What a driver goes through during an SRX event.

Hannah’s career began in go-karts before graduating to Super Late Models.  She was later selected to NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative before making select starts in what was then known as the K&N Pro Series West.

Transitioning from the driver’s seat to the reporter’s seat, Hannah has built a resume across the platforms of MRN Radio, MAVTV, DIRTVision, PitRowTV, and much more.  Similar to Jon Beekhuis and his Professor B coverage from IndyCar, Hannah’s insight would provide a whole new perspective to the viewer.  A sense of relatability where the viewer will be able to understand what the sport of automobile racing is all about.  A great choice to bring into the ESPN family.

This is a link to Hannah’s demo reel.

Interpromotional Opportunity: Countdown to (Insert Venue Here)

At the conclusion of 2022, Comscore data cited ESPN as having an average of 108 million unique users across digital platforms. Across social media platforms, ESPN witnessed 7.5 billion engagements. Of these engagements, ESPN’s coverage of Formula One featured special Countdown shows when events were held in the United States. These special shows streamed live across ESPN’s App, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channel. With this success, carrying the idea over to coverage of the SRX would highlight innovation in the digital age. An evolution allowing the SRX to stand out on its own.

The Superstar Racing Experience is a series centered around opportunity. A celebration of the sport that provides variety while looking to the future. A constant variety that provides originality and innovation in what will make the perfect ingredients for all parties involved.

Ingredients of compelling coverage. A perfect fit.

Season 3 of the Superstar Racing Experience will commence from the Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and will be the returning showcase for ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder.

Featured Image Credit: RacinBoys