On Wednesday Indianapolis native David Letterman said goodbye to fans as he retired from his post as longtime host of the Late Show on CBS. You may be wondering why I’d be bringing it up here, in my blog spot on AutoRacingDaily.com. There’s a legitimate reason for it. I promise.
Most fans of motorsport are probably aware that Letterman is part owner of a Verizon IndyCar Series team, specifically Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Letterman bought into the team in 1996. Even so, that’s not the reason I bring Letterman’s retirement up here. Even without his position of INDYCAR team owner, Letterman has a connection to Indy, and no I’m not stretching for a connection because he’s simply an Indianapolis native.
What some fans may not know is that Letterman was a national network TV turn reporter for the Indianapolis 500 once. And it just so happens that his first appearance on national network TV was a first for Indy. That appearance was in 1971, which was the year ABC showed same day coverage of the Indianapolis 500 for the first time. For the six Indy 500s immediately preceding the 1971 race, clips from the race were shown as part of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Here’s what Letterman said about that memorable day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as reported by FOX Sports:
“Prior to that there was no same-day coverage of the Indianapolis 500 on television. ABC got the contract but it was delayed coverage. I was working at the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis and Chuck Howard and the crew came in with the ‘Wide World of Sports’ team with Jim McKay and Jackie Stewart. I’m just 22 or 23. They hired me and I got the fourth turn. The day of the race I had to walk all the way down the backstretch and short chute. I had a little microphone and headset and couldn’t hear anything so I just stood there and stood there.
“All of sudden, I see Mario Andretti walking toward the pits and I knew there was a yellow. You couldn’t see anything from there. So I called Mario over and he comes by only because there is the ABC thing on the microphone. I said, ‘I’ve got Mario Andretti here.’ I said it three or four times. Mario had just gotten out of a smoldering, hulk of a race car. He is nice enough to stand there. People are screaming at him and throwing beer on him. They (producers) said, ‘Go ahead.’
“I asked, ‘Mario, what was it like out there?’ And he gave a very polite, gracious answer. Then I remember in a production meeting, will the condition of the track be a problem early on? So I asked him that and he said whatever he said. I said, ‘Thanks Mario, better luck next time.’
“So I just stood there late in the race and never heard anything from anybody.
“That was also the year they parked a bunch of cars in the infield and Mike Moseley slaps the outside wall and is standing up trying to get out of the car and the car careens back over and takes out two or three cars parked on the grass apron. It was horrible. The race is over. I don’t know what to do. There is the equipment. I took off the headset and microphone, got to my car in the parking lot and drove back home.”
See, this is the perfect place to say goodbye to a TV legend. Remember, it all started at Indy. Now that I think about it, it’s more than appropriate that way say, “#ThanksDave” in the week leading up to the Indy 500. Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner