Finally, a network for racing fans who aren't consumed by NASCAR

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.A common refrain from non-NASCAR-oriented racing fans is that the SPEED network basically handed over 90 percent of its racing coverage to NASCAR a few years ago and never looked back. And I have to say that it’s hard to argue with that impression. SPEED has NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions, pre-race infotainment and post-race analysis shows, re-caps, night caps, news shows, mid-week shows, and on, and on, and on. SPEED’s website even focuses on NASCAR, with its web descriptor beginning with “NASCAR News…” Let’s face it, if your racing interests go beyond the world of NASCAR, you have to work at it when it comes to television viewing, especially when it comes to SPEED.

But now a cable network has come along that’s trying to change all of that. VERSUS, the network owned by Comcast - and national cable TV’s only 24-hour sports network besides ESPN - is out to be your headquarters for racing viewing, or at least try anyway. The VERSUS audience is “only” 74 million homes - as compared to ESPN’s main channel, which has 98 million homes alone - but it grew by 22 percent in 2008, and it’s clearly a network on the rise. And for IndyCar fans in particular, this will prove to be a very good thing this season.

VERSUS, “the network that celebrates real competition,” will be the exclusive cable television home of the IndyCar Series, and the network will air more than 130 hours of IndyCar Series coverage throughout the season with a minimum of seven hours each week the network airs a race, the most ever during a race week. Not NASCAR levels of programming by any stretch but still, a noticeable improvement. Included in the VERSUS IndyCar package are four hour-long specials in March, additional shows in May surrounding the Indianapolis 500, and three-hour programming blocks on Mondays each race week that will feature flag-to-flag coverage of Firestone Indy Lights events and encores of IndyCar Series races. And even better, all IndyCar Series telecasts will be produced and available in HD. 

The four one-hour specials in March will air each Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. The first show on March 7 is titled Danica: Five Years Running and will include highlights of her career—including her 2008 IndyCar Series win—and her thoughts on the upcoming season. The second program, IndyCar Series: Top 10 Closest Finishes on March 14 will feature the top-10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history, including the 2008 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway and the closet finish ever as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. The show will also include the last several laps of each race and post-race driver interviews.

On March 21, VERSUS will air IndyCar Series: Crashes and Conflicts, which will showcase some of the most memorable incidents and conflicts between drivers and several of the most incredible crashes in recent IndyCar Series history. The network concludes the month on March 28 with IndyCar Series World Tour 2009. This special not only features highlights from each racetrack on the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule, but it will also showcase highlights from the first street-course race in series history in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2005 and top photo finishes from the site of the 2009 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“IndyCar fans have been asking for significantly more coverage of the sport, and with our new partnership with VERSUS we have responded to our fans in a way that we think they will love,” said Charlie Morgan, president and chief operating officer for IMS Productions. “With the new VERSUS schedule it will be a weekend of IndyCar programming with qualifying coverage, expanded race day coverage, and race encores. With so many great drivers, teams and sponsors, the time is right for expanded programming.”

It’s refreshing to hear that in spite of all of the doom and gloom going on in our world right now someone is bullish about something. And the increased VERSUS commitment to IndyCar is well worth noting. Racing fans will get 12 live IndyCar Series events on VERSUS in 2009, beginning with live coverage of the season-opener from St. Petersburg on April 5. Each of VERSUS’ race telecasts will last a minimum of three hours and will include extended pre-race coverage. VERSUS will also air one-hour preview shows at 6 p.m. ET the day before each race, which will feature qualification highlights and all of the relevant IndyCar Series stories of that weekend.

Encore presentations of the VERSUS-covered IndyCar Series races will be shown in a two-hour block each Monday following the live Sunday events. The Twin Ring Motegi race and season finale Homestead-Miami event will re-air on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, due to their Friday and Saturday live race dates.The network will also air highlights of 12 Firestone Indy Lights races in weekly hour-long telecasts each Monday after the event takes place. In addition to the re-broadcasts, VERSUS will air two Firestone Indy Lights races live in the 2009 season: the May 22 event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Oct. 9 race from Homestead-Miami Speedway. VERSUS will also feature extensive coverage of all qualification days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The network’s month of May schedule will be announced in mid-March.

In other words, proper coverage of homegrown, major league open-wheel racing will finally - finally - happen for the first time in a long time in this country. Make that ever.

And it’s long overdue.

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