AUSTRALIANS have had the luxury of listening to a familiar voice when watching IndyCar races in recent years, with Leigh Diffey serving as lead commentator of NBC’s coverage since 2013.
Three decades ago, when IndyCar racing first came to Australia, the only time we’d hear Australian voices in commentary were for the Surfers Paradise races, covered by Channel Nine who deployed its own callers.
The IndyCar Series has been uploading old races to its YouTube channel for several years now, most of them featuring the US callers of the period – Paul Page, Bob Varsha, Bob Jenkins and the like.
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But those who yearn for a bit of Aussie nostalgia will be excited to learn that the uploaded version of the 1994 Australian FAI Indycar Grand Prix features the local commentary track.
Instead of Page, ‘uncle’ Bobby Unser and Sam Posey, we get to relive the race listening to Nine’s Wide World of Sports’ own Darrell Eastlake call the race with Alan Jones and Derek Daly, plus pit reporters Barry Sheene and Charles Stewart.
The 1994 edition of the race was a dramatic one, mostly due to several ill-timed rain showers and a crash on the initial attempt to start the race that conspired to delay the event some two hours.
The delay meant the race ended up finishing 10 laps early due to increasing darkness, but it also had another consequence – one that meant viewers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, never got to see the closing stages of the race live.
At around 5:59pm local time, with just under 20 of the 65 scheduled laps remaining, Eastlake made the following pronouncement during the coverage:
“So, for the east coast viewers, we have to leave you now for National Nine News. We’ll be back for the finish of the race later on…”
With a rugby league match pencilled in after the news, followed by 60 Minutes and the Sunday night movie – Crocodile Dundee – viewers in the eastern states never got to watch the dramatic conclusion to the race … unless you stayed up until 10:45pm to watch Nine’s coverage of the fourth day of the second cricket Test between Australia and South Africa, during which the last few laps were shown.
Thankfully, IndyCar’s YouTube video contains the remainder of the race, plus interviews with the top three drivers – conducted in near-total darkness.
Without giving away any spoilers, the ’94 race came at the start of Nigel Mansell’s second (and ultimately final) season of IndyCar racing, plus the return of Michael Andretti after his year in Formula 1, and the start of father Mario Andretti’s final year racing in IndyCar – the ‘Arrivederci Mario’ tour.
Watch the full race in the video player below!