The number of talented people necessary to put together a quality Sprint Cup telecast is almost as staggering as the volume of hours they must spend together.
To cover a race, ESPN requires approximately 150 employees on site in a variety of specialized roles. They are typically at a venue for four days, and they repeat the process for the final 17 weeks of the season — 38 weeks if they happen to be working a full schedule for the three networks that broadcast Sprint Cup races.
It’s a structure that can easily lead to chaos and conflict, to personality clashes. But when it goes right, when there is collective respect for jobs well done, it can lead to such camaraderie that friendship begins to feel like family as the years and the miles pass.
ESPN has carried Sprint Cup races since 2007, when it joined Fox Sports (as well as its late Speed Channel) and TNT in beginning an eight-year, $4.8 billion rights deal that was agreed upon two years earlier. That contract expires after this season — eight races remain after Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — and ESPN will not be part of the broadcast package for the next 10 years.
NBC and Fox Sports locked up the next decade of Sprint Cup broadcasts over the summer, reaching individual deals that total $8.2 billion in rights fees. It’s a decent financial bump for NASCAR, which has seen a decline in Sprint Cup ratings in recent years. But for those at ESPN such as play-by-play voice Allen Bestwick, the pending end of the season — and the end of calling the circuit — is a bittersweet time.
“That’s exactly what it is, bittersweet,’’ said Bestwick, a Coventry, R.I., native who has been a prominent part of ESPN’s broadcast since the contract began. “This sport has been a huge part of my life, especially this particular team that I work with. You get really close with the people you work with because of the shared circumstances. And you have a lot of things happen in life over that time.
“In the time we’ve been together, we’ve had people get married, babies born, kids graduate from high school and college, loved ones pass away, you name it. And we’ve been through that together. So when the business of the business brings a separation of group that’s so close, that’s the bitter part. That one is going to be tough.”
When the new rights deal was announced in July 2013, Sports Business Journal reported that ESPN did not even present a bid. That may be troubling for its NASCAR-specific personnel, but the respected Bestwick need not worry about his status. After the season’s final checkered flag, he is remaining at the network even if Sprint Cup is not. His duties will include calling IndyCar races, as well contributing to tennis and golf coverage and anchoring programming on the new SEC Network.
But as someone who first made his broadcasting bones as a teenager calling short-track races his father was competing in at Seekonk Speedway, Bestwick acknowledges that he occasionally catches himself having moments of nostalgia as the season winds down. He knows there will be a lot of lasts over the next couple of months.
“Because I’m leaving this sport after such a long time, I have definitely had those moments,’’ said Bestwick, who cites legendary Bruins broadcaster Fred Cusick as a chief influence. “Not necessarily a week-to-week thing, but specific places. New Hampshire is definitely one of those.”
For good reason. As a native New Englander, Bestwick understands better than most what NHMS meant to local racers when it opened.
“You think about what Fenway Park means to all of the Little League baseball players in New England, or what Gillette Stadium means to all the kids who play Pop Warner or high school football,’’ said Bestwick. “When they built that racetrack, all of these local racers in New England had a big-league stadium of their own to aspire to. They didn’t have to drive six hours to get to one. It became a great source of pride for racers and race fans around New England.”
But it’s more than about pride for him. It’s personal. NHMS isn’t just meaningful to him because of shared times with his television family, but because of savored memories with his real family.
When the track opened in 1990, Bestwick was living in Florida and North Carolina and continuing to build his résumé and reputation as a skilled NASCAR broadcaster.
The new stop in Loudon wasn’t just an appealing destination on the circuit. It was a perfect setting for Bestwick family reunions. When his job brought him to New Hampshire, his mom, dad, and two sisters would often come up, hang out, and catch up.
“We’d get together for dinner at night and go play miniature golf and hit the Dairy Queen,’’ he said. “It was one of the few times a year I would get to see my family.”
The family reunions don’t happen there anymore, not in the same way. Bestwick’s mom died four years ago.
“I’ve thought a lot about going to New Hampshire this week, and then when I leave the track Sunday, those will be the times when I think about what the track has meant to me and my family over the years,’’ he said. “I’ll miss it. I’ll definitely miss it.”