ESPN begins its 15th season of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series telecasts with the 55th annual Circle K Winternationals this weekend in Pomona, Calif. Analyst Mike Dunn started his ESPN career at the event in 2002.
Pomona eliminations action airs Sunday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, which also has qualifying at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7.
Front Row caught up with Dunn before he headed to Pomona.
You’re starting your 14th season as an analyst. How difficult was it to make the transition from driver to analyst?
When you’ve been in race cars for 22 years, you do spend time in front of the camera so that definitely helped. I was nervous the first few shows and you could tell. I look at what I do now versus the way it was the first couple of years and it’s a huge difference. As the producers have gotten more comfortable with me, they’ve given me more things to do and they’ve relied on me for a lot more things now that they wouldn’t have been able to do in the beginning.
Were you a totally raw rookie when you first started?
In 2000, I did two TV shows for Diamond P Sports when I was out of a ride. I raced every year for 22 years, but there were some times when I didn’t run the whole season. So I would go to races and go up into the tower and do the analysis over the PA at the events. All of that and the two events I did in 2000 definitely helped considerably. But looking back now, it’s been a pretty good journey and I’ve learned a lot. Still learning.
You’re starting your third season with Dave Rieff as the anchor. Did the two of you have a good chemistry right away?
Oh yeah, definitely. I’d known Dave for years since he’d been a pit reporter from about 1996, so I talked to him a lot as a driver since I raced through 2001. I had confidence we could hit the ground running. Obviously everybody’s different and you have to make some adjustments but it was a pretty smooth transition with Dave.