Indy 500 Immersion experience benefits ESPNers

Vice President, Brand Strategies and Expressions Jeff Gonyo on the pit box of driver Graham Rahal.

(Photo courtesy IMS )
(Photo courtesy IMS )

INDIANAPOLIS – Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 culminated four days for a group of seven ESPN executives and SportsCenter anchors as they were “immersed” in the sport of IndyCar racing at its biggest event.

Designed to introduce the members of the group to a sport they might not be totally familiar with, the immersion included activities such as taking 185 m.p.h. laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a two-seater race car driven by legendary racer Mario Andretti as well as driving single-seater IndyCar race cars. Group members also had meetings with IndyCar officials, lunched with some legendary drivers and toured the historic Speedway’s museum.

Each group member also was assigned a race team competing in the race and spent time with the teams and their drivers Friday and Saturday as they prepared for the race. On Saturday, they also sat with their drivers during a one-hour autograph session attended by thousands of race fans.

On race day, each worked as part of the team’s pit crew.

Members of the group and the drivers they worked with included Vice President and Managing Editor, News, Craig Bengtson, who was on the team of race winner Juan Pablo Montoya. Others from the ESPN group included Vice President, Brand Strategies and Expressions, Jeff Gonyo who worked with driver Graham Rahal; David Kraft, executive editor, ESPN.com (Ed Carpenter); Missy Motha, SportsCenter coordinating producer (Ryan Hunter-Reay); Jodi Hebert, senior news editor (Scott Dixon); and anchors Kevin Negandhi (Tony Kanaan) and Jaymee Sire (Helio Castroneves).

Negandhi, who participated in a similar ESPN immersion at a NASCAR event two years ago, felt the experience was definitely worthwhile.

“It’s hard to describe but it’s the best possible experience you can get in understanding a sport that’s trying to increase its public consumption,” he said. “The access was fantastic and going one-on-one with all the drivers and crews and understanding what it takes – you can’t replicate that. You can’t watch that. You can only experience it.”

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