Behind The ScenesESPN History

Vivid childhood memories of Indy 500 help Jackson’s production perspective

Anyone who has attended the Indianapolis 500 or watched it on television is familiar with the race’s iconic pre-race ceremonies.

Tied to Memorial Day, the festivities are as much a part of the 500 as the winner’s drink of milk. It includes: a parade of servicemen and servicewomen; a flyover with military aircraft; the singing of “God Bless America,” the national anthem and “Back Home Again (In Indiana)”; the playing of “Taps” by a lone bugler to honor the fallen and then the command to start engines.

This year’s race, the 100th running, is airing on ABC for the 52nd consecutive year, with the pre-race show at 11 a.m. ET, and the person whose job it is to capture the pageantry and bring it to television screens is ESPN coordinating producer Kate Jackson. Last year, she became the first woman to sit in the producer’s chair for an Indianapolis 500 telecast.

“The Indianapolis 500 is an American tradition,” said Jackson, who joined ESPN in 1999. “I grew up in a racing house and this was appointment television every single year for my family and for four or five hours I got to sit next to my father and watch this.

“And for me there is nothing more spectacular and majestic and prestigious than the traditions of this race and specifically the pomp and circumstance of pre-race,” she said. “Finding a way to package that and bring it home to people on television is a big task that requires a lot of coordination.”

Jackson said planning for the telecast of the 100th Indy 500 began even before last year’s race had been run, and then the pre-race show format began to take shape nine months ago. Planning included several trips to Indianapolis over the winter.

“ESPN and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have an incredible relationship and it truly is a partnership,” she said. “We’ve been even more collaborative this year and I think it’s going to show in the pre-race show.”

Jackson doesn’t view what she does as work.

“Sure there is a lot of pressure to continue to shepherd an American tradition but I just think it’s such a blessing that I get to call this my job,” she said. “I would happily work as many hours as I need to work and sleep even less than I’m sleeping now to connect other people to this race and this sport and specifically to this beautiful place.

“I just feel like there’s nothing in the world better than that.”

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