Behind The Scenes

Producer O’Sullivan ready for pit chaos of 101st Indy 500

Colleen O’Sullivan, Indy 500 pit producer for ESPN. (Andy Hall/ESPN)

INDIANAPOLIS – As millions of race fans around the world watch Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 on television (ABC, 11 a.m. ET), they’ll see a smooth telecast and be totally unaware of the “organized chaos” going on for Colleen O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan is the pit producer for ESPN’s production of the race in some 170 countries around the world. It’s her job to coordinate coverage of what happens on pit road during the 500-mile race and she works with pit reporters Dr. Jerry Punch, Jon Beekhuis and Rick DeBruhl – as well as their spotters and camera operators.

In her seventh year working on the Indy 500 telecast and her fourth as pit producer, O’Sullivan prepares meticulously but also is ready for the inevitable unexpected developments.

Once we’re live and into the race, it’s what I like to call ‘organized chaos.’ We have a sense of the pit stops we’re going to cover but at any point in time it can change.
– Colleen O’Sullivan, ESPN’s IndyCar pit producer

“My job begins early in the week with researching stories and having an idea of the race we’re heading to and the stories that may develop while we’re there and on the air,” said O’Sullivan, who joined ESPN in 2002.

She gets pit assignments from IndyCar on Tuesday of a race week, giving her a list of which pit stalls will be occupied by which drivers, and she then assigns the three pit reporters the cars they will cover.

“And once I’m at the racetrack it’s just coordinating with those guys on any stories that are developing that they may want to tell from pit road,” she said.

O’Sullivan really gets busy when the race starts. Sitting at a station in the ESPN remote production trailer behind telecast producer Jim Gaiero, she relays information to and from the pit reporters, makes decisions on pit stop coverage and “sells” ideas from the pit reporters to Gaiero.

“Once we’re live and into the race, it’s what I like to call ‘organized chaos’,” she said. “We have a sense of the pit stops we’re going to cover but at any point in time it can change.”

Away from racing, O’Sullivan spends the rest of the year producing college football and women’s college basketball telecasts. She grew up in sports: her father Tom O’Brien coached college football at Virginia, Boston College and N.C. State and her brother Dan O’Brien is now an assistant football coach at the Naval Academy.

Much like a sports team, O’Sullivan and Gaiero have worked together for many years, and Gaiero’s previous experience as a pit producer helps them function even better.

“The producer and pit producer need to be on the same page so his experience definitely helps him just kind of already knowing where I’m going,” she said. “If I’m trying to sell him on something, he might just say ‘Oh I know, I’m going to get there’, and he knows what it feels like to be in my positon.”

Andy Hall produced the video below.

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