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  • By Dave Lewandowski
  • indycar.com

That it's less than three months until the IndyCar Series opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., doesn't escape Bob Jenkins. He's been crossing off the days on a calendar since agreeing to be the lead announcer for VERSUS' inaugural season of IndyCar Series telecasts.

The veteran motorsports broadcaster will be joined in the booth for the network's 12 races by former IndyCar Series driver and current team co-owner Robbie Buhl and longtime motorsports reporter Jon Beekhuis, also a former open-wheel racing driver. Jack Arute, Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston will provide trackside updates and features during each telecast.

Click it: Printable schedule with TV information

"This is what I've been waiting for," said Jenkins, who was among the cast members during the 1979 germination of a cable network named ESPN and served as the network's lead motorsports anchor for its stock car and open-wheel racing coverage from 1979-2003. "I spent a great deal of my career doing NASCAR, which was great. I got to work with some wonderful people, but my love always has been and always will be open-wheel racing. I had the opportunity to work for ABC and do the '500' and other IndyCar races, but when that ended I thought maybe my career was over and that I would never get back to the level that I wanted to be and working the series that I wanted to work.

"I kind of feel like a race driver who hasn't had a ride for the past few years and has been signed and can't wait till the next year. There are few words that can describe my excitement and great anticipation of what's going to happen this year."

Marc Fein, executive vice president of Programming, Production and Business Operation for VERSUS, shares in Jenkins' enthusiasm. VERSUS, which is available in more than 74 million homes, will air at least 12 races per year for the next 10 years. Each race telecast will last a minimum of three hours and include extended pre-race coverage. All will be produced and available in HD and be distributed internationally.     

The network will air a one-hour preview show the day before each race, and all IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights races will be re-aired on Mondays. Additionally, the network will feature extensive coverage of each qualification day and Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The Firestone Indy Lights broadcast cast and production team will be announced soon.

"VERSUS is very excited about the stellar lineup of on-air talent assembled for our IndyCar Series telecasts," Fein said. "We feel these individuals, who are great personalities and authorities in the sport, will provide viewers with a unique insider's perspective along with engaging in-depth analysis during our race day coverage."

Jenkins' baritone pipes and easy delivery will engage and entertain viewers, while allowing the ensemble to interject salient points.

"The play-by-play guy is the anchor and has to be the cornerstone of the whole thing," said Jenkins, who also has worked for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network in various capacities dating to 1979. "It's always been my philosophy that I want the viewer to feel that all the announcers on the telecast are in their living room with them and we are talking with them about the race rather than talking to them.

"We try to relate to the race fans and we essentially are working for them and giving them a product they will like and watch race after race."

As the lead announcer the past two seasons of ESPN2's coverage of Firestone Indy Lights races, Jenkins was joined in the booth by Buhl as the analyst. He also has worked with Beekhuis, a former driver in CART (1989-92) and the 1988 Indy Lights champion, who served as a pit reporter during ESPN, SPEED, CBS and NBC CART/Champ Car broadcasts before moving to the lead analyst role in 2007. Beekhuis was a reporter for ESPN's coverage of IndyCar Series races in Edmonton and Surfers Paradise last year.

"Robbie has great knowledge and is able to express himself very well," Jenkins said. "When I heard that Jon would be available, I was very happy because he knows the workings of a race car and he's able to express those well. Individually, I think we have a really good team. It won't take a whole lot of time for us to get in the groove."

Arute, who also will patrol pit lane during ESPN on ABC's five-race package this season, Floyd and Thackston will add both experience and fresh perspectives to the VERSUS broadcasts. Floyd has worked for ESPN, NBC, Fox Sports and SPEED on various live sporting events. Thackston anchors and reports for First Coast News in Jacksonville, Fla., and has worked for XM Satellite Radio and SpeedTV.com.

"VERSUS has the need for content on their network and we'll be able to do that now by doing pre- and post-race shows in addition to the race coverage," Jenkins said. "It's a win-win situation for the league, VERSUS and more importantly it's a win for the race fans.

"I can't wait for the season to start."

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