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Appointment TV in the 1980s

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  • Appointment TV in the 1980s

    I didn't have cable TV in the 1980s. Didn't have it until the mid-1990s.

    Other than the Indy 500, NBC Sports was my link to the Indy Cars. And, every July, the Michigan 500 was appointment TV.

    I just had one problem: The race always went long and my local NBC affiliate just HAD to dump out for local news coverage. Watched the 1981 race until just after Rutherford looped it due to a blown tire. Our family was traveling for the 1982 race....I was mad. 1983 race was delayed to a tornado warning. It started late and again, my local affiliate dumped out for news.

    But, there was the glorious 1984 Michigan 500. OK, not glorious for Phil Krueger, Chip Ganassi and Al Unser Jr., but it was dramatic, compelling TV. First time I saw Foyt lead a race since the 1982 Indy 500, Johncock having a good day and Mario fighting back for the victory.

    Complete with ZZ Top music bed!

    The 1985 race was postponed a week for tire issues and NBC didn't show it. Burned too many times, NBC showed the 1986 race tape-delayed a week late on Sports World, and then ABC/ESPN picked up the race, and it wasn't the same.

    But, 1984 was awesome.

    I miss the Michigan 500.

    Last edited by MS; 07-30-2019, 04:45 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by MS View Post
    But, 1984 was awesome.

    I miss the Michigan 500.
    IndyCar misses that kind of race as well; just look at the crowd. Today's 500 milers are mostly yawners as the television ratings and the crowds at Pocono today show.

    That 500 at Michigan had at least 5 different aero package chassis as well as many other front and rear wing combinations. And, perish the thought, but aero pieces and wings were often designed and built by the teams themselves. The teams could build their own engines as well. Yet, the racing was intense start to finish and the viewing audience was on the edge of their seats. The racing still grabs you all of these years later.

    That just doesn't happen very often anymore.

    Five or six cars got bumped trying to make the starting field and missed the show.

    Pits were open all of the time with no speed limits so cars came in according to their own strategies. No pace car wavearounds either before a restart. If you went down a lap it was up to you to find a way to get it back.

    This video was certainly NBC "Must See TV" at the time.

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    • #3
      The 84 race was also the first one where Page and Unser really clicked together in a broadcast.

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      • #4
        One of my favorite events of the Indy Car season.

        Today we have just on element....the driver?

        Back then, the race involved personalities, design, engines, bumping, longevity, creativity, strategy, star power, and multiple car creations and builds.

        Is it any wonder, when you take away 90% of what made racing exciting, that fans have found something else to enjoy?

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        • #5
          I really got into the series as a kid around 83/84 and yes - Michigan was a total highlight of the season. It was special and exciting and dangerous. That YouTube clip is such a throwback. I finally started going to the Michigan 500 on a regular basis in the late 90's - and even then it still felt special. It had a different vibe than Indianapolis. I have some great memories of walking around the garages with my dad on Friday and Saturday and then watching the race on Sunday. It was generally really hot. They had some great races even towards the end of the CART era - 2000 being a particular highlight. It lost a little of its luster when they dropped it down to 400 miles - but it was still a great race and a blast to attend. I don't know if they could ever bring it back. I saw the declining attendance firsthand - but when it was at its height - the Michigan 500 was truly awesome.
          Real drivers don't need fenders!

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          • #6
            If you have the NBC Indy Car Gold, the 1981 Michigan 500 replay is on there. I started watching it last night. I only have watched the first 29 laps until til the restart. I think is the complete broadcast. It shows a almost 4 hr broadcast. I hopes this help to relive the race.

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            • #7
              A lot of racing was "must see" TV for me in the 80s, but a lot of the racing I watched was tape delayed on programs like Sports World or American Sports Cavalcade. IMHO live coverage and the internet have sort of killed that "must see" element.
              “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

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              • #8
                I watched the first half of the 84 race last night. Some good racing among the great names of CART. Michael in his rookie year and Al Jr in his second year racing each other, Sneva battling Rahal with Mears lurking, etc.

                But the most compelling thing I think I saw was when Gary Gerould talked to Big Al about being asked to take over for AJ who was in pain or cramping....Al said there was a sponsor conflict and he couldn't do it (he said he was flattered to be asked in Big Al awe shucks style). They interviewed Jim Gilmore and he griped about how unsportsman like it was for Penske to not allow Al to do it. Then Penske was interviewed and said there was no sponsorship issue, Al was probably not comfortable taking over the Foyt car and he was disappointed in the statement Gilmore made about sportsmanship.

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                • #9
                  The one flaw in what was otherwise a perfect broadcast is that they failed to pick up Mario retaking the lead at the 200 lap mark and had Johncock in the lead instead.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Eric Paddon View Post
                    The one flaw in what was otherwise a perfect broadcast is that they failed to pick up Mario retaking the lead at the 200 lap mark and had Johncock in the lead instead.
                    I recall there being a discussion back at the time of the NBC Michigan 500 broadcasts...the fact that they had their turn one camera, and couldn't ever seem to get it positioned just right. Coming down the curved mainstretch, they'd follow the cars, then have to sharply "dip" the camera, and the cars still went out of frame for a couple seconds until they picked them back up in the middle of turn one.

                    I think in later years, ABC/ESPN moved it to a better perch.
                    Doctorindy.com

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MS View Post

                      The 1985 race was postponed a week for tire issues and NBC didn't show it.
                      Does video of the full 1985 race exist anywhere? All I've seen is the Speedweek highlight reel with Ongais flipping.
                      http://www.honorflight.org/

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RacingPortaJohn View Post

                        Does video of the full 1985 race exist anywhere? All I've seen is the Speedweek highlight reel with Ongais flipping.
                        I think the video of Ongias flipping was a home video. My guess is Speedweek sent a single camera on top of the roof to shoot footage.

                        This was Emerson Fittapaldi's first Indy Car win. Does anyone remember why it was semi-controversial?

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by MS View Post
                          This was Emerson Fittapaldi's first Indy Car win. Does anyone remember why it was semi-controversial?
                          Emmo and Al Sr. were slicing it up for the win in the closing laps, along with 3rd-place Tom Sneva...who was a lap down. Sneva insisted he thought he was on the lead lap, and his radio was out. Others say he seemed to be the only person in the facility who didn't know this fact. He even finished in between Emmo and Al at the line. Al wasn't pleased.

                          I have seen the live-action broadcast of the finish in the years after, but I don't know when it was shown at the time.
                          You have the IndyCar you deserve.

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                          • #14
                            I really liked the incar camera shots of the mid 80'3 thru early 90's. I think they were more representative of what the driver experienced that what is offered up today.

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                            • #15
                              There is a complete "pool video" type thing of the 85 race with no announcers that does exist.

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