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Riding Shotgun with SPEED's Bob Varsha

SPEED F1 broadcast team, Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett

SPEED F1 broadcast team, Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs. Photo Credit: SPEED

So how does a Long Island kid end up calling Formula One races? Well, Bob Varsha, SPEED’s on-air personalities will tell you. Varsha grew up in Northport and attended Dartmouth. He ran track and cross country for the Big Green and twice competed in the U.S. Olympic trials for the marathon. He was an alternate for the 1976 U.S. team.

But it’s a different kind of racing that Varsha focuses on today. He is currently SPEED’s host for  F1 coverage. With talks about a Formula One race coming to the New York area, it was time for Trading Paint to catch up with Varsha.


Trading Paint: There has been talk about a Formula One race coming to New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan. Do you think it could happen?

Bob Varsha: Well, I have to say it's a pretty good possibility. [F1 CEO] Bernie Ecclestone has wanted to be in the biggest city in the biggest market in the world for the longest time. He has always coveted a race in the city. He wants a piece of that buzz.  So the proposal to have a race [in New Jersey’s Weehawken and West New York townships] with the Manhattan skyline as the backdrop, brings a lot of credibility.


But just the idea of working in the New York metropolitan area is so difficult. NASCAR had their proposal for a racetrack on Staten Island and they couldn't get that idea to fly. There is potential for significant opposition on this. Other F1 events followed the same formula as this one. It helps to get your politicians on board right away. Get the permits done. The more planning you can do, the more complete your story is before you can put it before the public, helps.

TP:
Does it help the cause that we are probably not talking about a permanent structure?

BV: It's kind of a double edge sword. Unlike a permanent race track that has upfront building costs, this course you would have to build up and tear down every year. That's a cost that repeats every year. I don't know anything about the site and what might already be there in terms of structures. But given the opposition to the NASCAR track, a course that is not permanent might be more appealing to the people who live there.

TP: Talk a little bit about Formula One and how it differs from NASCAR.

BV: F1 is a completely different food when it comes to motorsports. It is international glamour at the highest level. It is the most watched sporting event in the world, if we believe the numbers. The Olympics and the World Cup surpass it, but those are events that occur every four years. An F1 race brings an entire community, the press, the guests. The U.S. has actually had more different F1 sites than any other country. But the races never lasted at one site for very long and that's part of the problem. It's brings incredible international attention and notoriety and that's the reason most countries around the world want to host an F1 events. It makes you major league. One hundred million fans watch F1 over the course of the year. There are lots of personalities, a lot of TV coverage and over 650 million in prize money paid out to the teams during their 19 races. This is
motorsports show business on a scale that NASCAR hasn't even approached.

TP: So how did a kid from Northport end up calling Formula One races?

BV: I was a suburban kid who got some very good advice. Pick a place you'd like to live and go to law school there.  I chose Emory University in Atlanta. I got involved in some running races in Atlanta. I became the executive director of the Peachtree Road Race, a 10K in Atlanta. In 1979, we had 10,000 runners. So it was doing pretty well. Turner  Broadcasting wanted to broadcast the race and they asked me to be part of the broadcast team. I took the job thinking it was one off deal. Six weeks later they wanted me to audition for a job doing news and sports. One thing led to another and I was in the right place at the right time. From there, I worked at CNN and then spent a decade at ESPN. Then I moved over to SpeedVision and that became SPEED.

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