UPDATED 8-17-2012 10:24 AM EST - ESPN STATEMENT - “Paul Page will pursue other opportunities after the 2012 season and will not return to the ESPN NHRA anchor position in 2013. He has been a tremendous presence on our motorsports coverage, most recently NHRA, for decades and we wish him the very best in the future. We have not finalized our plans for 2013 and we don’t expect to make any NHRA commentator announcements until after the 2012 season.”
Paul Page will not anchor ESPN2’s NHRA coverage in 2013, CompetitionPlus.com has been told by a sports TV industry source familiar with the situation, but who asked not to be identified by name.
Marty Reid is likely to replace Page, according to the source.
Page will continue in the booth alongside analyst Mike Dunn for the remaining eight Full Throttle series events this season, including this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn.
Page declined to comment on his future when contacted by telephone by CompetitionPlus.com. He did say he “really likes the NHRA competitors and working with the ESPN crew.”
Shawn Murphy, senior coordinating producer who oversees all production at ESPN Regional Television in Charlotte and all aspects of ESPN2’s NHRA coverage, did not return CompetitionPlus.com’s telephone call Wednesday.
Andy Hall, ESPN’s motorsports media representative, told CompetitionPlus.com by telephone Wednesday that Page’s status for 2013 “hasn’t been determined.” The TV industry source said ESPN could officially announce its plans during the Brainerd race weekend. When asked about that, Hall paused and then answered: “I don’t know of anything at this moment.”
Through 14 events, NHRA’s audience numbers on ESPN2 for final-round action are up from 2011. While the average household coverage rating is even at 0.5, average household impressions increased by three percent, to 481,115 and average viewership by four percent, to 643,760. For qualifying-round shows, however, impressions are down 19 percent and viewership has declined 16 percent. Two qualifying shows and one final have been carried on ESPN this season and can’t be compared to ESPN2 last year.
Multiple drag racing industry sources have told CompetitionPlus.com that Jerry Archambeault, NHRA’s vice president, public relations and communications, has spoken with senior ESPN production management about Page. Talent decisions, however, are made by the network.
Asked about this Wednesday by CompetitionPlus.com, Archambeault said: “We have discussions with ESPN each and every year about talent (announcers) for our shows. We’ve talked about what our future is, where we are going to head in the future. What options do we have available? Those are informal discussions.”
Asked if he wanted to say anything else on the matter, Archambeault said “no” and abruptly attempted to change the subject.
Page’s 2013 TV assignments are unknown. If Reid returns to NHRA, that could leave open his position in the Izod IndyCar series. ABC televised six of the 15 races this year with the remainder on the NBC Sports Network (previously known as Versus.) Bob Jenkins, current NBC Sports IndyCar anchor, has announced his retirement after this season’s last race, the Sept. 15 MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
However, the TV industry source believes Reid will continue with IndyCar on ABC’s limited schedule, and Hall said that’s the situation “as far as I know.” Pit reporter Dave Rieff, who has anchored ESPN2’s Lucas Oil series events, could be an option to move to the anchor role when the NHRA and IndyCar schedules conflict.
Reid was ESPN’s full-season NHRA anchor from 2001-2005 and then was reassigned to the IndyCar series. Reid and Page shared the drag racing duties in 2006 until Page took over in 2007.
Page has broadcast virtually every form of auto racing during a career that has spanned more than four decades. He began at WIBC Radio in Indianapolis in 1968. In 1977, while on assignment, he was almost killed in a helicopter crash near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That same year he took over as chief announcer of the worldwide Indy 500 Radio Network on short notice when the legendary Sid Collins died in May; in fact, he was Collins’ hand-picked successor. He had been a race pit reporter from 1974-1976. Page was the race's "voice" for 15 years and also called the action on NBC's early CART/PPG Indy Car World Series telecasts. He has returned to the Indy 500 Radio Network in recent years.
He helped pioneer motorsports on ESPN as its first racing producer, of Midwest sprint car shows. Page joined ABC in 1987 and reported on NASCAR among countless other events. He won two Emmy awards, in 1989 and 1990, for his Indy 500 coverage.
Last May, Page was honored by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association with the Bob Russo Founders Award, for “profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo throughout his lifelong career.”
In addition to IndyCar, Reid has called the lap-by-lap action in NASCAR’s Nationwide series this year. The combination of Reid and analyst Scott Goodyear has been routinely criticized by fans on IndyCar Internet sites as lacking energy and excitement. Authoritative NASCAR TV columnist John Daly, on his The Daly Planet website, last week described Reid as “having a tough time coming back to NASCAR in this limited role. He fumbled with words and had trouble selecting phrases during the last race telecast (Iowa).”
ABC/ESPN has a history of changing anchors on its various motorsports properties. For the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar series, it has gone from Page to Jenkins to Todd Harris to Reid. When ESPN regained the NASCAR rights in 2007, Dr. Jerry Punch was named anchor. Reid was handed that assignment in 2010 and then replaced by Allen Bestwick last year.
Before ESPN obtained the NHRA TV rights, Page worked with the late Steve Evans and Don Garlits on races aired on TNN and produced by Diamond P. Page reminded fans of his drag racing roots in a May 2011 CompetitionPlus.com interview.
“My first radio of any sport was the (1973) U.S. Nationals in stereo on a local Indianapolis FM station,” he said.
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