Sunday, August 11, 2013. A day I said goodbye to some old friends. With the transition from SPEED TV to Fox Sports 1, racing fans lose out on two of our most loved shows. It seems really trivial in the scheme of the racing world to have such a connection with these shows, especially in light of some of the losses we have suffered. However, Dave Despain and the various hosts of SPEED Center (in all of its incarnations) have always been that beacon that showed the way. Calmed us, assured us, and reminded us where we were heading.
My first introduction to the show that would become SPEED Center was in its early incarnation SPEED News, hosted by Rick Benjamin, a man who had been the anchor of my local news on our NBC affiliate in Davenport, IA. Benjamin was a man who LOVED racing in all forms, as I would regularly see him at the dirt track in Davenport, not as a reporter, but as a fan. When he announced to us at the track he was moving to SPEED, our entire racing community felt like one of our own had hit it big. Naturally, everyone I knew was tuned into SPEED News the night he debuted. While most folks I knew were watching SportsCenter on the weekends, my priorities were on Speed News/Center. Early on in my experiences with this great show, I was introduced to another man. He was also a native Iowan, and as a true Iowa racing fan, he loved all types of racing. Two wheels, four, however many you needed, he was an expert. Before long he was given his own show. The Man was Dave Despain, the show, Wind Tunnel.
Obviously on its inaugural show I was tuned in. The show was everything I could hope it to be and more. One part radio show, one part highlight show, all racing, all the time. So it came to be my Sunday tradition. SPEED News/Center then Wind Tunnel. Occasionally they flipped time slots, earlier, later, whatever. It didn’t matter. When I was out race chasing, the DVR (occasionally VCR) never missed either episode. It was first on the to do list when I got home. Overtime these men were welcomed into my home like old friends.
I was very glad that SPEEDtv gave both of these shows the chance to give their final goodbyes. Wind Tunnel definitely had more finality to it, probably due in part to the fact that Adam Alexander, the final host of SPEED Center, will continue with Fox Sports 1. It was refreshing to hear racing legends like John Force, Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon and countless others talk in glowing ways about their love for Despain and Wind Tunnel. It was a gentle reminder that our racing heroes started like us, as fans. As Robin Miller and Despain both mentioned in their final segment together, they were both eternally grateful that they were able to get paid to do something they would have gladly done for free.
For me, as a fan, that was the joy of Wind Tunnel, and why it carried such a resonance with me. These were conversations I was having with my friends, except here they were being broadcast to the world. Wind Tunnel always felt like that little secret that you thought you had and no one else knew about. In reality everyone knew and couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. In their final segment Bob Varsha and Dave Despain waxed poetic about if it truly is the end of their respective roads, they would do what they’ve always done. Head up into the grandstand, go back to being a fan, and on occasion, “bitch.” I can say with absolute certainty if I ever look to my left and see either of these men sitting next to me, the race might have to become secondary.
So to Dave Despain, Robin Miller, and all of the other displaced members of the SPEED Channel world, in the words of Marty Reid: “til we meet again…”