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Racing to new fans: Scott Sander’s sneak peek at ‘100 Days to Indy’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The first words of the new national documentary series about the Indy 500 belong to the sport’s most famous fan.

David Letterman offers a reverential riff on the roars, the race, and the promise of “immorality” for the winner.

Then, the show takes a sharp left turn away from tradition.

Much like the racers documented in the show, the producers of “100 Days to Indy” take a blisteringly fast and forward-looking approach.

In Episode 1, the show steers clear of nostalgia and well-worn storylines; there are no sepia-toned memories of decades long past, and most of the familiar fast faces of recent years make only fleeting appearances.

Instead, “100 Days to Indy” debuts by focusing on who’s at the wheel for what’s happening NOW.

The show is, as you may expect, a kinetic feast for the eyes and ears: thrills, spills, passes, crashes, cheers … and some cross exchanges, too. The cameras do not shy away from the conflicts in the corners that often get only a brief glossing-over in the broadcasts.

The key players in the first hour include Marcus Ericsson (the defending 500 champ), Josef Newgarden (the favorite for the series title) and Scott McLaughlin (the man looking to repeat as season-opening winner).

In the process, “100 Days to Indy” shows the stars in ways we’ve never seen but many have long craved: real people, with real lives and real families.

To that end, we meet the spouses/chief supporters of each of the Episode 1 lead characters.

  • Moments at home with Newgarden give a glimpse at a warmth and softness many of us have never seen in his action hero image.
  • McLaughlin, a New Zealander, shows such clear affection for his American in-laws (and barbecue with a beer) that he will almost certainly pick up a host of new fans.
  • Ericsson’s segments tend to both reinforce what we know (He’s kinda quiet) while also giving a first glimpse of a gnawing within him that he does not yet receive the full measure of respect usually given to a 500 winner.

The storylines weave through the first race weekend of the season and tie neatly together in the end. It will be interesting to see if the producers can pull off the same feat each week: shooting enough material to build strong stories around whatever the race results turn out to be.

Speaking as a fan of the “old school” variety, I will say that “100 Days to Indy” does not seem to be aiming for my ilk. It is decidedly NOT a trip down memory lane to the ’50’s, ’60’s, 70’s, 80’s, or whatever decade we first fell in love.

Instead, the show clearly casts a wider net, inviting in viewers who may have never given the sport a look. The weeks ahead will tell if that strategy stays constant or changes from week to week.

For the moment, I think it’s fair to say that the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar have never had this kind of exposure before — and, though it’s hard for this aging diehard to acknowledge it, coverage with a different kind of gearing may be exactly what the sport, its stars, and this city need.

“100 Days to Indy” debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on WISH-TV and The CW.

News 8 Daybreak anchor Scott Sander is a lifelong fan of the Indianapolis 500, and will again be one of the voices on the IndyCar Radio Network for this year’s race.