Dave Despain Q&A Part One
Q: What is the best interview you’ve ever done?
A: Alex Zanardi. We were fortunate enough once to get Zanardi from his home when he made his first comeback and was racing the BMW in the sedan series over there. He was very excited about it and somehow, and I don’t remember who the intermediary was, but satellite interviews were very rare at the time. Despite the satellite delay and the language issues, he and I made a connection that was very meaningful. It meant a lot to me and I think it did to him. It seemed to me that he felt fulfilled to have the opportunity to talk to this portion of his fan base. It revealed a lot about the fortitude that enabled him to move on with his life after losing his legs. It was a real insight into his personality.
Q: Who is one person you’ve never interviewed that you would like to interview?
A: Foyt. A.J. has a problem with me. I am not aware of ever having a run-in with him that would cause him to bear me any ill will, but he doesn’t like me. Or so he tells Robin Miller. Robin has tried repeatedly to find the reason why and never has been able to. It is entirely possible that A.J. has me confused with someone else. Whatever the case, I think he is in everybody’s top three of greatest American racers. I would love to find out more about what makes him tick, but it sounds like I won’t get that opportunity.
Q: How has motorsports coverage on television changed during your career?
A: The nature of the first show I did, Motorweek Illustrated, was essentially a racing highlights show from a wide variety of disciplines and it aired the Saturday following the weekend from which the highlights were gathered. It took six days to get the finished product on the air. Part of that was a programming decision on the part of Superstation TBS and there is part of the answer to your question, there is no longer a Superstation TBS. It has been replaced by a hundred different channels that as Bruce Springsteen sang, ‘There are 57 channels and nothing on.’ There is that.
The fact that that show in 1983 required getting three-quarter-inch video tape shipped by Federal Express to a central location and then editing that tape and turning it into a television show. The process took days. Now it is instant. It is immediate. If I needed to find out who won, I had to call the track. Even before I became a reporter, I remember calling the press box and impersonating a reporter from the nearest daily newspaper and people were dazzled that the Chicago Tribune was calling and I just wanted to find out who won. I was cheating a little bit, but in the 1980s you either called or you waited for National Speed Sport News to come.
Today we have a world of instant information. Doing research for these shows would have taken months back then, but now it takes hours because all of the information is available on the Internet. The other thing it has done is taken the distribution exclusive away from the big networks and created lots of opportunities for small operations to give pin-point broadcasting for their specific fans, such as Racin Boys and their coverage of the Chili Bowl. They were very bare bones, but they gave the fans exactly what they wanted and that would have been unheard of in 1985.