A life in commentary

By Steve Day

Steve Day broke onto the major motorcycle racing
scene in 2011, commentating on the Indianapolis MotoGP

Photo: Ducati

To have a job that requires you to research a sport you love and then commentate on it is what dreams are made of.

In the summer of 2011, I received a phone call to tell me that I’d been chosen as the stand-in for Toby Moody for the Indianapolis Moto GP on British Eurosport, commentating alongside Julian Ryder and Neil Spalding…. I wet myself.

As a youngster, I grew up around cars and motor racing. Dad owned a second hand car dealership, (a business I worked in from 2000-2007) and from the age of 7, he’d take me to the British F1 GP’s at Silverstone.

But when he got a bike and started taking me to British and World Superbike events in the mid-nineties, it wasn’t just an interest…. I was hooked on the sport, and when he decided to run a bike racing team at club level with his then salesman and best friend Jamie Hitter, I had no idea how it would shape my life.

To begin with, being the type of geek that made lists and studied lap times, I did the pit board for Jamie and loved it, it was great fun! Soon though, as friends my age started getting bikes themselves, (and jealousy found its way into my life) it was my turn to jump onto an Aprilia RS 125 and race in the Superteen Challenge, with no prior experience on geared machinery.

Had I have known at the time that the riders kicking my arse on a regular basis would go on to be stars of the sport that we know today, I may well have packed it in within a year…. but I persevered and did all I could to prevent getting lapped by Stoner, Davies, Crutchlow , Hill etc….

Six years later though, which included a few years attempting to race in the same class as Sykes, Easton, Harris, Rea and Michael Laverty in British Supersport, I decided to quit….. 1)  I was hurting myself (a lot). 2) My sponsor (Dad) had spent stupid amounts of money on it… and 3) The urge had faded and quite honestly, I knew I wasn’t going to ‘make it’.

Two years later, whilst waiting for another customer to arrive and kick a few tyres on a car sales forecourt, I received a call from Dad to say he was going to be partnering Dave Stewart (formerly of Bemsee and founder of the MRO) to start up a new racing series called Thundersport GB.

The series was going to be televised and they needed a co-presenter…. so on the basis that I’d raced, I seemed confident on karaoke, and with the extraordinary luck that he was my Father, I set to work in 2008, thus beginning a career in sports broadcasting.
In between presenting and a bit of written work, I’d have a go at live circuit commentary too and enjoyed it immensely…. and after Rob Hoyles (bike journo and ex-racer) said I was alright at it, and both Dad and Dave seemingly agreed…. I started commentating on the series in ’09 and have done since.

In 2010, Thundersport and the F1 Sidecar Championship linked hands for a season and with it being covered by British Eurosport, I was naturally very interested to seek a reaction from the channel that was already known then as ‘the home of bike racing’.

Luckily for me, a meeting was arranged and they said they would give me a try…. as I started to dream of the day I could cover a big bike gig as the lead commentator.

Life at British Eurosport was immediately different though. Covering a set of post-produced races and putting a voice over them is one thing, but being responsible for how a show is broadcast on a massive channel, chances are it’ll be LIVE and with people talking in your ears…. It was alien to me.

With great help from some key people at the company itself, including extensive conversations as to what a cue point was, it soon began to sink in, I relaxed and after covering a number of different programmes from news items to ‘Supermoto of Nations’, the call I wasn’t sure I’d ever get…. came.

I’d spent the majority of my life listening to the fantastic Huewen/Ryder combo on Sky Sports and later the Moody/Ryder partnership on Eurosport, so to be told I’d be standing in for Toby and working alongside Julian was a great honour and a dream come true.

Whilst I can remember what went on in the races at Indy 2011, my commentary was a blur afterwards, I watched it back and couldn’t work out if it was a job well done, or my first and last appearance in the box with both Jules and Neil Spalding.

I went on to cover the European Championships with Steve Plater in late 2011 and then in January of 2012, I received another great call, this time to tell me I’d not only be standing in for 4 Moto GP rounds in 2012, but also for 4 World Superbike gigs when Jack and James were busy covering BSB…. I wet myself again.

Having calmed down from the nervous excitement, I was able to get into a rhythm as I got to know both Julian and Neil as friends as well as colleagues and developed my own style of commentary.
Stepping into the shoes of a commentator like Toby is far from easy, I can’t deny that I felt an overwhelming pressure to not let the viewers down at home, but after Julian introduced me to all the heroes I’d been watching from the comfort of my lounge in previous years, he kindly went about making my life as easy as possible in the box.

His knowledge of everything is quite astounding and with Neil going into discussions that were way above my terms of understanding, I was flummoxed as to what to say when we covered Indianapolis and I must admit I occasionally wondered if they saw me as an imposter.

It was in Jerez at the start of 2012 though where Julian told me something so simple, but genius at the same time…. “We are not just talking over bikes going around a circuit, we are telling a story…. and with any luck, we’ll have a good ending”.

So eager I was to read out every bit of information I had written down, I had failed in making it sound interesting and with no question marks at the end of any of my own sentences, it was more like ‘mastermind’ than a masterpiece.

After that, Assen was next and feeling a lot less nervy, I was trying to puzzle together the pieces of the season, discussing it over a beverage and I’d like to think from that point onwards, rapport was blossoming between me and Jules…. to the point where even I now have the odd hire car story!!!!

I often wondered if anything could live up to racing flat out on a motorcycle around a top circuit in the UK, but the buzz of going on air LIVE to hundreds of thousands is very hard to explain, and the fact it’s a sport so close to your heart, makes you realise rather quickly, that you are very lucky indeed.

The worst part to the job (and there are very few cons on the list) is making mistakes. We all do it, we are all human and I was one of the many people that used to shout from the couch at the TV screen and the relevant commentators to notify them of something they’d either missed or made the wrong call on. However with one screen not much bigger than your average lap top and the other providing us with live timing, (which doesn’t always choose to work) I learnt quite quickly where it can all go wrong…. Add into the mix: A producer relaying very important information into your ears whilst you talk or a quick glimpse down at your research and BANG, you can miss anything, especially in bike racing!

Far away from complaining though, it isn’t us that really puts in the hard work and I guess the real gem of working on this stuff is when you get to see how the show is put together.

To explain in words is not enough but having had the pleasure of going to a few WSBK/BSB rounds this season with British Eurosport behind the scenes , you really begin to appreciate just how much goes into each broadcast…. and how our job (as commentators) is merely the icing on the cake.

The bikes team that the company has is amazing, and there are dozens of them…. The work that goes into getting the show to the viewer in the format you see it is an absolute mammoth of a task, and they do it week in week out.

2012 is a year I have loved and a year I’m proud of… I’m far from the finished article but I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a commentator and every broadcast has been a lesson.

British Eurosport have put their faith in me again in 2013 and with another 4 Moto GP rounds to cover and 4 World Superbike events, here’s hoping that these years of experience can lead onto even bigger things one day soon.

Steve Day is a motorsports commentator for Eurosport and MotorsTV, you can find him on twitter @_SteveDay


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