On Saturday night, CBS’ coverage of the second season of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) short-track racing series will debut with a race from Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida (8 p.m. ET, CBS/Paramount+). Lindsay Czarniak is back on CBS’ SRX coverage for the second season, again working as the broadcasts’ host and contributing feature content. Czarniak recently spoke to AA, and said broadcasting the first season of SRX was a great experience for her, especially with the level of access they get to racers.
“For me, it doesn’t get better than to be able to do a live event like that, and to have the interaction with both the people I’m working with as broadcasters and the racers. Last year, one of the things I loved so much was the access that you get to them right when they’re coming out of their car. It’s just a really cool real-time type of experience, and I think it definitely gives the viewer something different than they see typically.”
She said the format of going to different short tracks for each race is also a big part of the appeal.
“And just being around it, I really fell in love with short-track racing. I had always been a fan, but to be around it with those different types of tracks was so cool. And each one was different enough and had a little bit of flavor. This year, going to some new tracks, but also a couple that we’ve been to, I think that’s going to be awesome also.”
Czarniak said one thing she wasn’t fully expecting in the first season was the level of trash talk between racers.
“What surprised me was the shit-talking. Honestly, there was so much trash-talking. And I thought in the beginning ‘Okay, these guys all know drama, that’s great,” but then, it became very clear that, ‘No, no, these are actually the best of the best because of what they’ve achieved, and they all have a really unique competitive drive.’ One thing that was fun to watch, but wild, was the way they would go at each other. But then, like any sport where you’re travelling together, it’s like they become friends again once they let an element of time pass. That part of it was really cool; it added an element of drama that I didn’t expect.”
“I was joking with Hélio Castroneves, he was saying they should have a camera inside the motor coach where some of the drivers sit before the races. Because their conversations are hilarious, but it’s also like they can be the best of friends, but then they can totally flip.”
She said the drivers’ passion to win each race was also remarkable.
“And there’s a lot on the line! That’s the other thing that surprised me, the stakes for each of these drivers; it’s a big deal! It’s not like they’re going out there and trying to win an average race. This is that you’re going up against the best in the world at a given type of racing, and so, it matters.”
Czarniak said that builds into some of what she’s hoping to do with features this year, showing off why the racers are so passionate about winning here.
“Something I really think makes this different, a lot of these guys and women really feel like they have something to prove. These are people that, whether they’re retired or trying to just get back out there and show what they can do, everybody’s got a story that’s a little bit different. And that stuff goes really deep. And I’m excited about being able to hunker down a little more and do some features and storytelling that way, because I’ve realized that connection between a lot of them.”
SRX did some features last year as well, and Czarniak said the approach for this year will be both spotlighting new drivers and trying to show off different aspects of their returning drivers.
“You have to assume that hopefully a lot of the same of the viewers are coming back, but we’ll also have a lot of new viewers. So my perspective is that I just want people to fall in love with racing the same way that I fell in love with it, learning about these drivers. Maybe it’s developing a fascination with one specific driver, or maybe it’s something having to do with a sponsor; that’s how you get fans, by having them find something that’s relatable about someone.”
“And a year passing, that in itself allows for some new stories. There’s good opportunity to revisit some of the drivers. Like Hélio Castroneves, he’s won [the Indy 500] so many times. There’s always something interesting with him because he’s such an engaging and fun guy.”
Czarniak said it’s also appealing to go beyond just what these drivers do on the track.
“I think there’s something to digging into the drivers people maybe don’t know so much about. One of them I’m working on is Marco Andretti. I got to go spend time with Marco at his house, and what’s different about that this year is that he’s opened himself to becoming this sort of entrepreneur. He’s a year now into very much forging his own path, trying to do his own thing. And that’s a story I want to talk about as it relates to our racing and what it means to him; he was able to win a race last year, which was a big deal, but there’s also so much on the side that’s interesting.”
“I think the approach is ‘What do people not know about this driver, and how do we take them behind the scenes? How do we let them see what they’re like in their normal life?’ Like Matt Kenseth, he is the carpool master of his family with his kids, he will tell you that. His life is very different from what you might envision for a former NASCAR champ, and I think that’s awesome. So I think we’ll look at the stones that haven’t been turned.”
While three central figures from last year’s SRX broadcast team (Czarniak as host, Allen Bestwick on play-by-play, and Matt Yocum as pit reporter) are all returning, there are also some changes. Brad Daugherty was the primary analyst last year, but he’s not returning. Willy T. Ribbs competed as a driver last year, but is transitioning to a roaming analyst role for five of the six races, and will be in the booth for the July 2 race. Meanwhile, famed IndyCar driver Conor Daly will be joining the booth as a driver analyst for the first three races, with driver analyst announcements for the remaining races still to come. Czarniak said she’s really looking forward to having Daly on the broadcasts, and she got to know him well at this year’s Indy 500.
“I think it’s going to be awesome working with Conor Daly for the races that he’s going to be joining us. I was just able to spend time with him out in Indy. He’s a great character and a great guy, and he’s going to be a lot of fun to work with.”
Also for season two, Czarniak said there will be even more focus on presenting as much on-track action as possible, including incorporating a wide variety of camera angles.
“The one thing we heard is that the fans really love the racing. They do stay and they do care about the storytelling, and you weave that in when you can, outside of the features, just in the middle of the race, but they really loved what they saw on the track so much, and the drama that played out. So I think if anything there will be a focus on giving as much of the drama as we can.”
“And we have more cameras, more drones, which is really cool. The aspects that we were able to show our viewers were a little bit different than what they’ve seen, and that matters. So we’re going to juice that up, and not just the racing action with cameras and drones, but also building in storylines to support that, digging into those also during the race when there’s a stop or when there’s time to talk to the drivers. That also is the competitive drama that helps, which we saw good results with last year.”
Czarniak said her particular role as broadcast host also allows her to do some sideline reporting, and she loves that mix.
“My role is a really cool mix of host but also at times sideline reporter. There’s not really another role in my life right now where I get to do both. And for me, my happiest sweet spot is when I can do that. I really believe in leaning on conversations I’ve had that can inform my hosting and reporting. That’s what I love so much.”
Season two of SRX will debut Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS and Paramount+, with further races following each Saturday in prime time over the next six weeks.