When Jamie McMurray‘s full-time NASCAR career came to a close at the conclusion of the 2018 season, he wanted to remain part of the sport in some capacity. In stepped FOX Sports.
While competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, McMurray would make occasional appearances in the broadcast booth to help call select NASCAR Xfinity Series races. Because of that, he was often told he’d be good at television following his racing career, though he didn’t take those people all that seriously.
Now, McMurray is in the middle of his second season with FOX, though its portion of the Cup and Xfinity series’ schedules comes to a close over the next week. This year, the Missouri native has upped his schedule, broadcasting Xfinity races on a more regular basis since the sport returned from the COVID-19 shutdown. He’s also remained part of the pre-race shows for Cup and Xfinity, while being a weekly analyst on NASCAR Race Hub.
Recently, McMurray chatted with Frontstretch to discuss his broadcasting career, his hopes to call Cup races one day, why TV has been good for him and the chemistry he’s made with friends in the sport on the TV side.
Dustin Albino, Frontstretch: You’ve been doing a lot of analysis over the past year and a half with FOX. How has that experience gone for you?
McMurray: It’s been really fun. For the last 18 months, I’ve done Race Hub one day a week, and I do the pre-race show for Xfinity when it’s during the FOX season and the pre-race all season long on the Cup side. I’ve really enjoyed getting to do that. Everything is in Charlotte, so you don’t leave home. [I] get to be home basically every night with my family, which is a big change when you’re used to traveling Thursday through Sunday pretty much every week. It’s been nice to be home and not travel quite so much.
Albino: When FOX initially asked you to be a rotating analyst for Race Hub after the 2018 season, what were your thoughts?
McMurray: I wasn’t really obligated to do Race Hub every week, I was actually initially hired to just do the pre-race show, and there were a certain number of dates that they would like for you to do Race Hub. I really enjoy doing Race Hub. It’s the majority of the same people that do the pre-race broadcast. I told them I would do it every week, mainly because I enjoyed it, but also because the more you’re on TV, the more relaxed you become and the more you learn how the process works. For people in the TV world, they probably have a hard time understanding why you don’t get it, but it’s different; just reading the rundowns.
The one thing when you come from racing is that you think a little too deep, and it’s hard for the general audience to comprehend. When they want to talk about something, I would dig in really deep. I have learned over doing so many shows on what they’re looking for — not necessarily how to dumb things down, but to make it so my mom could understand it or your mom [understand it], not necessarily the gear head.
Albino: When you were racing, could you have ever pictured yourself doing television?
McMurray: The truth is, I had people tell me my whole career I should do TV. I don’t know why, I just assumed that’s what they told all drivers. But I didn’t. I thought when I was done driving, ‘I’m just going to drive, and when I’m done doing that, I’ll just be done working.’ I didn’t think that far ahead. If I could go back, I would have done more TV throughout my career to make the transition a little bit easier.
I love getting to do it. I really enjoy the team aspect of it. When you race your whole life, you have a crew chief, pit crew, road crew, and you work together to make the car faster. TV is no different; you have directors, producers and a whole team of other people, other analysts, hosts that work together, and when you’re part of building the show, you want to make the show better and more interesting. I’ve made a lot of great friends with people at the studio, and they’ve become my new team.
Albino: Who have you leaned on the most since joining FOX?
Probably Larry McReynolds. He and I are very similar in that we over-prepare for everything. Larry is 24/7 working on the radio show and is 100% committed, and that’s kind of how I am. I don’t ever do anything partially. Everything I do, I commit myself to. I’m also on a lot of shows with him, so I’m probably the closest with Larry.
Adam [Alexander, host of Race Hub, play-by-play announcer for Xfinity races] and I have become great friends doing the Xfinity broadcasts and being a part of Race Hub. I would say Larry is the one that I’ve paid the most attention to, because he’s doing the same thing I’m doing but from the crew chief side, not the driver side.
Albino: All broadcasters have a different way of preparing for races. How do you prepare for calling the action?
McMurray: It’s a lot of reading. [Broadcasting] Xfinity races were a little more challenging for me because I was a casual fan of that. I watched all the races, but once you got to eighth place on back, I didn’t really know the drivers. I didn’t pay attention to them, I paid attention to the guys that won. Same thing in the [Gander RV & Outdoors] Truck Series.
When we started — even in the pre-race — talking about other people, I would have to learn about them. You probably get 40-50 emails full of PDF files with tons of literature that give history, trends, everything that all the TV people use. And you don’t have to read it, but my first six months I printed every one of them out and had them on my kitchen table with a highlighter, trying to figure out what I thought would be interesting and talk about. As time as moved on, I’ve learned certain emails I depend on more than others because I’m like, ‘Oh, I find this interesting or what they’re looking into.’
It’s just a lot of reading. Social media is also a great source to prepare yourself because of videos and you can listen to the driver. I feel like you and I could listen to the same teleconference and pick up different things that we find interesting. That’s another great way to pick up some little things to talk about.
Albino: Beginning at Charlotte this year, you started broadcasting Xfinity Series races. How much fun has that been?
McMurray: It’s been a lot of fun. When you do it as a driver and then you go and do the FOX broadcast, there’s minimal preparation and it’s really about the driver saying what they felt on the track that day or that weekend. When you do it when you’re done driving, it’s a little bit different because the expectations are that you’re going to read up a little bit on all the drivers, have little tidbits to throw in here and there.
It’s a lot different, but the studio has not been that awkward. I think it’s different for everyone, but even when you’re in the booth, you’re staring at the programming that’s on TV because that’s what people see at home. Though you might watch restarts from a different perspective, you might actually watch the restart on the track, you have to revert back to the TV to say anything because you can’t say what you’re seeing outside the booth when it’s not shown on TV. I think that’s a much harder transition if you’ve been watching 10 years of racing out the booth and then you have to come to the studio, I’m sure that was hard for some of those guys. For me, it wasn’t, because I had only done two or three races, and then everything I had done was in the studio so I was comfortable in that environment.
Once we got in there, Adam and I probably talked on the phone, one to two hours per day, each day, leading up to the races that I did, just talking about what we thought would be interesting or if things happen throughout the week where, ‘We have to hit on this.’ If it’s at Pocono [Raceway], really weird strategies that can go on or at Talladega [Superspeedway] with drafting that happens, he would pick my brain.
Adam and I actually watched a couple of the races back from last year, and he would listen to the things that I would say so that he would be able to come up with something to set me up. At Pocono, it’s about restarts, at Talladega, it’s about drafting, and so that way he knew what I was thinking already. so that when we got into the studio and did the race and there was a restart, he would say, ‘Hey Jamie, we know these restarts are a big deal here, why don’t you tell us why.’ He knew that I had a really good talking point on that. I think that helped us a lot with having some really good chemistry once we got in there.
Albino: You’ve broadcasted a few races with Clint Bowyer, always taking jabs at one another. What is the relationship between you two?
McMurray: I’ve been friends with Clint forever. I think what you would hear on TV with Clint and I is exactly how we talk to each other in general life. If the camera is not on, Clint is kind of a bully and makes fun of me, and I just would always have some sort of smart aleck comment to come back.
The thing that’s funny about Clint is, where I’m the excessive, prepared, lose sleep over making sure I have all my notes right, Clint is 180 [degrees] from that. Clint shows up a little bit late, flies in. He’s like Kramer from Seinfeld: flies in, door flings open, papers go everywhere, and he goes, ‘What is today? Where are we racing?’ [We’re] polar opposites, and that’s funny for people because you know Clint, and it’s not hard to believe any of that.
Albino: What’s been the biggest challenge in broadcasting race action?
McMurray: The hardest part is the last couple of laps because it’s very easy to turn into a fan. When someone wrecks, I don’t care who you are, your natural reaction is to give like a big ‘Oof ‘ or ‘Oh my God’ because that’s what you say when you’re watching the race with your friends. When you’re watching on TV, it’s okay to have a little bit of that because that is what we say, but you also have to describe what you’re seeing. It’s very easy to think things in your head, but to get them to come out of your mouth and not say something really dumb is much harder than people realize. There’s many times during those broadcasts where something comes out of my mouth and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I just said that on TV. I can’t believe what I thought did not come out any worse right there.’
I think the last few laps, especially when it’s an exciting finish. The other part is being honest, and sometimes it’s hard to call people out, but I feel like I have a good way — even in the pre-race — of saying the truth and not making it hurtful. I think some people come across as jerks when they’re not trying to be, and I have a gift of being honest and calling someone out. At the same time, if they watch it on TV, they’re just like, ‘He’s being honest, that’s the truth.’ For me, personally, throughout my career, there were people that were jerks, and you’re like, ‘Man, I know that guy understands what I’m going through, why is he acting that way, or why is he saying things like that?’ I try to really hard to be very honest, but also comes across that I feel like if I was a driver they would be like, ‘That kind of hurts, but I get it. He’s just saying the reality of what’s going on.’
Albino: How much do you pay attention to the feedback you’ve received from viewers?
McMurray: I pay attention to that, for sure. There’s really no better judge than people watching on TV. One thing that I’ve learned in TV — and not necessarily for people that work there — people, in general, will tell you that you did a great job, even if you know it wasn’t a good job. I don’t know why, but as humans I feel like in one conversation we can say, ‘Oh boy, that guy was terrible today on TV,’ but if that guy walks into the room you’re like, ‘You did a great job.’ I don’t know why, but that’s what people do.
I feel like on Twitter, people are a little more honest, so I’ve read that feedback because there are times that you see comments that are like, ‘I wish they would explain this,’ and that’s great feedback because sometimes the things that they would like for us to explain, I take for granted thinking they already know that or that everybody knows about it. Then I think about it, and I’m like, ‘Well, if you’re a new fan you might not know that, so we should explain it.’
There’s also some negatives, but when you watch the race, there are commentators where you’re like, ‘Man, he does a great job,’ and you’ll find someone that says, ‘I don’t like him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ Everyone has something a little different that they like, and that’s from the top of the TV executives to the casual fans.
Albino: When FOX analysts attend races again, obviously it wouldn’t be until next season, would you be interested in continuing to broadcast the races?
McMurray: Absolutely. I would definitely have an interest in that. I’ve told them that I’m interested in doing that. The traveling is only half the year because FOX does half the races. I think when we go back — and there’s been nothing mentioned to me about this, this is just my opinion — I don’t think we’re going to have the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday schedule again. I think we’ve learned as a sport that we don’t have to be there for four days. I think the travel is going to be significantly less, and being at the racetrack, there is value in that.
The other thing we’ve learned is if you can’t be at the racetrack, Adam and I, Matt Yocum, Jamie Little, some of the pit reporters that are on the show with us, we would set up Zoom calls with crew chiefs and drivers. It was fun because we had a group of Xfinity drivers — and I won’t mention who — but it was clear that one of them did not like the other. When you would hear one of the drivers comment, you could see the body language of the other guy, almost roll his eyes, and he’s not saying anything but you’re picking up on that. That’s something you can’t get over a phone call, and you probably would never get those two guys in a room together, but we did get them on a call together. I think you can still get some good information if you’re not allowed to go to the track.
Albino: Would you ever want to broadcast Cup races?
McMurray: The Cup racing is what I did 99% of my career, and that’s my passion. I would love to get to do the Cup booth one day. I think that would be great.
Jeff Gordon and I get along very well, and I’ve asked him questions before in the studio together, doing Race Hub or just calling him on the phone. He’s had an incredible career, and I would love to get to work beside Jeff Gordon.
Albino: Does being close to the action make you miss racing, or is it the opposite?
McMurray: It’s both. I did not miss driving until we took the break from the pandemic because there was no TV. I realized how much I loved racing. All of a sudden we didn’t have it, and what I didn’t know prior to that is TV was filling my addiction. I was getting to talk about it every single week, and I’ve had some friends talk about it recently, drivers that have retired over that last couple of years, I could tell it really bothered them and they would get in cars, and I was like, ‘I wouldn’t do that.’ I didn’t understand why they would do that, but it’s because they weren’t doing TV.
For me personally, the craving that I had for our sport, getting to go on TV and talk about it fulfilled that for me. I was like, ‘man, I would like to go back and drive’ when we were in that long break, but now that we’re back and we’re talking about it again and I saw those guys hit the wall at Indianapolis [Motor Speedway] this weekend, I was like, ‘Hell no, I definitely don’t want to get back in and do that.’ TV has been great for me, personally and mentally. It’s really been great for me.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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