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Fast Lane

Internship puts ONU senior Tyler Burnett behind the scenes at the Indy 500.

When race fans tune in to watch the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday, they will be joining a celebration of automobile racing in America at the place where so much of it began.

Indianapolis has been home to motorsports since the first race at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) on August 19, 1909. Two years later, the first Indianapolis 500 was run, and on Sunday a winner will cross the finish line at the Brickyard for the 96th time.

An example of Tyler Burnett's graphic design work for USAC.

Indianapolis is also home to the United States Automobile Club (USAC). Until 1955, the American Automobile Association (AAA) sanctioned the Indianapolis 500, but a tragic accident in LeMans, France, spurred the group to abandon auto racing. In its place, USAC formed in 1956 and went on to sanction the Indianapolis 500 until 1997. Today, it still sanctions six divisions of open-wheel racing, including the Silver Crown Series, National Sprint Car Series and National Midget Series.

Ohio Northern University senior sport management major Tyler Burnett is interning this summer with USAC as a public address announcer during sprint and midget car races, and as a marketing intern at the USAC headquarters during the week. His position promoting USAC racing is taking him behind the scenes at the 500.

“This is our busiest week,” says Burnett. “In a week and a half, I’ve been over to IMS four times already.”

One of the four visits to IMS was to have lunch with the legendary motorsports broadcaster Bob Jenkins. Now retired from television, Jenkins was an original ESPN personality and called races for ESPN, ABC and NBC for more than 30 years. Jenkins still announces live races, including the USAC Silver Crown Series, the highest of USAC’s six divisions.

"Ohio Northern gives you
the knowledge you need to be
successful in whatever it is you     
are passionate about."

Though technically an intern, Burnett is Jenkins’s counterpart for sprint and midget car racing, and the two often share a press box on race day. For Burnett, it is a huge honor.

“Bob Jenkins is an idol for anyone who wants to go into broadcasting motorsports. I tell people I get to announce with Bob Jenkins and they are like, ‘Wow!’ He really is a living legend,” he says.

Burnett began announcing online racing simulations for the SimPro Racing League. Last summer, he began announcing for live races at Waynesfield Raceway Park in Waynesfield, Ohio. It was here that he was discovered by USAC. They liked him as an announcer but needed someone who could also help out in the marketing office. Fortunately, Burnett had all the necessary skills because of ONU. As a sport management major, he took courses in public relations and video production. He refined his communication skills as studio host of a weekly sports interview show on WONB-FM. He even learned graphic design from his work-study job in ONU’s Office of Communications and Marketing.

Burnett (in red) announcing live racing for USAC.

“Ohio Northern gives you the knowledge you need to be successful in whatever it is you are passionate about,” says Burnett. “I’ve always known that I want to work in motorsports, but sport management is such a broad field that I could do almost anything – from ticket sales, to facilities management, to becoming an athletic director at a university like Northern.”

To be sure, Burnett’s internship is a perfect fit and a rare opportunity. For him, it straddles the line between too-good-to-be-true and expected. While he is thrilled to work with idols like Jenkins and be around motorsports at the highest level, he also sees it as the next logical step in his plan use his degree from Northern to establish a career in motorsports.

Burnett will intern through the summer and will continue to announce races for USAC throughout the fall, traveling as far as California and Arizona for races in October. And, while he’s excited for those, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500, awaits.