It's no accident that Brandon Walsh tooled around the 90210 zip code for the better part of eight years in a sweet 1965 Mustang convertible. The man who played the perpetual TV youth, actor Jason Priestley, is a gearhead. These days the erstwhile Beverly Hills 90210 star has another gig that allows him to indulge his fancies for fast cars and working in front of the camera: He's doing commentary for ABC's Indy Racing League coverage.
Before drawing rash parallels between Priestley and another celebrity ABC broadcaster, consider that unlike Dennis Miller—who can't provide any insights into what it feels like to get slammed to the turf by Warren Sapp—Priestley has substantial experience in his sport. He got hooked on televised automobile rallies as a kid in Vancouver and began driving professionally in them in 1992. In '95 he finished third in the SCCA Pro Rally Circuit season standings before moving on to the IMSA sports car series.
Two years ago he was interviewed by Ann Hoffman, a journalist who is married to Bob Goodrich, the producer of ABC's IRL coverage. After last season, when the network decided to add a third man to the booth, Hoffman suggested that Goodrich talk to the 31-year-old Priestley. "I certainly didn't expect it," says Priestley of his new job. After one lunch, however, he was sold on the broadcasting idea. "I said to him, 'Yeah, dude, I can do that.' "
With Bob Jenkins calling the action and former United States Auto Club champ Larry Rice handling the technical side, Priestley is counted on to lend color and a man-on-the-street perspective. "I try to demystify things, to bring things down to everyone's level," he says. Priestley's first race behind the mike was on March 18 in Phoenix, and he handled his job well enough to quash any notion that his hiring was a ploy to draw viewers.
Still, that's not to say that having a famous color man doesn't have its perks. One thing Goodrich wants Priestley to do is relate interesting stories about the competitors, and Priestley, whose Q rating dwarfs that of any IRL driver, is quite popular with them. Spectators also seem to like him. "When he walks around the pits and garage, everyone wants to meet him," says Goodrich. "I just need those people to go home and turn on their televisions."