ABC still in gear for racing

Network has aired Indy event for 40 consecutive years

NEW YORK — ABC Sports and ESPN have signed an extension of their deal to carry the Indianapolis 500 and 15 other auto races that will stretch through 2009.

The extension came as no surprise: ABC has carried the Indy 500 for 40 consecutive years. But the Nielsen ratings of the Indy 500 have fallen throughout the past decade.

ABC began carrying the annual Memorial Day Weekend event live in 1986 for the entire five or so hours, beginning at 11 a.m., when audience levels are far lower than they would be in late afternoon or primetime.

The IRL (Indy Racing League) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have declined to move forward the time of the race (which takes place this Sunday), citing unbreakable tradition.

In addition to the Indy 500, ABC will carry nine races on the IRL schedule each year; ESPN and ESPN2 will air the other six.

Contract includes IRL programming on ESPN Classic, ESPN Intl. and ESPN.com, with rights deals in such areas as pay-per-view, video-on-demand, interactive TV, broadband, videogames, wireless, high-definition and Spanish language.