Waxing On The Car Wash: Ley

As a talent producer, I often have the privilege of walking around with many athletes, celebrities, and musicians.

One question that I get from almost every guest that comes to Bristol is, “where did the name ‘The Car Wash’ come from?”

Well, I decided to take that question to the man who coined the term — and someone whom I have had the honor of producing shows with at ESPN — longtime anchor Bob Ley (pictured above, left, with boxer Larry Holmes).

FR: How and when did you come up with the name “ESPN Car Wash”?

Ley: I honestly wish I could remember when my fevered and clearly addled brain came up with the term. I only regret not trademarking it, as Pat Riley trademarked “Three-Peat.” I dropped the term on David Stern during one of his visits to campus, and several months later saw him use the phrase in Sports Illustrated referring to a series of media interviews he was doing in Europe. Well played, Mr. Commissioner.

FR: Do you remember the first in house guest you ever interviewed?

Ley: Well, if you go way, way back to the fall of 1981 when we produced the Saturday/Sunday SportsCenter Plus — the progenitor of today’s SportsCenter Wheel — I remember interviewing the legendary disc jockey Murray “The K” Kaufman. He was the man known as the Fifth Beatle. He was one of the seminal figures of rock and roll, and was with us that day because he was also one of the first sports agents. He negotiated an appearance for Mickey Mantle on The Ed Sullivan Show. I’ve now made more out-of-demographic cultural references than one man is allowed to make in a full year on the air.

FR: What are your thoughts on the ESPN Car Wash today compared to 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago?

Ley: Are you kidding? What was, just a few short years ago, a novelty, is now a well-oiled machine and a powerful tool for all of our platforms. You never know whom you will literally run into — from Kenny Chesney, to Michael Vick, to Donald Faison of Scrubs. The planning, strategizing and coordination that go into the visit of guests is just this side of a moon landing. For example, on Outside the Lines, it allows us to produce segments well in advance of the guests’ visits, and either air them live, or post-produce them for maximum impact.

FR: Who has been your favorite guest to interview in your 30-plus years at ESPN?

Ley:Well, if you’re speaking specifically about in-house guests, it just might be a tie between Barry Levinson and Larry King. Barry was here to promote his 30 for 30 film The Band That Wouldn’t Die — about the Baltimore Colts marching band. The film was powerful, and to spend 15 minutes with one of the legendary American filmmakers was quite a kick.
I asked what was next on his schedule, and he said the next day he was back to working with Al Pacino on the HBO Film You Don’t Know Jack. Larry was a walking, talking history book — taking us back to Jackie Robinson, with a Sinatra anecdote along the way. And we got a chance to grill him about being thrown out of a Beverly Hills Little League game for heckling an umpire.