Bob Varsha is among the most recognized broadcast hosts and play-by-play announcers in the automotive world.
But to consider the 35-year television veteran a “one-trick” media personality would be a mistake. He is in fact a multi-talented performer, with broadcast experience in both news and sports. He is also an author, columnist, and a former attorney.
A consummate professional, the Atlanta resident has covered virtually every type of motorized competition in the world, on both two wheels and four, plus collector car auctions, historical retrospectives, vintage racing, the all-electric Formula E Championship, and most recently as television host for the world’s premiere classic car showcase, the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. While his work has aired on every major American network, it is likely his long tenure broadcasting the Formula One World Championship for ESPN/ABC, Speedvision, SPEED Channel/Fox Sports and NBCSN for which he is best known to racing fans. However, his resume also features a wide variety of other sports, including cycling, skating, skiing, track and field, gymnastics and boxing.
Yet his broadcast career came about almost by accident.
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1973, Varsha attended the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. As a former all-Ivy collegiate cross country and track athlete, he continued his post-collegiate running career in the marathon, competing twice in the U.S. Final Olympic Trials in 1976 and 1980, and serving as Executive Director of one of the country’s largest running organizations, the Atlanta Track Club.
In 1980, while practicing law in Atlanta, the Turner Broadcasting flagship network WTBS invited him to cover the Peachtree Road Race, a massive local July 4th running tradition. He flourished in the role of expert analyst, and was subsequently offered an opportunity delivering news and sports for TBS, CNN and CNN Radio, plus simultaneously hosting both the topical news/ interview program “Between the Lines” and television’s first all-motorsports highlight show, “Motorweek Illustrated.”
By 1986, Varsha had perfected his craft and accepted a position with ESPN hosting IMSA sports car racing coverage and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Soon his broadcast portfolio expanded to include Formula One and many other sports, including World Cup skiing and elite figure skating competition. In 1999 he moved on to the Speedvison/Outdoor Life Networks, adding the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France cycling classics to his repertoire. By 2001 Speedvision was integrated into FOX Sports, where he worked under contract through July of 2016.
Away from the broadcast booth, Varsha and wife Karen, a photographer, have raised three children: daughter Leslie, who also works in television production in the Baltimore-Washington market, and sons Matthew, a real estate broker in Jackson, Wyoming, and Chase.
Bob Varsha did not take an ordinary path to becoming one of the more versatile hosts in sports television. A former world-class runner and corporate attorney, Varsha accepted an invitation from Turner Broadcasting to cover a popular footrace in his adopted home town of Atlanta in 1980. That performance led to an offer of a part-time job from TBS, and the native New Yorker soon found himself with a new career.
Over four years at Turner Broadcasting Varsha handled a wide variety of duties for WTBS and CNN, including hosting a public affairs program and serving as a weekday sports anchor. In 1982 he joined the cast of the first weekly motorsports program on television, “MotorWeek Illustrated,” airing on WTBS. Two years later he accepted a job with the show’s production company, World Sports Enterprises, and motorsports became his full-time beat.
It was auto racing that led him to ESPN in 1986. Over the next 13 years, Varsha’s assignments for ESPN and ABC Sports still included a healthy portion of motorsports, including play-by-play for Formula One, Indycars, sports cars, drag racing and motorcycles. But the relationship with the all-sports network allowed him to hone his skills covering other disciplines, including skiing, track and field, boxing, gymnastics, figure skating and the X-Games. Among the major events he has hosted are the World Alpine Championships, the Indianapolis 500 Time Trials, the U.S. Olympic Trials, and the New York City and Boston Marathons. He also handled assignments for NBC, CBS and FOX.
In 1999 Varsha joined the Speedvision and Outdoor Life Networks, working both in-studio, anchoring a weekly motorsports wrapup program “Speedvision News Raceweek,” and in the field, hosting coverage of Formula One, The 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 12 Hours of Sebring. For sister network Outdoor Life he anchored the network’s acclaimed first-ever live coverage of the greatest events in cycling, the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. In late 2001 the two networks were separated by new owners Fox Cable Networks Group, and Varsha remained with Speedvision, relaunched as SPEED. There he has continued his long association with Formula One, Le Mans, and added program series including the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auctions, the ground-breaking automotive history series “Behind the Headlights” and a wide variety of other programs. He has covered virtually every major form of motorsport in the world, as well as more than few minor ones.
Varsha has also worked for many years in radio. He anchored the four-year run of “Focus On Racing Radio,” a weekly hour of motorsports news and information syndicated nationally by CBS/Westwood
One, and he remains a frequent guest on radio programs across the country, discussing developments in the world of racing as well as the collector car hobby. Varsha’s original opportunity in television came from his personal involvement in sports. A varsity athlete in cross country and track at Dartmouth College, Varsha continued his athletic career after graduating cum laude in 1973. He became a two-time Olympic Trials finalist in the marathon, and in the 1976 USOT race he ran a personal best time of 2:15:50, narrowly missing a place on the US team in Montreal. Instead he returned to law school at Emory University in Atlanta, graduated in 1977 and began a legal career that was interrupted by the call of sports television.
Varsha was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in Northport, NY. He and wife Karen, a photographer, currently reside in Atlanta. They have three children: daughter Leslie, and sons Matt and Chase. Leslie works in sports television, and elder son Matt is an aspiring race car driver.