Monday, February 12, 2007

SPEED: Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing

One of the most talked-about series on SPEED returned for its ninth year as Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing debuted from Daytona. Created by Bob Scanlon, the original Executive Producer at SpeedVision, this show was an extension of the old Inside Winston Cup show produced at Sunbelt Video in Charlotte, NC. That show featured Ned Jarrett and was hosted by a young Bill Weber, who cut his teeth anchoring and producing the series.

At SpeedVision, the original grouping of Alan Bestwick, Johnny Benson, Michael Waltrip, and Kenny Schrader was an instant hit for the small niche network. With Alan as ringmaster, the rowdy trio of drivers found that they could have fun on the air and enjoy themselves in the context of "just talking racing." The reality of both cable television and NASCAR racing affected the show drastically when SpeedVision was bought by Fox Cable Networks, and Scanlon chose to exit.

The new administration felt that changes needed to be made, and Bestwick and Benson were summarily dismissed. Inserted as host was the bombastic Dave Despain, along with young driver Brian Vickers. Since that time, the show has never regained its stride or momentum, with Despain overpowering the panel and directing a highlight review show that is, at best, awkward. By the conclusion of the 2006 season, Schrader and Waltrip were openly mocking Despain and summarily dismissing the forced comments of Vickers.

Now, as the 2007 season gets underway, Vickers is no where to be found, but Despain continues as host. Unfortunately, Despain still does not understand the NASCAR enthusiasm and humor. The inside jokes of Waltrip and Schrader go whizzing by his head like a Tony Stewart inside pass. The Daytona show featured Mark Martin and David Gilliland, both of whom "got it" and were well-spoken guests. The odd man out is Despain, who addresses the NASCAR "people" as inferior, and simply does not get it. Somewhere, Alan Bestwick is smiling.

This series has the most potential of any show on SPEED, and will only blossom if a change is made at the host position. Despain is wonderful on Wind Tunnel, and even better when expressing his passion for motorcycles. Unfortunately, he is over-matched when dealing with heavy hitters like Waltrip, Martin, and Schrader. Several times in this show, Waltrip took control and asked questions of the guests, expressed opinions that were not on the script, and actually dared to make jokes and have fun.

Simply allowing a new host to "unbundle" the enthusiasm and fun that exists within this bunch would be wonderful. But, in its current form, the tension that built up last year and forced the show to bomb in the ratings seems destined to return. What a shame for SPEED, NASCAR, and the fans.


Bob said...

I understood that the problem with Beswick is that he worked for NBC and Speed got brought by Fox. He had to choose to show his loyalties for one network or the other and went with NBC/TNT.

I preferred it when it was under Beswick and also when it was a longer show. They barely have time to get it all in during the hour and then rush stuff. They need to go back to a longer show. I think the problem with Despain is that he is trying to stay on time like he does with Windtunnel and that does not work for this show.

Anonymous said...

Way to many commercials