Sunday, April 29, 2007
NASCAR on Fox: Bumper Cars in HDTV
As many NASCAR fans remember, when the restrictor plates came to Talladega, everything changed. Speeds that had crept-up into the two hundred and fifteen miles-an-hour range now sat at one ninety five. Teams that made and boasted about horsepower now sat mid-pack, starved for the very air that cemented the reputations of guys like Robert Yates, Runt Pittman, and the late Randy Dorton.
This also affected the way television portrayed NASCAR. No longer could the old-school "big power boys" be painted as former moonshiners who really could tune a hot rod. Now, the story was the slow building of frustration until "the big one" happened in the pack, with drivers unable to get out of the way. Over the following years, this emphasis on accidents replaced the real stories of the race.
Fox Sports fell into the trap this year of hyping "the big one." There are plenty of stories that were in-progress before Talladega, and will be discussed again next week at Richmond. This week, however, they were put in the trunk because the media has become obsessed with "the big one." That term is quickly becoming as annoying as the endless "Chase for the Cup."
Fox continued to struggle with the Hollywood Hotel, despite the best efforts of Chris Myers to try and "act" his way through the NASCAR news and notes. Myers interview of Dale Junior was incredibly uncomfortable, with Junior standing and glaring with his arms folded. Why it was aired is anyone's guess.
With all the on-going issues in NASCAR, its tough to swallow the fact that Juan Montoya playing the NASCAR on Fox gang at paintball was a feature that should have aired in this pre-race. Maybe the two hour RaceDay on SPEED program would have been a better place for this to be shown. Perhaps, without the real and serious tension of a dangerous racetrack just prior to racing, the paintball deal might have been fun. In this show, it was kind of embarrassing and revealed a little boredom with "just racing" by a crew that has been doing it now for several years.
Once on the track, things flowed smoothly thanks to the leadership of Mike Joy. His perspective can help to keep things focused and upbeat even during the most boring of single file laps and pit stops under caution. Luckily, the race exploded with twenty three laps remaining, and wound-up being an exciting event.
The Fox tech and production crew continues to be the most positive element of these telecasts. When viewers expect perfection, that is a sign of the consistency these producers, directors, and entire crew have shown this season. The ability of the pit reporters to contribute information freely throughout the program is a credit to the overall race philosophy at Fox. Thanks to the recent re-framing of the "flying boxes" video effect, it actually works quite well in many situations.
As any regular reader of The Daly Planet knows, we have had a big issue with the NASCAR on Fox decision earlier this season to begin showing only the top two cars cross the finish line. At both Bristol and Martinsville, viewers missed top drivers like Junior, Tony, Juan, Jeff, and others finishing the event. As I mentioned this week on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, when only the fans at the track see the lead lap cars finish, something is just not right.
This week, at Talladega, the late caution and yellow flag finish allowed the NASCAR on Fox Director to show the lead lappers cross the line, because there was no other way to do it. When the series goes to Richmond, it will be another production decision about how to show the finishing cars to the viewers in the best manner for all the fans.
Talladega ended with a thud, but the NASCAR on Fox performance was informed and consistent from start-to-finish. Kudos to the crew for not hyping the small amount of fans who protested the yellow flag finish with their beer cans. In the old days, at Rockingham, they used to throw chicken bones on the backstretch. Some things will never change.
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