Wednesday, April 4, 2007

SPEED: Tradin' Paint...The Show That Ain't

Aside from the racing activities, NASCAR and its TV partners have long been locked in a stand-off about free speech. It is the same in the Media Center, where NASCAR VP. Jim Hunter holds court over a group of journalists who have to walk a fine line each and every week. This dance revolves around the need to report what is really going on in the sport, contrasting with the fact that NASCAR can instantly end any reporter's career with the simple denial of a media credential.

The electronic NASCAR partners have mostly been a well-behaved bunch, who relied on the live races and the accurate reporting of on-track activities as their strong point. The issues involving the sport "off-the-track" were not something that the radio and TV networks and stations cared about. They wanted racing.

Today, we find that the internet has changed all this. It offers a wide variety of outlets, like The Daly Planet, to communicate ideas and opinions about NASCAR. On hundreds of websites, fans can read a wide variety of posts about almost any subject relating to the entire sport and industry. This change has caught the TV world completely by surprise, and left the NASCAR TV partners struggling to deal with the difficult issues of stock car racing that might require debate, disagreement, and discussion.

SPEED Channel has attempted to swim in this end of the pool several times over the last ten years, with very little success. Then, along came Pit Bulls, a simple talk show where journalists and even sometimes drivers exchanged opinions about the "not-so-happy" part of NASCAR. Needless to say...all hell broke loose.

Once out of the Media Center, things were being said about NASCAR that were not the "company line," and they did not like it at all. The fans ate it up, even though SPEED did not include them in the show, either live or on tape. It was just some reporters yelling about the bad things that exist in every sport and business. Unfortunately, Pit Bulls was snuffed out after one year of a controversial run. Word is, it was ended by the top NASCAR brass after a single SPEED Channel "meeting."

Now, SPEED has only one program remaining which focuses on NASCAR and deals simply with the issues in the news. That show is Tradin' Paint. It has a simple premise. John Roberts hosts a thirty minute show in which a driver, originally Michael Waltrip, debates NASCAR topics with a different member of the media each week. It originates from the track, and features a live audience around the "SPEED stage."

From the beginning, Michael spoke his mind and often the media member became quite vocal when challenged on opinions about NASCAR. Last season, pit reporter Ray Dunlap earned a one race suspension in October when he questioned Waltrip's comments about minorities coming to the races. Dunlap basically said the only minorities he saw were working...and he was given a timeout. Waltrip made it all the way to March of this year, when SPEED dumped him off the show completely. Network spokesman Erik Arneson said "the network would not elaborate on internal personal matters." How nice of him not to specifically mention the word Toyota.

So, this week at Martinsville, SPEED rolled-out what is left of their NASCAR opinion and discussion program. Ray Dunlap is back for more, and he is joined by Kenny Wallace. With John Roberts hosting the program, that makes three SPEED employees representing the "opinion" portion of the network's NASCAR coverage. The show follows a set format. Roberts introduces the topic, Dunlap acts as the dissenter, and Wallace tows the company line...over and over again.

Sooner or later this season, Dunlap will again feel the wrath of NASCAR for his comments. Even in this "watered-down" version, NASCAR cannot tolerate dissent. Kenny Wallace is a nice guy, but this program does not suit him. With RaceDay, Victory Lane, and his other media duties, Tradin' Paint puts him clearly in the "over-exposed" category. And with "Herman," sometimes enough is enough. This is clearly more than enough...over and over again.

SPEED could easily entice some non-TV journalists or non-SPEED employees to participate in this program, but they will not. And the single reason they will not is the Craftsman Truck on SPEED. Just like the journalist who risks losing his media credential should he step out of line, SPEED will never risk losing their one and only NASCAR racing series. This "watered-down" version of Tradin' Paint is here to stay, like it or not. Well, we know one group that likes it.


sharon bundy said...

Amen!! As a fan and a writer, I have tried to walk the fine line of being credible and being able to aire my views at the same time. For the most part, fans get that. But that is why I will probably never get a job writing for or about Nascar. I try to call it like I see it, PC or not.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason Michael Waltrip was booted from the show had less to do with Toyota than the fact that he virtually shouted down anyone who dared to disagree with the Nascar 'party line'. Nascar will never allow any official on air program that doesn't paint the rosiest picture possible of Nascar and reflect the spin the want aired to the public.

Anonymous said...

I heard Kyle Petty is taking over full time as the driver on the show

Anonymous said...

The few times I watched PIT BULLS it was immediately clear that it was not worth watching whenever it had Mike Mulhern or the Charlotte Obfuscater rep. on as both have a distinct anti-NASCAR agenda, and spent the entire show ripping and distorting NASCAR. Neither one makes any effort at all at objectivity - and I recall hearing Cup drivers complain about the show.The W-S Journal has never admitted, but I have seen reports that Mulhern was the reporter in the 1st run-in Tony Stewart had with the press - and Mulhern sure acts like he has some grudge against NASCAR.