Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Bestwick And Burr Lead ESPN2 Back From The Brink
There was no Tim Cowlishaw. There was no Brad Daugherty. There was no "fantasy racing" or "driver pick 'ems." There was no screaming, yelling, or hype. Finally, for a solid thirty minutes on ESPN2, NASCAR Now was just about racing. Somehow, this seems to happen when Allen Bestwick is at the helm.
As the "off-duty" drivers assembled in Ohio for Tony Stewart's "Prelude to the Dream," Bestwick shifted the focus of the show to Eldora Speedway. He began the show by speaking directly with Tony Stewart, and giving Stewart the time to explain how this night of racing came about, and how it would benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
Then, for the better part of the entire show, ESPN focused on the drivers involved in the race, and put reporter Shannon Spake right smack dab in the middle of them. The results were hilarious. Finally, fans got to see the NASCAR stars when they did not have to wear the right shades, drink the right drink, and mention the list of sponsors all while being politically correct. Montoya, Hamlin, Martin, and Ray Evernham were all great with Spake, and their good humor was contagious.
Bestwick introduced a fantastic feature by Mike Massaro on ageless veteran Red Farmer. As long as anyone can remember, Farmer has been driving or working on race cars. An original member of the Alabama gang, Farmer was well-known on the NASCAR circuit for his closeness with the Allison family. Massaro led Farmer through the tragic story of the helicopter accident that killed Davy Allison, while sparing the life of Farmer. This was the type of feature that NASCAR fans have deserved from NASCAR Now since the show began in February. It was heart-warming, entertaining, and put the sport in a whole new light.
Maybe the best part of the show was the live interview with Jeff Gordon from Eldora. Bestwick and Gordon have known each other for years, and it showed. Gordon was relaxed, and let his personality and understanding of racing come across in his unique way. As a grown man with a baby on the way, Gordon was quite different from the intense young man who raced USAC Sprints and Midgets with an unmatched ferocity. A NASCAR champion was on ESPN in a T-shirt talking with a smile on his face about racing. What could be better?
This show was so interesting, it was over before anyone knew it. Bestwick and co-host Ryan Burr have changed NASCAR Now from the "hype machine" into a true racing program. The only challenge for ESPN now is to keep the momentum going
for the rest of the season. This is only going to be done with the right combination of on-air talent and racing content.
After the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of NASCAR Now, it may well be that the network has found that combination. Hosts Allen Bestwick and Ryan Burr are surrounded by a strong cast of reporters, great news from the "Insiders," and solid analysis from the race and studio announcers. All the elements are in place, and its up to the ESPN management to make it happen.
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