Saturday, June 2, 2007
Punch And Company A Little Off Their Game
There is no doubt that Jerry Punch is one of the most sincere and hardest-working TV racing personalities in the business. I had the pleasure of working with Jerry at ESPN, and he was a reliable and honest guy, approachable and very fan friendly. Over the years, we have seen Jerry in a wide variety of roles.
Most older fans remember Jerry as the key pit reporter in ESPN's early NASCAR days. As a medical doctor with a love for racing, the fans understood that Punch had worked his way up from a public address announcer at a local Carolina track to the big time. After NASCAR departed, Punch chose to stay with ESPN and began to carve a name for himself as a well-spoken sideline reporter for college football telecasts.
This season, Jerry has shared play-by-play duties for the Busch Series telecasts on both ESPN2 and ABC Sports. Marty Reid has appeared when Jerry was on vacation, and worked well with the NASCAR team of announcers. In Dover, Punch returned to Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the booth with mixed results.
The booth announcing team did not appear in the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show to discuss any aspects of the upcoming Busch race. They were present and called the live Busch Series qualifying, but should have at least appeared on tape with an on-camera preview of the race.
ESPN has been working hard on its technical aspects, and the live reports from both the driver and his crew chief throughout the race are a good look inside the minds of actual participants. Having DJ speak with the driver, and Petree speak with the crew chief was a great touch to keeping things in the right perspective. This has been an outstanding feature of these telecasts.
The concept of turning on all the in-car communications during a re-start is not growing on NASCAR fans. This chatter is available online, through NEXTEL, and can even appear on your cell phone. There are too many voices, and somehow limiting the number of channels would provide a much clearer picture of re-starts. In races like Dover, you can only hear "green flag green flag green flag" so many times.
The HD in-car cameras are of great technical quality, but ESPN is struggling to determine a philosophy of use. In this race, the in-car shot often lost the race perspective for the viewer, and even eliminated good racing action. In-cars are best used in a definitive two car battle, even if the angle is from the car behind, such as Jeff Burton in this Dover event. In case of accidents, in-cars should only be used as replay cams. This was evident several times as ESPN missed incidents.
It seemed that while Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree were into the race, they had trouble meshing with Jerry Punch for some reason. Punch seemed to be very intense, and often times was not very happy, and struggled for words. We have discussed that the play-by-play role for Punch is a work in progress, but sometimes it seems that he might be better suited for a reporting job. Jerry likes detail, and the play-by-play role just generates excitement and directs traffic.
Often, the production staff would cut-a-way from a pack of car racing and return to the leader only to have an incident occur. It often occurred in the pack they just left. Its great when someone is leading, and someone else is two car lengths behind. We just don't need to see it while there is pack racing going on. The accident at the end of the race told the tale. It was never explained, and never followed-up before the telecast left the air. This was a rookie mistake that should not be repeated.
Let's hope that ESPN incorporates the booth announcers into NASCAR Countdown, NASCAR Now, and SportsCenter for the rest of the season. As the network approaches their NEXTEL Cup debut, they are going to need their "faces of NASCAR" on-camera and on-the-air as much as possible. An on-camera "wrap" of the Busch race on the one hour Monday NASCAR Now should be mandatory.
With the technical aspects, the pit reporters, and the booth analysts in place, ESPN has only to confirm the play-by-play position before their NEXTEL Cup debut. While the administration says they already have a schedule, both Jerry Punch and Marty Reid are hoping that their name is on it when it reads "NEXTEL Cup on ABC Sports."
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