Sunday, June 17, 2007
SPEED's "RaceDay" Continues To Re-Define NASCAR TV
Over the years, the network originally called SpeedVision has worked hard to re-define itself. Along the way, there were fundamental shifts in programming strategy that upset lots of viewers, and signaled the change from a niche network to a mainstream cable sports provider. Gone were the aviation and boating programs, and in were the lifestyle shows about car customizing and "reality" shows about everything from drag racing to dating a driver.
Lost in this mix originally was the NASCAR brand. SPEED continued to carry the NASCAR Images produced program Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup on Mondays, but struggled to figure out how to approach the sport. As the network now called SPEED Channel found its footing, they filled-in the rest of Monday night with critically acclaimed shows that put NASCAR in a very good light.
SPEED continued to try and get a handle on NASCAR information during the week by creating, airing, and then cancelling a series of programs. Some focused on hard news, others on features, and one memorable effort combined NASCAR and Hollywood with disastrous effects. Then, SPEED decided to concentrate its efforts on the weekend, and things began to take shape.
The network committed to creating the "SPEED stage" at NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events, and using that "platform" to create a wide variety of shows. Simply put, it worked. Fans gravitated to this area to watch SPEED create both live and taped programming. One issue the network had was how to approach Sunday mornings. SPEED did not have any NEXTEL Cup races, and was clearly not going to be in that mix anytime soon. How then, to establish itself as a "player" on the scene when the host network was going to put on its own pre-race show? The answer was RaceDay.
Nestled quietly on Sundays a couple of hours before race time, RaceDay has expanded into a two hour event the likes of which has never been seen before on any NASCAR related TV network. SPEED's own "walk-on quarterback" John Roberts has turned into a mature and respected NASCAR media personality. He leads Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace by the hand through a series of news stories, commentaries, interviews, and race-related features.
With the "SPEED stage" outside the track, the pit road and garage beat is patrolled by former producer and racing insider Wendy Venturini. As the show developed, it became apparent that Venturini was so clearly at home inside the track that SPEED declined to provide another reporter on the same "beat." This good decision allowed Venturini to become the single focal point for SPEED's connection to drivers and team members. The results continue to be fantastic.
Inside the track, everyone watches RaceDay. The drivers and owners in their motor coaches, the teams in the garage, and even the journalists in the Media Center. Without any opposition, RaceDay takes center stage each weekend and has clearly enjoyed the limelight. Like all TV programs, there have been some issues, but SPEED has proven to be flexible in listening to the concerns of the fans.
This year, Venturini has been allowed to prepare a feature during the week entitled "the Real Deal." It added a new twist to RaceDay, in that a regular feature prepared away from the track often times becomes the center point of the show. This week, Venturini returned with Mark Martin to his Batesville, Arkanasa local racetrack and spoke with Martin about the father-son issues that have dominated his life. Not only was the feature powerful, but it allowed both Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace to react as "people," and not drivers, to this very touchy subject with racers.
This type of commitment by SPEED in terms of manpower and production dollars has allowed RaceDay to separate itself from the other Sunday NASCAR programs. Slowly, RaceDay has warmed-up to including the fans in the show, and hopefully this process will continue. The hundreds of NASCAR fans that stand for two hours watching this show should be allowed to participate a bit more than holding a homemade sign and smiling. Questions and comments from fans to the panel would really round-out this excellent program.
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