Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Glimmer Of "RPM2Nite" Appears On ESPN

Normally, Thursdays are a bit slow on the "NASCAR news" beat. This week, things are even slower with the NEXTEL Cup Series taking the weekend off. This "Thursday vacuum" has always led ESPN2's daily racing show, NASCAR Now, to struggle in figuring out what to talk about, and even who should do the talking. Viewers have seen a "veritable plethora" of talking heads visiting this show to talk about everything under the sun.

Yesterday, The Daly Planet documented the fact that ESPN News anchor Ryan Burr had hosted an outstanding fast-paced episode of NASCAR Now on Wednesday. What fans and viewers could not know was that on Thursday, Burr was about to host the best produced and most polished episode of this series since it began in February.

The sad case of Aaron Fike led this telecast, and Burr used Detroit News veteran Motorsports Reporter Angelique Chengelis for all the details. Chengelis and Burr work well, and these two professionals laid-out the problems and challenges that Fike will be dealing with over the coming months. Chengelis has been solid as a "hard news" source and always speaks in clear terms about these types of difficult issues. This segment of NASCAR Now had all the credibility of Baseball Tonight or Outside The Lines and is exactly what fans have been looking for from the network.

With the Busch Series race at Gateway on ESPN2, Burr did a preview of the event and the led to an interview with IndyCar's Sam Hornish Junior. Burr let Hornish describe his own feelings about NASCAR, and then critique his own performance in his part-time Busch Series role. Hornish gave the impression that NASCAR certainly is on his list for 2008. He hedged his bets by saying things next year would be mostly fifty-fifty between NASCAR and IndyCar. This interview is a great cross-over for ESPN and ABC, who now carry both the top two NASCAR Series, and the entire IndyCar schedule.

Continuing to touch base on the Aaron Fike story, Burr brought in NASCAR veteran Jack Sprague, who is a full-time driver in the Craftsman Truck Series this season. Burr took the time to ask Sprague about his own interest in the sport, and what he has left to accomplish. His answer was honest and heartfelt. Moving to the story of Aaron Fike, Sprague wasted no time in ridiculing the "young kids" of today by comparing his own meager beginnings with the apparent disrespect that some of the young drivers have for their fellow competitors and the sport.

"You had the golden spoon in your hand...and you dropped it" said Sprague of Fike and his alleged drug use. Sprague continued to emphasize the hard road that most drivers of his era took to "get up" to the biggest series in the sport. Burr got Sprague to endorse random drug testing in the Truck Series, and also the permanent ban of anyone for even violating the drug policy one time. Strong stuff.

For once, Tim Cowlishaw of Around The Horn fame was concise and on-target with his weekly "driver pick'em" segment. He had good information to make his picks, and explained his reasons without hype or hysteria. Even Cowlishaw seemed to be picking up on the new vibe of this show. He was actually entertaining.

Since February, ESPN2 has struggled to deal with the "bi-polar" personality of this one series. Sometimes oriented to news, sometimes loaded with hype, and sometimes just absolutely terrible, NASCAR Now seems to have gotten on-track with "hard news" leading into an interview, then a solid feature, and finally a closing segment referencing the upcoming event and the miscellaneous news and notes.

ESPN's other top shows thrive by being consistent. Although the stories themselves change every day, the "body" of the show and the personalities presenting it do not. NASCAR Now should be considered in the same breath as NFL Live and Pardon the Interruption. It should have the same credibility in viewers minds as thirty minutes of the ESPN News Network.

Thursday, NASCAR Now finally accomplished every goal set out for it by the network. No hype, no innuendo, and no ineptitude. This program sparkled from start-to-finish and will hopefully serve as the model for the thirty minute mid-week shows for the rest of the season. If this happens, ESPN may have finally put their mark on the NASCAR brand in the same way they have affected Major League Baseball and other professional sports.

On behalf of NASCAR fans nationwide, I would ask ESPN...could we have more of that please?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Anonymous said...

I like Angelique Chengelis' contributions to the show, but could ESPN get her some help keeping that whisp of bangs from falling in her eye about every 2 seconds? She keeps shaking it off, and it falls right back.

The first time I saw it, I thought it was just a fluke. But I notice it every time she is on. Drives me crazy, and I don't know how she can stand it.

Anonymous said...

wow. sounds like a show I'd consider watching.

If it's that kind of show for 2 weeks straight, then it has a chance of becoming a trend instead of a fluke.

One final thought:
"No hype, no innuendo, and no ineptitude."

More plainly: "No Erik"

was that mean?

Anonymous said...

I'sm sorry but.... does anyone actualy watch this show besides you? I tune in every few days hoping that it will be good. BUT NO! each time you get let down with the same ESPN Hype O'Rama crap. Commentators that have no idea what NASACR is or was. What happened? ESPN had set the standard years ago on what a NASCAR show was and how Races should be covered. I was one of the many that said "Yes!' When I heard that ESPN would be brodcasting the Races again. But Whoa, dude what happened? All I get now is the same Garbage that Fox and TNT and NBC pushed down our throats. Oh how I wish RPM Tonignt was back on the air, Good stories good coverage. BUT NO what we get is Garbage Garbage Garbage. "Hey wait, whats that strgange noise I hear." Oh its just Benny and Neil, spinging in their graves. The Sad thing is, the "New ESPN NASCAR Team" i.e. Stick and Ball'rs won't understand that last comment. ESPN has the most tallented Race brodacster ever in their mists but every week they religate hime to Pit Reporter or worse. Allen Bestwick can call a race like nobody, If you don't think so just listen to some of the Old MRN Broadcasts, He could make a race between 2 old ladies with walkers sound exciting. He knows his stuff. Unfortuantaly ESPN gives us talking heads that know nothing about Raceing or Nascar. I feel bad for Andy, Dr. Jerry and Rusty, they are surrounded my poor production staff, poor camaera work and just plain poor people in the back office, Each week they call the Busch races like Deers caught in the head lights.
Oh and one last rant, Brent Musberger? give me a brake, where did they dig this relic up from? Hey Brent stick to basketball and football, at least people are use to you making a fool of your self there. How wish somebody would deliver us a Good Race Broadcast and a good Daily NASCAR Show. At least their is still Claire B on XM. The last shining refuge for NASCAR Fans.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Ron, that might be a nominee for "Rant of the Year!" Please keep them coming.

The Loose Wheel said...

I have to agree with Ron on the major let down that ESPN's return has been. Although I understand because after 7 or 8 years the same people that made ESPN's NASCAR coverage great aren't still doing the same thing or have went their separate ways.

As for NASCAR coverage, SIRIUS has done a great job putting their package together. I hardly turn on the t.v. unless it is race day.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you why we get the same garbage on the ESPN coverage as we got on Fox. It's because it's the same producer, Neil Goldberg.

The sad thing is, he was also the guy who was the producer back in the '80's when ESPN was broadcasting the racing then.

I'm not sure what happened to him when he went to Fox, but his work hasn't been anywhere near as good as his original tour of duty at ESPN.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Neil Goldberg suffers from the same ailment Brian France does, egotitis.

Anonymous said...

Credibility across the board is in short supply anymore at ESPN as demonstrated by its latest dog segment on SPORTSCENTER - What NOW, Bow Wow - but Erik K. on NASCAR NOW does bring it to its lowest.