Sunday, August 26, 2007
Jimmy Spencer Grows-Up On "Victory Lane"
Since it began, the one hour Victory Lane program on SPEED has been a hit with fans. SPEED has made a living with its NASCAR shows by filling the support programming role. Basically, that means "everything but the races."
Over the course of a weekend like Bristol, its not uncommon for SPEED to televise all the practice sessions and qualifying for the Busch and Cup Series. Aside from the on-track activity, they provide Trackside, NASCAR Live, RaceDay, Tradin' Paint, Go or Go Home, and NASCAR Performance. All of these are either shown live or taped for broadcast later the same day.
The final program originating from the track each week is Victory Lane. After a long day, the veteran crew of John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace and Bob Dillner take to the air for an hour of interviews with the race winner and many others involved in the stories of the day.
While the show has been tremendously popular with viewers because of the exclusive interviews, it has also been a coming-of-age for Jimmy Spencer in several ways.
Like so many others in racing, Spencer's exit from his driving career was not graceful. NASCAR might guarantee a certain level of income, but it absolutely does not guarantee any kind of personal fulfillment. Even DW limping around with his chrome car was not exactly the retirement season one might plan.
When Spencer began his TV career, he was just as rough on-the-air as he was behind the wheel. Still, there was something there that made viewers think perhaps he had more to offer than high volume and a questionable hairstyle. He knew racing, he cared about racing, and he was never afraid to speak-up.
It is this heart-on-his-sleeve blue collar working man appeal that has kept Spencer's fans loyal to him long after his driving days were over. With many of his contemporaries retired, and several deceased, Spencer reminds us of the days before the millionaire drivers took their personal helicopter to their yacht in the harbor.
Chances are, Spencer would be under the grandstand "talking" personally with someone about an on-track issue. That is the appeal for Victory Lane fans. He has been there and done that. He might not have won a championship, but his long personal history in racing, and his colorful NASCAR career make him a memorable character.
SPEED has to be commended for allowing Spencer to become a better broadcaster by partnering him with John Roberts and Kenny Wallace. Teaming Spencer with one professional TV host and one completely wacky but beloved driver has been terrific. When Spencer gets too loud, Kenny tells him. When Spencer gets off-track, Roberts reels him in. But, make no mistake about it. In Victory Lane, Jimmy Spencer is clearly the star.
Spencer starts the show usually alone with Roberts, as often times Kenny Wallace drives in the race. In these moments, Spencer talks very clearly about what happened on the track, how the winner got it done, and then his general thoughts about the entire race. It finally gives Spencer a solo pulpit from which to preach, and preach he does. The amazing thing is, its very interesting almost every time.
This Saturday night at Bristol was a great example. Spencer had Carl Edwards, the COT, Goodyear, a new track surface, Dale Junior, and a ton of other things to deal with immediately after the race. There is no script for this show, you either know it or you don't. And when you don't, the national TV audience knows it too.
When Edwards arrived, Spencer waded right in with Carl on the tires, and Edwards immediately agreed on his points. The younger set of drivers have a clear respect for Spencer, who most of them know best for his broadcast career. They just like to talk to him. When Jack Roush stopped-by, Jimmy framed the five COT races in The Chase as the key point for Roush/Fenway Racing, and Jack re-enforced these observations.
As Bob Dillner interviewed the other contenders, Spencer gave both facts and opinions on a wide variety of subjects. This is the time in the show when you have to know your stuff. Anything can be a subject for debate, and often times there may be strong feelings involved after a race. Who can relate better than Spencer?
It took me a while to warm-up to this program, and this man. Anyone who speaks out is always going to occasionally trip-up, but earlier this season Spencer did a good job interviewing Kurt Busch and giving him the proper respect. His interview with Montoya at Sonoma was a classic, I think he got Juan more excited about the win that the race seemed to do. When he has Tony Stewart to talk to, things always get out-of-hand. Its clear drivers like this show, and the man in the middle.
Things are different this season as ESPN now produces all the NEXTEL Cup races through the end of the year. Victory Lane is going to be critical to fans getting more information than the ABC broadcast network will air in its short post-race show. SPEED is once again positioned to be the source for "everything but the races" as the NASCAR season hits the home stretch.
Let's hope Jimmy Spencer continues to improve and keep his commentary on the sport at a high level. Like any good driver, just focusing on the task at hand has helped Spencer become a respected source of information and conversation on Victory Lane.
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