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.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published.


23 comments:

Fish said...

Thank God for Jimmy! He and Herm are the only ones that truly speak what is on their minds and appear not to be afraid of any Nascar backlash. I too look forward to this show each week.

Anonymous said...

I cannot stand the blathering buffoon, Spencer, and will never watch another show that features his idiotic antics. He is an embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

John, I am surprised you like Spencer. He's two-faced on a regular basis. He will slam someone hard on one show, then, when that person's on the show later, all is forgiven. He speaks without thinking, and substitutes loud volume for considered opinion.

And he won no fans with his stupid comment that Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge only uses her Earnhardt name to trade off her father's accomplishments (Really? Does he go around saying that to EVERY woman who hyphenates her last name?)...and then later, made it worse with an insincere "apology" that should have come with a lower-third super reading, "SPEED made me say this because we need Junior to talk to us."

Yeah, that's standing up for hat you believe in.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I think these comments and the email I have gotten really make the point. Like many TV analysts, Spencer has them watching because they either love him or hate him.

Don't forget, my column is about his TV ability and growth, not his personal world.

This column is also not about RaceDay, but Victory Lane. The comments negative to Jimmy reflect the struggles he had on RaceDay earlier this season.

In Victory Lane, Roberts limits Spencer to racing topics and questions directly about the event. That was my point.

Its interesting to see what's really up there about racing, as opposed to the crowd PDA's and the over-the-top antics that are encouraged on RaceDay.

TexasRaceLady said...

John, I agree with you about Jimmy on VL. He really brings the winning driver into the discussion, and the drivers relate to him --- as do crew chiefs and owners.

Raceday, on the other hand is a whole different animal. LOL

shload said...

It does not matter which show...Spencer can't get Kyle or Kurt right, even when they are sitting next to him. I'm still waiting to see Mr. Hendricks!!
It's fun at the race with a scanner to see how much he comes up with, and how much is told to him in his ear. JS

Daly Planet Editor said...

shload,

You're saying Jimmy has to be told about racing by the Producer?

cwebs said...

I would have to say that, on the whole, I like Jimmy's presence on Victory Lane. Even though he can be aggravating at times, he's almost always interesting. I like Tony Stewart for the same reason.

Don’t get me wrong. I don't always agree with what these guys say, but I also never fast-forward through their comments when I'm watching a recording of pre-race or post-race programming. There are many other faces and names in the NASCAR world that have just the opposite effect. When some of these folks appear on screen, I’m almost instinctively reaching for the FF button on the remote control right away! Can you imagine what NASCAR would be like if everyone were plain vanilla? I think we need to encourage colorful personalities, not banish them.

That being said, Jimmy’s TV presence is certainly still a work in progress. I think there needs to be a balance between rough-edged enthusiasm and calm professionalism, and he’s not quite there yet. His Valvoline plug that came out of nowhere last night in the middle of a panel discussion was markedly puerile. Still, I’d much rather watch Jimmy Spencer’s Victory Lane than any of the dreck that’s being offered up to us on the OTHER network right now!

Speaking of Victory Lane, don’t they usually have the winning crew chief come on the show? I was surprised to see Jack Roush on last night. Not that Mr. Roush wasn’t interesting, but what happened to Bob Osborne?

cwebs

ken said...

I think we here in Pennsylvania should drop Spencer as quickly as he would like to drop Pocono Raceway. This babbling baffoon couldn't drive any better than he broadcasts. Thats the reason he drives no more, and the reason I don't watch the show anymore.

Tripp said...

Sunday night's "Victory Lane" was a high water mark for the show. Carl Edwards was clearly more at ease with John, Kenny and Jimmy than he was in the ESPN winner circle interview. Yes, the talk on the Speed stage took place later, so "Cousin" Carl had a chance to let the moment sink in, but the questions asked by Jimmy and Kenny brought the viewers a much better interview.

The real treat came in a remarkably candid interview with Jack Rousch. The drivers on the panel asked some quality, probing questions of the "Cat in the Hat". The answers he offered were gems that should keep the blogs and NASCAR chat shows busy up through the California race weekend. All three Speed crew members were smart enough not to push their queries too far, and in fact went on to draw out a jovial side of Rousch that is rarely seen in public.

Jimmy has been busy honing his new craft. It's clear to anyone who has stood in the live audience during the weekly "RaceDay" show that while Kenny mugs for the crowd during the breaks, Jimmy is studying his notes and organizing his thoughts for the next live segment. His preparation is paying more dividends for the audience each week.

Neither he nor Kenny can yet be considered serious NASCAR journalists, and Jimmy won't be until he can pronounce the drivers' names right. But he does know what's going on in the garage area and is getting better at relating his take to the viewers in his own inimitable style.

Daly Planet Editor said...

tripp,

Great comments. I think the COT conversation with Roush was fascinating. When is the last time we saw Jack laughing and having fun on TV? That was rare, and spoke to the comfort level of that panel.

Anonymous said...

I usually find Victory Lane hard to watch for a long time, it usually gets too silly. I lost respect for Jimmy when he complained that the program Pitbull was too critical of NASCAR, while they suck up to the sane organization. That being said, they are much more informative than the other station when they stay on topic.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't use the phrase 'two-faced' for Jimmy because I think that suggests he does it intentionally...and I don't think he does. He shoots from the hip even when it contradicts a comment he's just made and it occasionally makes him look like he's hip deep in you-know-what. Just doesn't put a lot of deep thought into his opinions. That's just "Jimmy" though; I wouldn't expect deep thought from him, but it doesn't mean he isn't entertaining. I wasn't a fan of his as a driver, and I disagree with him more than I agree (the Earnhardt-Elledge thing was way over the top), but I do think he's been a good sport about some of the antics they've had him participate in and he has improved greatly.

He does occasionally suck up to NASCAR as they all do--not as bad as Michael Waltrip, but I think they all choose critical words carefully--as any media member should--(for last night's example, his comments on Goodyear, who have been rudely trashed by Stewart several times for doing what NASCAR asks them to do.) I hope the broadcast world and the fans have finally convinced the powers that be at NASCAR that they can take some criticism like every other sport does...that was my main pet peeve about the broadcasting forever. As for those saying Jimmy is one of the few to 'speak his mind'--that's total bull. Others just do it with more finesse and tact so that it isn't as obvious, or they choose to take their criticisms directly to NASCAR. If we spoke to our bosses like some of these guys have, we'd have been fired long ago. This is a business as well as a sport.

I know this is about Jimmy, but I have to say--I used to think John Roberts was a stiff with broadcaster hair, and I have to admit, he seems like a real pro now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daly Planet Editor said...

To add a comment to this post, please tie-in your feelings about Victory Lane and the episodes you have watched this season.

Positive or negative, we are looking for Victory Lane comments about Spencer. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I love Jimmy Spencer and am so glad he is on RaceDay and the VL show. He is one of the FEW personalities that tells it how it is-no mincing words for JS. I may not always agree with or like what he says but there is this little thing called freedom of speech and he exercises it to the fullest extent.

In an age where everyone (network t.v., public fitures, etc.) is overly concerned that they are going to 'hurt someone's feelings' and this crap called 'political correctedness' has been shoved down society's collective throats repeatedly, thankfully we have people like Jimmy Spencer, Kenny Wallace (and even Robby Gordon) to keep it interesting and real.

If there ever comes a day when the networks or NASCAR stop allowing people like Jimmy and Kenny on the air, this will be the day I stop watching all race coverage.

Anonymous said...

I like the VL show, but I just never seem to watch it. I wish they would re-run it again on Monday nights, or show it right after the race. With their current time slot, I am all NASCAR'ed out by the time it is on and am looking for a movie to watch.

As for Jimmy Spencer, I like the way he is on both VL and Raceday. He reminds me of the friend you like hanging around with but don't want to come visit you.

Bill H

JHD said...

I wonder if the format of the two shows has anything to do with how people react to Jimmy Spencer (and to some extent Kenny Wallace).

RaceDay seems to be a pre-race free-for-all, designed to get people psyched for the coming race. Victory Lane feels more structured by focusing on what happened during the race and interviewing the winning driver/crew chief/etc.

Basically, I'm at the point where the two of them annoy me so much on RaceDay. I basically tune in for John Roberts and Wendy Venturini. I FF over Kenny or Jimmy if it's even remotely possible.

Victory Lane is a different story. It's almost as if they're both completely different people. I can watch Jimmy and Kenny without cringing or getting annoyed. Some of what they say on VL, or the questions they ask are actually pretty decent and thought out (Or at least appear that way).

Now if they can just get the VL version of Jimmy/Kenny on RaceDay, or just remove the RD versions of Jimmy/Kenny altogether, I'd be happier.

Anonymous said...

wow--I think JHD really hit it. John, I think some of us forget because we find these two shows so intertwined by having the same cast (and sometimes forget which thing was said on which show). (I made the 'antics' comment, and I wasn't thinking about it being Raceday & not VL). I hadn't consciously made that distinction, but it is a lot calmer on VL (if Kenny can ever be said to be 'calm')...

And I do think Jimmy seems more 'together' by the evening, as long as Tony isn't the winner. I do get tired of his constant promotion of 'Smoke'. We know you guys are pals but give it a rest, Jimmy. Other than that, I'd have to say the only thing that really drives me crazy is what someone else mentioned, the mispronunciation of names...to 'Hendricks' let's add 'David Gill-i-an', (Kenny & Rusty seem to struggle with that one too.) Jimmy needs to practice those.

Anonymous said...

I think Spencer is great for the tv show what I can't stand anymore is Kenny Wallace, he's as bad as waltrip when it comes to being a yes man for NASCAR, he wouldn't say anything negative about NASCAR if his life depended on it.

Anonymous said...

Spencer is a blowhard apologist for the likes of Stewart and Montoya. At Bristol,Edwards car was faster than Kanes,but Waltrip,who was THREE laps down,wouldn't get out of the way. And who defends Waltrip?? Spencer. Then again,maybe his hairpiece slid down over his eyes.At times the show is good. Other times,its an embarrassment like Wallace going off on how 'cute' Kane is???!!!

Kitty said...

We can't wait for VL after the race...to fill in where the tv broadcast infallibly failed. While Spencer can sometimes come across as a drunken idiot on Raceday, he is definitely more succint on VL (which with the whole drinking metaphor, you'd think vice versa!). The VL crew delivers a great product every week. Bravo John, Jimmy and Herm.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey Guys,

Great comments. Jimmy certainly is a polarizing force. It took me a while to give him a chance and take him strictly for who he is now on TV.

Its interesting how opinions differ on the exact same subject matter in NASCAR.

JD