Thursday, August 23, 2007

Montoya Stars In "NASCAR In Primetime" Episode Two

I settled-in with my DVR to watch the second episode of ABC's NASCAR in Primetime series with a little trepidation. The first installment was an interesting event, and pulled fans over to ABC simply because of the word NASCAR. Now, the challenge for the network was to hold them.

Despite what the summertime TV ratings might say, the second episode of this series was simply riveting. The words and emotions of the drivers and the many others interviewed worked so well together, I went back and watched the entire thing again.

Now, I understand much better what the ABC News production team was trying to do with these selected individuals. The sagas of Johnny Sauter, Mark Martin, and Juan Pablo Montoya were in reality several months old. But, with outstanding video and audio editing, the show stepped out of the "news" mode and stood on its own as a slice-of-life documentary.

Sauter's words were particularly emotional, and really allowed both his strengths and flaws to be exposed to the viewers. Through the additional comments of his girlfriend, crew chief, and even his grandmother, this complicated man was simply shown for who he is without judgement or reproach. That was the power of the Sauter piece, having the true nature of this driver revealed by his family, co-workers, and ultimately...him.

Mark Martin finally cleared-up for a lot of fans his true feelings about all the people in the media that hammered him to get back in the car for the entire season. Basically, he said they did not know him and were naive. After thirty years in racing, it meant nothing for Mark to be tops in points very early in a very long season. Throughout this piece his family and his new found enthusiasm for his part-time racing career were wonderfully balanced. Looking thin and small out of uniform, the Mark Martin on this episode was an introspective and thankful man.

Finally, the best part of the entire show was none other than the "Latino Intimidator." Juan Pablo Montoya has been picking up more Internet nicknames than Barack Obama. There has rarely been this polarizing a force in NASCAR, and the fact that he does not even have a strong fanbase at the track seems to mean absolutely nothing to him.

Montoya simultaneously draws and repels NASCAR fans. His talent, his charisma, and the sheer curiosity of finding out who this man really is brings the fans to anything in the media with his name on it. But, just as quickly, his lack of respect for his peers, his seemingly arrogant manner, and the lingering smell of an "open-wheel whiner" causes fans to take a step back.

He can be a wonderful family man in his motorhome one minute, and then a self-absorbed primadona who can never be wrong the next. Whether he is the next Dale Earnhardt Sr. or just another open-wheel hotshot who came and went is going to be fascinating. The words he speaks in this episode were not heard anywhere else. ABC had a point in saying that lots of this content was exclusive.

Montoya is flat-out in your face during his time on this show. His mood swings between happy father, loving husband, and aggressive driver were captured with great skill. He was not painted into a character, but allowed to draw his own profile. That is the element that many of the regular NASCAR TV shows do not take the time to do with him. They just paint him as whatever they need to fill their three minutes.

ABC can certainly be blamed for trying their best to keep the redneck image of this sport alive. Their "fans" are right-out of central casting, and seem to represent a lot of what this sport was, rather than is now. The closing sequence was way off-base and jolted the viewer back from the emotional feelings of the three drivers.

Overall, even cynical NASCAR fans have to give ABC a nod on this episode. It was upfront, honest, and presented another slice of three lives that would not be on TV if not for this series. The Survival of the Fastest series on SPEED is great, but built on a different format. This documentary style long form programming approach was a good compromise for both the hardcore fan and the casual viewer.

NASCAR in Primetime lost out for live viewing to the Craftsman Trucks at Bristol on Wednesday night, with good reason. But, as a program to put on the DVR, and watch in a relaxed moment, this episode really stepped-up both the emotion and the action on the track and off. I am going to watch the rest of this series, and I hope ABC can continue their excellent level of TV production.

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 and leave your opinion.


Steve in Indiana said...

Being a longtime Mark Martin fan I found this piece to be really refreshing. It was great to see him in his element outside of the racing world and with his family. As for Sauter, wow! I found this to be the segment of the show.

Overall ABC did a great job of "humanizing" these guys. Too often all we see is only a few shots or soundbites from these guys on raceday and we are left to form opinions from these. But for ABC to take the time, and let them tell their own story, in their own words was fantastic. I am eagerly awaiting nexy weeks episode.

Anonymous said...

Do we know if there will be a replay?
I forgot and watched the truck race.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your insightful thoughts.
Montoya's charisma is defined by roots and experiences from a culture totally misunderstood and to this day, completely disdained by the NASCAR masses. He is "different".....
The man should never be underestimated. He has courage, intellect and bravado which has yet to be drawn upon and he does not race to make friends. More likely, he has spent most of has life as an "outsider" as many talented, but socially unaccepted minorities do. He is well aware of what it is like to be lonely and has overcome the need to feel wanted.

Sauter is mysteriously complex. His inner conflicts and concerns were sensitively exhibited as was the unglamourous grind of his travails.

My admiration for Mark Martin was deepened. What a kind, honest and good man !

It was truly a pleasure to learn more about Martin, Sauter and Montoya, and their families. I missed the end of the truck race as I watched Tony Raines get cussed out and Sauter's lovely grandmother express her love. I love seeing Martin gaze into his wife's eyes with affection and then get ready to pilot his jet.

As for the unfortunate fans whose portrayals further enhanced the unattractive and negative image of the average NASCAR loyalist, heaven help us to accept who we really are as kind, caring trashy looking people. Everyone cannot be beautiful, well dressed, overtly intellectual and photogenic. We must look inside the hearts of these folks to find the goodness of their spirits and the true measure of their worth.

Good for ABC ! Their offerings have been infintely more entertaining than anything put forth by SPEED as of late. I will watch every episode.

jfs-va said...

I loved the part with Montoya and Raines. Though edited of course, Raines has this look of "holy crap, this dude is serious".

I guess I have a different take on Mark Martin. He chose his lifestyle but sometimes he seems to whine about it. On the other hand, its not uncommon for people in any situation to look back and realize what they have missed in life, so I guess I can give him a pass.

I like seeing the wives/girlfriends as much as the racers. Not only because they are gorgeous..hehe.. but you see how wrapped up they get in all of it too.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if the "fans" shown throughout the show are actual real fans pulled from the grandstands or simply actors reading a script?

Some are obviously TV personalities and well-known actors and the viewer is expected to know that since no identifier is shown on screen when they appear, but some of the "fans" just appear too slick and rehearsed to be considered anything but actors.

It left me feeling as if someone were pulling 'a fast one' just a tad.

William said...

I would have liked to watch this, if there wasn't a live race going on during it. I suppose they are going after the "casual Fan" who doesn't watch truck races at bristol. I might also be outside of their demographic because I don't have a DVR.

Anonymous said...

Was this actually produced by ABC news or was it NASCAR Images???
Anyone know?

Leadbelly said...

I completely agree with your assessment of Montoya. And Martin for that matter.

But you're completely out to lunch about that hangdog Sauter when you say ... "That was the power of the Sauter piece, having the true nature of this driver revealed by his family, co-workers, and ultimately...him."

Sauter comes off as a master of his own troubles, a racer lacking in primal self-confidence with a big-mouthed sexpot wife who wears the pants in the family.

I see Sauter flushing his way out of Cup much like Mayfield is about to for the very same reasons ...

Mountain Man said...

I have a high regard for Mark Martin and this piece was very interesting. However, I hope that Mark refuses to allow DEI to switch him to the 8 car. The 8 car is going to be booed out of the racetrack next year. Mark should stay with the 01 car.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hi Everybody,

Answers to Questions:

ABC told me all of those folks, except the obvious celebs are real fans they picked to interview.

NASCAR Images did not produce this limited series, it was ABC News who has their own multiple award-winning production team.

At this time, there is no replay scheduled. I hope they show up on ESPN Classic down the road.

I think my comments about the Sauter piece agree with your views in many ways. I never said it was pretty, or nice, or even pleasant to watch him go through his troubles. My point was giving credit to ABC for just letting it be what is was. And what it a mess.

Thanks for all your great questions and comments!