Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday At Watkins Glen Was The Real Disney Marathon

Once a year, Disney hosts athletes that run around Disney World for over four hours. They have chosen to run the marathon, chosen to endure the pain, and know the reward at the end is not glory or praise. They have their own reasons to be there.

Saturday at Watkins Glen, ESPN stayed on the air from 11:30 AM through the end of the Busch Series race. There was no break, there was no pause, and there was no mercy.

Finally, at the end of this TV marathon, all the crew got to face was the drive to the hotel and the opinions of The Daly Planet.

All day long on Saturday, the ESPN Infield Studio gang was led by Allen Bestwick. Perhaps, I might have missed a memo, but I thought that Suzy Kolber was going to take over both the Busch and Cup editions of Countdown.

That aside, Bestwick led the network through a very long day that included practice, Busch qualifying, Cup happy hour, and then the Busch race.

Dr. Jerry Punch was struggling with providing the play-by-play alone hour-after-hour for the network and then having to call a full Busch Series race. ESPN would have been better off using Bestwick to give Punch a break during Cup happy hour. By the time the Busch race came around, it was clear Punch was done. It was now 3:30PM, and Punch had been on-the-air constantly since 11:30AM with no break.

This week pit reporter Jamie Little was everywhere, with mixed results. Little is fearless, but sometimes pushes interviews a little further than NASCAR fans are used to seeing. For some reason, the pit reporters were focused on controversy rather than reality. It was all about Montoya vs. Pruett and Gordon vs. Ambrose. This naive approach really left a lot of information from the garage on the table.

Even veteran Mike Massaro got a face-full of Dale Junior in an annoying interview that Massaro would not end. Sometimes, ESPN just needs to get the hint that the diplomatic thing to do would be walk away. Junior was not having anything Massaro was trying to sell, and it looked like the TV crew was interfering in the garage.

In Countdown, Tim Brewer finally appeared and viewers wondered where he had been for the previous three and a half hours? ESPN is still working on the Tech Center, and desperately needs a Steadicam in this facility instead of the normal shoulder-mounted hand-held. Almost all of Brewer's features involved low-angle camera shots, which would be better served by the smooth transition of the Steadicam.

Bestwick brought-out the best in Brad Daugherty, and again focused his role on TV as the voice of the fans. Daugherty is a nice guy, he has good points, and he asks good questions. The problem often is, the person he has to ask is Bestwick.

Daugherty's comments do not work unless there is an expert analyst on-set and ready to answer them. How hard would it be to walk Brewer over to the set, just like the NASCAR on Fox gang does with Jeff Hammond?

As the race progressed, Bestwick and Daugherty began to offer comments from the Infield Studio and talk with the booth announce crew. Including these voices is a good idea, and takes some pressure off Petree and Wallace, who often times did not agree on racing items during this telecast. The long season is starting to grate on announcers as well as drivers. The happy faces of Daytona in February have turned to the tired eyes of Watkins Glen in August.

Petree is clearly the experienced guy when it comes to strategy, and he was head and shoulders above Wallace in terms of suggesting and understanding road course tactics. Petree, much like Larry McReynolds, tracks the on-going stories of the race and stays up-to-date with the actions of the entire field, not just the leaders.

Punch was working hard to keep his wits about him and used the pit reporters, the Infield Studio gang, and his analysts much more than he normally would. One had to feel for the fact that he had no relief, and had an entire NEXTEL Cup race on-tap for Sunday. For the good doctor, this was going to be a weekend to remember.

With SPEED taking over practice and qualifying activities beginning with Michigan, this was ESPN's last Saturday for a while to cover everything on the track. Instead of staggering their on-air crews, and providing some relief announcers, the network just began at 11:30AM and kept everyone going all day until the end of the Busch race. Give it to the talent and production staff, they hung-in there.

Rusty has become a pro at dealing with the situations his son Steven encounters seemingly every week in the Busch Series. This week, a solo spin at a part of the track where he should have been paying a little more attention was the culprit. Rusty was honest in his comments about his son's learning curve, and the fact he was looking forward to the second half of the season.

ESPN presented this race the old-fashioned way. There were no music videos, no hip-hop or pop music queens gyrating, and no interruptions to green flag coverage. It was very refreshing and paid-off for the viewers with almost every incident covered quickly, and almost all the on-going stories in the field shown thoroughly.

The difference between this presentation of the Busch Series and the previous weekend's NEXTEL Cup race was striking. This time, the star of the show was the race. There were no movie stars, no mid-race recaps, no studio chat sessions under green, and no features rolled in the middle of racing.

ESPN followed the stories, let all their announcers talk freely, and openly asked questions of their co-workers when they did not know the answer. Despite the relative boredom of a road course race on TV, the network stayed aggressive in their coverage, and again presented great HD pictures and good sound.

After the race, there is no doubt that a tired TV crew had a post-race meeting and then staggered to the hotel for some sleep. Hopefully, they will be dreaming of presenting Sunday's NEXTEL Cup race in the same clear and concise way to the NASCAR fans. That would make a clean sweep of Watkins Glen for ESPN, and put the network back on-track for the rest of the season.

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 stopping-by and leaving your opinion.


Anonymous said...

I read your review but the Busch race isn't over yet.

So you may have missed Up to Speed, the review of the race leaders ESPN is doing similar to the Through the Field that the other networks use. Finally we get to see and hear discussion about the top 15 cars and anyone other than the top 3. So ESPN is paying attention to your reviews and must be hearing from fans too. said...

- It was a nice "marathon" of coverage, it's just a shame that there apparently wasn't a Cup practice before Busch Qualifying. No coverage of it and never a word mentioned about it during the "marathon".

- Best pre-race show of the year on ESPN. Allen Bestwick was a fantastic host and we got to hear a lot of driver interviews (and with the NASCAR knowledgeable pit reporters, what a crazy idea for an interview format!). No "special features", no 3-minute "Back in the Saddle", and no Rhianna. It would be fantastic if Sunday's pre-race show is the same but I'll bet we'll see more Suzy Kolber and Tim Cowlishaw, plenty more Aerosmith and Rhianna, and a long opening intro video that will again be played TWICE (at the start of the pre-race show and the start of the actual race telecast). Allen Bestwick kept the coverage running smoothly and was able to lead intelligent discussions with the analysts in the studio. It was much more pleasing to the ear than having a general reporter reading everything from their notes or a teleprompter and not having any idea what they're really talking about. Unfortunately we'll probably soon go back to the teleprompter reading hosts (Kolber now and Musburger during the ABC races) and reporters like Kolber and David Amber conducting the limited number of interviews that are actually somehow squeezed into the Cup pre-race shows that are filled with mostly nonsense. We'll soon be back!!!! back in the saddle again!!!!!!! so shut up and drive !!!!!! Wohoo that's what I want to see when I'm tuning in for a NASCAR race!

- The race coverage wasn't the best, but a lot of that was just because road course races are strategy messes with little on-track racing.

- I found myself yelling at the television while ESPN was using the whole screen to show Carl Edwards coast down pit road and try a few times to turn into the garage while the next-to-last restart was happening. I kept saying to myself "they must have waved off the restart, they must have waved off the restart". Nope, while we were watching an extended view of Carl Edwards' disabled car, Kurt Busch was running off the track after attempting a pass for the lead, Steve Wallace and Juan Montoya were crashing, and there were several more mad scrambles for position going on on the racetrack. We had seen his car long enough before the green was waved and got the idea that he was going behind the wall, if they insisted on showing us the dramatic turn into the garage they could have at least split-screened it.

Tripp said...

More filling, tastes, er, pretty good.

The mousketeers made the most of a long day at the Glen. Although comparisons with Montreal are like comparing Talladega with Martinsville, ESPN gave better coverage of a less interesting race. The folks behind the cameras are kept their lenses pointed at the action spots better than at past races. Good direction kept the right action on the viewers TVs for the most part. The audio continues to be best in class.

With the announce crew, there were highs and lows. The doctor was clearly shagged out, exhibiting less of his normal energy in pushing the broadcast forward. Andy is clearly the most improved from race to race. Sharp, concise comments with smooth segues to and from others in the broadcast team.

Wallace continues to run hard to keep up. If he is the driver expert in the booth, why does he constantly sound like he's trying to prove it? He sounds like he thinking out every word, every sentence, never reacting as a driver to the situations on the track. DW and Kyle react. Back in the day, Buddy Baker and BP would react. Ned Jarret may well have been the best at giving a controlled rundown of the facts on the track. His son has the same talent. Rusty just sounds like he's working too hard and is figuratively out of breath.

Tim Brewer is still a fish out of water. Sequestered in his garage with all the really cool toys, he waits patiently for someone to point and say, "you're on!" He deserves to be better integrated with the gang in the booth. Until then, his talents are wasted.

Mike Massaro clearly overstayed his welcome in the number 8 pits. Dale admitted right off that he was being served an umguallagualla sandwich for Sunday's race. There was no reason to make him eat it on camera. Every bite was painful to watch.

Don't do that. No one wants to see it.

Shannon Spake may not be the hardest working reporter in the pits, but she sure sounds like it. Good information with a tight delivery. What more could you ask for?

Speech lessons.

Her sibilant S's attack the ears like needles. If you cannot find someone to coach her, can you please EQ out some of the top end?

Did anyone notice that ESPN showed the first eight or ten cars crossing the finish line? For those to whom that's important, ESPN got that, and a great deal more right in the race broadcast. The progress they've made since their first broadcast in Daytona shows progress of which they can be proud.

Are they there yet? Nope, but nobody is.

cwebs said...

I agree with pretty much everything that's been said here. ESPN's coverage was generally pretty good today, though there were again some noticable lapses in covering restarts.

Rusty wasn't quite as grating as usual, but many of his irritating habits are still there. One thing that bothers me is his inability and/or reluctance to engage in a back and forth analysis with Andy Petree. AP will say something insightful, and instead of saying "that's right Andy, and also...", Wallace often just repeats the same thing over again as if Petree didn't exist! I have no idea why he does this. Does he have a poor relationship with Petree outside the booth? Is he simply struggling with his role on the broadcast team? Is his ego simply so oversized that he thinks it's all about HIM???

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I hope ESPN realizes that the Rusty Experiment isn't working, and they should be making plans to replace him for next year.

Busch Series Fan! said...

We noticed from the truck race telecast that the broadcasters showed the trucks coming across the finish line that was so nice and refreshing. I don't care about the pit crew high fiving at the end of the race I want to see my favorites cross the line! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

That Masaro interview with Jr. was brutal! How uncomfortable for the viewer. Had me wondering if ESPN requires pit reporters to ask a certain number of questions or intrude for a certain amount of time. Agree coverage was definitely better, but no way do we expect to see it duplicated for the Cup race.

w17scott said...

Nice to hear Allen Bestwick, but sorry he didn't take play-by-play on Cup practice or Busch race ...Rusty's appeal as a fresh voice has worn thin ...Andy Petree now mentioning calculator to bolster mileage gambles is not just a copy of Larry McReynolds, it brings out his great experience as a championship crew chief ...Tim Brewer's informative tidbits make it a great day to watch a race ...production still seems up-and-down this the award-winning Neil Goldberg from Fox fame? If it is, he has sure lost his touch ...must be the ESPN suits calling the shots from Bristol

Jeff said...

Has anyone noticed that Rusty begins his sentences with "I'll tell ya", "Let me tell ya" or "Let me tell ya somethin." In total he did this 77 times during the Pocono race and his son needs to find another vocaton.

Anonymous said...

thanks espn you left the track sunday early so you could show sports center and they play high lights of the race couldnt they have stayed live an talked to more drivers and why they didnt hype up harvick wining three in a row like they were for montoya