Saturday, August 18, 2007
SPEED Off Track With California Speedway Girls
We have tried very hard this season to treat everyone with maturity and respect, regardless of their age or sex. We only wish that SPEED would make a commitment to do the same thing.
As we look into the NASCAR stands, we see lots of female faces who have feelings just as strong as their male counterparts for the sport. SPEED has worked hard to keep Krista Voda, Wendy Venturini, and even Nicole Mankse front-and-center on their racing-related coverage. ESPN has included Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, and Suzy Kolber into the mix of their NASCAR coverage this year.
During its early years as SpeedVision, the network was focused on racing of all kinds. The lifestyle programming was limited to shows on how to fix things, or where to travel for racing events and fun. Anyone remember the exciting "Wooden Boat" series?
After the purchase of the network by Fox Cable Networks, viewers saw many changes that did not sit too well with the female fans. Many fans might remember Texas Hardtails, which regularly featured surgically enhanced scantily clad females, and often used a wet t-shirt or bikini contest as quality programming content.
Earlier this season, The Daly Planet ran a column on Melanie, the new SPEED promo queen who asks "can you handle it" seemingly thousands of times a day on the network. We included a reference to NOPI Tunervision, which is a program that has a cult unto itself.
But, up until Saturday, this issue of the treatment of females as equals has not thrust itself into the NASCAR programming on SPEED. Up until now.
NASCAR Live on SPEED is hosted by John Roberts, and Saturday came from the parking lot of Michigan International Speedway. Suddenly, the network swept away its credibility with approximately forty to fifty percent of its fanbase. The California Speedway girls had arrived. SPEED played back a feature that had almost every offensive element possible to NASCAR's core group of female fans.
Certainly, everyone knows that California Speedway has been struggling with attendance for its NASCAR weekends. This market has always been a tough sell, and the female president of the track Gillian Zucker has apparently decided on a solution...cheerleaders. That's right, the female president of the track. That is her, pictured above, with a normal crowd of NASCAR fans in the background.
Saturday, SPEED host John Roberts suddenly appeared to be a drooling fourteen year old boy when he spoke about the group of professional models that had been selected to be The California Speedway Girls. Zucker herself referred to her cheerleaders as an "iconic group of year-round Ambassadors."
Its absolutely fine that California Speedway made this move. Anything they would like to do to promote themselves is understood. The column today is about how SPEED has approached this issue, and the fact that the video feature played on NASCAR Live on Saturday featured these "models" being trained by a strict female teacher in the "fundamentals of NASCAR."
That's right, these girls could be "trained" to be just as smart as the other female fans. Of course, they had to do it in their little outfits and perfect make-up and endless smiles. SPEED should have just given Roberts a gun and he could have just shot himself, and his career, right in the foot.
His shameless promoting of The California Girls calendar as a tool to lure fans to the track was ridiculous. Roberts briefly tried this same behavior on RaceDay a while back, but we let it pass. Not this time.
NASCAR is different from any other sport. The Daly Planet has said this over-and-over again this season. NASCAR crowds in the stands are not the partying young people from NOPI land. They are not the hard drinking and fighting NFL crowds of many cities. SPEED's earlier attempt to create a show around the infield partying failed. It was just families in RV's having fun with their kids.
This is a critical weekend for SPEED. ESPN has already done their first couple of races, and then turned over practice and qualifying to SPEED. A lot more eyes than usual are on the network, and Friday was an outstanding day of great coverage and good humor. Saturday, not so much. But, we will address that in another column.
This one slip on Saturday might not be huge, but I can't really judge it well because I am male. If you are a female NASCAR fan enjoying SPEED's in-depth coverage and listening to the trusted John Roberts, I can only imagine your feelings when the network basically throws you under the bus.
The California Girls are a misplaced effort by a desperate executive to save a struggling track. The amount of effort and money that has been spent on this project could have been used to encourage Hispanic fans, who are the missing element in this geographic area. Making them aware of the sport, and Montoya's rising star, would have been the most positive thing that could have been done between races.
Their simple presence at the track would solve the very problem Ms. Zucker faces. No matter how small the bikinis or how enticing the sexual innuendo, The California Girls are going to be facing middle-aged American families like the ones pictured behind Ms. Zucker above.
SPEED has some decisions to make, and they have been negligent in making them. Is their vision of women on the network the mature and professional Krista Voda and Wendy Venturini? Or is it the manufactured fame of bikini clad twentysomething models who are put on national TV as a marketing tool?
Female NASCAR fans are probably going to help the network decide with both their remote controls and their pocketbooks. Did I mention SPEED has some decisions to make?
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