Wednesday, August 8, 2007
SPEED Returning To NASCAR Practice And Qualifying Action
ESPN's coverage of practice and qualifying for their NASCAR properties has been a bit tough. The network decided to eliminate coverage of the first NEXTEL Cup practice. Then, they decided to run commercials over live Cup qualifying, rather than show every run.
Needless to say, this resulted in many missed runs, often including cars that wound-up in the top ten. Fans were not happy, sponsors were not happy, and the teams were not happy. After this weekend's road race, the sport heads for Michigan.
Also after Watkins Glen, the live TV coverage of practice and qualifying for both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series heads back to SPEED.
Over the last several years, the network has been able to hone its skills with these types of tricky telecasts. SPEED made a habit of showing every car during qualifying, and also created a tremendous graphics package that clearly showed items like the "go or go home" cars. It was easy to read a lot of information with qualifying in progress.
During both practice and "happy hour," the network would put a ton of great information about what was going-on in front of the viewer. Since they did not have to worry about covering "the leader," it was a great opportunity to talk about the real stories of the day, and the weekend.
SPEED's return to these "support" activities will be led by Steve Byrnes, who is clearly coming into his own as a major play-by-play talent and host. The Daly Planet has done several columns this season on Byrnes "other job" as the host of both Trackside and NASCAR Live.
Joining Byrnes will be the familiar duo of Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. This threesome has proven to be tremendously effective at getting information across to the viewer because all three of these men have something in common. They are "self effacing," meaning that their on-camera presence is not "all about them."
NASCAR TV viewers can slowly page through their personal list of on-camera announcers and separate them into "all about me" and "let's have some fun" groups. The good thing about these three is they are always about having fun, and they have consistently shown it in their NASCAR on SPEED efforts for several years now.
Backing this team up in the garage area will be veterans Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini. This is a good duo because they are so different. Wendy is a college educated television professional with a family background in ARCA and NASCAR racing. Bob is the son of a "grass-roots" New England racer and he began writing for various speed-related publications at the age of fifteen. He came "up through the ranks" and is still very well connected to the short-track world.
While the role of Randy Pemberton has not yet been released by SPEED, it is clear that he is another key asset in their line-up. Now returning full-time to the national TV media scene, veteran fans remember Randy from his early days on Inside Winston Cup Racing with Ned Jarrett and his long family history in the sport. It also does not hurt to have someone on staff whose brother is the VP of Competition for the sport.
Surrounding the live practice and qualifying, the network will also continue their Go or Go Home show centered around the cars outside of the top thirty-five who must make the race on speed alone. Also, SPEED will be returning The Chase is On for a third season. This show is about the final ten races and will be hosted by Steve Byrnes with his "driver partner" to be announced over the next several weeks.
The Daly Planet was started to detail the situations that would be taking place in 2007 as a the multi-billion dollar sport of NASCAR racing changed its TV package. Taking a step back, it has been a TV season so far of incredible stories of both success and failure.
From the surprising debut of Lindsay Czarniak to the quiet demise of Doug Banks, one of the most interesting aspects of the year has been the on-camera announcers. In both studio and on-site, we have seen a whirlwind of faces that have included a basketball player, lawyer, football announcer, and even "a Turner baseball guy."
As SPEED walks back into NASCAR on-track activity, the pressure on them to deliver is going to be intense. The reason why? Four little letters that strike fear in the hearts of every sports producer in America...ESPN.
Beginning at Michigan, SPEED's coverage will now be compared to ESPN's practice and qualifying coverage of their first three races. In "TV land," there is no greater pressure than that. Once hiding up on the cable dial in the "digital sports tier," SPEED is now out front-and-center as the network "taking over for ESPN." This may be the reason they invented Tums.
The Daly Planet will pass along additional details of this package, and before the emails start flooding in, please understand that ESPN does not "share" their announcers like the other NASCAR partners have done with SPEED over the years.
Once again, Andy Petree, Allen Bestwick, and Mike Massaro are among the "odd men out" as we will only see them for the pre-race show and the race itself. While their input will be missed, that is the nature of the beast with ESPN in the mix. It should be interesting to see how this dynamic unfolds over the next several weeks.
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