Friday, August 31, 2007

Steve Byrnes Quarterbacks SPEED's Fontana Coverage

SPEED Channel knew it had walked into a pressure cooker on Friday in Fontana, CA. The network had committed to almost eleven hours of NASCAR programming, including the practice sessions and qualifying of both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series.

Any doubt about the reality of the pressure cooker was erased when the crew encountered temperatures hovering around one hundred degrees for the better part of the day. Welcome to Southern California.

The day-long TV activity on Friday was once again quarterbacked by SPEED's Steve Byrnes. Combined with Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds, this trio worked their way back and forth between the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series practices seamlessly.

Bob Dillner and Wendy Venturini braved the scorching garage area to continue SPEED's excellent relationship with the NASCAR drivers and personalities. These two worked hard to keep up with a wide variety of stories, including California's Jimmie Johnson appearing in the Busch race.

SPEED's cameramen in the garage needed to get the cameras off their shoulders and show viewers what the mechanics and team members were doing up-close and personal. NHRA style pictures, these were not.

John Roberts was manning the SPEED Stage early, and did a great job of directing network traffic between the on-track and off-track live shows. Roberts had Hermie Sadler and Randy Pemberton helping him in the garage, and rookie reporter Sadler turned in a good performance. There will be more about Sadler later. Pemberton is always enthusiastic, and his follow-up with the Goodyear Tire guys about the heat was smart and concise.

In NEXTEL Cup practice, Larry McReynolds just went off on the California garage area facilities. "These garage areas are the worst...on the circuit. Its the most aggravating place we go to. They put two cars in a stall where one should be." said McReynolds. That certainly was out-of-the-blue and Jeff Hammond agreed that things looked nice, but absolutely did not work nice behind the scenes.

As the day progressed, SPEED began to bring-in new announcers and offer some brief relief from the heat. Rutledge Wood stepped-in as a reporter, but his strength is not garage area interviews, and he leaves a lot of good information on the table. It was time for hardcore information, not continued goofing around.

The versatile Byrnes came down from the announce booth and moved to the SPEED Stage to anchor the late afternoon coverage that included the relatively new Go or Go Home show. This quick overview of who has to make the race on speed was good, and served as a primer for the qualifying that was up next. Bob Dillner did a lot of work in the garage speaking with the drivers in question.

By the time NEXTEL Cup qualifying came around, SPEED had decided to let some of their announcers spread their wings. The network put John Roberts in the booth, along with Jimmy Spencer and Hermie Sadler. This trio would take viewers through the live Cup qualifying which was the key to SPEED's entire day.

You couldn't wipe the smiles off the faces of Spencer and Sadler when they appeared on-camera at the beginning of the program. While Hermie Sadler has proven to be a quick study and continues to widen his array of TV skills, the same cannot be said for Spencer. The theory may have been there, but the reality was not.

Spencer struggled with his "TV mechanics." He constantly interrupted both Roberts and Sadler, because that is a role he knows from RaceDay. In the same way that Rusty Wallace began the season with his "I'll tell you what" catch phrase, Spencer coined "You know, Johnny..." in this broadcast.

This sloppy TV approach was a shame, because Spencer had good information and a lot of observations that only a veteran driver would have. As the drama of both the pole and making the race began to play out, Spencer's excitement level got hotter than Jeff Gordon's engine at Darlington.

This made things a bit tougher, as Spencer would just talk whenever he wanted, forcing the other members of the crew to pause over and over again. The concept of sharing was not in effect, especially when the drama was high. It might have made viewers aware that some elements of being good on TV come with practice, and not necessarily from being an experienced former driver.

Luckily, all three of these men work together on RaceDay, so Sadler and Roberts know how to deal with the raw energy and enthusiasm of Spencer. Roberts managed to keep things organized, and Sadler carefully added his analysis when he had a moment. Perhaps, with more play-by-play experience, Roberts would have kept the lid on Spencer just a little tighter.

SPEED wrapped-up their NASCAR block with the popular show Trackside. It was fitting that Steve Byrnes closed out this TV coverage alongside Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond. After a long day, these three managed to keep the energy high and served-up a strong live hour.

Unfortunately, like everything else on Friday, there was only a sparse crowd on-hand for a memorable live interview of Ricky Rudd, who looks like he has finally come to peace with his retirement from racing. Time has mellowed this intense man, and he seemed to enjoy every minute of the conversation and stories that followed.

Elliott Sadler eventually joined the panel after cleaning-up after qualifying, and Sadler continued to show fans and viewers why SPEED has invested a lot of time and effort into developing his on-air personality. He has a natural television presence.

Ward Burton also stopped-by and the panel treated him with great respect, despite his issues this season and his struggles to get back in the sport full time. This is the type of small thing that endears SPEED's NASCAR crew to the viewers. They get it.

So, on a huge day in Fontana for SPEED, the network put together a strong performance under difficult circumstances and gave NASCAR fans sensory overload. They worked to integrate their on-air talent in a variety of roles, and ultimately ended-up with the normal good and bad elements we see in live sports TV.

Very quietly, Steve Byrnes has emerged as SPEED's most high-profile NASCAR TV host. Without Fox Sports Mike Joy on-hand, Byrnes can bounce back and forth between the announce booth and the SPEED Stage filling both roles.

As the picture above confirms, this former high school football quarterback already had some experience with leading a team to a championship. Well, it was a Maryland state championship, but we all started somewhere. Now, about that hair...

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you do not wish to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by.


Matt said...

I disagree with you completely on Spencer. I thought he was a refreshing change to the booth. (Yes, he can't remember names for his life, but if he had more booth experience, that would improve.) I find it extemely funny that Spencer, Sadler and Roberts got more exicted over qualifying than the entire ESPN staff gets over an actual race. Even with backup announcers, SPEED still outshined ESPN. ESPN should be ashamed of themselves about that.

Daly Planet Editor said...


I don't think you really disagree with me, it sounds like you are one of the many who has a hard time with ESPN's very "dry" approach to qualifying.

Spencer's enthusiasm was great, and if you read my column again, I was a big fan of his information and observations.

As for the ESPN efforts, we will see when they return to qualifying at Richmond. Thanks again for your comment.


SophiaZ123 said...

Well, I had some interruptions and brief company during the practice sessions and was not sure what to make of larry mac's comments about the garage...I thought I missed the details but guess not?

I must say I thougt Spencer was a rough fit to the qualifying booth. I was completely thrown off by this combination and it was not as fun for me to watch at first but I tried to get used to it. AT LEAST they show ENTHUSIASM for the SPORT AND APPEAR to like each other.

I understand it was a long and VERY hot day and they needed to bring in different guys.

Also I hate to say it but I am not a fan of Dilner. I could not watch Busch Qualifying tonight, maybe because I was just too tired (watched the exciting ARCA race!!) And tho I enjoy Spence on Sunday, he and Dilner did not appeal to me. Or i was just tv'd out!!

I know Bob must be popular with many but I sometimes get the feeling some of the drivers feel about him as I do. I can't put my finger on it but he is not appealing to me. But, will choose him over ESPN folks except for Petree and Bestwick.

I WAS THRILLED to SEE EACH CAR QUALIFY! Hell when ESPN misses HALF the cars during commercials, they promote junk or pretaped junk WHILE CARS ARE ON the track!?!

Also, I enjoy watching the practice and seeing the interviews. SPEED makes it about the racin'.

I also enjoyed the parts of Trackside I saw, immensely and thought Mac did a great job of interviewing Rudd.

Just too bad this was in CALIF. I am NOT a fan of this track and the Labor day weekend because even tho new to the sport, I feel it's an INSULT to NASCAR Vets but that's old, old news.

Let's make note of the THOUSANDS of empty seats this weekened. Plus it's always hotter than blazes.

Still, I am sad to say goodbye to the SPEED crew as we shall not see them on a Friday again until Talladega.

I looked forward to your column about today John and you commented on most things that I had hoped you would.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he can't remember names for his life
That's right, and one does not have to have "booth experience" to do that. It's a very basic part of his job, and he wasn't able to do it.

I found qualifying annoying, mostly because Spencer was SO excitable, he was just silly. It was as if he'd never seen cars qualify before. His comments added nothing at all to the broadcast and generally fell into the "No kidding" category.

Larry Mac was sorely missed.

Steve L said...

I too thought Spencer was just a little too excited during qualifying but after watching him on other shows, that's just the way he is. I wish the ESPN accouncers had just a portion of excitement Jimmy has.

I've always called Jimmy Spencer the John Force of NASCAR.

I'd take a wound up Jimmy Spencer over a whole room full of dull Rusty's for a live show. Good job Mr. Spencer!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Spencer... and we each judge THAT differently... he was terrible in the booth. I generally like him but he was just out of control.

The Busch quals with Dillner were like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. There was a huge amount of knowledge there that was used so poorly that I had to turn it off.

Busch Series Fan! said...

And I find this very interesting - is Spencer's overused line that I get tired of hearing Overall they did a good job I think JR controls the group and it was fun to watch every car qualify.

Anonymous said...

I'd take a wound up Jimmy Spencer over a whole room full of dull Rusty's for a live show.
But those aren't our only choices.

stricklinfan82 said...

I actually thought Jimmy Spencer stole the show during Cup qualifying. I loved his enthusiasm and he did the most important thing of all - he kept the viewers informed on the go-or-go home situation all day long, which is the most important part of a qualifying telecast. When qualifying is on ESPN it is a hassle to constantly count the go-or-go home cars myself on the scoring crawl to follow when drivers are locked in or out of the race. After every go-or-go homer finished his run Spencer updated the ramifications of that run on the go-or-go home situation. When Bill Elliott was the 4th go-or-go homer to run, his run made him faster than 3 other go-or-go homers, and Spencer instantly mentioned that his speed locked him in. Watch qualifying on ESPN the rest of the year and count how many times ESPN mentions the first "bump" into the field like Spencer did with Elliott. I also think it's very refreshing to see Spencer speak his mind on NASCAR Raceday. Last week when they discussed "racing for a paycheck vs. racing to win", Kenny Wallace gave the politically correct answer and said that every driver tries 100% every week. Spencer disagreed and said that he thought Dale Jarrett didn't have the heart to compete anymore and was just driving for a paycheck, because he's making a ton of money and missing a lot more races than Waltrip and Reutimann are at this point in the year. I tend to agree with Jimmy and I give him credit for speaking his mind.

I'm disappointed that Speed didn't use the TiVo style qualifying. If they insisted on doing true-live coverage they need to stop skipping the go-or-go homers' runs. There is no excuse for missing drivers like Ward Burton run, because those are the drivers qualifying is all about. If they have to miss certain runs they need to choose the drivers that are 20th-35th in owner's points, because for the most part they are irrelevant on qualifying day because they don't win poles and aren't in danger of missing the field. There is no excuse for showing guys like Kyle Petty, Johnny Sauter, Jeff Green, Ricky Rudd, Paul Menard, etc. unless they happened to be very fast in practice. I know you can't skip all of their runs because sometimes they go out back-to-back or go first or last in the session , but there are enough "irrelevant" cars to use up the commercial breaks on. We should never miss a go-or-go home car run during qualifying!

Anonymous said...

Way back when, my first impression of the SPEED shows under discussion today was that the Gong Show was back. Over time, I realized that I was getting far more relevant information from the class clowns than I ever got from the slick network pre race shows.

I think Byrnes and Roberts are the perfect hosts for SPEED's frenetic style. Larry and Jeff are the consummate pros, the Sadlers are a pleasant surprise and the Marx brothers, Spencer and Wallace, are a complimentary duo.

I LOVE those guys. I love the raw emotion and enthusiasm. OK, They're a bit over the top, but far more interesting than Chris Meyers, Bill Weber or Suzy Kolber. I am willing to forgive Spencer's lack of TV manners to get good entertaining information.

SophiaZ123 said...

A Marx brothers reference!! I LOVE IT as an old Marx brothers fan...even have a coffee cup of theirs I got many years ago.

I know all this whining about ESPN reminds me of one of Groucho's favorite quotes.

"Paying alimony is like feeding hay to a dead horse."

As in we keep beating on ESPN and nothing is being done...I feel like we are feeding hay to a brain dead ESPN aka ES P U!


"Time flies like an arrow.

Fruit flies like a banana." GM

cwebs said...

sophia -

Actually, if the program schedule on SPEED's website is to be believed, we WILL still get to see the guys on Fridays. Even though they aren't formally "covering practice sessions", they have LIVE editions of "NASCAR Live!" and "Go or Go Home" listed for at least the next few Fridays between now and the Talladega race. It looks like "Trackside", "NASCAR Performance", "Tradin' Paint", and "RaceDay" will still be around as well.

Plus, as JD mentioned in an earlier post, SPEED will be covering practice and qualifying for several of the remaining Busch Series races. It will certainly be interesting to compare SPEED's coverage of those pre-race Busch events with ESPN's coverage (or lack thereof) of the same stuff on the NEXTEL Cup side!

Also, as I mentioned in a previous thread, "Victory Lane" is supposed to be LIVE after the race tomorrow night, and again next Saturday night in Richmond. After that, it looks like they're going back to the regular tape-delayed VL for both Dover and New Hampshire.

Does anyone know why Victory Lane is not shown live after every race???


SophiaZ123 said...

Thanks, Cwebs for the info on Friday's and SPEED.

I, TOO, would like to know what the deal is with VL going LIVE sometimes and not others.

I wondered if some SPEED show viewers were not getting honked off if watching Motorsports racing, only to see the shows cut off for VL. I mean it its that Pinks, Nopi, Unique Whips crap getting delayed, who cares. But if there are real races being shown, I was wondering if that was not putting SPEED in an awkward position to just SUDDENLY appear with VL.

Still, I do not know why they could not show it sometime after the race.

AND show it Sunday night and AGAIN Monday before INC!! Along with Trading paint and some other shows...have a block of NASCAR shows. I never know when the heck TP is on??