Thursday, September 6, 2007

ABC's "NASCAR In Primetime" Finally Gets It Right

Episode #4 of NASCAR in Primetime took to the air Wednesday night on ABC. This five part series is produced by ABC News, and is completely original in its content. No ESPN production assistance was involved in this project.

In a sport dominated by cable TV networks and NASCAR's own production company called NASCAR Images, this attempt at capturing the excitement of NASCAR racing in a pseudo-documentary style and bringing it to primetime is admirable.

In the first three episodes of a semi-continuing story, viewers have been given glimpses of several drivers behind-the-scenes. They have also been treated to race footage, and told the story of the selected drivers at a specific race. This week the Coca-Cola 600, which took place back in May, was featured.

Last week, NASCAR in Primetime used Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama to feature a lot of what many people in this country believe NASCAR is all about. Basically, lots of men doing some heavy drinking and their intoxicated female companions pulling their shirts up a bit too high.

Maybe that does not happen a lot on West 66th Street in Manhattan, but anyone who has been to the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500, or even OzzFest has already seen how some folks blow-off steam in exactly that manner.

Unfortunately, for the real NASCAR fans that little slice-of-life moment ruined the program and alienated a lot of them for the rest of the series. Just another bunch of New Yorkers putting the Yankee thumb in NASCAR's eye again they thought.

That theme has been heard a lot over the years when the New York or Los Angeles TV folks stop-by and try to figure out why all this ruckus about NASCAR is going on.

In this case, those viewers who chose not to watch episode #4 missed what is clearly the best show of the series to this point. Finally, ABC News got it right and decided to focus on the people, the racing, and the circumstances that happen when the two are mixed. This time, they let the pictures and the people tell the story.

Integral to this series has been the raw sound and interviews from Johnny Sauter and his girlfriend, Cortney Owen. Originally tagged as an angry man and a dizzy blond, this episode finally revealed them both to be quite different.

Many young men can relate to trying to cope with, and possibly avenge, the difficult life circumstances faced by their father. Perhaps, whatever becomes of Sauter, the fact that he has a partner in life who understands this burden, and the dilemma that comes with it, is a potential lifesaver. Despite her youthful style of talking, Owen has a wisdom and understanding far beyond her years.

On the other side of the coin is the well-known comedy act of Kevin and Delana Harvick. Previously featured on several NASCAR "reality" shows on SPEED Channel, this duo is just a blast, and has one of the most unique marriages on the planet.

ABC News deserves credit for just stepping-back and letting these two talk about various topics that are both professional and personal. They did not paint either of these two into a corner, and that made their story work.

The actual racing itself was inter-woven quite well at last with the interviews. Charlotte is always interesting, and this time was no exception. The top dogs like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were shown to be in a class of their own, but the absolute random nature of NASCAR racing was driven home by their finishes.

There is something eerie about a NASCAR garage area after a race, where everyone present did not win. The one winner is over in Victory Lane, loudly having a blast. Meanwhile, the real stories of the race play-out in the harsh reality of darkened and empty garage stalls and NASCAR team "haulers" loading-up for the long ride home without a trophy. This episode showed the fragility of men driven to win, and win only, for a wide variety of reasons.

ABC deserves credit for leaving they hype of episode #3 in the rearview mirror. No dramatic music swelling right before a crash, no wives talking about the mortality of their husbands, and absolutely no manufacturing of the reality of racing through lots of editing. This style of up-front and open storytelling was done very well, and let the viewer be the judge of those who chose to participate in the program.

The final episode airs next Wednesday at 10PM Eastern Daylight Time on ABC, and there is no word if these programs will eventually re-air on ESPN Classic.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from viewers. 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.


Carl said...
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Ari said...

I think I agree with you that this episode allowed the true personalities to shine through, unfiltered by manufactured drama. Truth be told, Johnny Sauter and his now fiancee, Courtney, need no manufactured drama, they have plenty of it on their own. The biggest thing I take from watching this episode is a profound feeling of sympathy for Bootie Barker in that he has to deal with these two drama queens for 36 weekends a year. Johnny clearly has demons he is fighting and Courtney's temper tantrum/breakdown at the end of the Coca-Cola 600 was exhausting and almost embarrassing (for her)to watch, I found their mutual drama to be something not unique to being associated to NASCAR at all. they came across to me as your average run of the mill sore losers who are so spoiled they don't appreciate what they have. Johnny's a freakin' Cup racer for heaven's sake. they both seem to be living a relatively good life at their young age. They have a lot to be thankful for but all they focus on is what they don't have. Courtney's breakdown and cursing Casey Mears and Kyle Petty for their success in the race was painful to watch. So was his dickish attitude when she was enthusiastically trying to discuss their wedding plans. The strongest message I will take from this episode is ill-will towards Johnny and Courtney. I will actively root against Johnny Sauter (sorry Bottie) for the remaining 11 weeks of this season. Whichever car can knock them out of the top 35 in any given week will be the car I cheer for the loudest...

Tripp said...

This was the most "real" show so far in the series. Did that make it good?

It depends upon what the viewer wants from the show, and that's fine because it's personality changes from week to week. The only thing that was missing from this week's show was Jerry Springer, as the ABC news-folks straddled the line between documentary and reality TV.

The documentary parts with the Harvicks and the action on the track were simply excellent in all respects. They showed the emotion behind the drivers and those in the pits. That's completely fair and accurate because this is a very emotional sport.

Where ABC started to lose the recipe was with Johnny and Courtney. It's clear that these two met at Dysfunction Junction but the airing of their interactions was simply painful to those old-fashioned folk who believe private matters should stay that way.

Johnny's living in a pressure cooker. Part of which may be of his own construction. The trackside pressure is clear. Pressure to gain points. Pressure to get into the top 35 in points. Pressure to qualify his way into the races. Pressure for a good finish. Add a wedding and the pressure meter can easily go into the red. Courtney's another story that's hard to fathom. Does she love him that deeply or is she just looking for the perks of a winning driver? No one, not even ABC knows that answer and they used her post-race tirade to pump up the drama. Did it happen that way. No doubt as the camera captured the spontaneous outbreak without superfluous editing.

The question is, should it have made the air? ABC thinks yes and stripped a layer from the couple's collective dignity. One might argue that since she knowingly said it in front of a live camera, it's fair game. It's not. Civility has been pushed into a dusty corner in favor of sensationalism, hype and ratings. Ratings do rule, but at what cost? A couple's struggles distilled into a few minutes of video for public consumption. What's up for next week's show, a visit from Dr. Phil?

The personal drama of each Cup driver can be compelling viewing but this sunk to the level of a police chase or impending plane crash. This is the ABC/ESPN credo. They proved that last week on the booze soaked dirt in the fan camper lot.

One cannot help but wonder if the other Cup drivers and teams, having seen this episode of "NASCAR in Primetime" won't be a bit more circumspect when they see the tally light open it's red eye.

SophiaZ123 said...

Well, I kind of caught most of this show but I gotta say "Dysfunction Junction" is a great name of Sauter and his girlfriend.

I thought the show in general was better but it was painful watching this couple. Sauter could use some lessons in gratitude. (I lost respect for this guy last week when he REFUSED to answer on the radio he was ok...just sat there and got out because he didn't feel like talking??)

This blond is a trainwreck and I was unable to figure out her agenda. However I also found it distasteful her WISHING a CRASH on other drivers and cursing the good luck of the others??
Guess she does not know about Karma and gratitude is out of the question with these two.

While I realize Sauter is an underdog, I am flummoxed as to WHY he was given so much tv face time.

I found his fiance insulting. I wonder what the others drivers wives/gf's thought about her.

I would hate to think they all think like Courtney.

This couple was most disappointing.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey Everybody,

Just a reminder. The participants in this show chose to be on TV. They chose to be actively involved, and they could have stopped the camera anytime.

So, with that in mind you can make your own decisions about why some of these folks "acted" the way they did.

One thing is very clear from your comments, the show had an emotional effect on the viewers that chose to tune-in, and everyone got the chance to make-up their own mind about the drivers and their families.

It certainly is interesting how a backmarker like Johnny Sauter brought out such strong feelings once his personal story was revealed.


Anonymous said...

After becoming 'drowsy', I turned the show off before it ended. Simply put, too much information was conveyed.
"My heroes have always been NASCAR Drivers"...and I prefer to fantasize and think of them as wonderfully brave men instead of stinky little crybabies with trophy girlfriend babysitters.
If the lives of these "Peter Pans" are so dysfunctional and unmanageable, I would rather not know any more about them.
I wonder how the ungrateful millionaires would fare if they had ordinary, low paying jobs and were forced to interact or even change places with the people in the stands who think so much of them.
It appears that all that glitters is not gold....and that includes NASCAR drivers and their lives, careers and relationships.

Anonymous said...

The show was better, but Courtney Owen killed the show. I know these kids are young....Im not too much older and can see the youth in the way Courtney talked. But this girl is a PR girl for a driver and the way she demonstrated herself was disgraceful. I believe in raw emotion, but she knows better. She made herself looker blonder-which gives blondes even less credibility. Johnny is Johnny. He has stayed true to who he is. Good and bad. But I respect that about him. And his racer mentality showed through. A decent episode,but it had its moments.

Anonymous said...

As you suggested, Mr. Daly, the first episode of this show did air earlier this week on ESPN Classic, the night of the Dale movie on CMT. But they should advertise it better.

I agree this was the best show so far, and I think leaving the fan commentary out of it made a huge difference. The extra time probably allowed for the brief but quality focus on the Harvicks.

What I found interesting is the levels of access each driver gave. Perhaps more media-conscious drivers like Jimmie Johnson limited the access of the cameras -he had little airtime Wednesday, which is strange for the reigning champion of the sport. We never heard from his wife, who is always at his side. I didn't feel I knew any more about Johnson from his brief appearance than I did before he was on the show.

Then you have Juan Pablo Montoya, who is probably only second to Johnny Sauter in focus from ABC in this series. While we did have much more access to Montoya's comings and goings than we did of Johnson, Montoya and his family still came across in a positive manner while expressing some candid thoughts. I personally grew to like him and his confidence/brashness very much.

You can also compare Montoya's wife watching a race in the motorhome compared to Sauter's fiancee in the motorhome. You can tell Montoya and his wife have the media experience and maturity to know the fine line between being candid and perhaps being crass. So for the Montoyas, this TV venture was probably a success.

Which brings us to Sauter and his fiancee. Maybe they and ABC accomplished their goals, because I've heard more talk about the show the other night than all the previous shows combined. No one is talking about Stewart and Johnson (the champions), they are talking about Sauter and his "crazy" fiancee. (I find it funny that the "blond" fiancee is taking the brunt of the criticism, while everyone forgets Sauter was called to the NASCAR hauler in a previous episode for agressive driving, and in this episode wished for his competitors to wreck when he was out on the Lowe's track. In some ways that was worse than what the fiancee did.)

While I felt that Cortney (that is the correct spelling) Owen's feelings were sincere when I watched the show, after looking her up on the Internet, I also can't help but wonder if some of her reaction was slightly exaggerated. I found that she was a contestant on a reality dating show, Outback Jack, a few years ago. You have to assume reality show contestants are chosen for being very verbal, so she was probably a perfect choice for ABC was to focus on, especially if she and Sauter gave them the most access.

Should ABC have used her emotional footage? From the reaction, yes, they should have. They got people talking. And I think that the ABC people actually liked this pair -maybe because they caused the drama for this series - as they went out of their way to end the Johnny/Cortney "story" on a somewhat positive note.

haus20 said...

I am still waiting for the unprecedented, never before seen behind the scenes footage that NASCAR has granted to least that is how it has been hyped by Dr. Jerry Punch whenever he promos it during ESPN racing coverage.

darbar said...

Living in Wisconsin, we know about the Sauter family and their racing history. Before watching Primetime, I was a fan of Johnny, but after seeing what I did, I can no longer say that. He comes off as a spoiled brat, one who seems to think that he's owed a seat in a Cup car and one who feels he's entitled to a Cup win. His comments about wanting his competitors to crash, even though I suspect many other drivers feel the same, should not be vocalized. Cortney is supposedly a college graduate, a former Miss Wisconsin USA and has held jobs in public relations for a few years. She's not some media neophyte and should know better than to act the way she did. She comes off as a whiney, spoiled adolescent who seems to want nothing more than to be the wife of a Nascar driver. It's what we call a racer chaser. If Johnny Sauter is the future of Nascar, we're all in trouble. And as another poster said, I feel sorry for Bootie Barker for having to put up with such self-centered, spoiled brat of a driver.

Anonymous said...

(Problems logging in)

Gosh! There were lots of comments about Sauters fiance on SPEED...most ALL NEGATIVE.

But somebody made a comment about her on a reality show but I did not see the details (there were way too many pages to wade thru to find them)

Ok..if she INDEED was on a "reality show"...we know that's all about being mean-spirited and crass and such.

So, I now hope she was "acting" with her HOPE so and so crashes, but somehow I doubt it.

I have never heard the term "Dysfunction Junction" but I LOVE it and I am going to borrow that phrase!

It says it all about this couple.



hope this helps said...

Sauter's girlfriend/reluctant choice of fiancee' rooting for all of the other race participants to get caught up in a fiery crash was pure class.

She seems like a kind and obviously very selfless, stable young lady.

Lexipro is a good thing for some people.

darbar said...

Sophia, Cortney was on Outback Jack where the "ladies" tried to attract the Australian man. Rather like The Bachelor meets Survivor. She was the ninth one eliminated. She was also the PR person for Paul Menard for a while and then for Haas CNC racing. With all that experience, you'd think she would have known better than to allow ABC to portray her and Johnny they way they did, unless of course, this is the REAL Johnny and Cortney. Personally, seeing how she was already on a TV reality show, she might be a TV hound, wanting the exposure.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the explanation. I have never watched a reality show except maybe the first couple seasons of THE APPRENTICE before it became a GIANT PRODUCT PLACEMENT commercial and the folks got so crazy on there.

"scripted, produced" reality shows aren't my thing but I know they are CHEAP McTV that can be thrown together.

Kinda like you, I wonder if Cortney is not a tv hound.



Anonymous said...

I purposely did not watch this show and after reading what others had to say about it, I'm really glad I stayed away from ABC Wednesday night.

Anyone who utters one disrespectful word about Kyle Petty is automatically and forever on my sh*! list. It disgusts me that people can speak negatively about a man who lost one of his children during a practice session a few years ago. What if that had been Cortney and Johnny's child? How would she feel if another driver's wife talked trash about her husband on t.v.? What if this was any parent's child? What if your own child was taken from you forever? How would you feel?

Okay, okay. I'll calm down now. Sorry-can't help it. I have a real soft spot for Kyle and his family and tend to get defensive when I hear or read negative stuff like what Cortney said.

To the one person who commented on the drivers being 'stinky little crybabies', I must ask when was the last time you attended your favorite driver's fanclub event? Or when was the last time you were at a track for an autograph signing session by one of your favorite drivers?

I have attended Bobby Labonte's fanclub event in Charlotte the past two years and believe me, he is not a stinky little crybaby. He is truly appreciative of is fans and their support. He GAVE his fans t-shirts commerating his 500th start which is tomorrow. He and his wife are always doing things to help others. He is one of the first drivers who stepped up to help Kyle and Pattie Petty get Victory Junction Gang Camp going as a way to honor Adam and keep his memory alive.

Over the years, I have heard numerous positive things about Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, D.J., Earnhardt Senior and Junior, Denny Hamlin and Ken Schrader, just to name a few. Two years ago I had a garage pass for Charlotte and was fortunate enough to collect a few autographs. Ryan Newman was incredibly pleasant and cheerful. Michael Waltrip was drenched with sweat and going from one end of pit road to the other and it was obvious that he was very focused on the job at hand yet he still took time to sign for me and was nice about it as well.

Sure, there are drivers who may whine and maybe aren't so nice at times but I feel that, for the most part, they are very grateful to be where they are.

Anonymous said...

When Adam Petty raced at the Milwaukee Mile for the first time in the Busch series they had one of Johnnie's brothers help him figure out the best way around the track.

Don't think any of the drivers are not guilty of saying dumb things on the radio (or in their hauler) right after the incident (or after the race).

Kyle Petty just sat out a race because he broke his hand punching something in the hauler after Watkins Glen.

Oh well, there's a marketing saying that "any publicity is good publicity"...

Also, people feel sorry for Bootie because he has to put up with Johnny's poor attitude, maybe if Bootie/Haas gave him a better/faster car to drive his attitude would improve as well.

Brittany said...

I'm a Casey Mears fan & my sister is Kyle Petty fan, needless to say Cortney is on our bad side! When she threw a tantrum when Johnny didn't win I think I saw the worst acting in the history of the world! Did you guys notice how they showed DeLana talking to other wives & gfs, but not Cortney? I can't imagine why! Johnny was already on my bad side when he was talking about how much he resented his dad for not being around cause he was racing; like he would have a ride if it wasn't for his dad!

Bootie really does deserve better. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bootie doesn't like Cortney either! :)