Monday, September 17, 2007
Mike Massaro Rides To The Rescue
This Monday on ESPN2 was the first time the one hour version of NASCAR Now has included The Chase. Even with all the hype of last week, the Chase actually began in New Hampshire, and this Monday things would finally be in-progress.
Easily moving through a thirty minute program during the week with scripted material, show host Erik Kuselias has struggled on the one hour Monday shows. The NASCAR gang is all back in the greater Charlotte area, and normally Kuselias is alone in the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN2.
The program has mainly consisted of Kuselias talking to a big TV monitor on a wall in the studio that plays host to driver interviews, the NASCAR Now reporters, and the opinions of Tim Cowlishaw and Brad Daugherty. Along with the extensive use of highlights and soundbites from the previous day's race, the show has relied on newcomer Shannon Spake to file a Monday report from Charlotte.
This Monday, Spake's report was already a day old and was taped in New Hampshire. Along with Kuselias, Spake wrapped the profiles of The Chase contenders and their good or bad luck in the race. Unfortunately, this left non-Chasers JJ Yeley, Ryan Newman, and Casey Mears out in the cold even though they finished in the top ten.
In trying to deal with The Chase for the first time, the network has re-discovered the fact that they have several very experienced NASCAR reporters in their midst. Both Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro have been doing the "NASCAR thing" for a long time. They have both been through the highs and lows of this sport professionally and personally. What they both have is a commitment to NASCAR racing.
This season, Bestwick has been moved into the Infield Studio for the Busch Series telecasts on a regular basis. He has also hosted several race telecasts earlier in the year, when Dr. Jerry Punch was on vacation or the schedule was split. A couple of times he has even hosted an episode of NASCAR Now. It seems that for The Chase, Bestwick will be relegated once again to pit road reporting on ABC.
Mike Massaro has hosted NASCAR Now, and contributed to other ESPN networks and media outlets this season. Just like Jerry Punch, ESPN owes Massaro a debt of gratitude for almost single-handedly keeping the ESPN coverage of NASCAR alive during the difficult days several years ago. NASCAR was so angry with ESPN they literally locked Massaro out of the tracks. Luckily, that ESPN administration has passed and tempers have cooled. Several hundred million dollars has a strange way of doing just that.
Back on NASCAR Now, Kuselias has led the show through a dry thirty minutes of NHIS highlights and then a strange interview with Clint Bowyer. Big credit goes to Bowyer for taking a deep breath and keeping a straight face during some of the questions. As usual, Marty Smith came by and did his professional job of delivering the news in a manner that fans can understand. It certainly is hard after seven months to continue to have questions read to Marty one-by-one from the host. Isn't it about time to just "throw" to him for "the news?"
Kuselias then retreated to the Home Depot Garage, which might have seemed like a good idea in a Sales meeting, but in real life...not so much. The orange car on the ESPN2 set surrounded by some tools and a video wall is certainly...interesting. Luckily, when the camera opened up, viewers saw Mike Massaro standing to the left.
All Kuselias has to do was read his scripted questions and get out of the way. That much he can do. Massaro began to talk, without a script or a teleprompter, and things on the show began to change. Once again, just like when Bestwick hosted the program, viewers got the feeling there was finally somebody talking to them who absolutely brought top of the line credentials.
In just an instant, Massaro was on a roll and talking about things that viewers want to know behind-the-scenes. He addressed his comments to both the viewers and Kuselias, and spoke in no uncertain terms. He addressed the Childress drivers, The Chase dynamics, and related many personal conversations he had with the participants.
One of his best comments concerned having both the "racers" and the "Chasers" on the track at the same time. In his own energetic style, he talked about the in-race dynamics and the different scenarios that may play-out as The Chase races on.
In closing, the camera showed Massaro and Kuselias once again in the Home Depot Garage in Connecticut. Massaro was confident and smiling, while all Kuselias could do was mutter that Massaro would be on-hand Mondays in the studio for the rest of The Chase.
The program then re-aired for the third time a profile on Jeff Gordon used on Sunday's NASCAR Now, in the ABC pre-race show, and once again on Monday night. After the mandatory Aerosmith video, it was time to go home.
This program is the most valuable tool for NASCAR to get across the excitement and the true dynamic of what is transpiring in the sport. Not only in The Chase, but for the entire season and into next year. Kuselias alone is crushing, not because of his scripted text, but because his live interviews are beyond rudimentary.
No specifics are ever addressed, no "racing language" is every used, and nothing is every accomplished when they are over. Essentially, its just a big waste of time. With Mike Massaro at ESPN and in the studio, perhaps he can be given an opportunity to step-in and conduct some interviews of these high profile guests as the time left in the season trickles down to single digits.
As one emailer put it, "NASCAR Now does not know what they are missing, because they never had it in the first place." Massaro instantly knows what they are missing, and adds a credible on-set element that has been sorely lacking on this one hour program. Increasing his role can only have positive benefits for the network, and the sport. Right now, ESPN really needs some positive NASCAR exposure.
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