Thursday, October 4, 2007

Real Talladega Danger Makes TV Networks Nervous

There are few tracks left on the NASCAR circuit that force the TV networks to review their policies about the replay of accidents during an event. Over the years, Talladega has been one of the biggest headaches for Producers in terms of keeping the broadcast, and the announcers, inside the "network policy" box.

This weekend, SPEED will host two races at the track, and ABC will televise just one. While the danger level during an open practice at Talladega is significant, the danger level during an actual race is absolutely on the top end of the scale.

The ARCA race on Friday will hold a special challenge, because instead of a field where maybe ten cars dominate the race, this time it will be different. There are several NASCAR teams that will be bringing their own drivers to the ARCA race for a wide variety of reasons. Mixed with the ARCA "regulars," these young R&D drivers and their celebrity open-wheel counterparts are about to meet the reality of Talladega.

How SPEED responds to accidents on the track Friday will be interesting to watch, and will probably set the tone for the weekend as a whole. This network has been very good at treating the ARCA competitors with respect, and keeping things in perspective. These are the same drivers that regularly run small pavement ovals and even some annual dirt track events. This race normally has viewers on the edge of their seats.

Fans want to be assured that drivers are OK before they take a "TV peek" in their cars. The David Reutimann incident earlier this year left fans with a creepy feeling. The network showed Reutimann in-car before establishing his injuries. Its the responsibility of the network to treat potential injuries to drivers with the same respect and dignity they would give to an injured New York Yankee or a Pittsburgh Steeler player.

The ARCA race is renowned for big and hard crashes that have resulted in injuries in the past. The NASCAR Truck Series is renowned for big crashes that have resulted in tempers boiling over and lots of action behind the pit wall. This anger management issue will be a big challenge for SPEED on Saturday when the trucks take to the Track.

Better equipped for safety than the ARCA cars, the big trucks put on quite a show, but have certainly have had moments where things after an accident took a while to sort out. With Ray Dunlap on the sidelines this weekend, Bob Dillner and Adam Alexander may well find themselves in the middle of some hot tempers as a result of the action on the track. This is the time of the year where things said and done in anger can result in an off-season of bad memories and hard feelings.

SPEED can either play the antagonist or simply the observer on Saturday, as the championship chase for the Trucks comes down to the time of the year where no quarter is given on the track, and very little patience exists off it.

ABC has perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to the unknown with the NEXTEL Cup event. What happens when a COT car gets backwards at speed could be disastrous. Wind tunnels aside, until it happens on the track itself, there is no assurance that this first COT event might be more memorable for the incidents, and not the racing.

This past week, NHRA champion John Force blew a tire on his Top Fuel Funny Car during a run. His car broke in half, and his legs and arms flopped around as the remains of his roll cage tumbled down the track at three hundred miles per hour. He lived, and is still incredulous that he survived. NASCAR fans need to remember this moment. It can happen just that quickly at Talladega, and with very different results.

Sometimes, the fun of watching the sport we love is ruined by the reality of conflict, be it mechanical or man-made. At Martinsville, we shake our heads at the fender-benders. At Kansas, we look carefully at how just one bump with the wall can result in that much damage. This weekend at Talladega, we may be covering our eyes as the reality of what is unfolding on the track is beamed into our home.

What we all are counting on is that the networks providing the broadcasts are also fans of the sport. It is only under adverse circumstances that this is put to the test. Let us hope that everyone who walked into Talladega to race this weekend walks away to race again. We can also hope that the TV announcers and Producers have already planned their actions if this scenario does not happen. As those of us who have been around for a while know, excitement can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye.


SophiaZ123 said...

While I love the Daytona and Dega races, I am VERY concerned over the lack of viewing thru the COT car.

I certainly hope all goes well and if it does not, that NASCAR wilL RETHINK major tweaking of this so called SAFER car.

The Reutimann incident disturbed me greatly as well and made me fell like a voyeur. I got tears in my eyes and a pit in my stomach at not just the not knowing how David was, but how VULNERABLE he looked and helpless I felt.

Then there was the too exciting ARCA Pocono race where there were wrecks and then the huge CLUSTER WRECK where about 4 or 5 cars crashed to block the track as a few cars came to a very ABRUPT HALT. THAT was a very disturbing wreck as well. I can't remember if it was that wreck or another one where the driver took forever to get out as he was backwards against the wall and could not get out easily. THEN once he did, he had to walk along the top of the outside wall. Only later to find out, he had a cracked vertabrae. I am sorry I do not remember his name but the visual is still there.

My thoughts are also for a safe race.

Vince said...

John I'm disappointed that you included a picture of one of the "big ones" to lead off your column. I thought you'd be the last one to hype "the big one". That said, the hype machine over at ESPN is already in high gear if you watched NascarNow tonight. Already hyping "the big one" and showing several of them from years past. And I know you and some of the posters on here have wanted Ryan Burr to host this show full time, but I'm sorry, he's just as bad as Erik the Klueless. He had his hype meter in high gear tonight. He knows as much about Nascar as Erik does. He just presents his ignorance in a more pleasing manner. Give me John Kernan or Bob Jenkins any day.

Anybody want to start a pool on how many replays of a past "big one" we are going to be subjected to watching the next three days on ESPN/ABC and Speed?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Vince, read the column again. I am the last to hype the big one, which is what my column is all about.

The TV networks get to choose this week to treat the race and the drivers with respect as professional athletes, or just another minor sport to "hype" and promote as violent and sensational.

The best thing that could happen is a fast-paced safe weekend with very little "aero push." I am right there with you on your thoughts.

You should know that Bob Jenkins got great reviews for his work this season on ESPN2's taped open-wheel support series. My feeling is that he is back in play..shhh.

darbar said...

John, watching Nascar Now on Tuesday October 4 might have been a bit of foreshadowing for this weekend's racing. I was amazed that Stacy Compton had the guts to make mention of the fact that so many open wheel drivers who are now coming into Nascar, don't deserve to be there. He also stated that he felt most of them aren't great talents that will lend itself to success in Nascar. I was absolutely shocked that Nascar Now actually allowed some real commentary about the state of the sport, and they allowed someone who wasn't spewing the Nascar official line. Seeing how he, and others feel, concerning the fact that these "invaders" are starting in races that challenging and one is a Chase race, it could prove to be a big story for both Speed and ABC/ESPN. IF there is a major incident during either the Arca or Cup race that's started by one of these experimental rookies, it could be a field day. And finally, that Nascar Now doesn't seem afraid to rock the boat, so to speak, and brings in controversial opinions, this could be the most interesting weekend of the entire Cup Chase.

Anonymous said...

As a reporter, I felt that showing David Reutimann's in-car camera right after the wreck you mentioned established a reality that the "official line" denied. In typical "nothing-to-see-here" fashion, we were told that Reutimann "had the wind knocked out of him."

Based on the video, that statement appears to have been less than honest. Several observers with medical training believed it showed a brief loss of consciousness, which is certainly much more serious than what we were told.

I would prefer to know the reality of what happens to drivers than be spoon-fed the sanitized version later.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with the decision to not show in car views until the status of the driver is known, I think the networks have a responsibility to show the viewers how wrecks may have happened. Take the wreck that claimed the life of Dale Earnhardt, for example. To most viewers, that wreck seemed like nothing compared to many, much more "harsh" looking wrecks. I, personally, like the fact that the commentators take the time to show us what exactly happened to cause a wreck. And, in the pits, I think it is great to see the raw emotion of the drivers and crews. Why wait until the driver "cools down"? No, I want to see him in the heat of the moment. This is a sport, not a TV show. It shouldn't be staged.

Anonymous said...

Explain to me again how restrictor plates are for safety?

Anonymous said...

The problem with the whole Dega weekend is that ALL three races are the dreaded impound race ... Brian France likes to claim that impound races save the teams money (by not having to waste time & parts during extra practice sessions) ... But, the reality is that there are more accidents at impound races which in turn cost the teams more money in the long run ...

I hate impound races and always will ... They just don't work ... especially when you have so many cars still in qualifying trim because they had to get in the race on time & didn't have a guaranteed spot (another one of Brian's failures) ...

Blame the COT, the open-wheelers, the rookies, the impatient veterans, the restrictor plates, high-banking, fast speeds, top 35 guaranteed ... It all boils down to some cars being setup way too loose because they've had to get that one fast lap and then were unable to make necessary adjustments to tighten the car before the race started ...

John - You forgot the 2005 Brickyard 400 when Jimmie Johnson's car ricocheted off the outside wall and came flying onto pit road & on fire, with Jimmie not in a full state of consciousness and Chad Knaus had to dive off the pit box & pull Jimmie out ... We saw it all, including the in-car camera ...

Anonymous said...

Restrictor plates are for safety. The safety of the fans. Ever seen Bobby Allison's blowover at Dega on film? Yes, slower cars help with possibly keeping the drivers safer too, but they're really there to keep race cars from flying through the fence and into the stands. And for insurance purposes too, NASCAR's insurance. They didn't like speeds over 200. Then over 190. Smaller carbs didn't work and we've been stuck with the plates ever since.

Anonymous said...

One thing for sure is we'll see the Rusty "tumble down the graas" courtsey of Dale Sr from years back, and probably Davey Allison's roll down the Armco, Ricky Cravens car disection in the fence (John's story photo) and of course Dale Sr inverted and ignited cruise down the backstretch.
As for replays of "big ones", even if a driver's condition is unknown, you have to show a replay ONE time, then wait to see the condition of people.
Antone else ever wonder why the in-car from Dale's fatal Daytona wreck has never seen the light of day? I'm not advocating showing the impact that ended his life, but what about the view when he got out of shape and came down hard on the apron? The tape exists, but its never been shown on tv.

Anonymous said...

I hope and pray nothing bad happens at Dega. The true fans only want good hard racing. It looks like now that all some people want is trashy hype. New generation? I don't know. Bill France Jr. kept a hard hand on what he thought was right and wrong and the "powers that are" knew that if they crossed the line there would be heck to pay. Now there is no one to reign them in and things appear to be going a muck for the almighty dollar and hype. TV broadcasters, please show some respect if there is trouble on the track. I do not want to see an unconscience driver on the in-car-camera until we atleast know he is ok.

Grandma J Fan for 45 years.

Brittany said...

I have a feeling the sight of Davis slumped over his car will be etched my mind for a long time. It was so disturbing, I can't even imagine what it must've been like for his friends and family to see.

As a little kid I was a Rusty Wallace fan and I can remember crying when he had those really violent wrecks at Talladega & Daytona...very scary.

Anonymous said...

Why all the doom and gloom? You're turning an exciting race into a ticking time bomb.

Daly Planet Editor said...

We are talking about this topic because it is one that ESPN and SPEED have not dealt with a lot.

ESPN is in their first year back, with a whole new crew, and if they do the "NASCAR Now" thing when there is an accident and hype it there is going to be a backlash.

SPEED is covering a dangerous ARCA event with new people. This time, instead of an anonymous backmarker, it might be a Formula-1 star or Indy 500 winner involved in something big. We are discussing this topic because this site deals with the interesting TV issues that the NASCAR TV partners have to deal with.

Hopefully, things will be nice and smooth. Thanks.

David said...

I miss the old Indycar days where we'd get replays galore, then after a doc has checked out the driver, we were told precicely what was wrong.

Any old school CART fans remember the Krosnoff incident? We had at least ten to twenty replays of that accident, then we heard of his condition. I think that's what started all this ruckuss about protecting integrity of the driver and whatnot.

Let us feel sick, too, if people don't want to be that involved with their favorite drivers, let them change the channel.

Busch Series Fan said...

And how many times will we see the previous race of Elliot Sadler flipping his car! I think I must have seen that replay over a hundred times.