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.