Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Sunday And Monday Versions Of Dave Despain

There has been no other topic that brings a bigger avalanche of reader comments than the on-going Inside NEXTEL Cup saga on SPEED Channel.

The dynamics of this Monday night show have been off since Allen Bestwick and Johnny Benson got unceremoniously dumped several years ago. While most of The Daly Planet comments focus on the remaining original panel members Michael Waltrip and Kenny Schrader, one person has been a confusing presence since his arrival.

Dave Despain is a grizzled TV veteran. Viewers who have been around for a while may have vivid memories of Despain describing Terry Poovey cranking the big number 18 Honda through the first turn on the Springfield, IL dirt track. In many circles, Despain is still synonymous with motorcycles. It was clearly his passion.

In the old ESPN NASCAR coverage, Despain played a role as the host of the pre-race program which was called NASCAR Today. In the even older CBS days, Despain was an aggressive pit reporter who knew everyone and could talk to anybody in NASCAR.

The original idea of SpeedVision was to split the programming between cars, boats, motorcycles, and airplanes. Each category would get about twenty-five percent of the programming, and that would set-up a network that satisfied the passions of racers and hobbyists across the nation.

After a change in management, the structure of the network began to be a flexible landscape of programming that showed the business philosophies of those in charge. Gone were the airplanes, gone were the boats, and almost gone were the motorcycles. Shows and series came and went like the wind. Some were outstanding, others were horrible.

One idea that had some clout was a motorsports version of the Larry King Show on CNN. Every night for one hour, King captivates an audience by bringing on guests from all walks of life and letting them tell their story. It works because he brings out the best in anyone, and never steps on their views and opinions. His respect for the guest makes the show click.

SpeedVision decided to follow that format, and begin a Monday through Friday one hour primetime talk show. It was going to feature guests from all over the world of racing. All forms of cars, bikes, and anything else with a motor would be fair game. From the highest profile drivers to the behind-the-scenes "brains" that make racing fun, this show would open wide and present it all.

The two key elements of the new series would be the ability of the viewers to call-in and speak directly with the guest, just like the Larry King show. Where else could anyone with a phone talk to Mario Andretti? Dale Earnhardt? John Force? The secret of the show would be the diversity. There was only one issue remaining.

Who could possibly have enough general knowledge of all these different kinds of racing to host this program? Five days a week, this host would have to know the guest, his sport, the current news, and then handle the live phone-callers for the entire hour. Someone would be making a life-changing commitment.

The call went out to find Dave Despain. This glib, confident, funny and occasionally irreverent TV veteran would be perfect for this role. Once Despain was signed, the name for the series was put out into the press...Wind Tunnel.

SpeedVision finally had a bona fide in-house star on the air five days a week interviewing everyone in the racing world. The series was great, the guests high-profile, and the conversations with the callers were fascinating.

Then, the grim reality of television and ratings and profits took hold. A new management philosophy swept through the network and gone was Wind Tunnel. Now, where Wind Tunnel once stood, people pimped their rides, created fake drag races, and "stunted" on their over-priced man toys without helmets.

One single night of Wind Tunnel remained standing. On Sunday nights, Dave Despain would have to try and cover the racing topics of an entire week. Much to his credit, Despain stayed at SPEED. He also began to slowly bring this show back-up to the level of popularity it deserved. He put his heart and soul into this effort. Then, out of the blue, something strange happened.

The TV executives at SPEED decided to once again expand Despain's presence to Monday nights. But, it would not be another edition of Wind Tunnel. Despain was made to walk directly into one of the biggest train wrecks in SPEED's history. He was now the host of Inside NEXTEL Cup.

This past Sunday night, Jeff Gordon sat talking live to Despain on Wind Tunnel. They were both having a great time. Gordon talked openly about all kinds of topics, and he and Despain went back and forth about the various aspects of Talladega, the COT, and even Jeff's new baby being in Victory Lane. It was great TV.

When the telephone lines went down, Despain calmly handled almost the entire interview by himself. This included a hilarious version of The Newlywed Game that showed Gordon's sense of humor and how much this NASCAR champion really trusted Despain. Then, Despain transitioned to Formula-1 with Bob Varsha, and even talked with Bruton Smith before calling it a night. This is the Dave Despain of Wind Tunnel. The Dave Despain of Sunday nights.

Monday, a stumbling Despain lost his place during the Inside NEXTEL Cup program completely several times. He even admitted it on-camera. He used a script with note cards, and read the video highlights like a high-schooler. He watched the conversation between panelists, and then swung-down to send the show to commercial break with the same tired lines he has used all season long. This is the Dave Despain of Inside NEXTEL Cup. This is the Dave Despain of Monday nights.

With only a handful of INC shows remaining, its time for SPEED to turn Despain loose on Mondays. Let him bring to Inside NEXTEL Cup the same wonderful elements of his personality that he uses on Wind Tunnel.

These "two" Despains are completely different. One is confident and assertive, the other is easily intimidated and out-witted. One is funny and knowledgeable, the other stumbling and unable to organize even a taped show about racing.

Last week, there was laughter on the set of INC for the first time in a long time. It may have been more from relief that the season is about to end rather than the program's content. This week, there needs to be some changes.

Despain needs to step-up and show himself as the experienced racing TV veteran that he really is. Why he has been held in check on this boring and stripped-down INC format is anyone's guess. Its time to throw some curve-balls at the panelists, time to ask some questions that haven't been rehearsed. Its time to take charge and make this program his own.

Its time for the Sunday Dave Despain to show-up on the Monday edition of Inside NEXTEL Cup and remind us of why he was originally chosen from the national racing media to be the Larry King of SPEED.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping-by, and leaving your opinion.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Daly:
A confession: I grew up in a family that pursued sports car racing in SCCA. My Dad wouldn;t think about me getting my license in SCCA until I was 18, so I got to take the car out for warmup laps before practice. In those days (twenty to thirty years ago)the paddock was full of other racers including some great names from USAC and I was priviledged to listen to their advice. I wander from my point: Dave Despain, regardless of his motorcycle background, is a RACER and his passion for racing in any form is evident. I'm sure, from your background in covering motorsports, you see these people and can appreciate their passion for THEIR sport. I'd like to see Despain more non-scripted for INC on Mondays, but unless he can control the guest list, he has to deal with who is appearing and that can be hard. I agree that last Sunday's program on Wind Tunnel was a delight to watch and I would hope that the SPEED execs would give Despain the latitude to go into INC the next night being conducted as well.
Bottom line - Despain knows what RACING is about and conveys a passion for it regardless of auto, marine,air or whatever. It seems to me that the SPEED executives need to decide whether that open-ended passion for RACING needs to be scripted on Mondays or left to Despains's best judgment.
You know, I wonder if, in ten years, another blogger is lamenting the "good old days when we had someone like Dave Despain " on as we do with Ned Jarret and a host of others"
Tom in Dayton, Oh
PS: the caps in RACING, RACING and THEIR were not to be offensive, but to stress a point.
PPS: I'm off to the newly-ploclamed "beast of the Southeast" AKA LMS/CMS for the race, See you next week!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Daly:
I didn;t make clear my point about RACING. Once you get it into you, once you learn how it is when you apex a turn in the right direction, a run for the next turn and a chance to go for the lead. It is a hell of a feeling!

Anonymous said...

I know Allen Bestwick. Allen Bestwick was a friend of mine and your sir, Dave Despain, are no Allen Bestwick.
Despain's arrogance is magnified when involved in NASCAR. His heart is simply not into this type of racing and no prop will mask his core disdain. He carries all the gravitas of Brent Musburger when it comes to NASCAR.

pogeyboat said...

i think i would tend to put a lot of the issues so many seem to have with dave more on mikey. on every show he pushes into the flow is interrupted. he rambles on and on,switches topics in mid speak,the self promotion is way over the top. they do kind of follow a script that the show wants to cover,but,mikey pays no attention to that and everything gets out of kilter. look at dave on tunnel and then on in and why is there such a difference? no mikey. no, it's not all mikey,but, he's a big part of the problem,he's like a bull in a china shop.

Anonymous said...

Mikey has always been the main entertainment on INC.......The problem isn't's the fact there isn't any Allen Bestwick.
Dave is wonderful on WT., and AB is woefully underused.
grani girl

Anonymous said...

Nice piece JD.

I couldn't agree more about Sunday's Wind Tunnel. Great from start to finish. Dave is a fabulous interviewer and he showed it with each segment Sunday night.

INC could be much better. But it has nothing to do with Dave not being a "Nascar guy". Come on people. Lay off! If you watched his interview with Gordon, you'd understand the guys is just a flat out racer. Just because he happens to have a passion for something other than Nascar doesn't make him a 'hater'.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand why so many people call Dave arogant. I have watched Dave since his motorcycle days and I enjoy his knowledge and delivery. He's not a guy that will suger-coat his opinions so maybe the fans that have had too much NASCAR Kool-AID don't like his unbiased views.

How many racing hosts could get some of the biggest stars from virtually all forms of racing to appear live on a lower tier cable channel called Speedvision? Dave did. Why did they do it? Because they know that he is honest, respectful but not a wimp, knowledgeable and they trust him to be "real" instead of a "puppet".

Is Dave good on INC? Not usually. I believe he could be, but it appears that he is not the "Boss" of this show as he is on Wind Tunnel. Maybe it's Mikey! Until something changes on INC it won't change. This is NOT Dave's cup of tea! I loved Alan on this show. However we need to remember that a lot has changed since then. New owners, new Directors and producers. Could it ever be as good as it was? I'm not sure...

Lisa Hogan said...

On INC, the host was never meant to be the star of the show. Bestwick understood this and played along with the panel and joined in the fun.

INC was never meant to be a hard-hitting news show.

I have made no secret that I am not a fan of Mr. Despain. Having him dropped into INC was very upsetting to me. His habit of telling the panel: My Wind Tunnel viewers want to know and my Wind Tunnel callers are asking about was like salt in the wound. A large number of INC viewers don’t watch Wind Tunnel and have no interest in what those viewers’ questions might be. The panel has also commented on this.

I’m not sure what the purpose was of Mr. Despain bringing up Wind Tunnel every week; unless, he was trying to promote his own show.

I do not want Mr. Despain’s personality turned loose on INC. I do not want Mr. Despain grilling the panel with his questions. In other words, I do not want INC to turn into Wind Tunnel part 2.

Hopefully, INC will be back next season. I would truly enjoy seeing John Roberts as host. John, Biffle, Schrader, and Waltrip. I can see the fun from here! We could get back to sitting down on Monday night with friends to watch some highlights, laugh a lot, and get a little information.

Anonymous said...

Just because he happens to have a passion for something other than Nascar doesn't make him a 'hater'.

No, but his disparaging on-air comments about the series do.

slithybill said...

AMEN, Mr. Daly! This show is definitely too scripted. The fault is not with Mr. Despain, who is merely trying to keep the show on topic, but on the producer and/or director who is trying to show too many highlights without enough time for the "panel of experts" to lend their opinions on the race. There used to be enough time for them to cover the Cup race, interview a Hot Seat guest, and still hit the Busch and Truck highlights. They even tried an expanded (90 minute?) version of the show and had a separate "Inside Busch Series" spin-off. I always assumed they put it back to 60 minutes because it was too hard to program the multiple repeats in the weekly schedule.

The title of the show is "Inside Nextel Cup". That's what they need to focus on. Don't give us three Busch highlights and two Truck highlights. We don't need a rundown of these races, or the results, or the championship points standings. We also don't need this for the Nextel Cup. We're computer literate and have access on-line to the race results and the championship standings. We know who's in the top twelve and who's out of the top 35.

"Inside Nextel Cup" also doesn't need to cover ALL the highlights of the Cup race. "NASCAR Victory Lane" does a good job showing the highlights. "Inside Sprint Cup" (next year) needs to focus on two or three aspects of the race and let the panelists give us the inside scoop. Depending on the track or the race, they could focus on qualifying, or pit stops, or spotters, or team communications, or the garage area or whatever. They could have a Hot Seat guest and focus on his race, showing his qualifying effort, the changes to the car for race set up, pit stops, close calls on the track, and his team communication. They could find out why he made certain decisions throughout the race (two-tire stops, staying out instead of pitting, laying back early in the race, more or less tape, track bar and wedge adjustments, which groove or lane he ran in, why he got lapped early, how he got back on the lead lap (or didn't), etc.). Really find out why someone ran the way he did.

This would be much more "Inside" than the current format of trying to show all the highlights. As the show stands right now, I could watch "NASCAR Raceday", "NASCAR Victory Lane", "Wind Tunnel" and "Inside Nextel Cup" and never have to watch the race. I really don't need yet another "highlights" show. As someone who does watch all the races, I need the panelists and the host to have the freedom to explore certain aspects of the race more in depth. I don't need Mr. Waltrip or Mr. Schrader or Mr. Biffle to be cut off because Mr. Despain has more highlights he has to show. The beauty of the old show with Mr. Bestwick was that it was much more free wheeling and free spirited. Don't muzzle the talent and then complain they don't tell us anything insightful. (Or even incitable!)

The cast of "Inside Nextel Cup" is not the problem. The box they've let themselves be pigeonholed into is the problem. Let them breath, SPEED. Let them talk.

ssmama said...

I have watched INC for at least 10 years-bought my satellite cause the local cable didn't carry speed and I wanted to watch INC. The show has never been the same since they booted Alan. Those who wonder about Despain's disdain need to remember how he talked about NASCAR before he landed at INC.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Dave has disdain for Nascar on Tunnel, it more for the Nascar callers & Emails. Most of which are crazy...stuff like this:
SophiaZ123 said...
I am surprised she wouldn't be chastised for such an idiotic comment. Maybe if SHE had a mom with a bilateral radical mastectomy, she would do her HOMEWORK and know what it was about rather than try to 'chide' a guy about a pink car.
She needs to go, along with the other slobs in the booth.

The interview started with the comment from Jamie on "the other drivers" busting on the color.
Comments from Nascar fans like the above are true Mensea:
“det der da deeeeeerrrrr”

Wind Tunnel with Dave and Robin Miller is something not to be missed.

Anonymous said...

I think why so many of us were upset when Alan Bestwick was dumped was that he really wasn't doing anything wrong. He was a great host. Despain was the wrong choice to replace him. Despain is an awesome host for Wind Tunnel, but it is clear that he doesn't do well with the format of INC. Dave needs to be the star of the show. He needs to be clearly in charge. A show such as INC, by it's very nature reduces him to simply host for the viewers and referee to the panelists. The panelists are the stars of the show. I agree with some other comments about having John Roberts host the show. If Bestwick can't be hired back, then Roberts would be an excellent choice to replace Despain on INC. I'd also like to see Wind Tunnel expanded to at least three nights a week. There's just too much going on for Dave to cover in one night.

Anonymous said...

to 'anon 10:14 AM'

That's an easy thing to say without actually giving examples.

I really think it's a case of transference. Just because Robin Miller says it, doesn't mean Dave thinks it....

Anonymous said...

I would love to see Wind Tunnel expanded to two hours on Sunday night, but I dont think there is enough racing news to be on every night. I like Dave, but perhaps Speed could try someone different as host of Inside Sprint Cup. I like the idea of John Roberts, but how about Kenny Wallace, Wendy Venturini, Krista Voda, or Steve Byrnes?
Kevin in SoCal

Lisa Hogan said...

Like a lot of fans, I have given much thought as to who would be a good host for INC. I thought about all of those you mentioned.

John Roberts is the one I keep coming back to for host. Since we can't have Bestwick back, I think John is the one with the personality that would blend.

It would be sad for me to see another host come in and try to be the star.

Lisa Hogan said...

I guess that I should add that I don't want Mr. Despain gone from SPEED, just INC.

I know that Wind Tunnel has fans that want to see more than just an hour a week. Why not have Wind Tunnel on for an hour on Sunday and Wednesday nights?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love wind tunnel a great show for news and opinion.
I used to love INC for the fun, it was kind of like hanging out with the guys in the garage (fun) now its just dull. The original panel and host were great, throw in Kenny Wallace or Frankie Stoddard and it could be hilarious. Give me Dave on Sunday and Allen on Monday.

Anonymous said...

I think Dave Despain is terrific. He has a tremendous passion for all things racing, but doesn't view it as life and death as many race fans apparently do. That's why I like him. He can make fun of all the conspiracy views and people that call/email in ranting. But then have serious discussions with a variety of people in different racing venues. On INC he's just a facilitator, again not making it life and death. It's suppose to be a casual setting, so his comments about going to commercial are just that. Could it be better. Certainly. But it is hard to manage 3 personalities, some who are pretty out there, like Mikey.

Anonymous said...

Dave is great, but he has no place on INC! INC is Mikey's! Schraeder and Waltrip live without a net, and some stuffed suit tryin' to keep up. That is what INC is, and was always meant to be. Trying to tame INC is like runnin' restrictor plates.

AndyPandy said...

I agree with Lisa's earlier comments that INC should not be a show about the host. The panel is fine - they don't need someone to ride them, but just someone to round up the herd every now and then so they don't wander too far away. That's not what Despain is good at, and the last thing they need is a host grilling them.

Like slithybill said, it shouldn't be just another highlight show. Lose the stopwatch and script. We don't need to see everything that happened on the track - just the ones that are woth discussing. It was more fun to watch the show and have no idea where it was going or where it would end up.

Also, I watched Wind Tunnel before it got cut down to once a week so I could keep up with other forms of motorsports, and whenever a guest would cut on NASCAR, Dave was usually quick to agree and add to the comments. It went beyond just being polite to his guests.

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with today's blog.....but when in the heck is ESPN going to get rid of those two twits they put on pit road? Shannon Spake and what's-her-name? They have got to be two of the dumbest reporters in the business today. I have yet to hear them ask a driver an intelligent question. 'How does wearing a pink firesuit make you feel?' she asked Bobby Labonte after his qualifying run last night. Somehow I really don't think it affected his fantastic qualifying effort. How about when she asked Jimmie Johnson how he felt after Rocket Man knocked him off of the pole? Come to think, that's one of the few questions she does know how to ask. Too bad it's the best she's got. Man, I miss Krista Voda.

Anonymous said...

To all of you that dislike Dave Despain---why do you watch? I don't like Kenny Wallace so I don't watch him, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

As a lifelong open wheel, primarily F1 fan. It has only been through exposure to the original INC gang that I learned to appreciate Nascar. In talking to many of my friends I discovered this too is how they discovered Nascar. Kenny,Johnnie and Micheal were human. Dave has noplace on this show"Oh the humanity of it".

Lisa Hogan said...

"To all of you that dislike Dave Despain---why do you watch? I don't like Kenny Wallace so I don't watch him, plain and simple."

Not so plain and simple. I don't watch Wind Tunnel. I watch INC for the panel. Mr. Despain is sitting up front and cannot be avoided, at least with today's technology.

Richard In N.C. said...

I think Dave Despain does a super job on Wind Tunnel - and wish he was still on more than once each week AND 12 months of the year. I feel his real problem on INC is that he is not Alan Bestwick and Alan was the best FOR Inside N-Cup. Dave just cannot repeat the chemistry that existed among Alan, Mikey, and Kenny - part of which I believe is because Alan was at the majority of the races with Mikey & Kenny. I also believe that Mikey's and Kenny's not being in all the Cup races has had an effect on INC. One thing I am sure about and that is that INC still beats NASCAR NOW with Erik Klueless.

Jeff said...

See, the problem is Dave Dispain hates NASCAR! proof is the guests he has on WT like Ed Hinton and Robin Miller who btw blames NASCAR for the failure of open wheel racing in the U.S. When these two Bozo's are on Dave eggs them on laughing all the way on how much NASCAR is ruining everything from short track racing to its own series.

Then Monday comes around and he has to bite his lip during INC and pretend to enjoy the sport he puts
down on WT. Did you know that Dave Dispain refers to NASCAR as "The 800 pound Gorilla"?

I got so sick of Dispain's arogance I stopped watching both WT and INC. Bestwick and Benson arent coming back. Former fill in panalist Kenny Wallace drives race cars but he is no racer, he has become a clown for SPEED.

Face it folks, the show she is over!