Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Craftsman Trucks Are Happy On SPEED

Newspapers, magazines, and Internet websites have been littered this year with the amazing problems encountered by the "new" NASCAR TV partners.

Fox refused to show any car finishing but the winner. TNT refused to stop showing commercials and promos long enough to actually glimpse the race. ESPN has been struggling with their production philosophy since their first Cup race.

Very quietly, NASCAR's third national touring series is gearing up for another fantastic finish. Without a convoluted "reset" of points, without the hype of Monday Night Football liveshots, and without the need for a "Tech Center" or an Infield Studio, the Craftsman Truck Series has been outstanding on TV this season.

There is no doubt it has been because of the commitment of SPEED Channel's veteran production team to create simple and yet compelling sports TV. From the start of a Truck Series telecast, there is no doubt in the mind of the viewer that they are there for a race. Bells and whistles are in short supply.

Krista Voda anchors the pre-race thirty minute show, called The Set-Up, from the starting grid. No, literally from the starting grid. The SPEED set is rolled-out once the trucks are lined-up, and quickly rolled away once the show is done so the race can start.

Throughout the program, right over her shoulder, are the pole-sitting trucks and the rest of the field. You may recall Brent Musburger recently relocating to the same position for the ABC races. What a coincidence.

Earlier this season, at a short track, Voda abandoned this set and hosted the pre-race show from the bed of a pick-up truck in the infield surrounded by fans. Now, that was a lot of fun and just the right thing to show her versatility, and the flexibility of the network to permit it.

Voda's "no nonsense" approach is a tribute to her Iowa heritage, and her continual desire to let the people and the event tell the story. Like any good TV sports host, her job is to direct traffic and then get out of the way.

Voda began the season freezing on pit road in Daytona with Mark Martin freezing alongside as her guest. They did not go inside, did not do the "TV thing" and complain, but they made the best of a bad situation and hosted the entire thirty minutes from pit road. For me, this set the tone for the SPEED coverage and moved Voda up another notch on my "TV respect" scale.

There is no doubt that her hard work and single-minded dedication to this series will eventually pay-off with bigger assignments, but for right now NASCAR fans are very lucky to have her around. She is currently anchoring SPEED's mid-week Homestead coverage. Enjoy her unique style and on-air presence while you still can.

No one has epitomized the Truck Series more than Phil Parsons. This veteran racer is so good at being low-key fans have just come to expect completely accurate and up-to-date information from him in every telecast. Parsons has become an outstanding color announcer, and has hit his stride when he was matched with his current partner, Rick Allen.

The story of how Allen wound-up on this series is very interesting, but not for this column. Needless to say, he has made the most of an opportunity that came his way out of the blue, and continues to increase his commitment to NASCAR TV with his announcing of the DirectTV Hot Pass package.

Allen was rough at first, but has now learned through trial and error when to step-back and let Parsons fill-in the blanks, and when to get up on the microphone and let it fly with top intensity and volume. He has put the racing back in racing TV, and only Mike Joy has been as consistent in his performance in the TV booth.

Ask anyone about the Truck Series, and they always say the same thing. What is up with that Ray Dunlap guy? Over the years, this Bowling Green State University graduate has been a racing fixture. Dunlap was the PR Director for ARCA before joining ESPN in 1997. He was used in all kinds of roles with that network, before transitioning to SPEED and becoming so highly identified with the Craftsman Trucks.

Dunlap is outspoken, has a great sense of humor, and sometimes can have a bit too much fun away from the track. Many fans remember Dunlaps's attempt at humor on a live SPEED talk show resulted in a one week suspension and a public apology. Then, just a short time ago, SPEED confirmed that Dunlap had been once again suspended and would only be returning to the series when it arrived in Texas.

The funny thing is, this colorful character is exactly what SPEED and the Truck Series needed. Looking around at the overall quality of the pit reporters currently on TV, Dunlap is absolutely one of the best. Love his style or hate it, he can poke his nose in on any situation and knows the Truck Series inside and out. Could Ray Dunlap be the Tony Stewart of pit reporters?

Rounding out the SPEED coverage has been the solid Adam Alexander and the fascinating Michael Waltrip. Alexander has been a great addition to SPEED, and his low-key and factual reporting works well to balance the enthusiastic and over-the-top style of Dunlap.

Michael Waltrip continues to be a mystery this season in many ways. Is there anyone recently in NASCAR who has experienced the highs and lows this man has in one year? The worst part is that he did it all publicly. Removed from Tradin' Paint on SPEED and with bad memories of several other SPEED programs in which he appeared, the Truck Series has been his salvation.

On the air, Waltrip actually gets to talk about racing. Even on Inside NEXTEL Cup, he is only able to respond to the painfully scripted questions of host Dave Despain. Here, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons give Waltrip plenty of room to talk about the action on the track.

Both Parsons and Allen were working this series before Waltrip arrived as the third man in the booth, and one gets the opinion they will both be there long after Waltrip has moved on. To Parsons and Allen, Waltrip is the excitable little brother who makes things more interesting and humorous, regardless of his level of accuracy. Parsons slowly and patiently helps Waltrip when he drifts from the center line.

The final part of this column is directed to the production staff at SPEED who have helped to maintain a consistency with the trucks that has failed to materialize in the other two NASCAR national touring series. Just two little words...thank you.

It is refreshing to see the racing and have everything else be pushed aside. There are no "sports updates," no one needs to offer opinions from the infield on-camera, and absolutely never will we see exciting racing action on the track without exciting racing commentary from the booth.

As the exciting Craftsman Truck Series finale approaches this Friday night, SPEED will once again have an opportunity to close-out the season with a barn-burner of a race. Voda opens the show at 7:30PM Eastern Time, and then the action gets underway to decide another championship. If you have not taken the time to check-out the Trucks on SPEED, you might be missing the best NASCAR racing on TV.

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 taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.


Newracefan said...

I started watching the Trucks about 2 years after I began watching the Cup series. This actually happened because of Michael Waltrip. I like Mikey and recognized his voice calling the race so I didn't change the channel. I now know the drivers and watch for the race. Speed does a great job and the racing is great, and now that ESPN is calling the other races it is the only one I don't need to use the internet to find out what is going on. Keep it up Speed bet you find your rating increasing

Lisa Hogan said...

Oh JD, you broke my heart. I would have sworn that Krista did the set-up show from pit road.

Attending a truck race is always great. The next best thing is watching it on SPEED. I know that they are going to cover everything.

My only negative is that sometimes the mute button is required for Waltrip’s constant jabber. That, however, is a minor annoyance. SPEED always gets top grades for the fine work that the whole team does to bring us the truck races.

Deborah said...

I love the racing in the Truck Series to begin with but I think the team that Speed has covering these races, particularly those in the booth, make it even more enjoyable to watch. Phil and Rick are terrific, and I love the enthusiasm that Michael brings to the booth which reflects that of the fans watching at home who get so excited by such great action on the track. Overall, Speed does an excellent job with their broadcasts of these races for sure.

SophiaZ123 said...

Personally for me, who has grown weary of the Jimmie and Jeffie story and the CHASE FOCUS ad nauseaum, the END of the season race I will enjoy will be Friday night's Truck Series.

Anything is possible.

Busch title wrapped up by Cup driver (Snoozefest to me)

Jimmie has the trophy in the bag and I am wondering if we shall see the race or ANY post race coverage with ABC's HORRENDOUS scheduling. They should;ve started the race earlier.

I enjoy the guys in the truck booth. I love Mikey but I do think the boy needs to lay off the chocolate and or caffeine before the race. He's been overly excitable even for this MW fan and his voice raise oddly.

As if somebody is giving him a wedg--, well, never mind.

Friday night feels like old time racing to me and I have only been at this NASCAR watching three and a half years.

Kinda pitiful I get it...and many casual fans do not, do not care or have moved on.

Also, NASCAR does not get it.

If I hear their insincere mantra ONE MORE TIME (parroted by all the drivers on tv shows) We do it ALL FOR THE FANS, I will toss my cookies.

So have a glass of wine for the race Mikey, put on your seatbelts, it's gonna be a bumpy, thrilling ride to the finish line. :-)

stricklinfan82 said...
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stricklinfan82 said...

The Truck Series has been the most enjoyable series to watch on TV all year long. It's racing coverage made for racing fans. As you said JD, no bells and whistles. No color-coded air drawings, no cut-away car showing fans what an ignition switch is or what a valve stem looks like. No Monday Night Football talk, no Bill Engvall Show hype, no ABC Primetime Lineup hype, or Samantha Who talk. No football announcers waxing poetic about the mystique of the sport during green flag racing and no celebrity guests during the race. They just show the race and have nothing but knowledgable racing personalties talking about the race.

With a crew of two regular booth announcers and two pit road reporters, they manage to keep the viewers better informed as to what happens on the track and in the pits than some other TV networks are able to do with crews double or triple that size.

The only criticism I had all year from Speed's truck series coverage was dumping live coverage of the Mansfield race during the rain delay when it ran into ESPN's Busch Series live coverage window and waited for the Busch race to end at 10PM to present a tape-delayed broadcast of the finish of the Truck race. Of course the constant crawl on the ESPN2 bottom line during the Busch Race spoiled the fact that "Dennis Setzer wins the Truck Series Race at Mansfield" and there was no surprise when we finally got to see run-away leader Rick Crawford blow a tire in the final 10 laps.

(I'm not blaming ESPN by any means, it's not their job to hide the outcomes of tape-delayed events on other networks. I completely blame Speed for this senseless decision to tape the finish of the race.)

Other than that, Speed has done a fantastic job with their Truck Series coverage. I know this is easy for me to say since I have access to Speed Channel, but I just wish the Cup and Busch Series would be the exclusive property of Speed as well.

Anonymous said...

Let's show a little love to Adam Alexander. Or as I refer to him my little "Double A". He's awesome and has such a calming, smooth voice. He is good looking to but that's just my opinion. Maybe that's why they hired him. Just kidding. He just does an awesome job and I know watch Hotpass because of him as well. He announces on that and did the 48 car when it won at Texas. He was great! Let's not forget about the little people even though JD mentioned him in just a little paragraph.

wickedj said...
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Anonymous said...

I LOVE the Pick 'em Ups! I found it from watching something on ESPN when they still ran tape delayed there. It was something either a sports update or commercial where I saw Uncle Brenni. I didn't know who he was but figured anyone who drover for NAPA had to be good :)! So I started watching after that.

I was in Cali at the time but still 10 or 11 pm to watch races that you *already* knew who won was annoying. If you didn't want to know, you had to avoid anything with sports information for hours!

So I was quite happy when they came to SPEED!

Everyone does a great job and the knowledge they bring is refreshing!

I'm quite excited for Friday's race, not just because of the title fight but because it's going to be some good racing!

Anonymous said...

Just started watching trucks this year.

The races are great, and the enthusiasm the SPEED guys have is fantastic! Michael Waltrip seems genuinely interested in what he's watching, unlike the ESPN guys doing the Cup races.

No unnecessary graphics, no music videos, no profiles of the drivers during the last 10 laps...just the racing.

Iwish the ESPN crew unerstood how enjoyable it is for people who turn on the TV to watch a race, to actually get to SEE that race.

Anonymous said...

I have also really got into the Truck series, and its because of the coverage by Speed that makes it interesting. Krista is great and when Waltrip is not on its a real let down because I like his excitement. Give the guy credit, none of his team made the last race and he still came on Speed and did a great job. Can't wait for this final truck race, more so than the one on Sunday sorry to say.

Kevin in Indy said...

Great story, Mr. D.! I really enjoy SPEED's Truck Series broadcast team. I like Ray's passion for this sport and hope that his days of banishment are over. Krista will make a great addition to the FOX broadcast team in the very near future. Is it me or does Mikey alwyas seem to shill for the Toyota teams?

Anonymous said...

Is it me or does Mikey alwyas seem to shill for the Toyota teams?

It's you. His "pick" driver, for example, is most often someone driving a Chevy.

Anonymous said...

For the past three years? it seems that the truck races are ALWAYS better than Cup or Bush races ANYWHERE for three reasons. The TV is better: either because the on air crews are actually excited and devoted to what they are doing; or they stay out of the way if they can't contribute. The racing is better: either drivers are hungry looking for a better ride, or they are Cup guys who go to have fun. Cup drivers used to go to the Bush series to 'have some fun', until that got too over hyped and over scrutinized by the sanctioning body and TV press and over used as a test session. And finally, the drivers themselves are less afraid of offending a sponsor or NASCAR or the PC police. The fan can still get to know 'thier' driver in real unscripted moments that show true personality and passion; something sorely lacking in the Cup series and now, saddly in the Bush series aswell. To my mind the Truck series is the last bastion of old school racing on TV unless you want to chase ARCA or Hooters pro cup around the dial. I find it ironic that after thirty years of watching racing the most exciting and fullfilling race I've seen in years was Tony Stewart's dirt race at Eldora. My hope is that a group of drivers will put together a series at the tracks they ALREADY own and get SPEED to cover it and not allow NASCAR TO STICK ITS NOSE IN!

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Speed's truck coverage as the best in covering the actual racing.

I had to laugh about Ray Dunlap being the Tony Stewart of pit reporting. He's definitely got his own way of doing things.

While Dick Bergren and Wendy Venturini remain my favorite pit reporters, I don't think anyone but Ray would have laid down on the garage floor and stuck his head under the car in order to get an interview the way Ray did that one time with Kyle Busch.

Anonymous said...

SPEED coverage is always top notch.

I would like to see a column about Rick Allen. As a native Nebraskan I know his background but most people probably don't. He's a good guy whose improved tremendously since he started doing the truck series a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

The Trucks on SPEED is the best racing going...Gotta' love the Hooters Pro Cup and ARCA Series too....

Anonymous said...

If only Rick Allen could break his habit of counting the cautions and continually telling us how close to a record it is.

batchief said...

John, this was just a fantastic article and a testament to how good the truck series broadcasts have been this year. Any way you can put a "print version" on your articles?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love the coverage that Speed gives to the truckseries. It is by far the BEST of the three series as far as reporting, good racing, and excitement. The reporters do an excellent job!

Gary said...

The many reasons that the Truck races are exciting are as follows:
The drivers themselves RACE for the trophy, not just the sponsors. How many times have we seen the leaders, LEADERS mind you, spin out in the final laps, only to still give gracious interviews about "trying hard". It doesn't matter that Toyota, who sponsors Skinner, or Camping World, who sponsors Hornaday, actually mind getting that kind of exposure. A world apart from Cup, where certain "drivers" hang in the back, and take it easy, so as not to ruin the sponsors' day with a wreck. But the absolute pinnacle of the great racing coverage is just that- COVERAGE. "Hi folks, we are here to show you the race, not get in the way." Speed should get an ESPY for coverage. How ironic that would be?????

Tripp said...

Couldn't have said it better...

JD, you're dead on. To Krista's open on the "Set Up" to Rick's wrap after the checkers, this is the best pure racing broadcast package. Period.

It reminds me of the coverage ESPN used to do back in the day, only with more and better camera angles and snazzier graphics. Can't forget the pit reporting and all of the production elements from big to small within these streamlined broadcasts.

Quality on-air talent all around with major props to Phil. He's always on it. Ray's got a voice that might make you wonder how he got into TV, but if he's not in the broadcast, he's missed. No one else is like him and that makes him that much more enjoyable. And even Michael... many's the time I've watched him on other shows and within minutes wishing he'd hush up. But he's in his element with Phil and Ray.

All the on-air talent seems to be having a whale of a time when they're on the air. Their enthusiasm's up and the fun is infectious. Can anyone watch this crew cover the most exciting racing NASCAR has to offer and not grow a smile along the way?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thank you for all the great comments.

That is a great suggestion about a print box. If I can get the time and funding to move fulltime to a stand-alone website, that will be an option.

BTW..Krista Voda had a website for all of those asking for more about her..I think you can figure out the address.

Last run for the Trucks tomorrow, I hope its a good race.


Arlene said...

I haved watched the Trucks since the very beginning of the series and it has come a long way. I do not attend a NASCAR Race to see the Cup drivers. I go to a truck race instead where the racing is more like it was in the Winston Cup days. I will not miss watching a truck race on tv unless it is something really important and will tape it for later. I am just happy that there is racing being covered very well on Speed. Any race sure beats regualar tv programming hands down for me.

Anonymous said...

Speed has done a great job

Glenn in Ga

Anonymous said...

The Truck series has constantly put on the best racing the past 5 years ...

I like Ray and Krista and Adam and Rick ... Phil has problems sometimes and messes up stuff ... Mikey is just too hyper sometimes and needs to lay off the extra Coca-Cola ...