Saturday, December 1, 2007

Banquet Lessons Are Hard To Teach


Most of us who have been around a bit in life have been to large corporate functions away from the office. These tend to run in either one of two directions.

The first is the get-together that has been aimed at drawing out the personalities involved in the company, and entertaining the entire group in a comfortable manner. It usually is the topic of conversation at the airport, and on the plane ride home.

The second type of event is the one that everyone knows they have to do, but deep inside they just dread walking through the same old routine as the previous year. At the airport, and on the plane ride home, this type of event usually is also the source of conversation.

The difference is that over-and-over again the same question comes up. What can we do to change this thing? The fact it serves a purpose is understood. The fact it has been around a long time is also understood. What is not understood is why hasn't this "function" changed with the times?

In this column, we are not going to talk about the NEXTEL Cup Banquet airing on ESPN Classic. You can read about that topic by clicking on this link.

We are not going to talk about moving the banquet to Las Vegas, or Charlotte, or anywhere else. If you want that issue, just click here.

What we are going to talk about is the one topic that makes NASCAR fans crazy. Believe it or not, it is also the one topic that makes NASCAR crazy quite often.

While there are some corporate executives mixed in with the crowd, most of the faces at the Banquet belong to drivers, teams, and owners. Even as they sit at the carefully arranged tables in their carefully arranged fashion attire, there is something very different about a NASCAR banquet from the big corporate functions.

The key thing for the millions of fans is...we already know these guys. This is not "Bob from the St. Louis office" getting the Herbert Hoover Penmanship Award or "Tom from Accounts Payable" getting the Fred Flintstone Financial Trophy for a balanced budget.

While crowning one champion at Homestead is nice, this is essentially the big "post-race" show for the fans. ABC did not make the commitment to talk with the "Chase" drivers after the "Chase" races. We saw how they finished, but had no idea how they got there.

Most of the top drivers have big fan clubs and a large amount of all kinds of apparel and gadgets for sale. We know their wives, their children, their parents, where they came from and probably even their favorite color. The bottom line is, we have seen all these people before and want to hear from them in some other form beside a set speech read from a teleprompter.

Some of the best TV shows that cover big events like this are not "inside" the show at all. Viewers tune-in by the millions to watch and listen to the pre and post-show coverage. Basically, for one reason only. The featured celebrities get to speak as themselves, from the heart, and off-the-cuff.

NASCAR allows slices of brief emotion in the top ten driver's speeches, but it has to be fleeting, and then we have to return to the business at hand. Some of the best moments and speeches during corporate functions come from not allowing exactly the same thing.

Shaky hands, a quivering voice, and 3X5 note cards often cause a swell of emotion in the room and result in a standing ovation for someone who has clearly done well at doing what they do not normally do. The reason is simple, we all can relate.

This is the content that fans want to see. If their driver turns out to be "plastic" and smoothly slides his way though a practiced speech, than so be it. But, if he uses this national platform to thank people in a way that causes emotion and tells us a story that no one knows...it could be priceless.

At big corporate functions, smart companies bring in a comedian who has taken the time to update himself on the issues at-hand in the corporation. The audience thinks they are getting a set comedy routine, and then explodes when he or she talks about how the mailroom caught fire or Tom from IT split his pants at the company picnic.

This type of topical entertainment puts the entire room, no matter how huge, in a very different mood. That mood is "receptive." Now, the audience wants more because they know the people who planned the event did the right thing. They made it all about the nameless faces in the audience who will never be on stage.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of musical groups perform at "corporate gigs." Sometimes, their name was announced in advance, and everybody already had weighed-in with an opinion by the time they hit the stage. It made for a divided crowd, no matter how hard or how well the performer did their thing.

Several times, however, it was done a different way. At the break, or right after the event, or even during dinner, the curtain was simply pulled back and the announcer said the magic words. The name of the group or singer was not the issue, but the fact that this was a "surprise" made the function.

If that curtain was pulled at the NEXTEL Cup Banquet, and there stood Kenny Chesney, or Big and Rich or The Dave Matthews Band, it would get my attention as a TV viewer. I would suggest that it would also get the attention of the audience in the room. Even if I forgot the speeches, and the sponsors, I would walk away thinking..."I wonder who they will get next year?"

Safety is a concern for all companies, especially when the Public Relations Department is put in a position of hosting an event. Bring in an outside company and you run the risk of getting a great show that has nothing to do with your purpose. Keep the planning in-house and you may wind-up distributing energy drinks to make it through the program.

NASCAR drivers, owners, crew chiefs, and many other racing types have appeared on national TV and radio since January of this season when testing began. It is now November, and nothing horrible has happened. The normal bad word or grumpy athlete has been the big story, but there have been no melt-downs or public embarrassments.

One gets the feeling that beneath each Banquet table, the driver is on a leash just long enough to feed himself. When he is summoned to the stage, he is escorted by a group of NASCAR folks who are, in essence, his babysitters.

He is buffed, and smoothed, and made presentable...but for who? We have seen these men in the rain, the heat, under the cars, and completely grimy after a race or practice. The attraction of the fans watching the banquet is to the very parts of the driver's personality that NASCAR forces to go away.

It might be fair to suggest that no one really likes Kyle Busch because of his speech-making abilities. We like him because he can drive the wheels off a loose car, shows no fear, and possibly will crash into his brother a few more times.

There has to be a way to step-back, take a deep breath, and evaluate this post-season award show from more than just a "wow, we got through it again without anyone making us look like redneck idiots" perspective. The top two drivers live in NYC, are married to models, and Jeff Gordon has a boat bigger than my house.

The bottom line is, times have changed and "The Banquet" did not get the memo. Either NASCAR Images or ESPN or whoever is producing this shin-dig needs to put a planning team on this that can make it a surprising and entertaining night.

With all due respect, neither David Spade or Kelly Clarkson fit that bill. I like them both, and they have a place in their respective businesses, but not a place at the post-season function for a racing organization. In the pre-show Public Relations press releases, it was emphasized that David Spade was a NASCAR fan. The resulting expectation of topical humor about the sport never materialized.

I would like to suggest that this is a great time for NASCAR to walk away from another mediocre Banquet and look around the sport. NEXTEL is changing to Sprint, Busch is changing to Nationwide and the Cup car is becoming the COT. The fifty plus drivers are walking away, and the youth movement is in full swing. Walking through the garage, we now see various countries, not just states represented.

This would be a great time to re-do the format of the post-season awards show. Changing this function would fit-in nicely with all of the other changes going on in the sport. NASCAR is asking the fans to accept all of those, how hard would it be to accept a new format for a tired old Banquet?

Maybe if a Bill Engvall and a Kenny Chesney blended-in with some driver's behind-the-scenes home movies, some bloopers from the TV crew, and even some video sent in by the fans we might just see a new on-air TV "dynamic" occur. An injection of fun and good humor and an easy atmosphere is exactly the ticket to spruce-up a corporate function that has just simply lost its "zest" with time.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page, and then add your opinion about the NEXTEL Cup Banquet to this on-going Internet conversation.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW JD... You nailed it again!! YAAAWWNNNN! When will Nascar ever learn? The only moments to me came when Tony came out and admitted Zippy is really his wife, And Jeff nearly crying talking about Ingrid and Ella. Thx Jim

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched the banquet yes (left coaster without espnc), but I listened to the live radio broadcast. I totally agree with Jim. I enjoyed Tony Stewarts "stewie" awards show on sirius more. That's what they should have televised. It was a riot.

JB

batchief said...

Exactly what I was thinking. WOW!!
That is a good wow by the way.

Anonymous said...

I can not believe NASCAR Images did it again. They used old footage as filler for the top ten driver videos!!!! Was Kevin Harvick's video a highlight reel of his season (no, the only thing they showed from this year was his Daytona win). It was just a rerun of his wifes episode from NASCAR drivers 360, two year old Goodwrench uniforms and all. Just pitiful!

elena said...

I hope NASCAR looks at the ring/bracelet presentation tape. The gal that was holding the boxes stood right in front of the camera blocking Jimmie and Chandra. And they when Brian presented the boxes, he practically ran off stage without giving JJ a chance to say thanks or comment about the ring. Looked awful and ackward.

Anonymous said...

A coworker of mine had a great idea this morning. Jeff Foxworthy! But I suppoae he would portray the image Nascar is trying to lose......

earl06 said...

JD, You're right about the banquet needing to appeal more to fans, but I think the problem lies in what NASCAR needs to accomplish by having a banquet at all.

The main reason for holding the banquet is to publicise sponsors for contributing money to the sport. Not many fans watch the banquet and I don't see that changing for many of the reasons you outlined in your article.

What could raise interest would be to make Champions' Week in general a fan experience rather than a corporate experience. New York won't attract fans in November because it has a lack of good weather, reasonable hotels, and any racing related activities. I used to live a 45 minute train ride away from the city and I don't see anything worth coming into the city for. Most people in the area don't even know NASCAR is even in town.

Let's say Champions' Week was held somewhere that had decent weather, some short-track racing and a venue for awards presentation that could include the fans. Until fans are given some reason to be interested in Champions' Week, it will remain a non-event.

Anonymous said...

I watched it this morning. I hope next year they air the awards at a more reasonable time, 8-10 or 9-11.

I'm wondering if NASCAR can even book the top "name" talent anymore for its awards anymore. The last star they had at his peak was Garth Brooks.

Did anyone notice Chandra Johnson, Jimmie's wife, with a good-sized movie camera filming Jimmie at the microphone while she was sitting at the head table last night? I've seen several pictures of her this week using that camera to film the events where he was being honored. I'm curious if the film was for home movies for their family or for some type of TV show/DVD that's in the works.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas. I like the idea of fan videos on the banquet, I think viewers would enjoy that.

Wanted to let you know that the poor reception to Kelly Clarkson from the crowd last night is getting blasted on some blogs. This is from a pop music blog:

"The Clarkson appeared at the NASCAR awards last night, which by all accounts were as dull as sin. K-star put in a stellar performance of One Minute, her best one so far, little to the acknowledgement of the pigs in the crowd. Seriously, some of the rudest, most unappreciative audience members I've eve seen; if they think this is how to behave 'smartly' they are seriously misguided. No class or manners amongst the lot of them."

elena said...

earl06, many good points.

NASCAR drivers are in close proxcimity to fans every weekend. Then for a whole week they are busy 6-10 hours a day until the banquet. When it comes, I think they just want to enjoy what it means to them. They go to the podium for 2-4 minutes and then they go back to their tables and can enjoy what they have accomplished.

If the banquet is a made-for-tv extravaganza, it has to change. But if it's for corporations to see the drivers thank them, it's not as big a thing.

I imagine for a least a lot of the wives/dates, this is a great evening. A beautiful hotel, you get to dress up as a princess, no public, no children, no pressures, and you get to visit and chat with others you normally wouldn't be able to. For one night, no one is a competitor, just a collegue. Based on how late people are reported to stay, I would say they are having a good time.

AndyPandy said...

I didn't watch the banquet because I was sleepy enough already. The stiffs that get up and read their speeches may look like the drivers I've come to know, but I prefer them WITH personality.

And there's the problem. This banquet may be for sponsors but NASCAR has cleverly designed a method to remove the entire viewing audience, which is exactly what the sponsors don't want.

Divide the world into two groups - let's call them fans and non-fans. Non-fans will not watch a banquet honoring athletes who they don't know in a sport they don't follow.

That leaves fans. Most fans would prefer not to watch drivers they love, drivers they despise, and the rest of them stripped of all of the unique qualities that make them loved, despised, or simply tolerated. The fun and the sense that we are behind the scenes with them that comes through in trackside interviews and shows like RaceDay are gone. We are outsiders watching overdressed guys get checks and read lists of companies and products. Yee haw.

Hey? Where did the audience go?

and to anonymous at 1:47 - the blogger wrote "little to the acknowledgement of the pigs in the crowd" and "No class or manners amongst the lot of them" in the same paragraph. Hilarious!

Newracefan said...

I agree JD but Nascar needs to decide what they are trying to accomplish with the banquet. A way to thank the sponsers then don't bother to televise it and do something else for the drivers/teams and fans. A way to celebrate the drivers/teams who did well in 2007- put on a better show. Only fans are going to watch this show on TV so stop using acts that appeal to the masses, I'm not a hugh country fan but I would understand them being there, and please how about Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Engval, they are great at standup and whats wrong with making fun of the sterotype, we know that it isn't true anymore. I'm not sure I like the idea of totally involving fans in the banquet itself then the drivers etc would have to be on their best behavior the entire time and not just on stage. Give them at least that much space for celebration.

Daly Planet Editor said...

newracefan,

I could not agree more. The only reason I mentioned Engvall is because he has a current show on TNT that was promoted heavily during the "summer six pack" telecasts. There are currently a lot of talented performers who could fit that bill.

Whether it was Dave Matthews, Keith Urban, or Rascal Flatts, the surprise appearance of a group that everyone knew and some really liked would be a positive step.

Kelly was put in a tough situation, on what they call a "dead" stage, and forced into trying to rally a crowd with other things on its mind.

The last presidential debate had questions submitted by YouTube users to make it interactive. There is nothing as colorful or hilarious as NASCAR fans.

Pushing NASCAR Images to embrace the very fan base they serve has been next to impossible with their structured production techniques.

Opening up and embracing those remaining fans would be a giant leap forward. The missing link in this equation is still the Turner-owned NASCAR.com that is a step behind and a bit off to the left in the InternetTV offerings.

It is time for NASCAR to take back its online rights and use the Internet as the source to solve the many problems the fans consistently say bother them about the sport.

An interactive banquet would be really fun.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Daly, I have to say I think NASCAR needs to do something about the lack of "people of color" at the banquet. In two hours and 45 minutes, I didn't see a single minority person on the show on TV, in the audience or on stage. Tony mentioned Juan Pablo Montoya, but they didn't show him (he and his wife were there. from what I saw this morning.) I didn't think about it last night, but I did today and it bothered me.

As a 22 year old who loves all kinds of award shows because they can be fun - from Teen Choice Awards on Nickelodeon to the ESPYs - I find this very strange. (Plus "analyzing" awards shows and the ads relates to my major in a way.) Even the CMAs had Rascal Flatts and Jamie Foxx duet this year. Granted, both Rascal Flatts and Jamie Foxx are terrible singers live - though Rascal Flatts makes some of the best CDs IMO, they can't really sing live! -but at least the CMAs thought about it.

I've watched a couple of awards shows aimed at black people, and there are always a few white and Hispanic presenters and some in the audience. Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise and Jennifer Garner were on those shows, to present awards to people like Denzel Washington or Don Cheadle, which is one of the reasons I watched. I can't remember if it was last year or this year, but Bono from U2 got a huge award from the NAACP show, a humanitarian award, and they had a bunch of black performers singing U2 songs on the show.

And of course the ESPYs have a mix, because most sports are mixed. Teen Choice always has lots of different races.

If the NASCAR banquet isn't going to be on "mainstream" TV, the lack of people of color is probably acceptable. If it's going to be on mainstream TV, something is going to have to change or it's probably kind of doomed to get anyone other than hardcore fans to watch. That's just the world we live in. Thanks and I liked your column.

One more thing to add- I thought Dr. Jerry Punch was a good host. Just right for the show.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 3:52PM,

The Diversity issue is one that NASCAR has been chasing hard, especially under the current administration.

One thing I miss, as I mentioned in the column, is any opportunity to see the fans. As you may have noticed from TV, they are not just one color or one race.

Today's America is very different, and as someone who lives in South Florida, I can tell you firsthand.

Hopefully, with both JP and Jacques along for the ride next season, mixed with some very young and open-minded "kids" who don't even see race as an issue, this current dynamic will continue to change.

Great comment, and thanks for stopping by.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Who does plan the Banquet - NASCAR? ESPN? An event pro? It appears to me that the Banquet does not have a person or staff who work on the event full-time, which it would appear it should by now.

It has always appeared to me that one of the primary purposes of the Banquet has been to thank and give added exposure to the sponsors- which, if so, restricts what can be done.

It seems to me that NASCAR needs to decide what the primary purpose of the Banquet should be - reward the drivers and teams? reward the sponsors? OR, reward and thank the fans?

I presume it is probably not possible, but since they are "car guys," either Jay Leno or David Letterman would be perfect as the host/MC.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Interesting point. Leno does a lot of corporate gigs and has been a frequent guest on different car shows on SPEED over the years.

That certainly would change things from the word "go."

Matt said...

Has anyone ever seen the Truck or Busch Series banquets? Those are great for TV. They have a live band, and the drivers sit down with the hosts on couches and discuss the season and other things. Now that is a great TV banquet.

sbaker17 said...

Whoever produced the show must be the same person who produced the commercial awhile back that had Matt Kenseth acting as a robot. Only this time he was able to get all 12 chasers to act as robots. I saved the banquet to DVD so that the next time I can't sleep, I'll just hit the play button.

elena said...

Diverity is a tough issue. I wish people would not expect instant results (a few years) to introduce an activity to folks from different ethnic groups. Almost every sport requires parental support and sacrifice (time if not money) and that may not be part of the realm of experience of these parents.

My son played water polo in high school. His high school was never able to get any black students to join. The coaches tried everything. Water polo meets were free, as opposed to football and basketball games where there was an admission price.

As the team traveled all over our state to compete, we noticed that in the entire state, we didn't see any black kids in polo teams. And yet, our football team was about 50% black.

My neighbor is a golf pro and they have all kinds of opportunities for minority kids to go to the golf course free (including equipment). They have had this project for years, and still the participation is low. If you read about Tiger Wood's life, it gives you an indication how many hours his father worked with him. It takes parental sacrifice, not just opportunity.

My parents were immigrants, and as a child, we used get all kinds of announcements for Little League, softball, Scouts, etc. My mother always said NO. Everything was about studying and getting good grades. I always felt I missed something by not getting to participating in sports, but I certainly would not blame the greater population because I never got the chance.

By the way, my kids played organized sports year-around.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Elena,

Great comment about diversity. The NASCAR guys have told me several times that the ethnic participation at the regional level is growing by leaps and bounds.

They are looking to include Asians, Hispanics, and females in the sport in addition to working with the Black population. As we have seen with the NHRA, diversity has been outstanding for that sport, and my favorite NHRA driver is, in fact, a woman. I just really don't think about that part.

Eventually, when things get a bit more diverse in the Truck and Nationwide Series, we will see some slow movement to the highest level.

Bill Simpson once said if you bring him a three foot tall green guy who wants to be a driver he would just laugh. But, if you bring him a three foot tall green guy with ten million dollars he will begin getting his helmet and driving suit together. Ultimately, its all about the coin.

PammH said...

I saw a shot of Max Siegel, the new spin Dr. at TEI, in the audience last nite. Besides him, no one else.

LuckyForward said...

Another "checkered flag", Mr. Daly for another first class column.

The NASCAR banquet has become such a "canned" event with nothing spontaneous. It is held in the wrong city with the drivers getting "dolled up" in the wrong kind of dress and the overall wrong emphasis is placed on the entire evening.

And no matter what we say or whom we write, it will make no difference. NASCAR & Co. will do what it wants because the point of the banquet is only secondarily to honor drivers.

What is the MAJOR reason for the banquet? To spotlight corporate sponsors and their financial contributions to the sport. Thus, drivers are kept on "short leashes" with bland comments because the "suits" are the "stars" because of the checks they write.

NASCAR has become a self-perpetuating sport emphasizing money and power for itself; fans are taken for granted while TV ratings keep spiraling down, down, down. Why? Because as long as corporate cash continues to "float the NASCAR boat" we, the average fan, will continue to be ignored.

I wish everyone a special holiday season no matter what holiday you celebrate, Christmas, Hannukah, or Kwanzaa. I offer my thanks to each of you who offer your opinions and ideas, as well as to Mr. Daly who writes a first rate column.

Luckyforward
Nashville

Jo said...

Let me start with the disclaimer - it took 3 veiwings to get thru the banquet...I kept falling asleep. So I re watched it today speeding thru commercials, boring bits and David Spade & Kelli.
The first thing I noticed was how akward it was Helton looked uncomfortable while he was on, and so did everyone else. It was an awful show. If you closed your eyes and listened everyone sounded the same bland mush ( except Tony who got the wife remark out wonder how much that cost him).
I kept asking myself what is going on. I'm glad I wasn't alone.
Hopefully whoever puts this together next year has a theme, with something besides lets thank the sponsors and go party.
A missed oppotunity for NASCAR again - but at least not tooo many people saw it.

Richard in N.C. said...

I really believe the significance of Max Siegel is grossly understated. By all accounts he appears to be the most powerful person at DEI after Teresa - and the most powerful person at DEI, other than Teresa, since The Big E's demise. He appears to have more influence at DEI than several people The Big E had hired. The team he is with and the power he has does demonstrate change is occurring, but is often overlooked since he is not a driver or crew chief.

elena said...

JD, Thanks for your response and information on NHRA. I'm glad that they are having good responses. It is obvious that the larger racing community is doing a good job on outreach.

I just meant that some people want equality of results in order to measure effort. So if you don't see enough black or Hispanic faces, it's the fault of the majority--and I'm saying it isn't so.

There is no way in G_d's green earth my parents would have moved from California like Jeff's did to provide him more opportunities. Peggy Fleming's parents did the same thing. They had to move the entire family several times so she'd get better coaching in skating. And there are others too.

All the recruiting in the world would not have convinced my mom that my siblings and I should do anything but study and prepare for school. And that's what we did. My mother was a college professor and 2 of us also became college professors, and one became a coulselor.

Not that it is accurate to paint with a broad brush any ethnic group, but a huge proportion of Asians are pretty focused on academics or owning their own business. (My mom is Chinese).

Their arguement would be, after 4 years how many can make a living from racing? Then they'd say, well after 4 years of college, you can earn a good salary. End of disussion.

By the way, both my parents were huge NASCAR fans--and Jeff was their guy.

thanks again, JD

Anonymous said...

Elena said...
"Diverity is a tough issue. I wish people would not expect instant results (a few years) to introduce an activity to folks from different ethnic groups."

Very accurate. But I believe the point anonymous 3:52 made in the post is the *awards show* itself didn't have any diversity on the stage or in the crowd, Siegel the exception. (I didn't see him either.)

Other awards shows might not have the most diverse crowd of people actually receiving the awards, but they invite others to participate in the presentation,performance, and audience. Maybe then some casual viewers tune in for a portion to see someone they recognize, as it appears some casual viewers tuned in to watch Kelly.

But the NASCAR Awards are an odd duck for TV as the winners are already known in advance. It's not a regular awards show, going along with the posts asking is this show for TV or sponsors. The appeal may be limited if the format stays the same.

Most importantly, I've finally figured out the difference between Ingrid Gordon and Chandra Johnson's fashion styles at awards and at the track. Ingrid is old-style Hollywood glamour, whereas Chandra Johnson is fashion-forward Vogue magazine - style glamour. Resulting in the mixed reaction I've seen to her dress, which I thought was gorgeous and only she could pull it off.

I await the addition of Ashley Judd to the mix. I also await her reaction the first time Mike Helton lets her know she can't wear her flowy sundresses to the track. Can you say wish I was a fly on the wall?...

NASCAR_IRL fan said...

Whoops, says anonymous. I'm NASCAR_IRL fan (anon 11:06).

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I watched this award show again this year. Every year I watch, hoping it'll entertain me one of these times. I'm not a fan of Kelly Ckarksons music, would've preferred a country act, but, i thought the audience was extremely rude in their response to her. I don't think they were into her music either, but, come on, they could've at least clapped when she was done.
I don't know what the answer is, to making this show a little more fun to watch, but, I hope someone comes up with the answer before next year.

~Brian

Anonymous said...

The basic problem with the Nascar banquet as a TV 'event' is the focus of the thing. If the lone purpose is to kowtow to corporate sponsors (it is), then it's ridiculous to put it on television as 'entertainment. Who is likely to watch? Only Nascar fans. They already know who the sponsors are...they see them plastered on the cars every week, hear the drivers thank them every time they are on camera. Having an event simply to do so again makes for boring television,and totally unnecessary. If, on the other hand, they want to give the fans something to watch, to enjoy seeing drivers celebrate, then the whole idea needs to be rethought. The tedium has increased every years as the cost of fielding a Cup team rises high enough to require corporate 'money men' to stay in business. Gimmicks like having the cars parade through NYC during rush hour so all those irate commuters waiting to cross thd street can be tagged as 'Nascar fans' is another example of how hard Nascar is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

GinaV24 said...

Great article, John. You're right those of us who follow the sport week in and week out know these people and want to be able to see them enjoy themselves, not have this scripted and awkward deal. I thought Kyle and Stewart's comments, along with Jeff Gordon's honest emotion was great. It shocks me each time I've seen Brian France appear in public with the driver's at how awkward he is with them. It's almost like he's afraid to be seen in public with them. It's a big contrast to when Bill France Jr used to preent the ring and jewelry to the Champion and his wife. Bill always made that special. Brian looks like he can't wait to escape from the stage -- no wonder the sport is losing fans -- even the "leader" doesn't want to hang around. I agree too that the entertainment should be better integrated. Jay Mohr wasn't funny for the last couple of years, the actor they had do it -- the "Shark" guy -- knew NOTHING about NASCAR. Foxworthy at least knows something about NASCAR. Kelly Clarkson is an OK singer, but NASCAR -- gosh they just have to insist that all of these people are fans when most of them only attend because they get paid to or are promoting their own record, movie, etc. The banquet was actually better than some years, but heck, it's supposed to be a celebration -- how about a little fun?

Anonymous said...

You think that with the deep pockets that NASCAR has they could afford to get a decent emcee. David Spade is a funny guy but surely NASCAR could've afforded to REALLY splurge and get Robin Williams. Or Steve Martin. Maybe even Chevy Chase. Or, better yet, get the guys from Southpark to just animate the entire thing with Stan and the gang. It worked real well for college football when they introduced starting lineups last weekend.

chase said...

John: Your column and the comments from posters surrounding the Banquet are right on the money. I did watch it (fortunately our cable system has ESPNClassic) and was once again, bored to tears. Everyone, including Dr. Punch, were wooden and reading from the teleprompter BUT Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick's comments saved the evening for me. It was obvious that they were not reading from the teleprompter and more of this 'winging it' is definitely needed. One poster said that we all know who these people are, their spouses or significant others, their sponsors, etc. One of the other 'standouts' was Brian France who, every time the camera went to him, looked either spaced or or else ready for a long nap. His father never acted that way at Banquets and, quite frankly, if he wasn't on his game then he should have stayed away. Hard to think that this disinterested person is the President of NASCAR. I also think that everyone at ESPN involved with NASCAR should be required to read your columns and the comments posted as should each and every NASCAR employee - perhaps if these 2 companies are 'struggling' (putting it mildly), why not see what the fans want? Without you John, I don't know what any of us would do.

Lenny said...

Very true JD. I think NASCAR is still trying to run away from a "redneck" persona. This is why they perfer the banquet to be outside of the south and also why they have their drivers on such a short leash. Clarkson was sub-par to say the least and Spade was so bad, he even admitted that his set was imploding.
The biggest travesity of all is not having the championship crew chief give his speech at the banquet. That is like a quarterback receiving an award for the team instead of the coach! You would never see that in the NFL, NBA, MLB or any of the other "major" sports in America. They have a lot of improving to do to make this watchable tv.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I think. Let Nascar have their corporate, boring, sponsor thanking, check presenting banquet same as they always do, but keep it to themselves. Then on TV, lets have some kind of year-end event that incorporates all the drivers, and is primarily for the fans. Let's have drivers as emcees, and let them talk about who they most like to race, or least like to race. Talk about their favorite tracks, what their best race was, what the worst was. No tuxedos or "entertainers" or comedians. As a fan, I just want to hear them talk about how their season went. What was fun and what was exciting. And that's everyone, not just the top ten. I would watch that for hours.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read all of the comments above, but I have read these same things each year for the last 4 or 5. I don't see that anyone has said what seems most obvious to me...the banquet doesn't need to "progress" as the sport has. The banquet needs to GO BACK to what it was just a few years ago. I remember the first year the poor drivers used the teleprompters and until that banquet, the banquets were very enjoyable...so I don't think someone has to come up with something really fancy and new to make the banquet what everyone would like it to be...just go back to letting the driver's be themselves (and that part has been mentioned by many others). I remember the drivers being obviously a lot more uncomfortable trying to read the teleprompters and making jokes not of their design than they ever were when they had to make up their own speeches and could speak "from the hip". I'm from NC (born and bred), I have a college degree, and I work for a living and pay my bills on time...and I LOVE NASCAR for the same reasons listed by most of the responses above...I like the inside/behind the scenes stuff that goes on...I like to see what the drivers do with their money in their free time...I like to read about the rumors and gossip that can really change things up in the garage area. I'm glad they dress up in tuxedos and their beautiful wives get all dolled up...it's a major awards banquet regardless of where it's held. My point above is...yes, Nascar got its roots here in the south, but Nascar doesn't have to go out of it's way to get rid of the "red-neck" image. Just because we're from the south doesn't mean we're rednecks. Heck, the "rednecks" spend more money on the sport than I'm willing to these days. And the "rednecks" consume the products that every corporate sponsor is trying to push with their involvement in the sport. Nascar needs to stop turning up their noses to the "rednecks" and let the sport be what it is. They have done a great job of broadening their fan base (done out of greed as far as I can tell though), but they could have done that without trying to make the show (races and banquets) look like a ritzy dog show where everyone sips on wine and hot tea and dresses like they're going to a funeral. (I used the word "redneck" not to mean a social class that I think I am above...to many, I'm sure I fit the bill and for at least part of that, I am proud...I just used that term because it's always been what the outside world (non-Nascar) has viewed us as). Drop the teleprompters and professionally prepared speeches, non-Nascar comedians, and musical acts that don't fit the scene and let it be a true Nascar awards banquet for the drivers, teams, the sport itself, and most importantly...us fans. I used to love watching the banquet! It made for the same conversation the following week as the races used to.

elena said...

Like many, I did not think DAvid Spade was that great. Well I read today that he was a last-minute replacement because Howie Mandel would not crosss the writer's picket line.

Anonymous said...

It was as boring as I feared it would be.

I agree that the banquet itself is in search of direction. If it is about the fans, get them more involved. If it's about the drivers and teams, adopt the Busch/truck series format of a late-night talk show. If it's only about the sponsors, don't show it at all, or at least force them to pay for ads during the program.

Why is Brian France so afraid to be around the drivers? Is it because, deep in their hearts, many of them hate him? After all, attendance is down, TV ratings are down, the Chase isn't working, and I'm sure the drivers are smart enough to know that.

Elena, please give me the source for the info that Howie Mandel was supposed to host. I have simply not heard that. Then again, if he had hosted, he could have staged Deal or No Deal with the drivers. That would have been a lot of fun!

One final note: What you saw on TV was not the entire ceremony. I heard part of the live radio broadcast at a local Best Buy store. During the part I listened to, J.D. Gibbs gave the invocation. I watched the telecast and it was not seen. This is ironic considering that every invocation and every anthem is shown on the race telecasts. And it's not as if ESPN Classic didn't have time. The show ended 15 minutes early, with SportsCentury: Jeff Gordon filling the remaining time.

Was the show compressed so that the ESPN2 re-broadcast could end on the button, knowing that the college football game would run past three hours, and the SportsCenter that followed it was to be on for a full hour?

Desmond

elena said...

Hi Desmond,

The info on David Spade was on
blog.scenedaily by Steve Waid

I know the Jay Leno and David Letterman would not have crossed the picket line either.

Anonymous said...

Howie Mandel? I think that would have been horrible...just my opinion.