Saturday, December 1, 2007
NASCAR TV Needs One Little Thing: Diversity
The weekend after the NEXTEL Cup Banquet is the real end of the season for many race fans. The reality that there is no more Tony, Junior or Jimmie really hits home when the last TV show says goodnight.
Memories of the races begin to mix with the fun of RaceDay, Trackside and Brent Musburger in his sneakers. With over one hundred and fifty hours of racing, and several hundred hours of "support programming," the Cup season is a television blur.
Over on the drag racing trail, the NHRA is also a professional racing series that lives its TV life on the ESPN Networks. The diversity of the classes mixed with the personalities of the drivers and the incredible speeds makes for a very entertaining TV package.
They also have a support show on ESPN2 called NHRA2Day. This thirty minute program is considered outstanding by most NHRA fans. It basically fills the role of NASCAR Countdown on ABC, the network's pre-race show.
Also, like NASCAR, the NHRA has regional and local racing series. As the national series cris-crosses the country, it visits the racetracks to hold legendary events visited by fans on sold-out weekends. Everyone gets into the pits for free.
There is one striking difference between the two series that really hits home after both of the end-of-season banquets. That is Tony Schumacher in the picture above, the 2007 Top Fuel Dragster Champion.
With Tony in the picture is Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown. Both of them finished in the top ten in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Also, finishing in the top twenty in Top Fuel were J.R. Todd, Melanie Troxel, and Hillary Will.
This past season in NHRA competition, the sex or the race of the drivers was an afterthought. J.R. Todd is the Kyle Busch of the series, a feisty driver with a hot foot that likes to go fast. He is a fan favorite. Mr. Todd is black. Antron Brown, pictured above, is graduating from the motorcycles to Top Fuel Dragster next season. He will be the NHRA face of Matco Tools.
The NHRA Awards Ceremony aired November 18th on ESPN2. It took place at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. Like NASCAR, the NHRA lost a pioneer this season when Wally Parks passed away at the age of 94. He was remembered in much the same way as Bill France Jr. was at the NASCAR banquet.
The NHRA Top Fuel Funny Car Champion this season was Tony Pedregon. He and his brother Cruz are two of the highest profile Hispanic drivers in the country. In his speech, delivered without a Teleprompter or notes, he put everything into perspective. He remembered his good friend Eric Medlen who lost his life in a practice crash, and his former boss John Force who had been injured in a similar accident. Then, he began to cry.
Wally Parks meant a lot of things to a lot of people, but he and the NHRA meant the world to a young second-generation racer struggling to make it to the big time. This was a TV moment not to be missed, and it reminded everyone at the ceremony how deeply this sport had touched all their lives.
As the TV cameras looked across the tables, the faces appeared to be very different from those at the NASCAR banquet. The well-dressed women who rose to come forward were not on the arm of the winner, they were the winner. The handsome Black and Hispanic men fit into the crowd like a glove, with everyone chatting and having what appeared to be a very good time.
Those TV cameras have a lot of power. They put into the minds of everyone watching images that form impressions. The impression of the NHRA was that a diverse group of people had come together after a tough season for a heartfelt awards ceremony.
The same simply could not be said of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Banquet. Try as they might, NASCAR had once again passively allowed the TV cameras to sent a message that contained a theme they just cannot escape. This sport is for white males.
Even a momentary mention of Juan Pablo Montoya was never followed by a single camera shot of that driver. Fortunately, it was during the only bright spot of the night when Tony Stewart delivered a speech that was possibly funnier than David Spade had been all evening.
The pressure is on NASCAR to find a way to diversify by giving opportunity to those who want it and can prove they have the ability. Continuing to import already established stars will only solve the problem for a short while. Hopefully, when the TV cameras pan across the crowd at a future banquet, the faces will be just a little more...diverse.
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