Sunday, February 11, 2007


SPEED Channel's 2007 weekly news program is called The SPEED Report. Somehow, the network's weekly look at the world of motorsports has morphed into a cross between Entertainment Tonight and MTV's Headbangers Ball.

Supported by hard-rock music blasted under highlight video, the show staggers off-pace through an hour of strange and diverse contrasts. Studio hosts Drew Johnson and Nicole Manske are no match for the intense level of news and racing information that needs to be relayed to the viewers. Both are clearly not racing fans, with little knowledge of the diverse racing series here in the US and around the world. These two former local station reporters displaced motorsports veterans like Bob Jenkins, Ralph Sheheen, and Bob Varsha much to the dismay of many SPEED viewers.

The saving grace for the program is the various reports packaged by the on-scene talent at SPEED events. They bring viewers the latest from F-1, SCCA, ARCA, and other series that telecast races on SPEED. Unfortunately, the longer The SPEED Report goes on, the deeper the contrast between the experience of the field reporters, and the lack of knowledge of the studio hosts. Its seems, at times, like the adults are out working on the racing events while the teenagers are home minding the store.

The contrast in knowledge is even more apparent when the studio hosts attempt to voice-over race video highlights. They can read the script, but clearly do not have the background or experience to be operating at a national network level. Often, they return to their local station roots by joking around and actually eliminating the details from the highlights they show, as if they were speaking to casual fans of the 11 PM News. According to SPEED's own message board, many viewers are tired of the antics, and are demanding change.

With the season just beginning, it will be interesting to see what The SPEED Report looks like in a couple of months. With ESPN now running a daily NASCAR show, and supporting it with ESPN News and SportsCenter coverage of other motorsports, SPEED is going to have to step-up to the plate and defend its claim as the home of NASCAR.

SPEED: NASCAR Live from Daytona

SPEED Channel rolls out the NASCAR Live program with multiple Daytona shows hosted by the wonderful John Roberts. Following Daytona 500 qualifying, Roberts and a fresh-voiced Jimmy Spencer showed the positive side of NASCAR with solid information and opinions about Speedweeks.

Coupled with reporters Ray Dunlap, Krista Voda, and Bob Dilner, Roberts is clearly the top studio host in the SPEED stable. Jimmy Spencer turns into a completely different person when his sidekick Kenny Wallace is not around, and Spencer offers heartfelt emotion and solid information that is sorely lacking on the Raceday series. Roberts and Spencer have a chemistry that is easy to enjoy.

Without the hype that surrounds many Fox and SPEED telecasts, the large stable of analysts, reporters, and anchors are finally allowed to shine. One simple program like NASCAR Live featured ten veteran announcers and provided more information for NASCAR fans than all the earlier telecasts combined. This is SPEED at its best, focused on information and racing.

Hollywood Hotel: Time For Change

When Fox Sports rolled out the Hollywood Hotel, it seemed that expanding the pit road presence to include a mobile studio was a good idea. The announcing team was new, the Fox presence in NASCAR was new, and most of the broadcast network audience was new as well.

Now, as Fox swings into the 2007 season, things have changed. SPEED Channel has its own at-track location for its myriad of pre and post-race shows. ESPN has come aboard, taking the entire Busch Series exclusively, and establishing a huge presence at every event. Internet bloggers and websites update video and information almost instantly from the track all weekend long.

The original need for the Hollywood Hotel is gone. A more effective pre-race show could be hosted by Jeff Hammond alone, and feature the four NASCAR on Fox pit reporters, and the broadcast team of Larry Mac and DW. Hammond has become a polished television professional, who is clearly under-used during his caution flag appearances and his hectic Cut-A-Way car updates.

With Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel, guests could be hosted without the corny and awkward antics of Chris Myers. There are a number of interesting people at every NASCAR racing weekend, and Hammond's down-home style and laid back manner would put anyone at ease. It certainly would be a welcome sight to greet a new guest and hear new opinions from the Hollywood Hotel, rather than face a grinning Chris Myers who consistently brings the racing intelligence level of the telecast down significantly.

With the Daytona 500 looming, it will be interesting to see if the lessons learned from the Bud Shootout result in any significant on-air changes at the Hollywood Hotel.