Saturday, April 21, 2007
Several weeks ago, I had quite a problem with the Tradin' Paint program airing on SPEED Channel. There were lots of issues with the program, the topics, and NASCAR's role in deciding what made it to the table for discussion. Fortunately, the folks as SPEED were quick to respond.
They made it clear that this program is a stand-alone production by the network, and is not influenced by NASCAR itself. Further, they stated that Michael Waltrip would be leaving the show by choice, and Kyle Petty would be taking the seat on the panel designated for a NASCAR driver. Other than John Roberts, who will continue to host the show, the other seat for the "journalist" spot would continue to rotate.
Unfortunately, most print journalists have a very hard time translating their words to the tiny screen, and it shows. This has lead to a string of very intelligent, but extremely boring reporters sitting on the panel, and slowing the show's pace to a crawl. They talk the same way they type on their laptop, slowly. Fortunately, SPEED Channel recently took a giant leap-of-faith, and it has paid-off in spades.
The Pemberton name is a familiar one to NASCAR fans. It is also a familiar one to me, having worked at the old Sunbelt Video in Charlotte, NC. During that time, Inside Winston Cup Racing was the flagship show, and Randy Pemberton was the reporter. He was a hard-working and hard-living man in the tradition of NASCAR "guys" at that time. His family was deep into racing, but Randy was deep into television. And his future was bright.
Ultimately, life deals everyone different hands, and the cards that were dealt to Randy did not allow him to return to the national TV stage until now. Taking his place as the "reporter" on Tradin' Paint has allowed the country to again hear his clear voice and passionate feelings about the sport. He also brings with it a life of experience with NASCAR that goes back into the 1970's.
In watching this weekend's edition, it was clear that Petty, Pemberton, and Roberts were a great team. With Roberts directing traffic, and then getting out of the way, both Kyle and Randy were able to speak directly to a very diverse group of NASCAR issues with authority and experience. These are two elements that have become extremely scarce in recent years.
Their views could only have been complimented by perhaps adding some additional graphics or videotape, called B-roll, to the program. Otherwise, SPEED seems to have finally found a combination of personalities that can cover a sport that is now so big, its even hard to describe. This could be the start of another distinctive and exclusive NASCAR franchise for SPEED Channel.
Best wishes to Randy on his return to TV, and his continued success with his "other" job on the DirecTV Hot Pass package as an announcer. It was nice to see him on national TV once again, and even nicer to hear informed opinions from people who know NASCAR.
MSN's Encarta Dictionary defines "bi-polar" as "having two different ideas, opinions, or attitudes." The key thing is that the word is used for only one subject. One thing that can be completely different whenever it wants to be. For those of us who follow NASCAR's TV programs, this term can only apply to one show...NASCAR Now on ESPN2.
Saturday morning welcomed the NEXTEL Cup preview and Busch Series review version of this show to the air. Ryan Burr, who is now referred to as "the good witch" by Daly Planet readers, was on-hand to host the program. Alongside in the Connecticut studio were regulars Stacy Compton and Tim Cowlishaw.
Right away, it was clear that things were on-track and priorities had been established. All three announcers addressed the Virginia Tech tragedy, and the NASCAR connections. Then, things moved-on to racing. Jeff Gordon made his mark with USAC pavement racing on ESPN. If anyone has not seen him on two wheels nearly flipping and never lifting, check-it out on YouTube. He seemed to use that experience with the COT at Phoenix. Gordon spoke on tape about his pole run, the COT issue, and the race. After a quick recap of final practice, it was directly out to the track and time for Tim Brewer to talk about issues, and Angelique Chengelis to talk about the news.
Chengelis is key to ESPN either building or losing credibility with the Dale Jr. story about contract negotiations. In this show, she stuck by her guns that a "deal is on the table" that has ownership as a part of it. She also covered several other hot topics including Michael Waltrip, and then professionally moved-on without opinion or commentary. That, my friends, is called news.
Surprising field reporter Shannon Spake stepped-up with a well-done story on Virginia Tech and the NASCAR community. Spake finally used the ABC News connections and footage that NASCAR Now has been avoiding to round-out her report. Spake appeared live on-camera at both the beginning and end of this feature to put things in a well-rounded perspective for viewers. It seems every racing season that for new reporters competition builds experience, but tragedy builds respect. Today, Spake earned well-deserved respect.
Taking a moment to remember its bi-polar roots, this edition of NASCAR Now effectively squashed the very same "Junior drove Kyle's car" story that the "other" NASCAR Now has been hyping all week. This is where it gets fun. This NASCAR Now even had exclusive sound from Junior saying "It was just a favor. I'm a throwback. I was really surprised by how some of the media took it, and spun it. And, I would do it again in a heartbeat." One might think that ESPN would know...Junior is referring to them!
As if ESPN could not get enough of NASCAR Now actually abusing itself, the show then moved on to Juan Montoya. Ryan Burr and crew actually had Montoya look them in the eye live and say "Its funny how you guys in the press make a big deal out of nothing." Montoya absolutely took ESPN to task for flogging the non-story of a minor spin in one race early in the season. Regardless of Montoya's style, the weekday edition of NASCAR Now embarrassed itself over this issue. Erik Kuselias was almost drooling.
While today's show was outstanding, someone at NASCAR has to sit-down with ESPN and explain what the Busch Series means to this sport. After a great race on Friday night, NASCAR Now ran only a one minute Busch Series video highlights package. It showed nothing but two crashes and the race finish. It did not even contain an interview with the winner. The criticism of ESPN's baseball highlights is that they contain home runs and hit batters, but never tell the "story" of the game. This is exactly what NASCAR Now is doing to the Busch Series, which ESPN2 pays millions to televise. This race deserved a set-up with pole and grid information, a detailed highlight package, and sound from the winner and other key drivers. How does Kyle Busch get crashed again in a Busch race and not get interviewed? That only happened last night, and now its NASCAR Now...get it?
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