Sunday, April 29, 2007
As many NASCAR fans remember, when the restrictor plates came to Talladega, everything changed. Speeds that had crept-up into the two hundred and fifteen miles-an-hour range now sat at one ninety five. Teams that made and boasted about horsepower now sat mid-pack, starved for the very air that cemented the reputations of guys like Robert Yates, Runt Pittman, and the late Randy Dorton.
This also affected the way television portrayed NASCAR. No longer could the old-school "big power boys" be painted as former moonshiners who really could tune a hot rod. Now, the story was the slow building of frustration until "the big one" happened in the pack, with drivers unable to get out of the way. Over the following years, this emphasis on accidents replaced the real stories of the race.
Fox Sports fell into the trap this year of hyping "the big one." There are plenty of stories that were in-progress before Talladega, and will be discussed again next week at Richmond. This week, however, they were put in the trunk because the media has become obsessed with "the big one." That term is quickly becoming as annoying as the endless "Chase for the Cup."
Fox continued to struggle with the Hollywood Hotel, despite the best efforts of Chris Myers to try and "act" his way through the NASCAR news and notes. Myers interview of Dale Junior was incredibly uncomfortable, with Junior standing and glaring with his arms folded. Why it was aired is anyone's guess.
With all the on-going issues in NASCAR, its tough to swallow the fact that Juan Montoya playing the NASCAR on Fox gang at paintball was a feature that should have aired in this pre-race. Maybe the two hour RaceDay on SPEED program would have been a better place for this to be shown. Perhaps, without the real and serious tension of a dangerous racetrack just prior to racing, the paintball deal might have been fun. In this show, it was kind of embarrassing and revealed a little boredom with "just racing" by a crew that has been doing it now for several years.
Once on the track, things flowed smoothly thanks to the leadership of Mike Joy. His perspective can help to keep things focused and upbeat even during the most boring of single file laps and pit stops under caution. Luckily, the race exploded with twenty three laps remaining, and wound-up being an exciting event.
The Fox tech and production crew continues to be the most positive element of these telecasts. When viewers expect perfection, that is a sign of the consistency these producers, directors, and entire crew have shown this season. The ability of the pit reporters to contribute information freely throughout the program is a credit to the overall race philosophy at Fox. Thanks to the recent re-framing of the "flying boxes" video effect, it actually works quite well in many situations.
As any regular reader of The Daly Planet knows, we have had a big issue with the NASCAR on Fox decision earlier this season to begin showing only the top two cars cross the finish line. At both Bristol and Martinsville, viewers missed top drivers like Junior, Tony, Juan, Jeff, and others finishing the event. As I mentioned this week on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, when only the fans at the track see the lead lap cars finish, something is just not right.
This week, at Talladega, the late caution and yellow flag finish allowed the NASCAR on Fox Director to show the lead lappers cross the line, because there was no other way to do it. When the series goes to Richmond, it will be another production decision about how to show the finishing cars to the viewers in the best manner for all the fans.
Talladega ended with a thud, but the NASCAR on Fox performance was informed and consistent from start-to-finish. Kudos to the crew for not hyping the small amount of fans who protested the yellow flag finish with their beer cans. In the old days, at Rockingham, they used to throw chicken bones on the backstretch. Some things will never change.
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RaceDay from Talladega might have been the best example of NASCAR TV in many years. That is not a comment that comes easily to me, but I have been thoroughly convinced that SPEED has hit on a combination of personalities and behind-the-scenes professionals that is simply outstanding.
This week, a diverse amount of information needed to be relayed to the NASCAR fans. It included serious topics like Tony Stewart's angry comments, the violent Busch Series wreck of Kyle Busch, and the touchy subject of Jeff Gordon passing Dale Senior in the record book.
In addition, there was a major race to be previewed. After the Busch race, it was clear that new dangers awaited with the pavement change. It was clear that tensions were high with the season starting to become "real," and "The Chase" starting to become an issue. As always, it was going to be interesting to see Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace talk to us in the unique style they have developed.
The glue that holds this two hour live event together is host John Roberts and reporter Wendy Venturini. Roberts continues to be the best discovery of the executives at SPEED. He has risen to the challenges presented to him, and hosts a wide variety of programs for the network every weekend. His clarity and focus is unmatched, and his ability to deal with a wide variety of NASCAR and entertainment personalities allows RaceDay to be free-wheeling and consistently interesting.
Wendy Venturini is about to explode. Trust me on this. The only question is what direction her explosive career path will take. A smart, savvy, well-spoken young woman with a wicked sense of humor and a great on-screen presence can chart her own course through the TV landscape. Let's hope she decides to stay in the racing world. Venturini needs to be given a larger presence on SPEED to insure that she continues with the network. While present on the weekend, she goes missing during the week, and viewers know it. As previously suggested by The Daly Planet, perhaps a shot at hosting Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing on SPEED might be a wonderful opportunity.
Venturini had NASCAR's Jim Hunter on-camera responding to the Tony Stewart's situation. When a top executive like Hunter is comfortable talking live to a national TV reporter about a touchy subject like Stewart, it is a statement about Venturini's credibility and trust factor. Watching her develop into a top TV professional right before our eyes on SPEED has been a pleasure. Let's hope she stays for a while. Let's hope she stays for a long while.
The producers of RaceDay have also grasped the concept that has eluded many other NASCAR TV partners. That is the inclusion of video footage from the past to reference current and future events. To hear the late Larry Nuber's voice, to see the old ESPN graphics, and to listen to the race call of Bob Jenkins was an emotional experience for veteran NASCAR fans. Even more of this as the season goes on would be welcome. Kudos to SPEED for stepping-over the small-minded network boundaries of sports TV for the good of the sport and the fans.
As speeds at Talladega once again creep toward the magic two hundred mile-an-hour mark, SPEED brought out an amazing feature report. Focusing on Talladega, high speed, and the legendary Bobby Allison's accident, this wonderful feature brought a sense of perspective for new fans, while reminding the veterans how NASCAR has changed in response to the problems of the past. The ultimate topper was the surprise appearance of Bobby Allison himself on the set. With all the reverence that is due to him, the RaceDay crew absolutely celebrated Bobby and his contributions to the sport. A wonderful segment that will not be soon forgotten.
As the season continues, RaceDay needs to focus on stepping back and helping the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series. This part of the sport would really benefit from more exposure on national TV and the strong feelings that Spencer and Wallace have for NASCAR as a whole. In a season packed with difficult struggles for many TV programs and series, RaceDay on SPEED continues to be an example of great NASCAR TV.
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