Friday, July 20, 2007

Andy Petree Shines In Gateway Busch Practice

Dr. Jerry Punch is a broadcast veteran with lots of experience in a wide variety of studio and on-location roles. This season he is the voice of NASCAR on ESPN and ABC Sports. Alongside Punch is veteran driver Rusty Wallace, who worked hard on ESPN's IndyCar Series to fine-tune his TV skills as an analyst.

How ironic is it then that the biggest star so far for the ESPN "booth announcer" trio is the rookie Andy Petree? Without a doubt, Petree has been the surprise of the season when it comes to providing information to the fans with a great attitude and outstanding technical knowledge. ESPN executives must be smiling.

Petree just naturally comes across as credible and easy-going. This is made all the more impressive when he begins to explain the things going on trackside. It always seems that he has been down in the pits and visited each driver and crew member in the entire series.

Earlier this season, after calling an wonderful Busch Series race for ESPN2, The Daly Planet wondered if anyone else felt that Andy gave off the same positive glow about the sport that endeared fans to the late Benny Parsons. Both of these men love to talk personally about the "who" and the "why" behind what is going on. This comes at a time when other networks just "pass through" the sport talking about "who is leading right now."

Petree has worked with both Wallace and Dale Jarrett in the booth, and proved to be a good partner with both. He also has a good and respectful relationship with Jerry Punch, who is clearly taking on the assignment of his TV career. Punch leans on Petree to provide the details that only he knows from his "hands-on" research. BP used to call it "walking around the pits."

At Gateway, the team also relied on Jamie Little and Dave Burns on pit road. Both of these reporters worked hard, and contributed a ton of information to the show. Little has been trying to rebound from some struggles earlier this year, and it shows. She was aggressive and outspoken in her questions to drivers, and covered a lot of ground.

The crew had fun because there were many young future stars of NASCAR on the track, as this is a stand-alone Busch Series race on a classic NASCAR vacation weekend. Wallace and Petree both seemed to be positive cheerleaders for the youth movement in the sport. Punch was able to say "this young man" a whole lot in this practice.

The ESPN graphic package has finally been tweaked to the point where it works. The size, clarity, and speed of the graphic elements added to this show rather than detracting and moving the viewers eyes around the screen in a bad way. With all the new faces in this race, it was a great effort by the entire production team to insert "headshots" of the drivers as much as possible.

The team also dealt well with the subject of Rusty's son being a driver in the Busch Series. Punch and Petree take the lead where Steven Wallace is concerned, and let Rusty pipe in at the end with his "veteran" advice. If the younger Wallace ever gets the hang of this sport, watching him roll into Victory Lane with Rusty in the booth will be a lot of fun.

One week before this team makes its NEXTEL Cup debut at The Brickyard 400, it seems that there is smooth sailing in the broadcast booth and on pit road for ESPN as it heads for the big time. Even in a minor Busch Series practice, Andy Petree went the extra mile to give fans the inside stories and the reasons behind the things happening on the track. All in all, it was a great sign of things to come from this trio.

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ESPN Turns The Tide In The Nick Of Time

Not too much attention is focused this weekend on the lone NASCAR "national series" event near St. Louis. At Gateway International Raceway, a lot of Busch Series "regulars" are trying to get some quality national TV exposure on ESPN2.

Friday, the network scheduled back-to-back their daily NASCAR show and the normally boring Busch Series practice session. Surprisingly, this turned-out to be a great decision and a good solid ninety minutes of NASCAR TV.

Once again, Ryan Burr hosted a NASCAR Now show that focused on the Busch Series event, and then broadened-out into the racing stories of the day. ESPN Studio Analyst Stacy Compton could not wipe the smile off his face as he had the opportunity to work with Burr.

Compton was finally allowed to spread his wings, and share his views without interruption. Burr led Compton through a discussion about the upcoming seventeen week NASCAR grind and the fact that the crew members and shop guys have it a lot harder than the drivers. Compton always shoots straight, and he likes to rib the NEXTEL Cup drivers who "lounge around in their motor homes." Did I mention he could not stop smiling?

DJ Copp was next to benefit from Burr's actual NASCAR knowledge. Copp is a DEI employee and pit crew member. Copp got to explain Dale Junior's power steering problems, and did a great job telling fans the information they did not get on the final TNT telecast. This season, Copp has always "just been himself" and has done a great job with his knowledge of the pit crew side of the business.

Then, NASCAR Now profiled a group of people involved in the sport who viewers would not normally see. This time, it was Mike Wallace and his two kids who both race locally in North Carolina. Mike's daughter Chrissy is a hot ticket who has been strong in her driving efforts and could possibly be in the Craftsman Truck Series next season. This tough and headstrong young lady was great in her interviews, and the show followed it up with a live telephone interview with her dad. Mike is a great guy, and he was both a good parent and a good promoter in his interview.

ESPN is continuing to prove that they suddenly "get it" by going out live to Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree at Gateway. They were able to follow up the Wallace family story, preview the upcoming practice, and even pick the favorites for the weekend race. This is exactly what the network needs to show viewers that all the ESPN "pieces" can come together for one serve the NASCAR fans.

Burr rounded-out the show with a live telephone interview of driver Brent Sherman. Then, Stacy Compton gave a fast-paced "insider" view of Gateway and the race itself. Compton and Burr had fun, picked a winner, and then signed-off by thanking each other by name...imagine that. Polite comes to NASCAR Now.

Who would have imagined that this one week could have been such a turning point for this program series? If ESPN can keep the momentum going with this show, they will have put themselves in a very good position to preview the start of their NEXTEL Cup coverage using NASCAR Now as a daily information source. And, after all, wasn't that the original idea?

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