Sunday, December 9, 2007

Truck Series Banquet Almost Gets It Right

There are plenty of reasons why a lot of fans like the Craftsman Truck Series races on SPEED. The network stays with a stripped-down version of live racing that puts the focus back on the track, the teams, and the drivers.

SPEED provides a focused thirty minute pre-race show with a solid host and then runs the race. There is no Infield Studio, no sports updates, and no clutter. It's just racing.

After a good season that saw the TV ratings increase, SPEED hosted the Truck Series banquet in Florida and aired it on a tape-delayed basis. The venue was great, and the room was very TV-friendly.

SPEED's Truck Series play-by-play announcer Rick Allen and pre-race host Krista Voda co-hosted the evening, which presented a bit of a problem. While Allen is a great guy, and has done a solid job on this series, he is not the same type of "talk show" style host as the experienced Voda.

While he might have played a role in announcing the teams and winning drivers, Voda should have been given the opportunity to do what she does best...and that is talk to people. Instead, she sat in the "Ed McMahon" chair and hosted her interviews from the couch. Next season, she needs to be front-and-center without a partner.

After a great comedy set from comedian Craig Shoemaker, the mood in the room was perfect for some candid conversation mixed in with thanks to sponsors and owners. If there is any series where drivers still have the type of character that attracts new race fans, the Truck Series is it.

Beginning with David Starr, Krista Voda took turns candidly interviewing the top finishers of the season in her laid-back style. Unfortunately, most of the conversations were brief and then the driver walked off the stage right in front of the camera while the network went to commercial.

In a very strange format twist, SPEED only allowed one minute of time for Voda and Allen to speak with each of the top nine drivers. During this same time, the network ran over eighteen minutes of commercials and had time for a song from their musical guest.

As viewers clearly saw, most of the content was SPEED selling its own apparel products for Christmas mixed with network promos and occasional commercials. By the time that the championship presentations came around, viewers had already seen twelve commercial breaks.

They also got a clue that Voda's interviewing skills on this night would be limited to one quick question before being interrupted by Allen who promptly ended the conversation.

Certainly, the ability to feature the champion, his crew chief, and his owner was what kept this program from being as mediocre as the Cup Banquet. Ron Hornaday is a character, and NASCAR needs more drivers like him making speeches from wrinkled notebook pages they composed in the hotel room the night before.

A retrospective on this function might prove that two hours would have been a better timeslot, and allowed Voda to have several minutes with the drivers in the top ten. The informal setting of the TV talk show set worked well, as it had in the past.

If Allen could have directed traffic from the podium, and Voda could have interviewed on the set, things would have flowed much more smoothly.

As it went, SPEED once again presented itself as a very professional TV network and kept their reputation intact with a safe and clean telecast. The audience looked marvelous, as did Voda in her evening wear. It is too bad that the time was tight, as it would have been fun to see some TV bloopers from the SPEED crew, including Michael Waltrip and Ray Dunlap. As it was, the SPEED cast who worked hard on the races all season long...was never mentioned.

The Truck Series is poised once again for a great season in 2008, as many Sprint Cup teams are going to use this series as support for their COT efforts. With some additional cross-over from both the open-wheel and ARCA ranks, it will be interesting to see if this series will once again feature the most competitive racing in NASCAR.

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