Monday, January 7, 2008
ESPN Classic Network Shows Its NASCAR Potential
The wonderful tones of the late Bill Flemming were a welcome change from the normal ESPN Classic programming. To hear him open the 1976 Daytona 500 Highlight show by describing Ramo Stott as leading the pack into Turn 1 was absolutely fantastic.
After months of begging ESPN to include off-season NASCAR programming in the ESPN Classic line-up, a sudden announcement popped-up Friday on Jayski.com saying that the company had taken the first step. Six classic Daytona 500 races would be shown every Monday leading up to this year's race.
Airing at 2PM Eastern Time, the six scheduled programs were clearly intended to be recorded by fans for later viewing. To that end, ESPN.com is hosting a page where fans can vote for their favorite of the six shows. On the eve of this season's Daytona 500, ESPN Classic will replay all six races back-to-back in the order that the fans have chosen.
Mr. Flemming passed away this past July at the age of 80. He was an old style plain-spoken broadcaster that fans truly enjoyed. Entering TV in 1949, he joined ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1961. His long TV career covered 11 Olympic Games, and featured Flemming on sports from Cliff Diving in Acapulco to Irish Hurling.
In this race, Flemming teamed with Jackie Stewart to create the type of simple excitement and straight-forward race coverage sadly lacking in today's TV world. Stewart, the former Formula 1 Champion, discovered NASCAR through ABC and became a true fan of the sport. He described to me once that NASCAR was the biggest "culture shock" he had ever experienced.
He was delighted that the distinctly Southern fans had greeted him with open arms at the tracks, especially the "colorful" characters he found in the infield. Needless to say, nothing like that existed "across the pond."
The thing that cemented his love for NASCAR was when he was informed by the TV crew that the very same fans that treated him so well...had absolutely no idea who he was. Southern hospitality was extended not because he was a Formula 1 champ, but just because he was interested in NASCAR.
TV viewers had to take a deep breath when the late Benny Parsons was shown taking the lead of the race. This is the power of showing historic NASCAR racing on ESPN. Moments in time that have sat quietly on a shelf for years suddenly trigger thoughts and emotions the second they air. That was certainly the case for this program.
Kudos to ESPN for stepping-up and making the first move to integrate NASCAR programming on ESPN Classic. With the cooperation of NASCAR Images, the sport's official "keeper" of racing footage, ESPN Classic could become a strong influence on the effort to re-build the TV ratings and the exposure of NASCAR on TV.
Establishing a regular weekly series of NASCAR programming during the racing season on ESPN Classic would serve several purposes. First and foremost, it would help fans to believe that ESPN respects this fifty-plus year-old sport in the same way that it features so many other non-racing programs on the network.
Finally, it would allow the younger NASCAR fans that ESPN covets to see what this sport was like decades ago. Nothing is a better representative for NASCAR than the classic broadcasts of the past featuring announcers who have become legends in broadcasting.
The final two laps of the race, without any graphics on the screen and with cameras using wideshots to convey the speed, could not be better. Needless to say, the classic tangle between Richard Petty and David Pearson will always be a favorite Daytona moment.
The only fitting finish to a race like this would be a fresh-faced Chris Economaki standing alongside Bill "The Hat Man" Broderick and talking to a tough old-school driver known as "The Silver Fox" in Victory Lane.
Classic NASCAR races speak for themselves, they just need a place to be seen and heard.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the easy instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not need your email address. We just want your opinion, and we thank you for stopping by.