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.

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20 comments:

Wisconsin Steve said...

Its nice to see ESPN Classic reairing these races.

I found it strange that they stopped regulary airing classic races from the 70s, 80s and 90s when they got back into covering live races last year. It seemed counter-productive to me.

Lisa Hogan said...

Don't have Classic. Enjoyed the column. :)

Anonymous said...

"Kudos to ESPN for stepping-up and making the first move to integrate NASCAR programming on ESPN Classic."

Am I missing something, I thought ESPN had run Classic NASCAR on that channel in years past?? They have been playing most of all the races they did in the early years.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Great comment. ESPN Classic has not run any series type of NASCAR programming for some time now. They have repeated a summer filler show from ABC called NASCAR in Primetime. These are races.

What you may have been seeing was FoxSportsNet, that network has been running one hour NASCAR Classics for a while now.

This is a big step for the "new" ESPN Classic, and if they make a move to continue this after Daytona, it will really give fans some destination for classic shows and past races.

While we still await the SPEED schedule, it does not look right now that anything of this nature will be on SPEED. They remain focused on the weekend programming from the track, and INC on Mondays.

Thanks for the reminder to always put things in perspective.

JD

Thornton, Colorado said...

I'm glad they are putting the "old" races on t.v. It gives not just younger viewers a chance to see history,but everyone a
chance to see the excitement of early televised races. Plus, the added bonus of seeing a network bring their staff and equipment and WATCH the action unfold. No pre fabbed story lines, no promo agendas, no fake scripts,and just genuine EXCITEMENT from the announcers!
God Bless Bill Flemming and people of his caliber. Professional and sincere.

Newracefan said...

Sounds like it would have been fun to watch too bad no classic for me

Busch Series Fan! said...

Yes, we are idiots in our house and forgot to set tivo today! Darn it!

Patrick said...

I'm one of the fortunate ones that has Classic on Dish. However, had I not read what time the programming was on (here and Jayski) and assumed that it was two hours, I wouldn't have known at all. I had to manually set my DVR to record Cheap Seats plus an additional 1 1/2 hours.
I'm sure this is a one-time occurrence, since this will be each Monday for the next 5 weeks. I only wish that the title of the DVR episode matched what was recorded. I had some lingering doubts while at work as to whether or not I had set it properly.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Patrick,

Because ESPN made this surprise announcement on Friday, the viewer schedules for most cable and dish companies did not get changed.

Hopefully, next Monday will be reflected as the correct line-up. ESPN normally schedules three months in advance, this was done with two days notice.

Someone is listening.

JD

Anonymous said...

Thank you for remembering Bill Flemming. He was special.
I applaud ESPN CLASSIC for showing CLASSIC Daytona races. Seems appropriate for that outlet.
Forgive me if I suspect that ESPN's response to fan outrage will be to throw us "old" fans a few ESPN Classic bones and continue their arrogant ways.
Oh, I so hope I'm wrong......

Makiki

Anonymous said...

Don't have Classic. Enjoyed the column. :)

Me too.

ESPN Classic has not run any series type of NASCAR programming for some time now. They have repeated a summer filler show from ABC called NASCAR in Primetime.

Random but relevant to viewers of NASCAR in Primetime: Johnny Sauter and his girlfriend Cortney, who were the talk of NASCAR in Primetime (read some of the old DP program reviews) for their...uh... dramatic outlook on life, got married last month. A happy ending.

Shorebilly said...

To the folks at ESPN.....please work on your primary NASCAR productions. Most folks don't even have ESPN Classic. I think that you have too many venues (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, and their alternates) and insufficient talent.
ESPN needs to keep it's programming eye on the ball (in this case the race car), and not confuse it's already clueless staff. First things first, get your race programming up to snuff, and learn to air your shows when scheduled. Then perhaps you could expand your programming to include vintage NASCAR, but remember that Dale Jr. already has "Back in the Day" over on SPEED.
I can see it now, the Howard Cosell wannabe sports announcer who still doesn't know which driver is in the car....calling Darrell Waltrip in the #17 Dewalt Pontiac......

Anonymous said...

One note here - Bill Flemming was doing the race in '76 because Keith Jackson was still in Innsbruck covering the Olympics.

whigbee said...

John, jst a quick note... Ramo's last name is STott, not SCott.
Cheers,
Acts 4.12,
Bill Higbee

Sandie said...

I totally forgot they were doing this!

I miss the FULL races, I hate that they've been doing the 1 hour thing. That's how I knew of the 'love fest' the older fans had with ESPN and hoped to renew when they took over. It was nice to see tracks us 'new' fans never got to enjoy.

And speaking of SPEED and NA$CAR programming, I also loved back in 2000-2003 or so where they would have on Thursdays I believe an old race and Matt Yumyum and Mike Joy would alternate hosting. They'd have someone from the race who was a key player (i.e. Ernie Irvan's return at Michigan) in studio to give commentary.

Anonymous said...

I love it! HA!

You are giving ESPN kudos for essentially inserting a DVD into a player and pushing PLAY!

GIVE ME A BREAK!

Let's see this network actually present a Live NASCAR that I can actually watch.

Ah, the 'Days of Yesteryear.' If only ESPN's production staf would watch some of these 'old' race and take some ideas to heart.

I'm not holding my breath.

CYa!

Jeff

CYa!
Jeff

GinaV24 said...

I'm sure it was great. Same problem though -- ESPN Classic is NOT available to everyone. I have a digital cable package and 2 ESPN channels, but not Classic, so I'm out of luck if they start airing stuff over there. I know for sure that Comcast isn't adding this station to my package. I may have to go to direct TV to see if I can get it, but I'm going to wait and see if the coverage is worth the hassle before I do anything different with my broadcast package.

Anonymous said...

Same problem -- ESPN Classic is NOT available to everyone. I have a digital cable package and 2 ESPN channels, but not Classic. My provider is Suddenlink, and I have no idea if they are even considering making the Classic channel available to extended basic customers.

Modor2020 said...

Back in 1996; ESPN2 would show classic races in the afternoon during select weeks that ESPN had the race.

There are many races that ESPN has on their shelves that they have never reaired; they usually rotate through the same 20-30 races.

rich said...

Enjoyed the race but wish it was longer and not edited as short as it was and way too many commercials in a 1 hr show. But overall thanks ESPN