Monday, February 25, 2008

NASCAR's TV Partners Shine In The Rain


The afterglow of Daytona was still in the minds of many fans as all three of NASCAR's national touring series headed to Fontana, California.

It did not take long for Mother Nature to remind us how fragile this sport is when it comes to raindrops. While there was one situation for NASCAR to deal with on the track, there was a logistical and scheduling nightmare in-progress for three of NASCAR's biggest TV partners.

SPEED, ESPN2 and Fox Sports responded in a manner that will be remembered for a long time. Fox managed to squeeze in the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday, but almost every other program and event scheduled from the track was affected by rain.

TV viewers now have interesting memories of Darrell Waltrip and Matt Kenseth freezing on the SPEED Stage as Steve Byrnes hosted a Trackside show in the drizzle. John Roberts led his RaceDay gang through two hours of "reality programming" that still got a lot of information across to the fans despite the weather. SPEED did not miss a beat, even while soggy.

As ESPN's Allen Bestwick took to the air on Saturday evening for the Nationwide Series race, it was clear that the weather situation was dicey at best. But, what happened next was amazing.

Bestwick and the NASCAR on ESPN crew took a deep breath and filled three hours of live national TV in primetime while doing only one thing. That was talking about NASCAR.

In retrospect, the ESPN crew may look back on this night as a rallying point. Last year, it seemed that nothing could go right for this bunch. Burdened by bad announcers, awkward production and terrible racing luck, the season was not exactly what had been expected.

Now, with the right people in place and clearly focused on the sport, ESPN has erased in two weekends the bad memories of an entire season. On Saturday, from 7PM all the way until the scheduled off time of 10PM, fans were glued to the TV.

The new NASCAR on ESPN crew did not need SportsCenter updates, they did not need music videos and they did not need TV anchors back in the Connecticut studio. All they did was rally the troops, put on their helmets, and deliver three hours of solid NASCAR TV coverage that reminded us of the hardcore "old school" ESPN of the 1980's. Everyone worked hard, and the effort resulted in great TV.

Fox strolled-in for the Sunday Sprint Cup coverage knowing full well that things were going to be delayed. I doubt they had any idea just how long. Viewers first saw Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond from the Hollywood Hotel at 3:30PM Eastern Time. Over nine hours later, the somewhat disheveled duo was finally delivering the news that the race was postponed, with far less than half the laps run.

Fox has a slightly different broadcast dynamic than ESPN, so Mike Joy led the TV coverage from the booth. Chris Myers provides more of a comic relief role combined with traditional TV hosting duties like promos and transitions. It is effective, just different.

Waltrip, Hammond and Larry McReynolds proved once again why fans have enjoyed their personal and professional interaction for all these years. Combined with the best pit reporters on TV, the Fox team matched the intensity of the ESPN coverage and hung-in for hours with the focus clearly on NASCAR. They may have outlasted most of their East Coast viewers.

Monday saw two tired network teams deliver two crisp race broadcasts without incident and with a justified sense of relief. Despite the absence of the Hollywood Hotel and ESPN's Pit Center, the fact that racing was actually underway made everything else pale in comparison. If only the racing had been worth the wait.

A nice topper on this situation was the effort made by SPEED and ESPN to bring fans full wrap-up shows on Monday night. Allen Bestwick and Marty Smith flew all the way back to Connecticut to anchor a one hour NASCAR Now program with Boris Said along in the studio.

True to their pre-season word, the show included the ESPN broadcast team and also on-scene reporter Angelique Chengelis. It was a full and informative hour, even after all the chaos of the weekend. What a strong three day performance by ESPN.

Over at SPEED, the always interesting duo of Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer taped their "quick turn-a-round" show called Victory Lane with host John Roberts. It was a feat for the network to get Carl Edwards and Wallace on-camera, as NASCAR wanted to start the Nationwide Series race as soon as possible. Both of them were driving in it.

SPEED used this show on Monday to fill the void left by This Week In NASCAR, a studio program which had almost all its on-air talent still in California. The switch was smart, and worked just fine. As for what Spencer and Wallace said about the track, the staff and the decision to start the race...that is a subject for another website to debate.

From a TV perspective, all three networks hit a homerun. Everyone worked hard and that came through on-the-air to the fans. The fact that ESPN and Fox showed both a commitment to NASCAR and a new level of cooperation between each other was outstanding. This was a NASCAR TV weekend to be remembered.

Now, the priority for both the TV crews and the NASCAR fans is very clear. Get some rest before Las Vegas coverage begins on Friday. It is going to be a long season.

Please feel free to share your favorite moment or TV program from the Fontana coverage. It should be interesting to see what fans remember most.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion of the TV coverage from Fontana.

34 comments:

kenn said...

Some of the best broadcasting I've heard was during baseball rain delays. It's a welcome break from carefully formatted packages and gives us viewers a chance to bond with the personalities.

Jennifer said...

Unfortunately when I went to bed last night, FOX was going to air the rest of the cup race at 1AM and ESPN2 was going to air the Nationwide race at 1PM. I recorded accordingly. At 8:30 tonight I realized all I recorded was the first few laps (I recorded until 5PM on ESPN2) of the Nationwide race. Bummer.

Anonymous said...

you really didn't miss much Jennifer....
typical 2 mile, california style, single file, second apart "racing".

Few bright spots all day that you can see several times over in 15 minutes on the recap shows.

Don't be bummed and be glad you got some rest.....

Scott

TexasRaceLady said...

Saturday night was a delight --- I never missed the racing because I was having so much fun.

Sunday was a bit of a trial. Yes, we'll race --- no, we won't. Yes/No drove me nuts. So, I went to bed. LOL

I must give FOX and ESPN credit --- they hung in there when they could have thrown in the towel.

Get some rest guys and gals --- we do it all over again this weekend.

2 thumbs up for a great job.

Anonymous said...

JD

Your column was right on. Nascar's TV Partners really came through during the long weekend.
This blog should take credit for influencing this year's coverage. They listened.
I'll probably get shot down for saying....but, here goes....I hope we contributors to this blog will concentrate on the important TV coverage issues, positive and negative, so they continue to respond.
There are many dedicated knowledgeable NASCAR fans here with varied views.
Remember, if we stay focused, we will have six weeks with NBC and Weber to go beserk!

Makiki

Seiko said...

I was very impressed with the way ESPN handled the 3 hour rain delay. It was FUN TV. The race today was good as well. DJ still has a bit of work to do in jelling with the other 2 in the booth, but it was his second race. I'm sure by the time their cup run starts they will be a well oiled machine.

FOX has great on air talent. They were also good during the rain delay, but ESPN won that round by a very slim margin.

One thing I have been noticing with FOX they talk about what is happening on the track, and hope the director catches up with what they are talking about. At least thats the feel I get during the race.

Needs some work to become seamless. But would rather have a slightly disjointed feel then what we had to put up with in ESPN/ABC races last year where it was the exact opposite problem, see a wreck and wait 2 laps for the announcers to catch on.

I was blown away with how much catchup work ESPN has done. We sure beat the heck out of their dead horse last year, but they have come back swinging!

SophiaZ123 said...

Saturday night with ESPN's three hour rain delay, was some of the 'funnest' tv I had seen in years! Totally fly by the seat of your pants and conversation that flowed.

Fox...well, wasn't the same . Not because of our guys in the booth, Mike, Larry and Darrel but too much CM and "I kid because I care". Wow...I would've rather heard old stories from the guys in the booth but realize, they had to save their voices when they could.

Still..that HOLLYWOOD HOTEL grew old fast for me and ...well...I can't believe how much ESPN has improved when they did not do squat last year.

NIGHT and day difference.

ALSO, and NO DISRESPECT to Ryan on N NOW but Bestwick really is GREAT. He was good today even with limited folks in the studio. He is another one that is just FUN to listen to and can always keep the show going.

Funny, quick, knows how to turn a mispoken comment around and more importantly, knows how to just BE QUIET (like in the Montreal fiasco last summer with Ambrose and R Gordon..he did not try to chatter constantly)

AB is just superb. Maybe he does not want the full time gig with NN? he does do weekends...so anyway.

Both networks did great but Chris and Jeff had to feel like Carnival Barkers 'HOPING to get the race going soon' updates until 2AM EST. Hope they all got some sleep.

It was a long weekend for all involved but I really feel for those truckdriver...I can NOT imagine all the time THEY spend away from home.

Bless all of them....those we see and those we don't see to bring us this great sport.

:-)

Anonymous said...

I think the Fox races are becoming more and more unwatchable. While "Gopher Cam" had the weekend off, we were run through the process of helping to "name to gopher." Really? We need this schtick? Then, as if I wasn't dreading "Back in the Saddle" last year, this year we have "Let's go racin' boys." Is there a chance this is the worst song ever? Can we get Doug Banks to remix it on his show?

The problem with Fox is much like things with any broadcaster, ala Chris Berman or John Madden: people enjoy their schtick so much initially that they overkill it. So now you have every player getting a Berman nickname. Every game now, if Madden is doing it, has to have shots of people tailgating so that John can tell us about cooking steaks. The same goes for DW. The "Boogity boogity boogity" regardless of it's history from his days as a racer, is dumb and completely useless to the broadcast. It's another case of the broadcaster trying to make himself bigger than the broadcast. And now we're stuck with a country song about it? I'm sure next week he'll do his "Viva Las Vegas Boogity" call. That won't be annoying.

Bobby said...

Those who complained about the "Fox Gopher Cam" must realise this is a rain delay.

The Motley Fool (a financial Web site) says their job is to "educate, amuse, and enrich". The "name the gopher" is just another way to amuse the drivers, crew, and fans during what can be a boring time. Who wants reruns of old races when you can sit there and shoot the breeze, like what the drivers and crew actually do in the rain delay? Of course, the difference between the old-school tread cameras and the current version is HD capability. You can't imagine how different things are in HD -- look recently at The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular, when CBS made Adam Rose's $1.15 million victory the first episode of the 52-year old franchise (36th year of the present version, 44th year overall of the show) in HD. HD for those little cameras is different than the traditional SD cameras.

After all, fans know this is just a few hours to have fun. Sometimes it's necessary to break the ice for a few hours.

I wonder if Fox's new theme will wear out quickly, unlike the previous OSI (Garrod-Hays) theme that easily said "NASCAR on Fox" when you heard it. But could this be just what Fox wanted to do to comply with what fans wanted, especially after Darrell hosted the Sprint Speed and Sound in Nashville in the off-season? It doesn't hurt either that Dario Franchitti is a Williamson County (TN) driver. I do think the crew chief needs to be put back in the promos Fox uses because they are just as important as the drivers.

Rain usually equals the best time for race fans, since they see their heroes doing the unthinkable.

Both teams deserved credit for lasting this long. It was so tired that the Fox crew was there so long that they probably had little sleep before the wardrobe and makeup crews had their "public appearance" shirts ready -- the same ones you see them wearing for public appearances.

Ritchie said...

I agree that the efforts by the tv crews was commendable. I didn't watch every minute of the rain delay coverage, instead I would check in every so often to find the status of the race. I would, however, stop and watch if what the announcers were talking about was interesting.

Despite the adaquate rain-delay coverage, I still say that the networks should pressure NASCAR to come up with a quicker method for drying a track. TV coverage is important, and it seems weather delays are becoming more critical every year. I was speaking with a friend who happens to be a civil engineer, and he said that if water is seeping back on top of the track, then the track isn't drained properly. He said that the track designers are not giving the water any place to go other than back up onto the track.

As important as television coverage is, it would seem that they would want the world to see their racing, not their "blow dryers". Then again, they were racing at California, maybe the dryers are more exciting.

Anonymous said...

I knew I could count on Speed/Fox for entertaining rain-delay programing but I was amazed at the way ESPN managed to lighten up and actually dare to have a little fun with the broadcast.

What impressed me most with both groups was the smoothness with which they managed to hand off from group to group as they managed to rest their crews and work around the various cases of the flu. No one ever seemed tired or worn -- though as I prepared to set a tape and go to bed Sunday night Chris Meyers was getting a little slap-happy. (Over the past year or so I've been suspecting that Chris Meyers has a lot more to do with Fox's success in Nascar broadcasting than the surface appearance of good hair and the male equivalent of a dumb blonde act suggests at first sight).

The moments I'm remembering most clearly are all driver interviews. There was Brad Coleman running through the rain to catch a reporter and "get my sponsor some TV time". There was Kyle Busch joking around, stealing the microphone, and asking if he had to do the interview himself. There was Jason Leffler, always a good sport about being a normal-sized person surrounded by giants (Hey Jason, I'm normal-sized too). There were Elliott and Kasey bored in the coach with Kasey having just woken up for the interview. And Krista Voda sitting on the wet pavement with Mark Martin and his mentorees -- completely unconcerned about her hair, her clothes, or anything but not getting tangled in her electronics as she got the interview.

I don't think that ESPN rose to the level of the Speed/Fox coverage because, after last year's semi-adversarial approach, I don't think that the drivers have the necessary level of comfort with the ESPN people. Though it does seem that Jamie Little and Shannon Spake are taking Wendy and Krista as their model to be just reporters rather than specifically female reporters.

Its a bit telling that, as good as it was to have that long episode with Carl Edwards in the ESPN booth, he came to them in the booth rather than having ESPN people go to him in a more casual environment.

Its probably heresy, but sometimes a really good rain delay can be more enjoyable than a bad race. :-D

Anonymous said...

Too much Darrell waltrip.

Anonymous said...

Bobby said...

"Those who complained about the "Fox Gopher Cam" must realise this is a rain delay.

The Motley Fool (a financial Web site) says their job is to "educate, amuse, and enrich". The "name the gopher" is just another way to amuse the drivers, crew, and fans during what can be a boring time."

Believe us, Bobby, we ALL realize that it was a rain delay...but I don't think there was a single driver that was 'amused' by being asked to name a cartoon rodent that none of them had even seen before (or would admit to seeing). The only driver to show any enthusiasm for that stunt was Kyle Busch and it appears to me that KyB is on a mission this year to engage the fans and would do anything for more face time.

As regards the 'new toy' as Mike Joy called it, I agree with the majority of those that have posted comments on several of JD's Blogs since it was unveiled, and using KyB's own terminology, "It sucks".

I imagine most (all?) of the FOX folks have been delighted to watch as ESPN's "Draft Track" has been ridiculed by knowledgeable viewers and I only hope that they reach a decision NOT to carry the rodent forward for future races.

There was some mention that it was 'out of action' for the Monday conclusion of the Cup race...I just hope that was a quiet way of backing away from the whole fiasco.

I'd like to see it named "Gone"!

Tom in Bristol

LuckyForward said...

I cannot say that I have a favorite moment from this weekend. What impressed me the most was the overall tenacity of the broadcast teams to do good work over an extended amount of time in difficult conditions over which none had any control.

Did we get tired of certain folks talking too much? Sure! Were we ready for someone to name the "Gopher Cam" and stop asking each driver for a name? Absolutely! But time had to be filled somehow and because of the amount of time to be filled, all too much had to be "ad libbed."

Kudos to all broadcast teams for doing relatively well in a terrible situation!

Luckyforward

Thornton, Colorado said...

You are right, JD. The coverage was SOLID. I almost passed out Saturday night from sheer joy as ESPN covered the "rain delay" the way it used to be. And on Monday, they showed what they always should have showed: RACING.

Anonymous said...

KUDOS to ESPN for pulling Marty Smith out of his little talking head box and letting him speak a little more freely. I sorely miss his writing for Nascar.com and hope they continue to use him more and more in his role at ESPN.

SophiaZ123 said...

I just remembered one of my fave moments. On SPEED, Dilner, who is very tall, for some reason was shown on tv with his legs splayed very far apart so he would seem shorter and not show off his towering prescence.

After he saw how stupid he looked, he stood up and then put his elbow on the SHOULDER of the driver and leaned down to speak to him! LOL. I don't know why the SPEED folks did that...I had no idea Dilner stood that way to 'even out the camera angles' for the shorter drivers?!

I would like to name the gopher shot "slingshot cam" because i wanted to break the thing everytime it was shown on my tv. :-)

Last year fox had the animated car thingie (annoying, and then ESPN had to get the draft tracker)

Notice how when these things are ABSENT, and less clutter (taped interviews, SC updates, we ENJOY the races more!)

That's the good things about delays.

batchief said...

You can say what you may about the name the gopher stint on Fox, but I counted no less than 19 drivers that participated and although the first couple didn't know they were going to be asked to name the gopher the rest did from watching in their campers and seemed to take it in good fun as it was intended. The boogity, boogity, boogity last about 5 seconds and does not take a big chunk of time out of anyones life. It has become tradition folks and I, for one, enjoy it. Good job by all considering the conditions and the fact some were playing hurt(sick).

Desmond said...

Once again, both ESPN2 and Fox did wonderful jobs of covering rain delays. I have heard that coverage of these delays have often beaten actual sporting events in the ratings. I saw why that is the case this past weekend. (And also because many NASCAR fans have a religious-like devotion. Scary.)

I am disappointed that SPEED Channel did not make it clear that NASCAR Victory Lane was going to be on after the Monday re-scheduled race. If I knew this, I would have tuned in.

Desmond said...

I apologize for the post. SPEED did advertise Victory Lane. I should have visited your fine blog before today and I would have found this out. I already knew about the cancelation of This Week in NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

I felt Fox did a horrible job during the rain delay. Instead of covering a hard news story, the weepers, they bored the audience to death with their stupid gopher cam naming bit.

Fox knew the weepers were a major problem, but they decided to turn a blind eye to them. If any of the Fox staff had an ounce of talent for these kind of things, they could have pushed the issue. Everybody saw how qualifying was rained out. Fox blew it.

When they actually showed racing, they missed 1 restart, and nearly missed 2 others. Plus I am sick and tired of their stupid theme song. Enough already. If you want to have one, play it at the beginning of the telecast, and thats it, sort of like what what football does on Sunday and Monday nights.

SophiaZ123 said...

re: the theme song..I agree..played way too often and surprisingly, I am seeing this mentioned in many columns by writers online already.

VERY overused. I don't care about BBB that's said ONCE at the beginning of the race for 6 seconds. :-)

this new song can give you a bad case or ear worms, too. LOL. That is a real term...a guy wrote a book about 'ear worms.'

So true!

Anonymous said...

While I also enjoyed the three hours of off-the-wall coverage Sunday leading up the start of the race, it's absolutely ridiculous that NASCAR didn't automatically reschedule the race for Monday. I can see waiting two or three hours but to go until 1 (or was it 2?) in the morning E.S.T. is pathetic and inexcusable. Especially if the radar continues to show showers heading towards the track which it did because I checked it repeatedly throughout the evening.

I still think that Fox's coverage of the race was some of the worst, too. To those of you who gave up and went to bed, you didn't miss anything.

batchief said...

I thought Fox covered the "weeper" problem as much as was needed. They showed the problem and showed what they did the day before to try and correct it and then what they did during the red flag (cutting groves perpendicular to the track) to again try and correct the situation. I for one wouldn't want a couple hours of weeper patrol.

SophiaZ123 said...

(oops) forgot the definition


Most likely originated around the time of Hanson's "Mmmbop"; an ear worm refers to any song that is so catchy, and at the same time extremely annoying, that it feels like a worm has crawled into your ear and eaten the intelligent parts of your brain so that you hum the song all day long, no matter how much you hate it.


:-0

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 1:22pm,
Would you really have enjoyed a scientific presentation about the physics of groundwater? Would you really have enjoyed a historical recap of tracks plagued by weepers in the past? Or would you have just griped about that instead?

Maybe you think that Fox should have spent all that time scolding the Roger Penske and his engineers for not putting the same drainage into a dry climate track in a semi-desert area that they'd have put into a wet-climate track? Maybe you think they should have spent the time castigating Nascar for not instantly teleporting a rain-challenged race to a different track?

The gopher cam stuff is a bit stupid, but it filled the dead air and it was possible to get a laugh when they stumped the drivers with it. You can't ask for much more when you've got hours of rain delay to cope with.

Newracefan said...

I watched all the rain delay coverage until 12MN on Sunday and except for no racing thought it was fantastic. ESPN stepped up big time and I thought Fox did well too. The drivers played along and although probably more frustrated than I was, appeared to enjoy themselves. Kyle was hysterical and he actually did go a long way towards making himself liked by this fan. Gopher cam is ok and they had a lot of hours to fill so... (OBTW you can go on the Fox web site and email them a name suggestion, I wonder if this was in the works before the rain delay coverage? JD can you check). I actually like the BBB song and think they are changing the video that goes with it which makes me actually stop and look to see who is going to do what. The post race coverage was well done by both Speed and ESPN. (Still have to watch what I DVR of the races themselves.

Sophia It's called "doing the Dillner" I remember hearing something about it a few years ago. He evidently towers of most of the drivers/crews etc.

If this is a sign of things to come it sould be a great TV season for Nascar, now if we can just keep those rain clouds away we'll be set.

snowfaller said...

As one who watched all of Saturday night and stayed up Sunday night as well, a hearty thank you to all networks and their employees for all of their hard work.

I was also thrilled to see VL and Nascar Now last night. It was great for SPEED and ESPN to fill their post-race obligations so quickly and so well with all parties involved surely exhausted...

My two cents on the theme song - I love it. Of course, it's certainly polarizing since people who dislike "boogity" will instantly hate it...

I love the use of the drivers with the hitchhiker signs, etc.

They do overuse the song though (which is partly because they have so many commercial breaks!) One thing they should definitely do is to not use a vocal version going to commercials. It always gets cut off in midphrase when they go to the actual break and it is quite jarring if you are listening to it. It's actually kind of funny when they cut it right after "can't wait to hear DW say". I guess we can wait for a few minutes...

Anonymous said...

The Fox theme is weak. And it goes too far "south", meaning an over reaction to NASCARS mandate to get back to its roots.
I agree that Boogity has been played out- WAY out!
Can't FOX get it thru their heads that the RACING is the story? Its not them, their announcers, their insidious gopher gimmicks, Hollywood who-tell, or jammed in and often inconceivable Hammond-at-the-cutaway-car "explanations" that viewers want from them!
Show us the race ! From first place to last place! There are 43 teams out there, not just the 88,24,48,18 and 20!!!!

Anonymous said...

NOTE: Am reading MAJOR power outage in south FLorida..may last well into the night..stores closed, millions affected.

So if we dont' see a new column tonight and JD is home, that might be why

Back to the blog:
I think instrumental of the song to breaks would be helpful and have read the same thing in some columns (NOT message boards but reporters comments)

Soph

(this computer not recognizing my log in)

Anonymous said...

all iam going to say is they left the ROCK for this mess

AndyPandy said...

For many years now, I have enjoyed the hours of fill needed whenever there is a long delay such as on Sunday. I much prefer announcers, reporters, drivers and crew just shooting the breeze and showing who they really are instead of a tape of last year's race. This was no exception.

And I may be in the minority, but I like "Let's Go Racing, Boys". I do agree that an instrumental version to play at commercial breaks would be a nice touch. It would be a little bit of a throwback to the days of Eli and Buddy on TNN, which always had a country instrumental song as they went to break. I wish I knew what song it was, but I've never been able to find out.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- I'm not sure whether I am more impressed or surprised by how much ESPN has improved this year over last year, but I have enjoyed it.

I may be mistaken, but I have always presumed that part of Chris Myers' function is to give the guys in the booth a break during the race.

JD, could you explain why Allen B and Marty Smith flew back to Conn. to do N-Now Monday, rather than doing it from Fontana? I assume it could be because facility at Fontana was disassembled after the race ended - but the next race is just up the road in Las Vegas. Thanks - and thanks for hanging in there all weekend.

Anonymous said...

WOW. I'm sorry I missed ESPN rain coverage. I did my taxes.
Bobby Dee