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.