Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Shifting Gears" Continues To Upstage The NASCAR TV Partners

There are going to be some interesting meetings over the next several weeks at the network headquarters of the NASCAR TV partners. There is one reason why. His name is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In ground-breaking style, Junior's Hammerhead Entertainment production company has pushed the envelope of what should be expected from NASCAR TV programs to a new height. The first three episodes of Shifting Gears have been nothing short of spectacular.

Originally thought to be catering to Junior Nation, nothing could have been further from the truth. This dynamic combination of a reality show and a scripted documentary has hit a nerve with the broad base of NASCAR fans. At times, these three episodes have made the racing world seem insignificant. Real life always trumps racing.

This show is about someone who is lost wanting desperately to be found. It is about a young man finally stepping-out from the shadow of his late father and growing up. It is about seeking acceptance from people you do not know, but who know you.

This third episode combined the recent events at Daytona with pre-produced segments to address both topical and timeless issues in the same program. Whether winning the Bud Shootout or continuing to address the legacy of his father, Junior seems to be determined to live life on his own terms at last.

Skeptics tend to fall away when the personal struggles of this young man are detailed. Many of us did not experience the pain of a parent's divorce. Many of us did not get sent to military school. Many of us have not yet had to deal with the death of a father. None of us have the pressure of being Dale Earnhardt Senior's son.

With award-winning editing and sound, the program has the feel of a high-end glossy entertainment show. Once viewers get comfortable with the multiple locations and the key personalities in the programs, it takes on the feel of an exciting documentary.

The reason is simple. He may fail. That is the harsh reality that stares this man in the face each and every day. He may fail. If that happened, the same NASCAR media now catering to his every wish would be the first to attack. The media frenzy that happened when Junior announced he was leaving DEI would pale in comparison.

This program series will continue to film Junior as he goes through the next four months. Then, a new series of two more shows will be produced to air during the week prior to the Brickyard 400. This unorthodox approach to both TV and scheduling is typical of JR Motorsports media wing. This show was independently produced, and has no ESPN identification of any kind.

As Junior mentioned in his Saturday post-race interview, the only downside of this entire series is watching the same commercials featuring him over-and-over again. "Even I get tired of watching myself. But, that is what you have to do to get a show on ESPN," said Junior. Truer words may have never been spoken.

This series has shaken-up the NASCAR TV companies and networks who should be putting out this type of programming, but are not. Junior remarked on Saturday that he hoped more stories would be told about the personalities in the sport. That message was just as clear as Brian France asking for new and original NASCAR programming to be created by "his" TV partners.

In a season of NASCAR transition from "racertainment" to "letting men be men" it should be interesting to see what other NASCAR series of this type can make it to network TV without having the Earnhardt name as the Executive Producer. Right now, the picking is mighty slim.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.


SophiaZ123 said...

I love Jr but he's correct; the plethora of commercials was ANNOYING but the quality of his show...well, OUTSTANDING.

I am sorry I missed the first one. I did notice some of the one today (Saturday) used some of the same bits from Friday (quotes from DW and Dale's sister) but still moved ahead with new stuff.

I have so felt this boy's pain just from reading his history and doing my homework on many of my driver's when I got into NASCAR in late 2004.

Childhood was no picnic and his relationship with his Daddy no day at the beach. I am glad they were able to get into a good place before Dale Sr was taken so unexpectedly, and prematurely from his life.

I don't know racing but I do know the loss of a father and the pain that always lingers. And that's just as normal common woman.

Imagine having that huge shadow of a legendary figure hanging over you for the media and naysayers to ALWAYS want to compare you to. I would not wish that onto anybody.

To anybody with any sense of empathy, it's been easy to tell for YEARS Dale wears that last name as a heavy load..and with the loss of his father, and now going to a new team, I am almost afraid to think of the focus the media will have this year.

If we thought last year was bad; the boy won't be able to sneeze without the media HARPING on it.

I can assure all you non=fans, Jr does not enjoy any of the microscopic examinations he must endure.

I wish him well for a great, safe season for his own sake and sanity.

Anonymous said...

The quality of Shifting Gears is above and beyond anything I have watched it is outstanding.

I will be happy when they re-air the first show. I missed it and after watching the second and third it is hard to wait to see the first one.

Dale, Jr. has grown into a man in the last few years and is to be admired for the way he handled the microscope he is under 24/7.

His childhood was hard but the rewarding part is he developed a relationship with his father before his early death.

He has carried the weigh on his shoulders since the day he lost his father. His support from Kelly is great. A brother/sister relationship like theirs is very strong. I watched my Mother and her Brother have this type relationship all my life until we lost both of them in the last few years. When something happens in early life it can have an effect and relationship that only those two people can understand.

Since Dale, jr. has joined Hendricks and has the support of Mr. Hendricks he is happy and it shows everytime you look at the smile on his face.
He now has what he has wanted the support of someone that cares and the relationship with Mr. Hendricks will only grow stronger.

NASCAR needs to watch this and do more. They need to learn a very valuable lessons from what Dale, Jr. has produced.

I could sit and watch every minute of it again and again.

Dale, Jr. and Kelly will continue to grow and will have a larger fanbase than Jr. had before he left the company his father intended to be for his children.

Dale, Jr. is to be admired for the person he is.

I am happy I can say I watched him win his first race with HMS and will be watching as he wins more and reaches his goals.

Thanks for writing the great article JD.

Anonymous said...

Love this show. And your article is so true. I had people texting about this show that I know don't even like Junior. This show is awesome. To me it just states everything that makes us love him. Then it shows us things that make us love even more. Yes its been great to have him have success early out of the gate. But his fans defend him win or loose all year long. This show is one of the reasons why.

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SophiaZ123 said...


Any idea if ESPN plans to re air this in the NEAR future? My brother, a huge Jr fan was not even aware of these shows.

Daly Planet Editor said...

There are no current re-airs listed. The next two episodes air in July.


Anonymous said...

This show's production values are spectacular. It is well-written and I am enjoying watching it. Junio's clearly assembled the right group of TV people to run Hammerhead.

Anonymous said...

JD, I agree w/all the above comments. Yes, I also missed the first show. But enjoyed the last two. It was nice to hear Jr. say how tough the commericals were. Although, being a 30yr vet, I am partial to the National Guard and US Army. What a pleasure it was for fans to hear him open up like he did. I am sure it may have been hard at times. Looking forward to the next show later in the season

Kingston, NY

Newracefan said...

I see I appear to be in the majority as I also missed the first show. Just watched the DVR of both shows last night and they were fantastic. Soph thanks for the repeat clip warning at first I thought I screwed up the DVR. There was some specultion on previous blogs about DVR sales after the series is done. I know who I'm buying it for so hopefully it's avail by Christmas. This is a must see for any Nascar fan.

Anonymous said...

Unless something changed in the past week, the first episode reairs tonight at 9pm EST on ESPN (not ESPN2), followed by NASCAR Now at 10.

There are no plans to reair the second and third episodes anytime soon.

Newracefan said...

anon 1042 THANKS DVR is set

glenc1 said...

I like Junior very much, but he's not my favorite driver, so I was just tuning in from a race fan's perspective. It's well done, no question, I enjoyed seeing a glimpse into his life and hearing from his family, but it still had a glossy feel of a Dale Jr National Guard infomercial, and not just because of the use of his own ads. I think it is a great thing for his fans, but I just didn't see it as more 'groundbreaking' than some of the previous productions we've seen---NBS 24/7, NASCAR 360, Beyond the Glory...all of which had, at times, personal moments that were painful, touching, funny, sad...some more personal than others, true.

It was probably more consistent, and did have a 'look' that seemed worthy of a cinematography award--more film vs videotape maybe? So in that case, it would be awesome if this production company branched out and did some other things. And perhaps my view is tainted by just being kind of 'burned out' Junior-wise, much as I like him (which he notes himself).

JD, maybe I am crazy, but based on what we've seen as the lack of network reaction (or slow reaction) to our comments, I find it hard to believe the networks will be rushing into meetings to duplicate this, as well done as it was. I'm just not sure they care--if it's Dale Jr, that's one thing, any other NASCAR celebrity is second best, ratings wise. I usually find myself *reading* these kind of stories since we don't see them on TV--if anyone read the article last week about Barry Dotson--that's the sort of story they probably *should* be finding and aren't. But if it's not Junior, who will watch? I guess it's the cynical me. A few minutes of Wendy's great features on Raceday seems like the most we can hope for.

Anonymous said...

To: sophiaz123,
Your brother can't be such a hugh jr. fan or he would have been waiting for these shows to be aired like I was.

Ally said...

glenc1 said...
'I enjoyed seeing a glimpse into his life and hearing from his family, but it still had a glossy feel of a Dale Jr National Guard infomercial, and not just because of the use of his own ads. I think it is a great thing for his fans, but I just didn't see it as more 'groundbreaking' than some of the previous productions we've seen---NBS 24/7, NASCAR 360, Beyond the Glory...all of which had, at times, personal moments that were painful, touching, funny, sad...some more personal than others, true.'

That's exactly how I felt about Shifting Gears. Thanks so much for writing it better than I can! I don't think those other shows you listed are getting enough credit here for promoting quality NASCAR TV to a new level long before Shifting Gears ever came along (and without the unfortunate infomercial feeling hanging over them). Though I think it's fair of Mr. Daly to ask why they or Shifting Gears-like programs aren't continuing to be shown on TV networks anymore, I would hope that future programs look to the model of the older shows rather than this newer one. (NASCAR 360 was also on film, while NBS 24/7 was on video.)

From what I recall, NBS 24/7 and NASCAR 360 were also created by outside production companies like Hammerhead but produced in cooperation and under approval of NASCAR Images. The main executive producer who produced NASCAR 360 had been a executive producer on the '24' and 'Sports Night' primetime TV series, among many others. In addition to Hammerhead, NASCAR should hook up with those companies again if they are still around to see if they have any new ideas.

red said...

i really enjoyed both nbs 24/7 and nascar 360 and was sorely disappointed when they stopped creating new episodes. of all the nascar programming that was out there at the time -- and there wasn't much! -- i made it a point to watch those two each time they aired simply BECAUSE of the stories they told. and so, of course, they disappeared.
it isn't so much that hammerhead has broken totally new ground: it's that they have accomplished it in such an interesting and compelling way. sure, dale's story is the hook but it is larger than just him at some level: it's about our sport and how one driver is handling the pressure of being a premier driver in the premier series. i could stand to watch the same treatment of stewart's life or gordon -- either one! -- or any other driver. i'm sure kyle petty could add to dale's story of being the son of a legend. see, it's about the people who make the sport, who compete every week and whose life stories draw us in as fans and make us THE most loyal fans of any sport out there! and, as i said before, it's that very piece that nascar has lost sight of in the past few years.

so i'm grateful to hammerhead for doing such an excellent job and for dale having enough foresight to see that this story of his transition would be a great story to document! as someone has noted, part of the footage was being taken to update his previous dvd, any given day, but he's said it then became the way to tell the bigger story of his transition from son of the owner to part of a team at the top of its game.
whether you like dale or not, get weary of all the coverage of him or rejoice in it, his story as told in shifting gears is a part of nascar history and i am glad it's being told by the man closest to it!

SophiaZ123 said...

the Jr show airing tonight is only an HOUR as opposed to 90 minutes...wonder if it is an edited blend of the three shows.

Certainly can't be LESS COMMERICIALS can it? :-)

Will have to tape this as I will be watching W Tunnel

Daly Planet Editor said...


Do you really think the TV networks were slow to react to what they read here from the fans?

INC is over and changed with a new host, Rusty is out and DJ is in, AB is in the Infield and both Suzy and Brent are out. Erik K is out and Nicole and Ryan are in. Shannon steps-up to pit road and Marty gets promoted to Lead Reporter.

I just have to think that maybe somewhere, something we all said on here got to the right people.

Other than NASCAR Now, Monday after TWIN through the following Saturday is a barren wasteland of NASCAR unless you have HDnet.

Even as the NFL Network and NBA TV continue to crank out 24 hour coverage, NASCAR fans don't even have a weekly post-produced show like NBS 24/7 or Behind The Wheel or anything else.

It is time for some good NASCAR TV programming during the week.


Anonymous said...

JD, have you ever seen NASCAR Drivers:360? If you have, what did you think of it? I'm curious b/c I have a hard time believing you would rave so much about Dale Jr: Shifting Gears being groundbreaking if you had seen the two seasons of 360 on FX.

Sophia, the first episode of Shifting Gears was 60 minutes, the others were 90 minutes.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I certainly did, and think any additional NASCAR programming of that type is positive.

As you know, that show has been gone for a long time now, and no one has ever explained why. The same for NBS 24/7. The three series should at least have one weekly show that could tell the real stories we will never see on the race coverage or a news show like NASCAR Now.


Vince said...

I missed the first show of this series, like a lot of you. I've already got my DVR set to record the replay of the first show tonight.

I was a Dale Sr. fan and am a Dale Jr. fan, so of course I enjoyed these shows. But I think they'd appeal to the fans of the other drivers also. The shows were well produced and edited. And yes there were too many Jr. commercials, but like he said that's what he needed to do to get it televised.

I'd like to see more of this type of documentary show of some of the old school Nascar personalities. The history of the people who helped build Nascar into what is is today. So some of our newer fans could learn more of the history of Nascar and it's colorful personalities from back in the day. Guys like Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, the Flock brothers, Junior Johnson, etc. And crew chiefs/mechanics like Smokey Yunick, Maurice "the Chief" Petty, Holman/Moody, Harry Hyde etc.

And the cars from back in the day that ruled racing. The Hudson Hornet, the Pontiac Catalinas, Smokey's trick (it was 7/8 scale and nobody caught him) '66 Chevelle driven by Curtis Turner. A documentary with the history of the evolution of the cars raced in Nascar would be great.

There is little or no quality programming on the old school guys. A lot of the new fans have no clue about these guys and it's a shame. Not the new fans fault. There is just a lack of in depth programming on these guys available.

Maybe Hammerhead or some other independent production company will step up to the plate and give us more of this type of programming on some of the drivers, mechanics, crew chiefs, owners and cars from back in the day. I'd watch!

glenc1 said...

JD, I guess I'm impatient, but we were griping about the first NNow host from the first episode, I'd have yanked him after a
But I was thinking more of them STILL not showing anyone but the leader take the checkered flag, and that was going on from FOX long ago. They must not have listened on that one. But I hope you're right and I'm wrong this time.

ally, red--I am glad to know several of you remember those shows like I did. I'm pretty sure that someone did explain that NBS 24/7 didn't have enough ratings to support it (hmmm...maybe a reporter asked someone who had been in it and that was the answer?) I loved it, personally. NASCAR 360--I wondered if they had trouble getting enough drivers to agree to having themselves followed around. Junior is obviously comfortable doing it, but not everyone would be (and I've heard that some sponsors didn't like it, I don't know why--you'd think any publicity is good.) But in today's world, they already have so many obligations, a camera crew just might be another distraction. Even the Osbournes said they got tired of it!

But you would think the channels could at least support a historical special, as vince & others have mentioned. Personally, I have incredible admiration to Junior for doing Back in the Day--not because I remember those days, but because I don't--and I think only Junior's name would get some of the younger people to care about what has gone before like they should. But someone could easily make the films like Steve Sabol does, "on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" and all that. Just listening to Buddy Baker and Cale and Junior this morning--that alone could be a special. To be honest, I used to be afraid NASCAR wouldn't do these because they were worried about things that might be said (Junior Johnson's Chevy revelation from this morning, for example...) And with Smokey, I thought it was because he criticized them on safety. I had a thing about the control NASCAR seemed to have over everything, including the broadcasts, but that's a story for another day....

But about the NFL Network....they may be on 24/7 but a lot of it gets very old quickly when the season is done, and they repeat a lot--and that's coming from a Giants fan, hehehe.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI... I don't know why NASCAR Drivers: 360 isn't on the air anymore. But your theory that some drivers wouldn't participate may be valid. IMO a lot of Jamie McMurray's popularity and signing with Roush stems from being on 360 (Roush's GM thought he would be a popular "teen heartthrob" like Kasey Kahne and sell a lot of merchandise.)

But Jamie said last year that he wouldn't do it again, he doesn't want people to know that much about him and his life and he now thinks reality TV is strange.

Then again, lots of drivers did the SPEED "7 Days" show in 2006 and that was very similar, (like a half hour version of NASCAR 360 focusing on one driver), so maybe Jamie is the rarity. I hope so.

The Mayfields were on those shows and said the featured drivers got to view all episodes of NASCAR 360 and NASCAR Drivers Non-Stop (the ESPN2 version of 360) before they aired and remove anything they wanted removed.

To the driver's (and NASCAR's) credit, I believe the Mayfield's said they heard no one asked and NASCAR didn't ask to have anything removed from the show. Kenny Wallace said the same thing. So there's got to be some drivers out there willing to do some new NASCAR shows if they're handled well, right?

NBS 24/7 stopped production because the Busch-only teams like Fitz and Akins (now Braun) had fallen so low in performance because of the Cupwhackers that they were not winning -ever- and worse, not making races. I remember watching the episode where both the Fitz cars didn't make the race for the first time. Awful.

Anyway, someone who worked on the show wrote on a message board that the teams didn't mind showing their warts, if they had some successes to show also. But if they didn't have any successes to show with their warts, then being on TV failing all the time was hurting them in trying to get sponsors. So the program was stopped.

Anonymous said...

I missed one--I just don't which one. I hope they re-air all three prior to the others even if late at night.

One problem I have is that I DON'T WATCH ESPN unless it is race coverage for which I really have to go out of my way to find (which race is on which channel--I didn't know I HAD that many ESPN channels!).


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
NBS 24/7 stopped production because the Busch-only teams like Fitz and Akins (now Braun) had fallen so low in performance because of the Cupwhackers that they were not winning -ever- and worse, not making races.

True and the big team on there in the last partial season, Roush Racing, really didn't want NBS 24/7 in their shop. I don't know why, but you could tell they didn't - since the crew which is a big part of 24/7 was hardly ever on and when they were on, it was as if they couldn't really film in the Roush shop.

Sad Roush Racing acted like that because their two rookie drivers, Kluever (who acted very guarded as if he didn't want to be there) and Danny O'Quinn (who had such a wonderful, open personality), could have used the weekly exposure to stay in the sport.

Walter_17 said...

I too liked the shows NBS 24/7 & NASCAR 360. Here are a few thoughts: A driver's schedule is quite busy and hectic enough during the season, plus throw in all the appearances and fan stuff during a race weekend, and you want them to tape a show?

Sounds like a lot of people, including myself are thinking only of themselves. Why not think of what the driver's go through? They are human after all and need a break from the "craziness" too. Most of us can take a day of vacation or call in sick when we have the "sniffles" whenever we want. Do they?

The networks need to come up with some better programming and not forget who "pays the bills"

red said...

hey vince! thanks for your post: i have argued for a LONG time that nascar ignores its history at its own peril! hearing from the "old guys" this weekend just pointed out how terrific a show about the pre-modern era would be received.
jd: so who do we "discuss" this with, huh?

glenc1 said...

To be honest, I would hate having TV follow me around. And if I were an owner, I'd want my driver focusing on his driving, not TV cameras. I would have to think most owners would be thinking that way except for sponsor showcasing. Not to mention, I wouldn't want my shop on TV or my guys being distracted. But as a fan, obviously I'd like to see more. Of course, doesn't need to be a 5part series, and then maybe more of the teams would be willing to do it--and I say 'teams' because it doesn't have to be ONLY drivers. There are a lot of human interest stories beyond them (but there again, someone would have to watch.) ESPN did an Outside the Lines, I think it was, on Felix Sabates a few years back and it was quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

The time consideration for the drivers -if that is an issue - is why 7 Days was so genius. They followed someone from Monday to Sunday. One week-that's it. And then aired it the following Monday.

That show also focused on owners, wives, and unexpected people (like the groundkeeper of the track and a hauler driver) so it wasn't a driver every week.

Unless you are a highlevel superstar, I can't think of a downside of appearing on these types of behind the scenes shows. Both Harvick and Kenny Wallace said their fan clubs and merchandise sales increased substantially from being on NASCAR 360 for two seasons. Rusty Wallace said all these people kept coming up to him and saying they hated him before seeing him on NASCAR 360 but decided he was all right after watching!

Kasey Kahne was a regular on both NBS 24/7 and then 360; I believe that solidified his core fanbase from the very beginning of his career.

And there's a very loyal cadre of David Stremme fans from his year on NBS 24/7 who follow his career and want him to get back to Cup. Would anyone care about Stremme or know who he is (the networks certainly never showed him in races) if he hadn't had that exposure? He'd be David Gilliland or Regan Smith.

It's just not a coincidence that many of the drivers who were on reality shows are more popular because of it. For that reason alone, I can't see how an owner or sponsor could object to the shows. I don't think the shows affected their driving as the cameras followed them around before the races for a few days.

Anonymous said...

"I too liked the shows NBS 24/7 & NASCAR 360. Here are a few thoughts: A driver's schedule is quite busy and hectic enough during the season, plus throw in all the appearances and fan stuff during a race weekend, and you want them to tape a show?

Sounds like a lot of people, including myself are thinking only of themselves."

You have to remember that these are limited shows. No one filmed more than two or three episode of NASCAR Drivers 360 per season. So probably 3-4 weeks at most. NBS 24/7 aired any week there was a race, but that show had not only a few shops but many crew members to focus on. They focused as much as the guys at the shop as the drivers. So the "burden" if it is one, is shared.

And they are taping the drivers as they go through their life and already scheduled appearances - not making up extra events for them to go to. They don't have to memorize a script or anything for taping. So I don't see the extra work involved, to be honest.

According to Shana Mayfield, they didn't film her and Jeremy at night (they don't stay at their houses like an MTV show or something) and they could ask the cameras to go away at anytime. But they didn't, because she said they got used to them -basically forgot they were there - and liked the crew.

Anonymous said...

JD - Please do some homework - you will quickly find out that Hammerhead had to be bailed out due to thier lack of prep and experienced personnel. Even Jr mentioned in a ESPN2 interview that had to bring in other folks...

Daly Planet Editor said...


The head writer on this project spoke to me about it directly. Like many companies, freelance employees and contract writers were brought-in. That is normal.

Like many small production companies, the ebb and flow of production schedules demands freelance rather than fulltime employees.

If you have something concrete to say about the finished product, please add your opinion. Thanks.


GinaV24 said...

I have enjoyed the first two episodes (and I'm not a Jr fan). It's a well done program and certainly presents a different point of view -- even if it is loaded with commercials. Like others I miss Beyond the Wheel type shows on Speed. I do have to say that I am about overdosed on Jr though, so the fact there is a gap until the next 2 episodes is OK with me.

chase said...

John, thanks for the great comments. This show is far and away one of the best things I've ever seen. Jr. did this one for his fans and every other person who has had to struggle to become his own person. Losing one's father early is devastating - I know this from first hand experience, but both Kelly and Jr. have gone from strength to strength and become real people in their own right. The program hints at Jr's sadness on having to leave his father's team and hits on his excitement and comfort in making the decision and joining HMS. Rick Hendrick is indeed an awe-inspiring individual in his own right and he will give Jr. exactly what Jr. wants and needs. And, need we forget that Rick also lost his son? Jr. has matured by leaps and bounds and is totally focused on his new ride. The combination of Jr. and Kelly is an unbeatable one! It's nice to know that they are both the 'real deal'. I would hope that other drivers might want to show their 'realness' in a similar venue at some point in time. Cookie-cutter drivers, like cookie-cutter tracks can and are boring. I wish Jr. my very best for a great 2008 season and he can rest assured that his dad is watching and extraordinarily proud of him!

cswdonia said...

We watched all three episodes of "Shifting Gears", it was Outstanding. Junior should be very, very proud of Hammerhead Entertainment for the great job they did. There are many TV shows, that are not near as well done as these. Nascar should do more shows on their networks like these, but I don't know if they would be watched as much if Junior was not in them. Us "Junior Nation Fans" are very loyal, you know. Good Luck in all you do, Junior. Can't wait for the other episodes of "Shifting Gears".

Anonymous said...

We watched all three episodes, and they were "Wonderful." Yes, I'm a Jr fan but I was also a Sr fan.

Hammerhead Entertainment is also responsible for "Back in the Day with Dale Jr" on SPEED channel as well and they do a good job on that as well. I haven't heard if there are new episodes, but the past ones were quiet the LOOK BACK at old races and racers. Dale Jr loves the history of this sport and put together this to try and get the new fans in touch with the past. Another reason I'm a fan.