Friday, February 8, 2008

"Shifting Gears" Makes NASCAR TV History

There has never been anything like it before. Friday night in national prime time, there was Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking control of ESPN2 for one hour.

Other than the annoying "ticker" at the bottom of the screen, there was no mention of ESPN2. There were no ESPN on-air announcers present. No members of the ESPN NASCAR TV crew were seen. The "brand" on the screen was Dale Junior.

Hammerhead Entertainment is the TV production group created by Junior and currently run by marketing veteran Thayer Lavielle. She and Junior's sister, Kelly Earnhardt Elledge, are key players on the JR Motorsports team.

This unique series of five programs will put the first three episodes on TV before the Daytona 500, and then take a break. There is a very good reason why. The purpose of Shifting Gears is to document the transition of Junior from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports. This well-crafted coverage gives viewers an inside look at all the different changes and types of impact that this one decision caused.

While the first three programs will document Junior before he takes to the track. The final two will air months later, and show viewers just how he is doing in the reality of the 2008 NASCAR season. Actually, the final shows will air in the week prior to the Sprint Cup coverage changing from TNT to ESPN/ABC.

The deal with Hammerhead is part of an "exclusive multimedia agreement" between that company and ESPN. It essentially sidesteps the traditional provider of NASCAR programs now called the NASCAR Media Group located in Charlotte, NC. This trend is growing.

In 2007, Tony Stewart used his TV and media production company for several high-profile projects. The desire of these efforts is clear. That is to control the content. What is new is the fact that these projects are making it to air.

This first Shifting Gears program showed a slice of almost every part of the "Junior pie." Sometimes, it was almost overwhelming seeing the people surrounding this one man. As the story played out, it was fascinating to see the role of his sister emerge.

Even in her narration or on-camera explanations, she seemed to be clear that her protection of Junior as a brother and family member far outweighed selecting a sponsor or choosing a number. This first extensive glimpse of her on national TV was fascinating.

Give credit to the production team for editing a high-caliber hour that used all sorts of TV techniques to keep the viewer interested, and sometimes off-balance. Junior around the pool table and outside with his old Chevy truck were two effective techniques to present information in a non-scripted but effective fashion.

Junior talking plainly about his father, backed by additional comments from Kelly filling-in the gaps, showed the business fundamentals of the Earnhardt family. It also showed, once again, that this brother and sister combination are chained at the hip.

The stark contrast between Junior alone and outside in casual clothes and his sister sitting formally in a meeting room worked well throughout the program. It was a little tough to ingest all the commercials with Junior, and then transition back to the program. Everyone understood, however, that they pay the TV network bills as well.

Closing with a music video was actually a nice touch. It allowed a whole lot of footage to be spliced together to show the hectic behind-the-scenes world of NASCAR, where sponsorship and business mix with racing and real life.

Simply put, from a TV perspective, this show was classy and easy to watch. While fans may differ on the content, there is no doubt that we will be seeing more TV from Junior and company as they continue to "build his new brand."

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.


mary4jr88 said...

Thank you Mr. Daly for a great article. 'Shifting Gears' episode 1 was awesome. As a Dale Jr. fan it was great to see a glimpse behind the scenes of the events that happened last year.

The show was so very well done, and can't wait for the next episode. I can only hope they decide to put the series on DVD.

SallyB said...

If this is the outcome of having your own production company to avoid the Nascar media tentacles, it shows how well things can be presented. It certainly was a contrast to much of the Nascar related programming we see.

Charliecat said...

Enjoyed the behind the scenes look. I thought is was a very well done show and look forward to the rest of the episodes.

Anonymous said...

Darn! I was watching Speed coverage and completely forgot about this. Will there be a replay?

red said...

i second the opinion that "shifting gears" is an excellent example of "how to do it." regardless of one's opinion of dale earnhardt jr, hammerhead did a magnificent job of giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at a major story in nascar. the production team is to be congratulated for the long hours they obviously spent taking what must have been mounds of footage and creating the show we saw last night. it should be used by any media class anywhere in the country as an outstanding example of a personal documentary.
my sole suggestion goes to thayer and the hammerhead team: while i understand there are no current plans for a dvd of "shifting gears", the dale jr brand would be well-served to have that happen. it's all about solidifying the brand and "shifting gears" adds a vital piece to that strategy.
nascar images should be paying very close attention to this trend of creating high quality content outside the usual sources. ignoring it would be foolish and ultimately destructive.

Shoop said...

I'm FAR from being a Dale Jr fan, but the show was actually pretty entertaining. My favorite was the paint scheme design segment. I think that this sort of "inside" info is what makes these types of shows unique and interesting.

Daly Planet Editor said...


I have the feeling that one big reason there was no ESPN brand identification and no re-air on that show was for exactly that reason.

Once the five shows air by August, it will be easy to package an end-of-season wrap-up and offer the result in DVD form.


red said...

hey jd. i agree it would be extraordinarily easy to create the dvd of "shifting gears" once all the episodes have aired. that being said: my understanding from someone who called jrm to ask that very question was that there were "no plans" to do so. of course, corporate-speak being what it is, one could assume that such a position would be reviewed following the feedback from just the first episode: certainly, the fan base is strong enough to warrant the dvd. and jrm has been generally up-front about what's going on w/dale, the other drivers and the company so who knows -- unless you can get an insider to open up?!?

Daly Planet Editor said...


Thanks for that update. I will take care of that question through my friends at Infield Parking.

If I get an answer, I will post it the column about show #2.


Newracefan said...

I forgot to record this and I was also watching Speed, wish they could have relayed it at least once. Although there is a good chance that more people would have dvr'd it for themselves and not buy the DVR. Sounds like a Christmas gift for someone.

TexasRaceLady said...

I was impressed with the show. NASCAR and its TV partners could learn some lessons from this one show --- a very slick, polished production and excellent presentation.

I don't see how Junior kept his sanity through all the hoopla last year. I was exhausted just watching the endless rounds of meetings.

The one moment that defined all the mess of last year was the scene with Rick after the announcement --- the smile on both faces, and the hug that Rick gave Junior.

I sincerely hope that the shows will be on DVD --- I'll buy. :)

mamadew88 said...

To all those people who were watching Speed, those of use who live on the west coast (California) and are just leaving our jobs and or are in our cars on a busy freeway, had to miss "Shifting Gears" because of the time zone. So our question is, will there be a rerun any time soon, or do we have to wait that long for the DVD if there is to be one?

Daly Planet Editor said...


I think that for the 2008 season it is going to be important to have a DVR, a TiVo or even a digital VCR.

There is going to be a lot of programming that is shown, especially on Fridays, when folks in all time zones are still at work.

My DVR costs $8 a month from Comcast and is well worth the money. I would suggest trying to get something at home that can record the programs that do not fit with your real life.

By the way, a DVR will change the way you view and use TV forever.


Anonymous said...

"Junior around the pool table and outside with his old Chevy truck were two effective techniques to present information in a non-scripted but effective fashion."
See, this is what I had a problem with. I got so tired of the "dramatic" shots standing next to that truck and talking or all the gauzy, silent pictures of him on the porch with his mom and sister that were supposedly supposed to indicate...something. It was overly slick and overly superficial.

And that's my biggest problem. NASCAR Images (or whatver it's called now) may have had huge credibility problems last year, but compare its depiction of Dale Jr on several episodes of "NASCAR Drivers 360" with this Hammerhead Production approach.

The "NASCAR Drivers 360" approach felt more authentic - not more controversial or sensational, more authentic - in showing the aspects of his life and capturing his thoughts in his own words. Even Jr's old DVD "Any Given Day" had more content beneath the surface than this very superficial product (and it was a product with all the National Guard promo footage weaved within.) I didn't get a sense of Dale Jr the person as he went through these experiences as I did in his previous "reality" ventures. It may be as he gets older, he would prefer to keep those thoughts shielded, which is understanable.

But it appears that everyone else enjoyed it, so good for them. I personally have seen much better NASCAR behind the scenes programming (I've seen virtually everything produced over the past few years) and wasn't impressed.

elena said...

My TV guide has the next episode on Friday at 5:30 and then again on Satuday at 3pm.

I looks like some might be repeated? Not sure.

Anonymous said...
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elena said...

I liked this first episode. Dale Jr is not my favorite driver, but I do like him. (I actually like most of the drivers.) But what I liked was that this had his hand print. Fans can stop saying that he is forced to do this or that. He made it very clear that he was leading his life and business the way he wanted to.

Around the time Rick had the big press conference for Jr to announce joining HMS, Jr made a statement that his mom's side of the family had never gotten credit for his growth in racing. Now fans can see that most everyone in his maternal side of his family works for him. I bet he will give that side of the famliy its dues.

You get the feeling that just like HMS employees love working for Rick, the same is with Jr.

Jr is showing that he is not just living off his dad's racing legacy, but venturing out on his own. I'm glad he is taking care of his brand. Though some thought it was a mistake he left Bud, it really was a very smart move. The top athletes venture to brands that are not just part of their celebrity in a sport. Look at Tiger, JM, Payton, Roger F., Jeff Gordon, etc., I wonder if he'll do as Payton and include his family in his commercials.

I'm really happy for him and his whole family.

Karen said...


Two new episodes next weekend.

CindyE said...

I think this was an awsome show and I can't wait to see the next episodes. It had my attention and I didn't take my eyes off of the tv even through the commercials. I thought it was wonderful!!!!! I can't wait to see the other episodes I will NOT miss them!!! Thank you Hammerhead Productions, Dale Jr., Kelly and all that made this happen!!!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely enjoyed watching this series. I did miss some of the episodes and I was hoping to be able to watch in online. Does anyone know where I can find them?

Also does anyone know if this series will be put on DVD?