Friday, February 15, 2008

"Shifting Gears" Thrills Earnhardt Junior Fans

The emergence of Dale Earnhardt Junior as a man who has decided to control his own destiny continued Friday night with the second episode of Shifting Gears.

Created by Hammerhead Entertainment, Earnhardt's own television and media production company, this unique series is re-defining the entire NASCAR TV industry.

Rarely has there been such an entertaining and informative program centered around one driver. Rather than fawn over some tightly-created media marketing campaign, Junior made sure that this program opened his life up and turned it over-and-over again in the most raw fashion ever seen by his fans. It was sometimes startling.

Building on the first episode, Junior's slow and painful departure from DEI and his decision to move to Hendrick was explained in much more personal and emotional terms than NASCAR fans are normally exposed to on TV.

The NASCAR Media Group, the TV production company owned by NASCAR, has specialized in highly-produced and totally scripted "NFL Films" style programs. Highly popular shows like NBS 24/7, NASCAR Beyond The Wheel and 7 Days are all off-the-air. In terms of high-end post-produced national TV programming, they are now barely visible.

Junior payed tribute to MTV and their style of production as the network was on-hand to create another episode of "Cribs" at Junior's place. The Hammerhead producers paid tribute to the network by editing this show in a manner that would have made MTV executives proud.

The TV production techniques were varied in both the audio and video components. Going from color pictures to black-and-white, formal to informal settings, jump-cutting to still photos from video and carefully adding never before seen pictures and family memorabilia set a cutting edge and continually interesting pace. The audio mix was simply outstanding.

Kudos to the editing and writing staff on this project. They have perhaps lit a fire under other media entities to get busy and create their own NASCAR-themed program series. Not all NASCAR programming needs to be intimidated by the high price for racing footage charged by the NASCAR Media Group.

In the same way that MTV moved-on from music videos, Hammerhead worked hard in these first two shows to "extend the brand" of Junior and JR Motorsports. Along the way, they have managed to present the National Guard in a new light, explain the choice of Amp Energy Drink as a sponsor and detail the fascinating history of the new paint scheme on the 88.

Simply said, the content of this program was amazing for both Junior fans and fans of NASCAR as a sport. Here was the son of an icon, opening a painful and formerly private time in his life for all to see. It was a rare and interesting glimpse that will continue with one more show before Sunday's Daytona 500.

That third episode of Shifting Gears airs Saturday, February 16th from 4:30 to 6PM Eastern Time on ESPN2. This episode ends the pre-season coverage, as the TV crew then follows Junior through the first part of the year and returns with two final episodes in the week prior to the Brickyard 400 in July.

If these first two shows are any indication, we may be seeing a lot more media projects from Hammerhead Entertainment in the future. ESPN would be well-served to invite this group to use ESPN2 whenever they please to bring quality NASCAR programming to the fans. Even fans of other drivers must have a new found respect for Junior after his willingness to make this portion of his life an open book.

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


Anonymous said...

This episode was OK. It was better than last week's. Still waaaay too much talking (exposition) and talking heads (Helton, Waltrip, Gordon, Johnson) and not enough "showing/doing" of life.

The visit back to the military school Dale Jr and Kelley attended as children was very nice to watch. That's what I mean by showing/doing and not talking. That's what I want to see.

Anonymous said...
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SophiaZ123 said...


Please stop shouting or turn off your cap locks button.

I enjoyed the show but still say the music OVER the talking was loud in parts...least on my old two tvs (not hi tech new HD stuff)

I always thought Jr and DW were close....why else would he have asked DW to fly from TN last spring when he made the announcement to leave DEI? I heard that last spring. DW has been great support to Jr.

I liked hearing all the talking.

But I never watch ESPN so am glad you posted about this show AHEAD of time JD. I really like Jr and was glad to catch the show. (well I caught part of ESPN so called "quals" show today but did not see this advertised)

elena said...

This is sure good for Jr. He's getting a lot of ink, too. He will be one the cover of Sports Illustrated. Actually, it's a good month for HMS. Jeff got a 10 page spread last month on a magazine, Jeff's wife got a 2 page spread in SI this month (great pictures!)

Marty did a piece on JJ and showed how he come from humble beginnings. JJ took cameras and we saw the old trailer park. Talk about not forgetting his roots.

I can see how Jr fits in with his new teammates--and smiles a lot.

SophiaZ123 said...

I just remembered I had to leave for about 20 minutes during this show and just now rewatched that was about his military school.

While that is well documented, it was poignant to hear Jr's words about how homesick he was, missing his toys and friends and stuff. what a great sister and thank GOD for her. I am still mystified why his mom was missing so often in the early years (yes I know about the fire and she sent Jr and his sister to Sr's house)

But the kids childhood was far from happy.

I think as far as reading articles tne most compelling article on Jr was in --of all magazines, Playboy after his father died. It was online somewhere when I started watching NASCAR in 2004. I learned more about Jr in that 10,000 word interview and finally felt I understood the sadness that I think is often seen in Jr's eyes/face and demeanor.

This really was a great show.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:12PM,

Just send that to me by email. This is a blog, not Sports Illustrated. Those shows are not on the air, right?

What NASCAR Media Group post-produced series are on SPEED or ESPN2 right now? That is what we are talking about.

Hey, I have great relations with the former NASCAR Images group. What we are trying to advocate is MORE programming on the NASCAR TV partners.

One of the big stumbling blocks is the footage, as I am sure you know. Working around that, and still originating programming is tough to do.

If you want to come in and discuss that issue, please return.


SophiaZ123 said...


WOW, I did not know JJ had such humble beginnings..sorry I missed that show. Thanks for the heads up on SI, too.

SophiaZ123 said...

Any idea ,JD. if this series might be on DVD in the near future? It had so many commercials but such quality stuff ....

Daly Planet Editor said...


Just so we are all clear. Lots of my friends were in the movie Dale. It was a movie, so it was not reviewed here. It was discussed in Q&A sessions, but not reviewed like a TV series or event.

DirecTV is a home satellite service. As you may have noticed, the programs reviewed here and the other comments are about the cable and broadcast networks. We have talked about trying to add DirecTV reviews, but we will not be able to do that series this season.

I understand the preview shows, since we are still smarting from the reviews shows the company produced. Generic thirty minute shows with no announcers or network "talent" on-camera.

The NBS 24/7 issue I will check on tonight and report back. I am fully aware that NASCAR Media Group provides the production for the SPEED Stage, I email with that crew all the time.

Again, what we are advocating is additional NASCAR themed programming on multiple networks that can "extend the brand" beyond the current NASCAR TV partners. Junior on "Cribs" is a good example.

I hope this puts things in better perspective, and if you are upset by any issue, just drop me an email anytime. Thanks.


elena said...

sophiaz123, The piece was only about 5-8 or so minutes. You would have liked it. It was not one of those expensive trailer parks (there's one in Malibu where the coaches cost over $1mil). At the beginning of the piece they show one and it's a single wide.

It had a clip of home movie when at 4 he got a motorcycle! His mom was a bus driver and his dad a mechanic, I think. Don't remember all the details. Just thought it was great that a guy who makes $20m a year is not ashamed to tell fans about his beginnings. I think that's why he wanted to raise that 1 million for the fire victims. Just because you live in CA or San Diego doesn't mean you're rich.

elena said...

sophiaz123, You can go to SI online and see the current issue. If you click on "models" , it will have the athletes wives. It has 17 pic of Ingrid, taken 6 months after Ella was born!

Like JD says, this expands the brand. They will sell tons of copies (best selling edition), and I think it said something like 250 Million (?) hits to see the swimsuit site. It also has who 59 celeberites think will win the 500. Some are funny, like Jimmy Johnson, the former NFL coach, voted for JJ, cause "he has a great name!"

elena said...

Bryant Gumbel on HBO tomorrow at 10am (central) will have a piece on Dario Franchitti. Dario will be interviewed by Mary Carillo. She's a tennis gal. Though I know lots of people are turned off by pieces done by non-NASCAR press, I often find that they bring to light things that NASCAR reporters do not.

An example that I found out from the show: This is not the first time Dario has faced prejudice. (NASCAR fans and drivers not liking someone from outside the south, from a differnt country, from open wheel, etc. The program lasts 1 hour, but the Dario piece is at the beginning.

At 18 and looking for a ride, he was told he could not find a sponsor because of his last name--it's Italian. It was even suggested he change his name! (And that was in his own country!)

He had to leave Scotland to seek his future. Of course, they are now proud of him!

Vroom said...

Hammerhead is producing Gr88 stuff!

Anonymous said...

Yes JD, I did miss the first showing. But did enjoy the show last night. Yes again, it was very telling of Dale Jr to let us in some private times of his life that we assumed and now know. I was touched about his friend in Iraq, you know based on my email to you earlier this season. Thanks.

Kingston, NY

pbump said...

Thought Jr's comments on the Guard and soldiers in Iraq were very empathetic. I wasn't sure about them as a sponsor for him, but now I think it's a great fit!

Enjoyed the segments with his mom, sister and niece. It's nice to see them together and know that they are so down to earth.

Anyone know when the Cribs show is scheduled to air with Jr? I think JD mentioned it once.

red said...

hey jd. second episode was, in my opinion, strong and hit all the right notes. good blend of the man he is now and the boy he was then, both at oak ridge and at the time of his dad's death.
i, for one, like the production values and i am in no way a member of mtv generation (in fact, i'm not a member of sesame street generation, either: think romper room!) i could stand to have the camera hang on a bit and not jump quite so much but that's minor. for me, the best part of this entire venture is that dale is clearly comfortable w/his hammerhead team and is just being him, even at his most introspective. again, i think nascar images could learn alot about producing this sort of show from hammerhead. it's not necessarily about slick production with lots of bells and whistles. it's about letting the subject of the footage become comfortable enough to be open and honest. perhaps some of the current drivers wouldn't be able to pull it off but i'll bet there are a few others we could all name who could handle that sort of introspection on camera. it's the personalities that have always driven nascar and it's that part that's been recently muted by nascar.
so, back to my original questions post-episode 1: word is espn plans re-runs -- any info on that? also, any info on status of a possible dvd?

Daly Planet Editor said...

I asked about the re-airs or the DVD, but the network says Hammerhead owns the rights. My feeling is this is going to be a DVD set by the end of the season.

Even my friends who do not know or like NASCAR were fascinated by this show. That is impressive.


Jo said...

This is a good move on Jr's part--like _Driver 8_, it opens up his life without opening up his privacy. It's going to make fans feel more intimate ownership in his life (though that's a two-edged sword). I wish his producers, though, would use the same style for shooting Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, etc., as they do for Jr--pull the cameras back from the tight head shots. Let us see the body language, the movements, etc. Since they're not taping the last two episodes since mid-season, hope they'll take the suggestion! But you're right--this has DVD written all over it.

darbar said...

Is Hammerhead the same company that does "Back In the Day" on Speed? That's a great show that honors the real early days of Nascar. I wish Jr's company could be contracted with networks to produce other shows in this same way. Shifting Gears is very interesting, nicely produced and a good look into the life of a person who someday may be called an icon.

elena said...

One thing that I also loved is that fact that Jr is proud to be patriotic. In some circles you want to keep it a secret. Not him. So his partnership with the National Guard really is natural. I notice that he is one of the few drivers that puts his right hand over his heart when the national anthem is played. God bless America!

elena said...

JD, I forgot to say that I think you selected a great picture of Junior for this column. We don't see to many of him smiling that much.

flee said...

After reading all these comments I'm really hoping for a DVD. We do not have ESPN in Canada so can not see this series. A DVD will be the only way we can enjoy this.

The up side of no ESPN is that we don't ever have to make a choice between Nascar Now and Speed although it sounds as if we might miss some really good programming this year. Allen Bestwick has always been one of my favourites.

Anonymous said...

Shifting Gears came about because Jr was making an update to his video Any Given Day. They had so much footage they made the tv deal. It's a good bet that it will end up on DVD.

red said...

thanks for the update on the dvd possibility, jd! my instincts say a dvd before the holiday season, likely a quick production turn around after the last race at homestead!
here's a thought: what about hammerhead branching out to do something on the history of the sport? one of my greatest complaints about nascar is the lack of history "out there" for folks who are either interested in learning about where the sport came from or who are long-time fans: few books, fewer dvds. back in the day has started to fill in that gap but there must be more amazing video out there in the world that could be pulled together -- if everyone would play nice and share! failing that, as i say it would be great if hammerhead would take on current drivers, maybe a series of shows, each featuring one driver.
finally, i would suggest that the strength of shifting gears is its ability to captivate folks like your friends who aren't interested in nascar. that's EXACTLY what the first mtv cribs show, the playboy and rolling stone interviews and driver#8 did for dale -- AND nascar! -- before. bluntly put, our sport sucks at promoting itself beyond the obvious channels and new growth can't happen if different channels aren't explored. that, combined with controlling the outrageous cost of tickets at the cup tracks(!), would help bring more folks to the party!
i'm just sayin' . . .

red said...

and as dale just said in post-race interview: there's a lot of neat things about our sport if we could just get that out there."
my point exactly.

Anonymous said...

Junior is right, but NASCAR is so behind the times they don't do justice in publicizing their drivers. They're more excited about Ashley Judd than they are the actual drivers.

It's interesting that all of Junior's media placement was originally done by Jade Gurss, who was the Budweiser PR person. He's the one who got Junior the MTV, Playboy, Rolling Stone stuff and got Junior used to that kind of wide media placement so that he can now control it on his own.

Jade is no longer with Bud since they went with Kasey Kahne. I read on his blog he's freelancing PR work now; NASCAR would be wise to hire him as an exec in their dusty old PR department. Seriously, the Daytona 500 is tomorrow and where have we seen the drivers in non NASCAR media the past couple of weeks? Nowhere.

elena said...

Well, in the after race interview, Jr stated that most of the production on his "Shifting Gears" was contracted out. It seems that Hammerhead was in charge making sure it got done. And that is a smart way of doing things. You cannot be an expert at everything, so you find the one that is, and you hire them. Very good business practice, Jr.

Anonymous said...

I found the show very telling as to why Jr left DEI. He pretty much does what his sister wants and now his own mother is back in the picture and there may have been some issues between Theresa, Jr.'s sister and Jr's mother, saying hmmm we want half the company, left on his own, he would not have left DEI, and he did say that. Hope it works out for him, but sorry that he did it, I think for the wrong reasons.