Saturday, March 29, 2008
"Digger" Dominates Craftsman Truck Race On Fox
The storylines for the Saturday afternoon Craftsman Truck Series race on Fox were fantastic. The diversity of the drivers in the field almost guaranteed a race with action from start-to-finish.
There were the Truck Series regulars that ranged from Rick Crawford to Ron Hornaday Jr. The Martinsville "visitors" included Modified champ Donny Lia, open-wheeler Scott Speed and young Chrissy Wallace. Almost the entire field had a story to tell.
Certainly, one of the most compelling was the ride Dennis Setzer was piloting. The remaining pieces of the late Bobby Hamilton's racing operation had been slowly coming together with lots of help from lots of people in racing. Combined with Setzer's well known short-track prowess, things could not have gone better.
It was Chris Myers and not Krista Voda who manned the Hollywood Hotel since this Truck race was on Fox. Regular Truck Series viewers are used to a competent and energetic Voda setting the table for the race. That was not to be the case here.
Myer's acknowledged "act" is ridiculous, as anyone who has seen the real personality of Myers on other cable sports programs knows all too well. Myers hosts Center Court, the signature interview program on The Tennis Channel.
That Chris Myers speaks intelligently to a diverse group of athletes, coaches and tennis personalities one-on-one. The difference between a stuttering and stammering Myers in the Hollywood Hotel and the sophisticated interviewer asking informed questions to international tennis stars is amazing.
On Saturday at Martinsville, Myers was simply a distraction while the rest of the broadcast team scrambled to provide the information fans needed. These Truck broadcasts on Fox have no pre-race show, so at least the racing was underway in a timely fashion.
Back after throat problems, Darrell Waltrip filled a nice role on this telecast. He and Phil Parsons have worked out a very good relationship on-the-air. DW talks big picture and Parsons fills-in the details. In this broadcast, that partnership was effective throughout the race. Between Waltrip's Martinsville history and Parsons Truck Series knowledge, the issue of Michael Waltrip being absent for this telecast did not arise.
Early in the race, it was clear that even on a cold Martinsville spring day, the Fox team was going to make good pictures and sound. Despite the gray skies, the technical crew delivered consistent coverage and just like a good basketball referee, was not really noticed. Everything just worked.
With 250 laps to run, the Fox Producer allowed viewers 25 laps before he introduced the one consistent presence that viewers would be seeing for the entire telecast. "Digger" the Gopher Cam was introduced on this short track with his animation and the race would never be the same.
The action on the track was outstanding, the stories throughout the field were compelling and the pit reporters were right on-top of the action. Unfortunately, by lap 37 the Fox Director had decided that "Digger" was going to be a part of the regular race coverage and not just a toy to use once and a while.
It was 58 laps into the race when "Digger" became a total distraction. As the field sorted out and the stories of the race began to unfold, "Digger" was now being used by the Director more frequently. The change in the perspective from high-to-low and the lack of any ability to see what was going-on in the race began to take its toll on the coverage.
During green flag racing, "Digger" would be used as the camera to frame a graphic for promoting other Fox programming. The meaningless tires of the Trucks would just stream by without any reference or meaning.
During a caution on lap 82, Fox introduced a new feature from the Hollywood Hotel. The Craftsman Tools of the Trade feature put a new air impact wrench on the set for Jeff Hammond to explain. Chris Myers holding an air gun looked like Superman handling kryptonite. It was clear he had never seen one before.
Hammond patiently explained that it was almost like the air guns the crews used down on pit road. Myers was puzzled, and asked "and what would you use it for in the pits?" As America drew a deep breath, Hammond quietly said, "taking lug nuts on and off." Is there anything more that needs to be said here?
Fox had now found yet a new use for "Digger." This was the camera angle used while going to commercial under caution. It was also the camera angle used to come back from commercial.
After lap 100, "Digger" began to dominate the telecast. Now, this camera was actively being "cut" into the telecast as a regular "camera cut" on a lap. "Digger" was now part of the live race coverage.
Slowly, all of the positive NASCAR on Fox production elements began to fade as "Digger" began to overwhelm viewers. The quad-split for the pits, the double video boxes for interviews and the nice crisp Fox graphics lost their luster.
The race recap just past halfway was nicely edited, but transitioned into Chris Myers selling "Digger" T-shirts from the Hollywood Hotel. Hammond seems mildly amused by all of this hype, and told Myers that "Digger" is "just as funny as you are." That quip was not lost on veteran fans.
With only 100 laps to go, "Digger" was once again on the air while 6th place Denny Hamlin spun. At the time, the announcers were once again talking about"Digger." With 67 laps to go, "Digger" was on the air when Brian Scott spun. Viewers saw the action on the track once again through multiple replays. Of course, the final replay angle was "Digger" complete with the animation and sound effects.
The big "Digger" moment came with only 13 laps to go when Rick Allen yelled "problems as Jack Sprague gets turned around coming out of 2!" Once again, Fox viewers had been watching big truck tires drive past "Digger" and missed another key moment of the race. The Director had been using his favorite toy and not covering the action on the track with less than 15 laps to go.
At the finish, a big gaggle of Trucks raced to the line. TV viewers saw the action from a nice wideshot, and in this case the benefit included two spins from the second and third place Trucks. This was the story of the race, Kyle Busch spinning Johnny Benson out on the last lap.
After the post-race interview with the winner, Fox made some very interesting choices. Chrissy Wallace was interviewed on her top twenty finish and Kyle Busch was interviewed on his "accident" on the final lap. Johnny Benson was left out in the cold even though he was a key story.
Fox also did not speak with Whelen Modified champ Donny Lia, or open-wheel veteran Scott Speed, who finished ninth and tenth respectively. Throughout the race, the unfolding Brendan Gaughan saga was documented extensively. Gaughan battled back from his late pitstop for fuel and finished in eleventh place. Despite his Davidson College storyline and the NCAA Tournament tie-in, he was not interviewed.
The SPEED crew produces their Craftsman Truck races as a "feature presentation." The effort from Krista Voda's pre-race show all the way through Rick Allen's final sign-off has been nothing short of outstanding for several seasons. The production choices are made because the team knows the on-going storylines of the series by heart.
At Martinsville, the announcers in the booth and the reporters on pit road turned in solid performances and gave the viewers all the information they could handle. The "hole" in this telecast was the over-use of one single "toy" that Fox has inserted into coverage this season for absolutely no specific reason.
Once in a while, the track-level perspective of "Digger" the Gopher Cam is interesting and makes for entertaining viewing. The key words in that sentence are "once in a while." It was unfortunate that the Director chose to insert this one production element far too many times in this Truck Series race.
It distracted from the good stories on the track, prevented viewers from seeing lots of key action, and ultimately became a storyline itself with the endless promotion and hype. Fox has been to this track for years without "Digger" and never had a problem with camera selection during the race. The same cannot be said for this season.
With a much longer Sprint Cup race on-tap for Sunday, it should be interesting to see if the NASCAR on Fox crew continues to shift the focus from the drivers and action on the track to their new "toy" that comes complete with a full line of merchandise. As we said in the headline, it was "Digger" that dominated this event from the drop of the green flag.
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