Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday's "NASCAR Now" Takes Aim At "RaceDay"


Once again ESPN has slowly been focusing on the NASCAR programs that fell through the cracks last season.

The Sunday morning NASCAR Now in 2007 was an hour of opinion and commentary. Host Erik Kuselias made the announcers "pick" and "choose" and answer his biting questions. In the entire hour, the Busch Series and the Truck Series were usually never mentioned. Hype and innuendo ruled the day.

This Sunday, Ryan Burr was joined in the ESPN2 studios by Mike Wallace. Reporting from the track was Marty Smith, who worked very hard in 2007 to keep the news portion of this TV series current. This season he has adopted the Lead Reporter role and has been participating in more on-air roles for the ESPN Networks.

Burr and Smith work well together, and it certainly helps to have a current NASCAR personality like Mike Wallace along for the ride. The fact that Wallace had been featured spotting for his daughter Chrissy on Saturday as she drove in the NCTS race made it even better.

Burr welcomed Robby Reiser to the program from Martinsville and got a nice dose of NASCAR reality. Burr asked Reiser about "his mandate" from Roush in his new role. The look on Reiser's face was priceless. This is racing, not rocket science.

Now understanding his subject much better, Burr toned-down his high-brow questions and walked Reiser through a review of his transition into management and some of his frustrations with being "in the office." Mike Wallace put a nice cap on the interview with a summary of the Roush season in 2008.

A feature on Petty Racing's pit crew seemed to be strange, as Kyle Petty had missed the Martinsville race. A snippet of a post-race crew meeting and a look at the workout and practice routines of the group was a bit strange on a Sunday morning race preview program.

NASCAR Now again played the Jack Roush quotes from the Martinsville Media Center. Roush continues to ignore common sense and public relations advice with his comments. The program brought-in reporter David Newton who followed-up with the information that Michael Waltrip had already "plead guilty" to the Roush charges, and the incident actually happened back in 2007.

Mike Wallace is a plain-spoken guy, and he put a "bigger picture" perspective on the issue of missing parts. Wallace pointed the conversation in the direction of the teams and the unspoken code of honor in the garage area. His re-directing of the discussion back to reality and away from the hype was exactly what the program needed.

Burr finally brought-up the topic of Chrissy Wallace and her Martinsville performance. Mike lit-up immediately and provided some of the real emotion that is so often lacking on the NASCAR Now set. A great touch was having Chrissy Wallace by satellite from Martinsville after the highlights.

Burr sometimes makes NASCAR a bit too complicated, and the Wallace family brought him back down to earth by emphasizing once again the simple fundamentals of racing. Mike got to ask his daughter a question, and it made her look a lot more like a teenager than a NASCAR driver. What other sport brings the mom and dad connection right into the event while it is in progress? The Wallace interview put a nice family spin on this show.

Burr got another learning experience when he asked Mike Wallace about Martinsville and got a professional lesson from a veteran driver. Wallace showed his value and his years of experience as he laid-out point-by-point the dynamics of both the track and the race itself. This was an outstanding preview of the Sunday race.

As a continuing statement about the growth of the NASCAR Now production team, a feature report on the late Alan Kulwicki suddenly appeared on-the-air. Featuring veteran journalists and NASCAR personalities, a profile of the unique owner and driver emerged that was outstanding.

Educating new fans and reminding older ones of the past has been a tough challenge for NASCAR Now. The voices of Bob Jenkins and the late Benny Parsons on the old ESPN telecast went a long way to filling that void.

In closing the piece, NASCAR veterans Paul Andrews, Kyle Petty and journalist Steve Waid put an emotional stamp on the feature with their memories of Kulwicki's transporter leaving the Bristol track after the plane crash that took his life.

Mike Wallace once again pointed-out just how small the NASCAR family really is by relating that Paul Andrews was in Wallace's wedding, and the family originally thought that Andrews was also on the plane that crashed. This is exactly the type of commentary and first-person perspective that NASCAR Now needs to embrace and continue this season.

Marty Smith re-appeared in the final segment with Elliott Sadler to update his health situation and his plans for the race. Having a veteran like Smith at the track in this role instead of a "general assignment" reporter like David Amber or Bob Holtzman has made all the difference in the world for this Sunday show.

NASCAR Now has gone through a very public process of pulling itself up by its bootstraps from the disaster of 2007 to the emerging success of 2008. Individual programs like this one go a long way toward cementing in the minds of the fans that ESPN is back and committed to this sport for the long-haul.

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 stopping by and adding your opinion.

17 comments:

Ken-Michigan said...

"As a continuing statement about the growth of the NASCAR Now production team, a feature report on the late Alan Kulwicki suddenly appeared on-the-air. Featuring veteran journalists and NASCAR personalities, a profile of the unique owner and driver emerged that was outstanding".

JD -
I'll very much agree that the Kulwicki piece was Grade A - perfect piece of production. I enjoyed it alot. BUT......

Packages like this SHOULD BE outstanding. There is no excuse. The production team can spend weeks upon weeks gathering the contents of these packages. It SHOULD BE perfect & it was.

I do give credit to the person that realized it's been 15 years since Kulwicki's untimely death. Very good fore thought.

I'm not naive enough to think that the "NASCAR NOW" prod team put this piece together. This had the markings of an ESPN "Sports Century" production, which awards have been won, and rightly so.

I don't disagree with you very often since I started enjoying your site, but this time, I cant let it fly.

NASCAR NOW had very little to do with this Kulwicki package.(I can't prove it...but that's my opinion)

Thanks JD

Daly Planet Editor said...

ken,

Where do you think it came from?

I thought I had seen it earlier in the Ultimate NASCAR programs the network aired last season.

Did that ring a bell for you?

JD

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad that NASCAR Now didn't ignore the weather or possibilities of bad weather. First time ever in my memory it was mentioned on NN as a possibility. Usually ESPN and SPEED ignore the weather even as rain pours down and lightning strikes. Or memorably on NN, the weather sends their reporters to do the reports inside because they can't be done outside and they still try to ignore it.

Finally these networks are understanding that weather at an outdoor event is something that can't be ignored and it's their responsibility to note it for their viewers. Hopefully it won't affect the race, but we're grown folks - we can handle the possibility. Great job with that today, NN.

Matt said...

The Kulwicki piece was originally aired during the fall Atlanta race, commemorating the 15-year anniversary of the 1992 Hooters 500.

They added in a few new clips, but the narrating was the same. I was a little disappointed that they repeated the same piece, but I've watched it a few times, so maybe not everyone remembers it.

Anyways, whether they created it or not, it's still excellent.

Anonymous said...

Don't want to take credit for the Kulwicki piece, but maybe we prodded their memory here at the Daly Planet.

When Jeff Burton made his Polish victory lap after the Bristol race, several posts here (mine included) remembered it was the 15th anniversary of the spring Bristol race where the Hooters hauler made the reverse lap in honor of Alan.

Be interesting if we actually contributed to ESPN airing that item.

Tripp said...

The piece on Alan Kulwicki was excellent. Whether it was a repeat or not is irrelevant. It was deftly done and deserved a spot in this show. What brought it home to me were the recollections of Andrews, Petty and Mike Wallace. I was a Kulwicki fan and this package got me a little weepy.

I appreciate this recollection by NN and it helps this show emerge as the class of the field.

Mike Wallace is great in this role. His style is so different from Kenny's that you'd almost never know they were brothers. The thread that common to them both is, as JD said, plain speaking. Mike's style and knowledge, or maybe wisdom, brings a lot to each broadcast. I'm pleased that ESPN has included him as part of their talent pool. That pool just keeps getting deeper to the benefit of the fans.

Daly Planet Editor said...

tripp,

I went to the party at the Atlanta Hilton for Alan after his victory. I was a guest of the Wood Brothers and had a great chat with Alan about his day.

He was certainly a different kind of cat, but he was so proud of what his team had done and there was a lot of emotion in the room with the Ford guys.

I don't know if you remember, but Kulwicki crossed out the "Th" on his Thunderbird, so he went into that race as the "underbird." I always thought that was hilarious.

JD

PammH said...

Wow, JD-what a piece of information that I had not heard before! Thanks much!!
I thought I vaguely remembered this piece from before, because I recall tearing up when Paul Andrews did. Still an exceptional piece & a well-timed airing for newbies (like me)

SallyB said...

It's hard to believe this is the same program that was so abominable last year. The improvement has been truly impressive. This is now a show worth watching. Congrats, ESPN, it is now a program you can be proud of. Thanks for listening.

Daly Planet Editor said...

sallyb,

I think that right now this turnaround is the NASCAR TV story of the year.

JD

chase said...

I thought we were done with Eric the Klueless - can't ESPN get it? Otherwise, it was an excellent show and the content and presentation was extraordinary but please ESPN, protect us from E the K - he's useless and brings no redeeming social value to the show nor to race fans in general.

Anonymous said...

I think that Mike Wallace could turn out to be the best TV analyst in the family!!

I just hate it when a day-of-the-race program gets so locked into it's preset menu that it can't drop an inappropriate piece. What the heck does it matter if Kyle Petty's pit crew does a good job. It never matters. Especially when he isn't racing.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Takes Aim At Raceday???

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 1:01PM,

This column talks about the changes in the one hour Sunday morning edition of NASCAR Now.

Last season this program struggled and was pretty much ridiculed because hype and opinion dominated.

Now, it has changed into a nice one hour show. This week, Mike Wallace was on the set and did a good job of integrating himself into the show. If you read my column, or watch the show, you can make your own judgements.

The three new co-hosts of the show continue to be interesting to watch, with Burr continuing to learn the sport as he goes.

If you did not like a portion of this show or had issues with the on-air talent, please take a minute to tell us what they were and what you think ESPN2 can do to make changes.

As for the poster that asked about an ESPN job, I left ESPN in 1989 after working there for ten years. I only returned twice with clients as a consultant to sell them shows.

Currently, I am focusing on the Internet and have no TV programs on ESPN and no clients who are involed with the ESPN networks. I hope that clears up my profile for you.

JD

Julie said...

Yes, the Kulwicki piece was very good, but I'm surprised no one has commented on the Robbie Reiser interview. It was one of the stranger interviews I've seen, mainly because Robbie never looked at the camera until the very end of the interview when Ryan was able to elicit a little bit of emotion in him when he contemplated the idea of doing something else.

I don't know who I felt more sorry for - Ryan or Robbie.