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.
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