Saturday, April 5, 2008
Right "TV Team" On-The-Air For McDowell Crash (Thanks for the nice comments)
(photo courtesy of Preston R. Fischer - copyright 2008)
It only took the blink of an eye for Darrell Waltrip to know that something was not right.
It only took another moment until he knew something very bad was about to happen. As Michael McDowell headed for the wall in Texas, there was almost nothing to say.
Amid all the politics, the tire problems and the sponsorship woes, "reality" paid a call to NASCAR in the same stark and terrifying way it had in the past. Only this time, the results were different.
SPEED was live as the NASCAR on Fox crew of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip was on-the-air with Sprint Cup Series qualifying from the Texas Motor Speedway.
On a bright Spring day McDowell's car slid the rear-end going into the corner and veteran fans looked at his front tires. He steered to the right. On a track this size and at that speed, this one decision may have cost him dearly only a relatively short time ago.
Veteran NASCAR fans like myself only have to close our eyes to remember the one part of the sport we normally try hard to forget. The single element of NASCAR that continued to frustrate teams, fans and NASCAR itself for years.
Every day when you visit The Daly Planet, the face of the late Neil Bonnett greets you with his trademark smile. As Michael McDowell headed for the wall on Friday, I closed my eyes and saw Neil Bonnett's life ending at Daytona in 1994.
Like many NASCAR fans watching live, I kept my eyes shut and just listened. The stark words came from Darrell Waltrip in a halting manner. "Oh my gosh," said Waltrip. "I have never seen anything like that in my life." I felt around for the remote to turn-off my TV set. I could not go through this again.
As it has been so many times over the years, it was the voice of Mike Joy that came to the rescue. "Michael is moving around in the car," said Joy. While this choice of words may appear simple to the casual fan, those seven words actually speak volumes about Joy and his ability to deal with difficult racing situations. With this one phrase, viewers could once again open their eyes. Death had not come calling.
Instead of zooming-in on the driver or replaying the crash immediately, the veteran TV production crew stepped-aside. The Director picked a camera angle of the car that did not show the driver inside. Then, as Paramedics approached the car to lower the window net, viewers at home saw a camera shot of the SAFER Barrier.
In the TV truck, everything is seen from many angles. There were lots of other camera choices that included looking directly into the car right after it came to a stop. Instead, the TV crew quietly waited until the window net was down and the signal was given that there were no life-threatening injuries.
In a TV moment that many fans will remember for a long time, McDowell emerged from the car. Mike Joy immediately used the classic racing line from the old Diamond P Sports videos. "And he walked away and waved to the crowd," said Joy.
As McDowell stepped into the ambulance, the TV production team then switched modes and used all the resources at their disposal to answer the question of what had happened. The simple and effective commentary from both McReynolds and Waltrip really told the tale as the video replays rolled from multiple angles.
Over the years, lots of people have had fun at the expense of Larry McReynolds and his creative use of the English language. Sometimes, McReynolds even pokes fun at himself when he gets excited on-the-air and loses his focus on basic language issues like punctuation and sentence structure.
It was somewhat ironic then that it was McReynolds who closed-out this incident with a strong and concise statement on national TV.
"If there have been any fans, if there has been anybody in our industry that has questioned the Car of Tomorrow...Ladies and Gentlemen, take a look at this guy who just walked out of that race car a few minutes ago," said McReynolds.
Very quietly in the background, the voice of Darrell Waltrip was heard. "That is unbelievable," whispered Waltrip. NASCAR fans across America were nodding.
The professionalism of both the on-air announcers and the behind-the-scenes TV production team in a live situation like this cannot be emphasized enough. They did the right things at the right times and never for a moment allowed themselves to get off-balance on-the-air. But for the grace of God, things could have gone in a very different direction.
Kudos to our friends at Fox and SPEED and to all the TV production staff involved in the coverage of this incident. They absolutely could not have done a better job.
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