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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36 comments:

SquidBuzz said...

There is nothing more to say. You have hit the nail on the head. Thanks for your insight.

stricklinfan82 said...

JD,

I know I'm typically a man of many words but in this instance there's really nothing more for me to say other than:

Well said. Every word of it.

SophiaZ123 said...

Just hearing DW's tone of voice got to me because I KNOW what he and others have witnessed and did see the end of the Daytona in 2001 when Mikey won. . .and many other races and qualifyings besides that incident.

Thanks for the article, JD.

Todd said...

PERFECT comment JD. My flashback was to 1991 when another J.D. lost his life.

wickedj said...

15 years ago Michael may not be with us. 10 years ago he would be in a Dallas hospital with some broken bones. the jury is still out on what the COT does for racing as far as actual racing. but i became a fan of it saftey wise today.

you said everything that needs to be said JD.

Anonymous said...

Words well spoken, looks like he got alittle loose in the speedy dry they put down for the oil from the previous run and maybe over corrected himself. The bottom line is, he walked away.

Anonymous said...

Thank you JD for your wonderful words. I was thinking some of the same things as it was all happening. Thank you.

Lou
Kingston, NY

red said...

jd, i know you have spoken for me & i believe you've spoken for the whole of nascar fans with your words today. thank you.

speed gang: you have often been on the receiving end of our frustration and ire. yesterday, you handled this event with professionalism, empathy and dignity. your work was a master class that should be studied by tv students everywhere. well done and thank you.

gang: i've seen mcdowell's wreck more times than i care to admit and my chest still tightens & i don't breathe. our sport is a cruel sport at times and his wreck should -- by all rights -- have been one of those times. we forget that at our expense and a horrifying moment like this one brings us face to face with that reality.

Anonymous said...

As the incident was unfolding before my eyes, I was stunned. I expected the worse. This is one instant where the car of tomorrow (or today) probably saved a life.
Even the announcers expected the worse. Thanks J.D. You said it all
Midasmicah

Kathy said...

I think we all stopped breathing for awhile as we watched the accident unfolding. And the combination of DW's obvious concern and the fact that the camera was averted was chilling...all too reminiscent of the Dale Earnhardt crash. Thank God and the safety advancements NASCAR has put in place that this fine young man was able to walk away.

These men combine all the best that Speed and Fox have to offer. They combine their own vast insider's knowledge of the sport with the enthusiasm of the many fans who tune in to watch. And in an era when a lot of what we see on television is dictated by ratings rather than taste, it is reassuring to know that at least one production crew decided to honor the sport and the viewers by presenting this episode in a discreet and classy way. Just one more reason I love this sport and this on-air crew!

Debbie said...

Even today, knowing that he's alright,reading this brings tears to my eyes. I was sure he wasn't ok, I am still amazed that he walked away. I'm thankful that the COT is doing it's job, keeping drivers safe.

Mike 24 said...

Kudos to the broadcast booth, the flak they continually catch does not always reflect there greatest talent. That is how do you react under fire, like this incrediable crash. Which as I watched thinking, man this kid is in trouble.

How do you respond to what could be disastrous situation. I dont know how you could have done a better job. They all get a high five plus, a big Thank You for a job well done.

Jo said...

Amen, JD, Amen. And thank heaven for Dr. Sicking, the IRL, NASCAR, and the people who invented the HANS and SAFER devices, and Gary Nelson's team for their work on the driver capsule in the COT.

I hope the powers-that-be at all the networks that broadcast racing read your comments. There are too many producers out there who would have wanted to do a Chris Myers-type hype or even an ESPN-anchor kind of gush over this--and you're right, the photo angles the SPEED team chose to show were informative but still tasteful. Yet the TV was still compelling, the clip made every major broadcast in the country, and SPEED made news. There are a lot of lessons the networks can learn from yesterday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

After watching that replay with my wife last night, I said to her, "If he can walk away from that, the COT is literally indestructible." I can not imagine a way to die inside that car given what it just went through. If only Dale had that car, the HANS and those SAFR barriers.

Anonymous said...

tzExcellent write-up JD and spot on. It's a shame we had to loose to many racers to enact the safer walls and cars of today when the technology was available. Dale Sr. could be running his race team and Adam Petty could be the next superstar. Kyle would be retired and running Petty Enterprises, like he had planned.

Anonymous said...

When we complain about ticket prices,let us remember part of our money is going to pay Nascar and the tracks for the safty improvments they are making.No more complaining from me after watching the crash yesterday.Wish we had that safty in 2001.

palerider55 said...

excellent commentary!

Lisa Hogan said...

Exactly!

Well done, JD

TexasRaceLady said...

JD, please convey my thanks to the SPEED team for their excellent choices in covering the accident as it unfolded.

The new car may be ugly, and it may drive like a dump truck --- but after yesterday, I LOVE it!

All the time and money spent on this new car was well and truly spent.

Anonymous said...

In additon to the excellent coverage I wish someone on Speed had interjected that this accident validated that Dale Earnhardt Sr. did not die in vain because his crash in 2001 served as a much needed wake up call
to NASCAR on the subject of driver safety.

batchief said...

What a wonderfully written artical John.
If anyone didn't catch Trackside last night, Jeff Burton said that the COT was actually driving better this weekend then the Nationwide car(COY).

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thank you for all of the very kind comments.

There is now a new post up for your comments on the Saturday practice coverage of the Sprint Cup Series on SPEED.

JD

Anonymous said...

I wonder what happens in the production truck on accidents like that. The people in the truck are fans like us. I don't know how they can still work and keep there composure when watching a wreck like that. I watched the video on youtube and they swtiched angels during the wreck and took down the graphics while the wreck was on progress. I don't know how they did it. I would be going craxy watching a wreck like that.

Newracefan said...

I watched everything about 15 minutes later due to an interruption so I knew there was an unbelievable crash and was still shocked. JD your comments nailed it on the head about how Speed/Fox handled it. As much as I thought I wanted a close up shot of the car while we waited on Michael in my heart I was glad I was watching the black marks on the safer barrier. Those involved were the ultimate professionals and I am not sure anyone else could have handled it as well. Professionals turn down their emotions enough to handle the situation and then later let it slam them (just ask any nurse). You want to bet that Mike, DW and Larry Mac were sitting there with shaking hands, DW was teary eyed I'm sure, when they finally had the Speed guys take over for a while. I know there were some critics of this car saying that Nascar hadn't really done true crash tests unfortunatly Michael did it for them, thank God he could walk away. I know we will see the crash way to many times and I am not sure I want to it still has me rattled.

SophiaZ123 said...

JD

Great article. As I posted yesterday I was coming into the room as the wrecked car sat there and MM was getting out. The replay still got to me.

But what REALLY GOT TO ME was watching the replay of quals on SPEED and the 'live time' reaction of the fans in the stands, and the boys in the booth. DW's quiet voice of concern affected many.

Some may think of these guys in the booth as goofy at times (I am shocked how many people do not like these guys, or ANY of the SPEED gangs... but I know to each his own) But as mentioned, when a big crash happens, they know how to handle things.

Glad the crash had a happy ending for Michael.

AndyPandy said...

Even though they may goof off and get silly, when the Fox (Speed) boys are on the air it feels like the grownups are now in charge and they'll know what to do when things go wrong, and they did.

As good of a crew chief as he was, Larry Mac was made for his role on Fox. The man knows just what to say and how to say it. He can cut right to the point and tell you just what happened or what's about to happen like no other announcer in any sport.

Of course, we all were praying that McDowell was going to be okay, but I found myself also hoping for the boys in the booth's sake that he was uninjured because I didn't want to see them have to go through that sort of tragedy on the air.

GinaV24 said...

You said it perfectly, JD. I had just gotten home and turned on the TV. When I saw what was happening, it made my stomach drop and I couldn't watch it. The TV team handled it so very well. Hearing Mike Joy say those words made the world start up again and I could watch. I didn't watch the replays though. I have been to races where the crowd cheers a wreck and it makes me feel sick. I'm not sure how you can hate another human being enough to cheer when you don't know if he's been hurt or not. Thank goodness for all of the safety improvements, too, they let McDowell live to race another day.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I was hanging up laundry and heard DW's voice. Hearing his voice, not watching the TV brought tears to my eyes. I ran to the TV and saw MM sitting with the window net up on the destroyed car. My heart sank, I couldn't breathe. When he got out and waved to the crowd, I was out right crying, tears of happiness.
I have been a person who has been on the fence about the COT. I think I would rather see the driver's struggle getting the setup right because the safety equipment definately does work.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, Well said. Thank you - and thanks to all the SPEED crew.

Cheryl said...

JD, As I watched the wreck happen, my heart was in my throat and as others stated, I found out later, I was holding my breath. Seeing that young man walk away from what was left of his car was unbelievable. After seeing wrecks of the past...technology is a blessing for the safety of these talented drivers. I echo your comments on the coverage by Larry, Mike and DW.Professional, emotional and demonstrated the delicate handling the story needed. The SPEED and FOX teams did an amazing job. Please let them know from a fan in Minnesota!

bill55 said...

In 1990 Michael Waltrip at Bristol had the worst wreck I have seen. Not as spectacular but car was worse. Google that one for a reminder.
bill

Anonymous said...

Well said JD. The commentary was what it should be in situations like that: emotional, but not too much so, informative, and most of all respectful.

bill55,

I know the wreck you speak of with Michael Waltrip, and McDowell's wreck on Friday took my breath away just like that one. If you haven't seen it, it's on YouTube - but it's under the wrong year. It happened in 1990, but the clip says '88 or '89.

~SA

Anonymous said...

I had just gotten home from work when I turned on the TV in the garage.  As I turned to go into the house to change clothes I heard DW say those words.  As I looked on all I could think about was this young man's folks.  I thought the worst.  I kept saying to myself, "get out, boy!"  Somehow I did not think that would happen.  But when that young man got out of that racecar I applauded,  in my garage with the door wide open!  It mattered not who was watching or listening in the neiborhood. I even thanked the Allmighty as I applauded. As a parent, what a relief when I saw somebody's child climb from that car.

SJP1983 said...

Out of the top 5 wrecks that wasn't fatal, that has to be number 2 (Since nothing will beat Michael Waltrip's 1990 Bristol wreck....and let's hope & pray nothing will.) in my book. But, I too was a critic of the COT yet it did what everyone in NASCAR said it was supposed to do. And after a wreck like that where it was more spectacular than a Daytona wreck or a Talladega wreck and more violent, and to see Michael McDowell come out and said that he was MAD? Different age in NASCAR from the past, yet, I'm just glad the dude said it. Sad to say but if this was 8 years ago before we lost Earnhardt, A. Petty, and Irwin Jr., can we honestly say that something would be done to place safety in the cars?

As for the SPEED crew - Kudos, because my jaw dropped when I saw that and DW had that voice - similar to Daytona 2001. And when Mike Joy came out and said he's moving around, then he said that he's coming out and waving to the fans, I exhaled. That was pure professional broadcasting right there.

JD, I too agree with what you said.

Gymmie said...

the intertubes seem to have eaten my comments :(

But anywho, you were spot on JD! Thank you for the wonderful column!

I had just been able to tune in when I saw smoke coming as if from a car and then Michael going to the ambulance. I was about to back up the DVR when they did the replay.

It really was something else! He's definitely lucky to still not only be with us but have no major damage.

As others mentioned, if we had the SAFER Barriers and the COT years ago, we might have others still with us.

Anonymous said...

Excellent insight on the handling of the Broadcast. We know that they have seen tragedy before and they handled what could have been devastating to that young man and his family with true professionalism.
Great Coverage and choices by the entire Speed Crew.WDStump