Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Despain Wanders Through The NASCAR Landscape

Tuesday night during this All-Star race week of TV programming, Dave Despain hosted a special Wind Tunnel from the SPEED Studios.

Scheduled as guests on the show were Dale and Ned Jarrett from Hickory, NC. Also on the program was Jimmie Johnson, who actually stopped by the SPEED Studios for his interview. Finally, Mark Martin joined the show for several questions by phone.

Although Despain has a long and distinguished history with NASCAR, his current relationship with the sport is prickly at best. He seems to continually be on the verge of exasperation where every NASCAR topic is concerned.

After several years of hosting Inside NEXTEL Cup with mixed results, Despain normally tolerates NASCAR on his Sunday night Wind Tunnel. What he loves is anything else. Formula 1, motorcycles, Sports Cars and the misery of open-wheel racing puts Despain in his glory.

This hour was clearly intended to be a build-up for the All-Star race, but started off with Despain asking both of the Jarretts a series of off-the-wall questions. As usual, both Ned and Dale provided the best answers that they could, but Despain's negativity about everything NASCAR was the theme of this interview.

Dale provided some great content for the show as he talked about the new chemistry with his ESPN broadcast team. It was very clear that the final seventeen Sprint Cup races of this season will be very different with Jarrett in the ESPN/ABC booth.

Dale's strongest statements came about the COT. For a network TV analyst to say that things need to be changed and changed soon to get better racing is amazing. To have Despain decline to follow-up on that point is even more amazing. Viewers have come to expect Despain to drive his "TV ship" in a very different direction.

Jimmie Johnson got a nice welcome from Despain, as Johnson is a veteran motorcycle and off-road competitor. To Despain, Johnson is not one of those "NASCAR guys." Johnson has been working very hard on his TV skills, and handled everything Despain could offer.

The best part of the Johnson interview was how he transitioned into NASCAR rather than IndyCar. The explanation of the Chevrolet connection and how that brand helped to keep Johnson in NASCAR during some rough times was fascinating. If that has been told in such plain language in the past, I certainly did not see the program.

Johnson was going to take viewer calls, which is a rarity these days for NASCAR drivers on TV. While many drivers are regularly on the radio, TV still has no interactive audience shows except for Wind Tunnel. Unfortunately, in this show Despain delivered exactly one call for Johnson from the fans.

Mark Martin wrapped-up the program with several off-base questions from Despain that wasted valuable time. Martin was forced to talk about old Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan tattoos and comparisons to other drivers. On my cable TV system, the show actually ended with Despain still talking. Somehow, that made a lot of sense.

A while back, Despain did a special program for SPEED on the history of the Daytona International Speedway. It was one of the best programs ever seen on SPEED in the history of the network. His in-depth discussions of things like AMA Pro Series politics and the demise of the Champ Car Series have been fascinating.

Perhaps, with TV professionals on the SPEED staff like Krista Voda and Wendy Venturini who spend almost all their time involved with NASCAR, a program like this would have been better-served allowing someone more informed about the specifics of the sport to interview the guests.

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Kyle said...

I enjoy Wind Tunnel Monday's for its different perspective of NASCAR, in addition to opening up the wider world of motor sports.

If you did not view tonights show as a special nascar edition, then it was fantastic. I had to go back and watch the JJ interview over twice just to get it all in. If it was to be NASCAR only night, then it failed.

Typical SPEED show, disjointed, too much product placement, and lots of gimmicks that fall flat. But for the 20 or 30 minutes of actual talk its worth sitting through an hour.

Wind Tunnel needs to be made into a nightly hour program, it would let Dave relax a bit. Hes always in a hurry to get it all in (when you have to waste 2 minutes plugging pizza guess that happens) Think of the regional racing of all forms we would get to see on that show. Probably alot of European and Asian racing classes as well.

What other program on TV could get away with letting Robbin Miller on?

Daly Planet Editor said...


I think that is the ultimate irony. SPEED was never better than when Despain was on five or six nights a week with all kinds of guests.

It is a shame that this overall view of motorsports as something that has to be protected and treasured is not shared by the current SPEED administration.


Sophia said...

Thanks for the heads up on this special. I meant to catch it earlier and got a long phone call and FORGOT!!

I agree, SPEED needs to put this show on several nights a week. I was digusted enough on Sun nights with all the wasted intro graphics..and then they added the pizza promo. Dave NEVER has time for all the different guests.

I will catch the late night repeat shortly but am rather glad to read the review first since it seems to be such a disjointed show.

SPEED really needs to go back and let it's 'talk shows be about talk'.


btw, I LOVE Robin Miller...he makes me laugh...but then, I love a curmudgeon type sometimes. :-)

P.S. I have watched the Despain Daytona special a few times. It was FANTASTIC!

Dmo said...

Fundamentally, Despain needs a format that will allow him to do his own thing: which I believe is to cover all racing-based sports with equal time. My read on Dave is that he doesn't resent NASCAR - rather he resents the priority it takes in his limited TV time. As others have said, Dave was at his best in the nightly, talk show format. His old show was an excellent platform in that it provided him with abundant TV time to discuss racing at many tiers as well as coverage of topical news. If I was making the big decisions at SPEED, I'd probably give Dave a content-producer role, charged with creating programming about racing in general that would be on-par with that incredible Daytona piece; but I'd also insist on him hosting a nightly talk show. Dave is tremendous asset to SPEED - but they need to capitalize on his strengths instead of pigeon-holing him as a NASCAR guru.

Tom said...

JD, your bias against Dave is showing again. I must of watched an entirely different show than you did. Asking Ned about retirment decisions at a young age when currently many drivers reach their peak at that age was totally relevant. I did not see or hear any "off the wall" questions, especially when you consider that Ned is such a family man and gentleman. These questions were very appropriate. Dales response to the COT question was something you wouldn't hear everywhere. I too would have liked some follow-up, but clearly (as is too often the case) the complexities of television sponsorship prevented it.
The Johnson segment was great, and I don't even like him. As for him not being a "NASCAR Guy"? I guess the story about wanting to see Cale Yarboroughs car at Hardees kinda killed your assumption. Just because somebody hasn't done Late Models their whole career doesn't make them less a driver.
It seems you always couch your appraisal of Dave in code terms like "Dave is great at 2 wheels or F1 or anything else"- I am sure you have some secret background info that allows you to spek this way, but in the end it boils down to "NASCAR Outsider". Whatever Dave's personal tastes are, they in no way diminish what he does best-asking questions and rightly expecting true answers. The funny part is I didn't sense any negativism from him at all this night. It all just sounded like a nice conversation with champions past and present-with nary a word of Kyle Busch!

Inverness, FL

Lou said...

Good morning JD,
I did enjoy the time spent with Ned and Dale. And I enjoyed it very much. As a matter of fact, if I did not read your blog telling us that Ned and Dale would be on I would have missed it. Thank you again.

Daly Planet Editor said...


That is a very good point and I agree. I think he is just upset that this "has to be done" because SPEED is an official NASCAR TV partner.


Daly Planet Editor said...


I certainly appreciate your opinion, but I wish it was not flavored with shots at me and mine.

As I said in the second comment listed below, SPEED was never better than when Dave was in the Larry King role of having a program on almost every night.

You are taking the easy way out by saying I do not like Dave. I simply thought his limited knowledge of current NASCAR happenings made the show scattered at best.

This is not a Sunday Wind Tunnel show. It was a special for NASCAR to lead into the All-Star race. You have to judge it differently.

Voda or Venturini or Byrnes would have known what to ask, and not just "discovered" tidbits along the way. That is my point.

If this show was on Sunday and had other forms of motorsports and one guest (like Carl Edwards last week) from NASCAR, no problem.

The point is Tom, it was a NASCAR show and my opinion is the sport did not get served. Especially, poor Mark Martin. That was just flat-out embarrassing.


Anonymous said...

When you consider the number of drivers who say that the COT is fine and the racing is exciting, Despain really needed to follow up on Dale's comments pertaining to the changes Nascar needs to make to the COT. Old Dave really missed it there.

As for the other Speed shows during this All Star Weekend, I find them, so far, to be bland, boring and not worth the time. They've been nothing more than old tape of previous shows. How about something new and different to showcase the All Star Weekend?

Tom said...

I in no way wanted to besmirch you personally JD, and I apologize if it sounded that way. I am a regular reader and I usually agree with you about 95% of the time. However, it seems like anytime Dave does something aside from Sunday WT, we get the old chestnut of him being of "limited knowledge" I like him just for the simple fact he is not a shill! How many other TV personalities can you (Honestly) say that about?
I also just want to add that this show WAS Wind Tunnel- not Raceday, Trackside etc. If SPEED wanted those shows, they could have had them. The show was not at all controversial and quite frankly I thought that both the Jarretts and JJ came off well- I just don't see the whole "off the Wall" comment.

Inverness, FL

Daly Planet Editor said...

I just wish SPEED could find a place to use him other than one night on a week on a show that always seems to be too short.


Ritchie said...

I just watched the recording of this show, and I tend to agree with Mr. Daly with regards to Mr. Despain.

Mr. Despain did seem to have some control issues regarding the guests on the show. It is a shame really, because when the guest line up includes the Jarretts, Jimmie Johnson, and Mark Martin the show should have been pretty impressive. With that kind of line up, the host should just let the stories flow wherever the guest takes them.

Anonymous said...

What do TV ratings do when NASCAR transitions away from FOX to the other networks halfway through the season? I'm just such a huge fan of FOX's coverage that it ticks me off to see FOX cut out before The Chase. In my opinion no one can cover NASCAR from all the angles like FOX does, I just wondered if the ratings show that.

Sophia said...

I wonder how much of DD alleged control issues are due to SO MUCH STUFF crammed into a one hour show, with too many commercials, graphics and now the pizza promo nonsense.

I like it when dave is off the wall and his dry humor is often lost on most. But chopping his show to one hour is painful to watch even if you like him due to choppy segments and interviews. AT LEAST give the guy two hours on Sunday night..and multiple nights if possible.

With the wide variety of motorsports, it's too bad SPEED does not see the need to cover all the racing we see on the SPEED Report. Duh. And Dave is the perfect guy to do it.

I enjoyed the JJ interview though I am not a fan...but in lieu or recent race events, I am becoming a bigger fan. But when the graphics peeps did not have the pizza moment video up when dave tried to get it going..that was embarrassing for Dave.

We need more talk on that show and less "cartoons/animations" but I am repeating myself now. :)

Daly Planet Editor said...

bob c.,

Ratings tend to hang-in there with NASCAR for one simple reason. Other than a home satellite dish or online streaming video, there is really nowhere else to go.

Because TNT was so awful last season, one reader suggested we get those weird brothers from Antique Roadshow on PBS to host a race and see if it affects the ratings.

If the 2007 TNT coverage from Sonoma will not drive viewers away, nothing will. Many of the current Daly Planet readers use "time-shifting" technology to watch races.

They record the race on a DVR or TiVo and then come in with about an hour left in the live telecast. They scan through the race, watch the parts that look exciting, and then catch the last thirty laps live.

This is the problem with the TV networks right now. As I wrote in my column about Talladega, there was over five hours of pre-race programming to get to a three hour race.

If TNT comes out of the box and again fails to keep the NASCAR fans happy, this year there will be a big backlash. This six race package in 2007 was tough to watch.

We will keep an eye on ratings for you, and report what happens as the networks change.

One good thing to report is that RaceDay ratings are up in double digits. SPEED and NMG have to be smiling.


Anonymous said...

It's too bad that the NFL/MLB prevents FOX from going deep into the season. In a perfect world I'd like to see the FOX team stay but the broadcasting network change. That's what they do up here for Raptors NBA basketball. It switches all around from four different cable networks but it's still the same production team. The play-by-play guys and the sideline reporters just use whatever mic flashes they have to use for that particular night. It works out well and you get Chuck Swirsky calling every game. Or at least we did.

Who will do race call for ESPN/ABC? Rusty Wallace or Dale Jarrett involved?

Anonymous said...

JD- I enjoyed what I got to see of WindTunnel and did not find Dave D. as negative as you did. What disappointed me the most was that I thought Ned & Dale were going to be on for the full hour. It seemed to me that Dave had too many things he wanted to ask Ned or Dale and then had too little time to follow up. I too would like to see WindTunnel on more than once a week, but I've become convinced that the powers that be at SPEED are determined to limit racing related programming to Friday thru Sunday only.

Daly Planet Editor said...


Once the Sprint Cup comes down to the final seventeen races, Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree will be up-front for ABC and ESPN.

That is the reason they are all taking the time off right now, once the end of July hits they will be very busy boys.

This season that team will also be an integral part of NASCAR Now, SportsCenter and ESPNEWS. They will be spread across the ESPN networks and .com sites like the other high-profile ESPN announce teams.

It has the potential to be one of the best and biggest TV presentations of "The Chase" that we have ever seen.


Anonymous said...

JD, who will be working the booth for TNT? Is it the same group who didn't do a good job last season? BTW, who is TNT owned by? Are the affiliate of CBS or NBC?

Daly Planet Editor said...


TNT stands for Turner Network Television. This network is basically a big hard drive that plays back pre-recorded shows and movies over cable TV.

There has always been a sports presence, most notably the NBA on TNT which has been a great success.

In each part of the three TV network portions of the Sprint Cup schedule, each network has a "hook." That means a jewel or a stand-out selling point.

TNT paid a whole lot of money to feature the July night race from the Daytona International Speedway. The other five races in their package just kind of came along for the ride.

Fox gets the Daytona 500 and gets to kick-off the season and ESPN gets the entire Chase for the Championship.

Last checked, the TNT line-up was still Bill Weber on PXP, Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach Jr. in the booth as analysts. Larry McReynolds will be back as well, probably on the infield stage thingy.

Who will be the pre-race anchor, who will host the infield during the race, and who are the pit reporters has not been forwarded to me yet.

I will keep you posted. BTW, the Producer is the same one from Fox but the Director is different. He is the Director from the old ESPN package. The entire "new group" comes together for six races and then is gone again.


Glenn said...

I enjoyed the show. Dave just has to cram 10 pounds into a 5 pound bag. I think he's kinda humorous.

Unknown said...

Question: Why is Wind Tunnel confined to a single solitary hour every week? The content and stuff that is covered on that show deserves expansion, not contraction. If I recall, Wind Tunnel used to be a nightly Monday through Thursday show when it first aired.