Sunday, May 25, 2008
NASCAR Fans Fill The Stands In Indy
It was a fascinating day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Change was in the air and reflected in the racing, the fans and the ABC Network telecast.
Let's face facts. Previous Indy 500 telecasts suffered from bad announcers to over-the-top hype to screaming rock music played live on the grandstand roof. It only took the ESPN production team assembled for this Indy 500 a couple of hours to put all those memories to rest.
Marty Reid led a combination of booth announcers that offered the most insightful and honest commentary of this race in many years. Even Brent Musburger, brought in as the ABC "show host," proved to be in good form and well-rehearsed. Musburger blended well with Reid as they transitioned between the pre-race programming and the actual event.
The hit of the telecast proved to be the unique pairing of Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever. Referred to by Cheever as "my little nerdy Canadian friend" during the telecast, Goodyear was the provider of information and Cheever was the provider of explanations. Simply put, Goodyear talked about "how" and Cheever talked about "why."
Marty Reid was outstanding at working the pit reporters for everything they could muster during the telecast. ESPN's Jamie Little has finally found her on-air style, and never missed a beat. Newcomer Brienne Pedigo asked straightforward questions and even tracked down Danica Patrick after the race amid a huge media horde. Jack Arute is the Jerry Punch of the Indy 500, meaning he is the "dean" of the pit reporters. Vince Welch is still a little too blunt for me personally, but he knows his racing and asks the questions that need to be asked.
The pit reporters found themselves in situations ranging from car fires to angry drivers. They tip-toed into embarrassed car owners for comments and commiserated with frustrated drivers who fell out of the race. It was a strong performance all around on pit road.
Despite the single line racing, it was still the Indy 500. Reid kept a tight reign on the stories in-progress and repeatedly updated the high-profile issues. Number one on that list, to no one's surprise, was Ms. Patrick. Despite the other two females in the field, ABC could not ignore that fact that many fans were in the stands or watching on TV because of this single driver.
Her constant complaining over the team radio and untimely end to her day made for good TV. Her final angry tantrum served once again to cause fans to either love her for her passion or hate her for her arrogance. ABC covered her from start to finish, and then returned to the race.
The two hiccups in the telecast consisted of a poorly timed commercial with less than twenty laps to go as the field screamed around the oval running some of the fastest laps of the day. Then, upon returning to the race, Reid led a crescendo of excitement that ended with...the entire Dixon family. As Mr. Dixon crossed the finish line to win, Ms. Dixon and the rest of the Dixon clan from New Zealand filled the TV screens across America.
What there was included lots of hugging and crying and joy. What there was not included any other cars finishing the race.
The choice of showing the field finishing after a long and hard race vs. the emotion of a family on pit road should not have been difficult. One minute later, the family was still happy and crying. Unfortunately, one minute later the 15 cars on the lead lap had already crossed the finish line. This was an injustice to the teams, drivers and fans.
The valiant effort of Vitor Meira went unfinished. The controversy and strong drive of Marco Andretti's day was not paid-off. The frustration of Helio Castroneves and the amazing comeback of Ed Carpenter were never seen. Race fans knew where these drivers finished as they were interviewed after the event.
The IRL's side-by-side commercials continue to embarrass NASCAR and the "old guard" when seen by NASCAR fans. The TV networks continue to say it is NASCAR that is prohibiting this practice from occurring in the sport. Watching one IRL race like the Indy 500 only reinforces just how ridiculous NASCAR's view really is on this issue. If anything, having the race continuing on the screen keeps TV viewers in their seats rather than encouraging the two minute dash to the kitchen.
ABC went a long way toward returning Indy to its glory days with a good telecast that told a sweeping story involving drivers from all over the world. The drama of the race once again had been built-up and allowed to play-out. As the cameras panned the stands and the NASCAR t-shirts were on display, it was apparent that Americans had their attention turned once again to a series that is rapidly gaining ground with the public.
Hopefully, the NASCAR executives were also watching the overflowing stands and the enthusiastic crowds. After the success of the 2008 Indy 500, there is no doubt that voices will rise calling for changes to the COT before more fans decide to go dancing with the stars.
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