Saturday, May 17, 2008
SPEED Makes All-Star Night Worth The Wait
What it all comes down to is the racing. Ultimately, the role of the NASCAR TV partners is simply to translate the action on the track to the TV screens at home. Saturday night in Charlotte, the SPEED TV team did exactly that.
It has been a long week for the TV network. All-Star programming on SPEED has included the Pit Crew Challenge, a special version of Wind Tunnel, and original programming like Wendy Venturini's Hometown Heroes.
The network has hosted a preview show every night from the SPEED Studios and worked through technical glitches that come with the live TV business. By the end of the All-Star race, NASCAR fans once again had been well-served by this cable TV network.
It was Brian France last Fall who said very pointedly that SPEED was a vital NASCAR TV partner and he expected that relationship to grow in the future. His words spoke volumes for just how far this relatively young TV network had come since it first stepped into the NASCAR world as SpeedVision.
SPEED set the right tone for the All-Star evening by putting Krista Voda and Jeff Hammond together in the infield SPEED Stage. These two were outstanding, and Voda brings a fresh new on-air dynamic when she is off of pit road and hosting the telecast. Hammond is focused and allowed to shine without interference.
As usual, the NASCAR on Fox gang of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip provided the commentary for the All-Star evening. Joy earned his money from his appearances on-camera in the pre-race show through his energetic call of the on-track action in the final segment of the All-Star race.
Waltrip and McReynolds reprised their comfortable roles in the booth, with Waltrip continuing to try and balance his personal Toyota relationship with his commentary on Kyle Busch. This is a tough task, and fans are certainly going to find something he said and take him to task for it. In a way, Busch being eliminated from the race helped with the end of the broadcast where Waltrip's commentary was concerned.
SPEED's John Roberts and Steve Byrnes showed once again their versatility and endurance as they were seemingly on every SPEED All-Star show during the week. At the track, they even handled the driver and pit crew introductions from the main stage over the PA system.
Byrnes continues to be a NASCAR on-air presence that brings all three elements of sports announcing to the table. Byrnes hosts multiple studio shows, handles the pit reporting, and then hosts live on-track practice in the play-by-play role. As the season continues, he will add even more TV duties on SPEED as the "Chase for the Championship" begins.
One short video clip from a SPEED promo shows John Roberts unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt. Regular viewers of SPEED may have already suspected that Roberts is not really from this planet. On Saturday, Roberts hosted an exhausting three hour RaceDay program, introduced the drivers for the All-Star race and then handled the hosting duties for the post-race Victory Lane Show.
Of all the SPEED on-air personalities, Roberts handles the weekend duties with seemingly very little wear-and-tear. His story of transitioning from a part-time local TV sports anchor to a full-time national broadcaster is amazing. There is a very long way to go in the NASCAR season, so Superman better hang-on tight to that t-shirt.
The RaceDay show is a jewel for SPEED. The TV series has posted double-digit increases in ratings this season. The interesting thing is that no one reason explains why. It is an "ensemble" show in the best sense of the word. There is no star, and everyone pitches-in on a regular basis to keep the sport itself as the priority.
Venturini is having another solid year in her reporter and interviewer roles. Her first hour-long prime-time TV special, Hometown Heroes, was a big hit on Wednesday night. She is now joined by Hermie Sadler in the RaceDay reporter role. Sadler's on-air style is different from Venturini, but what they share is a comfort level in the NASCAR garage that is difficult at best for others to attain.
Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace continue to mix the serious and the ridiculous on a regular basis without warning. Spencer can be talking seriously about topics like changing the COT one hour into RaceDay after appearing in lipstick and a wig in the opening sequence. Unfortunately, that brief moment is now burned into the minds of many SPEED viewers.
Wallace continues to walk the line between driver and commentator. His personality and self-effacing manner will keep him a fan favorite, but his crash in qualifying ended his hopes for driving in this year's All-Star race.
Rutledge Wood continues to wander through the NASCAR on SPEED landscape as though he is unaware of the very strong feelings about him. While he may serve a certain age group with his antics, he often does not seem to be serving the sport itself very well. There are simply topics and moments that deserve respect. The fun and laughter of Roberts, Wallace and Spencer is very different than the manufactured comedy of Wood. That contrast is not lost on many RaceDay viewers.
By the end of the night, SPEED had once again shown to both the fans and NASCAR that additional NASCAR TV programming has merit. Not just for one week around a special race, but regularly on SPEED to tell the stories not contained in one hour of This Week in NASCAR on Monday.
After a day of rest on Sunday, SPEED returns once again to a TV network dominated by "lifestyle" shows. Monday's lone prime-time NASCAR hour show is surrounded by Supercars Exposed, Car Crazy at the SEMA Show and a highlight show of the Barrett-Jackson summer car auction.
SPEED made the All-Star race fun, worked hard to support the event, and pulled-off a nice finale with the on-track action. The seamless cooperation between the NASCAR on Fox personalities and the SPEED production crew was outstanding.
Perhaps, some of the All-Star programming will be added in video form to the open-wheel dominated SPEEDtv.com website. Other than YouTube, the network's website seems to be the only source for NASCAR content during the week from SPEED.
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