Friday, July 25, 2008

The Forgotten Man: Allen Bestwick


Friday begins the ESPN and ABC coverage of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series for 2008. This year, the NASCAR on ESPN team comes into this seventeen race stretch with a completely different mindset than 2007.

Gone is the overblown hype, the stick-and-ball announcers and the SportsCenter updates in the middle of green flag racing. Gone is Draft Track every five laps and the music videos that served to deliver unique messages like "shut-up and drive." ESPN is finally ready to race.

This past Tuesday, ESPN conducted a media conference call with several people who are going to be important to the success of this season's coverage. Rich Feinberg, the VP of Motorsports, was the TV executive who took the questions. His enthusiasm and excitement about this season was unmistakable.

Along with Feinberg were Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree on the phone. Each of these three personalities took turns answering questions from reporters while Feinberg provided a background perspective on ESPN's overall NASCAR efforts. The conference call told the story of what ESPN hoped to deliver to the fans from Indy through the end of the season.

There was, however, one thing missing in all of this. Fans who have watched ESPN's coverage of this sport since February know it all too well. The person who has been the "ironman" of NASCAR on ESPN was not on the conference call. His name was not mentioned in the conversation. No NASCAR reporter even asked a question about him.

This would be a very good time and a very good place to mention it. His name is Allen Bestwick. Never in my experience has one individual been such a powerful force in just six months on TV in a new role. Bestwick has almost single-handedly restored credibility to ESPN's coverage of NASCAR.

It was not the arrival of Dale Jarrett on a full-time basis. It was not the second season of Jerry Punch or Andy Petree. It was not the addition of Ray Evernham. The pit reporters are the same and only Nicole Manske is new in the studio. What changed is that Bestwick got another chance on network TV and is making the most of it.

This season Bestwick took the crumbled franchise of ESPN's disastrous 2007 NASCAR coverage and set-out to change it the old fashioned way. That would be to work harder than anyone else toward that goal and silently challenge others to match him.

Bestwick took the unwatchable Monday hour of NASCAR Now and fashioned a gem of a TV program. He has led an ever-changing panel of NASCAR personalities through topics ranging from race highlights to tapered spacers with dignity and good humor.

This effort opened the door for the solid success of Manske and Ryan Burr on a program series that was the laughingstock of NASCAR TV last year. Today, NASCAR Now is the first place fans turn for news and information about the sport on TV.

At every Nationwide race, it is Bestwick who sets-the-table for the "upstairs" featured announcers. The Infield Pit Center used to be filled with memories of Brent Musburger and Suzy Kolber. Those have long since been banished and replaced with interviews of great guests, interesting debates among panelists and the conversion of Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty into viable TV commentators.

Back in February, Bestwick led the ESPN TV team through a three hour rain delay by doing what he does best...working. Under the California gray skies, Bestwick made the commitment on-the-air that ESPN was staying live at the track. In essence, he challenged the TV crew to deliver. They did just that. Guests came-and-went, conversations addressed diverse racing topics and all of the on-air talent rallied for this cause. In my opinion, it was the turning point of the season and started the real momentum building.

This weekend, Bestwick will move to fill Suzy Kolber's chair. Last season, this was a chair to which he could only aspire. There is seemingly no part of this year's NASCAR on ESPN coverage that Bestwick has not touched. Thursday and Friday, he anchored from the Infield Pit Studio for an hour-long live NASCAR Now alongside Wallace and Daugherty.

In the minds of TV viewers, Bestwick is the face of NASCAR at Indy for ESPN. Punch, Jarrett and Petree were nowhere in sight. The big day will be Sunday, when Bestwick finally steps-into the high-profile role of infield host for the Sprint Cup Series.

Many NASCAR fans first found Bestwick over a decade ago rolling-his-eyes at Michael Waltrip and trying to keep order on Inside Winston Cup Racing on SpeedVision. They watched him work on TBS, TNT and NBC in the play-by-play role crafting lasting memories with Benny Parsons. After a leg injury in a hockey game, Bestwick was suddenly moved back down to pit road for the final two seasons of the old NASCAR TV contract.

The first season on ESPN found him in exactly the same position, even as the network struggled to find credible hosts for the studio and infield programs. In a way, things have come full circle for Bestwick as he now leads a re-energized TV crew into one of the most high-profile sports on the ESPN family of networks.

Should ESPN's 2008 Sprint Cup effort be a huge hit, look for the mainstream media to once again speak with Punch, Jarrett and Petree about "their season." My guess is that Allen Bestwick will be long gone from the spotlight and looking back at what may well become his most memorable year in television.

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52 comments:

Ed Emmerson said...

I second the motion.

TexasRaceLady said...

AB is the best.

He may be forgotten by the network, but the loyal watchers know him.

We know you, Allen --- keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

way to go allen!! don't forget that he also worked on this week in nascar the original version. i think he was straight out of radio then. he was very professional and very polite and knew his stuff even then and had a zeal for learning what he didn't know. good to see him back in fine form

Gymmie said...

That's a shame :(. Isn't the way it's been since last year...I seem to remember that picture used before for a similar story. Same song...different verse :(

Yes Allen is part of the original Expert Panel...he did well on that show. Always fun and doing his best to reel Mikey in.

Allen is such a great man! He could run the show single-handedly if he had to and a few times he's essentially had to.

Photojosh said...

AB is one of the best in the business. I could listen to him every single week. He could take the place of almost any NASCAR tv personality and I would cheer for the change. He is, quite simply, the best that NASCAR tv has to offer.

Any network wonk who doesn't recognize that is a damn fool.

stricklinfan82 said...

Indeed, AB is the face of NASCAR on ESPN from where I sit. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one that has the same opinion. I just hope the powers-that-be at ESPN have noticed and won't dare pass AB over in the event that a more prominent on-air position becomes available this off-season.

dannyboy said...

For me, Allen Bestwick is to NASCAR what Paul Page was to CART/Indycars in the 1990s, or Steve Evans was to drag racing, sprint cars and other sports.

No, I take that back, in his field, AB is more knowledgeable and more credible than Page. For ESPN to not make him the lead guy when it comes to NASCAR is mystifying.

I really, REALLY miss him on SPEED's many flavored Monday night show. His genuine affection for the other panelists was palpable, and his steady hand at the helm was a thing of beauty.

Please ESPN, figure it out!

Todd Crane said...

AHHH JD if only ESPN would come to their senses, and replace Jerry Punch with Allan Bestwick, they would have THE winning combination in the booth. I got so frustrated on Punch's " So and So, 34 years of age" that I could have screamed last year. Thank goodness I quit watching NA$CAR last month. Life long fan from the mid 60's until last month! I did see Punch doing qualifying a while ago..and driver after driver ## of age....Get a new line Jerry.

cvt said...

This thread and the positive comments in support of AB, like many before it, begs the question...why are we the only ones who see this? Why can't the network brass see this?

AB, you must need a new agent, someone who will hit these people at the network over the head with these facts!

Moving on, I'm hoping DJ will relax and let his personality emerge. While no one can replace BP, Dale is the first ex-driver I've seen since Benny who can mix wit 'n wisdom from the booth.

Don Gibson said...

Amen. Amen and Amen. He is the best.

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that kind of hurts Bestwick is the "he doesn't look like a typical NASCAR guy" immediate first impression. We are a soundbyte / microsecond society; wow me immediately or I've made my opinion. To the casual viewer, he looks more like a game show host than a NASCAR host. First time I saw him, I thought he was the "Press Your Luck" guy. No Whammy!

Now let me say this, I am a big fan of his as he is up there in the pantheon of NASCAR announcers of the past 20 years. Call me biased, but I've always been a huge Eli Gold fan (Roll Tide) and he is my benchmark, back in the TNN days. AB plays every role given solidly and with peak professionalism. I became a fan of his on the old Speedvision show with Mikey. Dave Despain would have walked off the set numerous times had he had to deal with that, or Ken Schrader would have had to restrain him from strangling Mikey.

Perhaps ESPN is kind of trying to prop their "homegrown" talent and thus keeping AB in the background on promo deals like this. ESPN has shown a propensity for doing that as they'd rather have characters than real bona fide analysts, broadcasters, sportscasters, etc. One good example on the stick and ball side is Fred Hickman. Great sports guy at CNN Sports with Nick Charles. Gets to ESPN, he's 3rd string for seemingly since he got there. They'd rather have the "boo yah" and Chris Berman in your face types or the stepped out of the swimsuit calendar types than real announcers. Lest we forget the Jason Priestley experiment on ABC.

Keep doing what you're doing AB. The suits may not recognize you but the people who watch do, and that's got to count for something.

Rockin Rich said...

OK JD, we have been kicking around the edges of this for a long time now. What is the issue(s) with Bestwick? What is is about him that seems to put him in company with Rodney Dangerfield, ("can't get no respect") as far as his employers are concerned?

Of all the TV personalities discussed on this forum, he seems to generate more positive, and less much less negative commentary than anyone else except perhaps Mike Joy.

I am wondering if he somehow gets into behind the scenes "office politics" battles, and mostly ends up losing them. Maybe Disney's heavy hand is in this some where, but that doesn't explain his earlier "demotions" at Speed, and NBC.

I would expect that with your extensive background in, and long time observation of NASCAR on TV, that you would have an informed opinion on this continuing phenomenon.

Can/will you share your opinion on the underlying issue(s) with us?

I'm Not Klye Busch said...

Could somebody please explain to me why Alan Bestwick keeps getting the shaft???
He is the Best Race announcer... Period!!!
ESPN has a Real Integrity Issue right now with 3 of it's announcers as NASCAR Team owners.
This wouldn't fly in the business, financial or government world but with ESPN and NASCAR "Hey it's OK"??????
Wake up ESPN it's called a "Vested Interest" and it is on the level; of Insider Trading, Fixing Elections and Skimming off the Profits of Pensions, Wake up ESPN!!!
You don't see Hal Steinbrenner,Mike Ilitch in the booth calling Baseball Games, You don't see Steve Tisch, John Mara and Robert Kraft doing play by play for Football games, so why the hell is OK for NASCAR Team owners to be announcers for NASCAR Races????? This isn't just about ESPN, Fox's hand are even dirtier with the shilling that Darrel Waltrip does for Toyota..... I'm sure no money changes hands there.........
But then again nobody could ever accuse Fox Broadcasting of having a high degree of integrity... ( these are my words and comment not those of the Blog Admisterators and Owner.

Anonymous said...

Allen's biggest snafu was to let that dimwit Michale Waltrip essentially take over his show. Instead of concise information that is Bestwick's signature, he became a foil for the bumbling, self absorbed driver.

Clearly he has no intent of allwoing anything like that to happen again. He knows his stuff and is stepping up to it.

Anonymous said...

AB is simply the cream of the crop!! The others just pretend. Allen is real. He should always be the lead.

chase said...

I think Todd Crane and virtually every other comment above put it most succinctly: AB is the best there is. Since ESPN 'seems' to have come to their senses after last year's debacle, perhaps they should put the icing on the cake and put AB in the booth in place of Dr. P. Dr. P is tired and it comes through loud and clear during each telecast - the triumvirate of Andy, DJ and AB would be unbeatable. ESPN, to their credit, realized Rusty was no good in the booth and put him somewhere else where he seems to be somewhat palatable. However, if ESPN wants to be #1 in coverage they have to put AB in the booth - his engaging manner, incredible knowledge, ease in handling long rain delays, interviews, etc., et al speaks volumes. Come on ESPN, do it and do it right! Thanks John for letting us show our appreciation for AB and trying to get it through the powers-that-be at ESPN - give it a try: I guarantee ESPN will not be disappointed in the least!

ri88 said...

I will not stop complaining until AB is in the booth. I am SICK at the thought of Jerry Punch and his lackluster performance for the last 17 races. I can only pray that AB jumps in and takes over from where ever they have planted him that week to do play by play.

Anonymous said...

Allen Bestwick should be on every second of every minute of every hour of Nascar broadcasting. He is the only one that can make the total buffoonery of Nascar from France on down to the beer can throwing Earnhart fans palatable. With AB at the helm it almost seems like Nascar is real racing and not county fair dodgem cars.

Anonymous said...

JD
As we say in Britain, you are "spot on"!
Although I grew up with Formula One and the likes of Murray Walker, I do agree that the ESPN and Fox presentaions, for the most part, terribly self-absorbed. In my past travels to the US, I recall seeing the Winston programme with Mr Bestwick and found him very likable. His subsequent performance for ESPN has been outstanding, while others seem to be stuck in their "regional mind set"-meaning the American South. It may not resonate with most Yanks, but its as though ITV in the UK were putting a cockney accented presenter on the World Cup. NOT APPEALING!!
I imagine someone at ESPN has it in for Mr Bestwick-a vendetta or something-and it is such a shame.
I watch the NASCAR races with the sound muted, and play Pink Floyd music while I watch. I do listen to Indyacar and F1 announcers here though.

Bray Kroter

Anonymous said...

I am a big supporter of AB. He is the best at what he does, which is present the racing and the personalities without the hype, mistakes, silliness, constant catch phrases, etc. I have been reading these columns for a long time, and I can remember very, very few negative comments about AB (Nobody can please everyone.) With such widespread support from fans and vast experience, it continues to be a mystery to me why AB seems to be treated like a second class citizen regardless of where he is employed. It would seem that any network would jump at the chance to put AB front and center and make use of his skills and fan support. From my point of view, his treatment defies explanation.

JD - I would like to second the comment/question of rockin rich. Is there something else going on here? You have the view of an industry insider, and perhaps you know things the fans do not. I would appreciate hearing your views.

Michigan fan

Anonymous said...

Diane said....ditto all the positive comments. It will be a long 17 races with Dr. P.

PS...I'm a JR fan...and I don't drink beer or throw beer cans!!

Anonymous said...

Allen Bestwick is ALWAYS brought in to resurrect a disaster and bring it back to the forefront...and then hand it off to some newcomer who "doesn't have a clue"... does anyone remember ESPN's (female) member of the booth last year, who didn't know how to pronounce the driver's names or the sponsors? Allen Bestwick ALWAYS gets the job done.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to see what AB has done this year, for his career and ESPN.

Hopefully the day will come when AB gets in the booth with DJ and AP for the Sprint cup races. AB seems to know the rule book better then even Mike Joy.

I keep an eye out and when I see Allen is going to be on a show or race broadcast I make it a point to watch.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Nothing is hard to figure out. AB was the face of the coverage on the other networks.

ESPN was looking for a face of their own and Bestwick was not it.

Now, the results of the first season have forced changes and those changes are paying off for ESPN.

Should be interesting to see how the Sprint Cup coverage works this season.

JD

GinaV24 said...

Allen Bestwick deserves a big cheer from all the race fans. He has made it possible for me to watch racing on ESPN again and after last year, I didn't think that was possible. I was completely prepared to simply walk away from Nascar Now and ESPN's race coverage of the 2nd half of the year and follow it by using Sirius radio and my computer. Thanks, Allen, for all your hard work. Thank you very much.

Alex said...

Daly Planet Editor said...

Nothing is hard to figure out. AB was the face of the coverage on the other networks.


I know that what you're saying is true, but still... why must network executives be so stubborn?

Daly Planet Editor said...

alex,

You only have to meet one a single time to figure that out. Trust me...

JD

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
Kudos for putting the spotlight on Allen Bestwick ...his professional demeanor raised the bar for future NASCAR broadcasts ...especially for his ESPN counterparts ...thanks for your insight.
Walter

BK said...

Allen is a class act and a true joy to listen to. I have always thought he was not getting the kudo's he deserves. And I really do miss him on TWIN it just has not been the same since he left. Way to go Allen, Good luck.

Anonymous said...
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Adam T. Martin said...

Allen Bestwick is a great man, but somehow the powers to be always keep shafting him and it is not right.

I just want Allen to be play by play announcer and then ESPN/ABC may become the best in TV coverage.

Everyone needs to give Allen credit for what he has done for ESPN/ABC so far.

Anonymous said...

Allen rocks. Wish they'd have the good sense to put him in the PBP position, but I'll take what I can get for now.

Newracefan said...

Someday when we are all dead a buried they will find the memo that explains why AB keeps being pushed to the back, or maybe it others pushed in front of him. I am not looking forward to listening to JP in the PXP position, I can only hope that AB picks up some of it from the studio as we have seen before to help out DJ and AP because they are not there to do the PXP (however I'm starting to think they could). AB keep doing what your doing we are behind you and will keep complaining until you are the one who is pushed to the front. His guidance on NN is what helped to saved that show and now we need him to help save the ESPN cup races, I'm not sure what to say about the NW races but something needs to be done there too and I'm not sure AB can do it all without burning out.

Anonymous said...

This is sad indeed! Alan Bestwick is one of the BEST in my book! Shame on you all for not putting him where he is wanted - in the forefront!

Anonymous said...

I don't know who posted they gave up watching NASCAR last month, but I am about a month behind you with this ESPN crew. JP needs to go and AB in the booth.

TNT spoiled many of us and even Bill Weber did not have me yelling or throwing things at the tv this year.

ESPN is too much kitchen sink...ala FOX was..as in 'thorwing everything but the kitchen sink' at the fans. And covering GF racing with video.

The worst time TNT did that was with that most insipid magic trick deal with Larry MAC.

But yes, AB in the booth during the race is the only thing to bring me back to ESPN.

I will stick with the truck races.

Richard in N.C. said...

Is it a coincidence that all the really great PXP racing announcers (except for Bob Varsha)have MRN in their background - Ken Squier, Barney Hall, Eli Gold, Mike Joy, and Allen Bestwick?

I sure am glad to see someone else compliment Eli Gold.

Gymmie said...

I've mentioned that before Richard...their experience "painting" the picture for radio fans definitely is a plus for the TV whether we're watching or not (i.e. being in the kitchen making sammies).

Vicky D said...

And last year when AB & Randy LaJoie called some standalone Busch races was enjoyable to watch I wish they would have kept it up for 2008. Allen does a great job in the booth so how hard can it be to move JP and AB around?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Allen is one of the all-time "voices of NASCAR racing. This short list IMO consists of AB, Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett, Benny Parsons, Mike Joy, Ken Squire and Eli Gold. All of those are well liked commentators that always have/had new lines and never said the same stuff over and over again. I like Jerry Punch as a pit reporter, but lead commentator isint his thing. ESPN has the best commentating crew in the making if they just switched Punch back to the pits and put either AB or Bob Jenkins in the booth.

If it werent for AB on ESPN, NASCAR Now might not even exsist now. Its amazing how much he turned the show around. Kusealis was a joke, and hes a joke on all the programs he does on ESPN.

Daly Planet Editor said...

The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. We would ask that you review them briefly before posting.

Thanks,

JD

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- What made you suspect that Rusty might make the most news making comments this weekend?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Richard,

Think about it in TV terms for a minute. Last year, this race was all about Rusty and he was "the man" on ESPN's first race back in NASCAR.

This year, he was not even on the Media conference call and his name was not mentioned a whole lot. He will be staying in the infield while Dale Jarrett calls the race.

No matter how it is spun by the PR guys, that is a dent in a very big ego.

JD

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- No, I think you misunderstood my comment. You have Rusty's picture up front, and now his comments today about Newman's firing are all over the internet, even on the ESPN site. I meant you were farsighted.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Richard,

You knew it was going to be something this week, so at least he kept it personal. I hope someone from the ESPN staff gets hold of him and reminds him of where his primary public exposure is coming from and a significant amount of his income.

There is no doubt in my mind that ESPN will have to re-think the issue of having Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series owners on-the-air next season as commentators.

That is going to be a huge off-season issue.

JD

Karen said...

JD said ...

There is no doubt in my mind that ESPN will have to re-think the issue of having Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series owners on-the-air next season as commentators.
------------------

According to Jayski, ESPN has rethought the issue and now says Rusty can own cars in Cup since Brad and Ray do.

Anonymous said...

JD - Thanks for your comments at 12:50 and 1:39. I normally expect people to act for what is in their own best self interest. For a TV network executive, I would have thought that meant getting broadcasters who did the best job, the fans liked best, and who produced the highest ratings.

It would seem that they have gigantic egos that get in the way of the best economic interest of the network. It would be interesting to see these folks at work as general managers/coaches in the stick and ball sports. Let's suppose they pick up free agents from other teams and sign them for their own. It would probably go like this: In the NHL, they sign the league's leading scorer and use him only to kill penalties. In the NBA, they sign the league leader in scoring and assists, and they use him as a sixth man. In MLB, they sign the league leader in batting and RBI's and use him only as a pinch runner. In the NFL, they sign the league's best quarterback and use him only for holding the ball for FG and PAT attempts. After all, if the player wasn't homegrown, they can't let him be a star.

If those things happened, a team's fans would revolt and demand the head of the general manager/coach. Perhaps the Worldwide Leader in Sports should look at the sports they claim to know so much about. The fans don't care where someone played before, they just want the best players available to play on their team where they can contribute most. The same applies to broadcasting. Put your best people where they can do the most good for the team.

The corporate culture at ESPN must be a wonder to behold. How much longer will it be before ESPN gets the message and stops shooting themselves in the foot?

Michigan fan

cvt said...

JD said...

"No matter how it is spun by the PR guys, that is a dent in a very big ego."

well, he earned it...I really mean it!

Anonymous said...
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alex said...

"Richard in N.C. said...

Is it a coincidence that all the really great PXP racing announcers (except for Bob Varsha)have MRN in their background - Ken Squier, Barney Hall, Eli Gold, Mike Joy, and Allen Bestwick?

I sure am glad to see someone else compliment Eli Gold."



Not at all. I wish all PxP announcers had prior radio experience. Instead of using the monitors and tv picture as a crutch, the former radio guys learned how to call the action while creating a visual for the race fan who cannot see the action. Radio is more descriptive of the action happening on the track, while sometimes discussing more strategy to explain why certain cars are running where they are. I think some of the TV-only guys use the TV picture as an excuse for not having to explain things as well since the viewer can see for themselves.

What I'm getting at is that the former radio turned TV PxP guys have a better skill set at telling the story of a race that can complement the TV picture.

Also an Eli Gold fan :)

Anonymous said...

So glad that ESPN black flagged Suzy Kolber & parked her.....