Thursday, October 30, 2008
Craftsman Truck Series Poised For Big TV Ratings
Talk about the little engine that could. A few weeks ago, Internet sites were talking about the potential demise of the Craftsman Truck Series after this season. Short fields, team sponsorship battles and the pending departure of Craftsman after more than a decade told a dismal tale.
Now, after another strong TV ratings weekend in Atlanta, the Truck Series has a new multi-year title sponsor and a new lease on life. Friday night, free from the competition with major college or pro football, the Series will be live on nationwide TV. It could be a huge ratings night for NASCAR.
This turn-a-round has been spectacular in a season known for flat TV ratings and more driver-swapping than good racing in the Sprint Cup Series. Once again this year, the Nationwide Series is featuring two Sprint Cup cross-over drivers battling for the title. Only the Trucks have really forged their own identity, despite the occasional Cup driver appearances.
In some way, the wild drives by Kyle Busch in the Truck Series this season have added to the fun. The series "regulars" don't treat Kyle with kid gloves and several times this season Busch has made his way to his transporter very promptly after a race. He was sometimes trailed by other drivers who wished to continue an on-track conversation.
The reality of this series is that it has a bunch of "old school" racers who fans simply appreciate. Ron Hornaday, Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague are just a few of the easily recognized names of drivers in the series. Others like Rick Crawford, Todd Bodine and David Starr are perhaps best-known for their truck careers. It is truly a series of diverse personalities.
SPEED has become part of the story in just the way that NASCAR really enjoys. The TV coverage has quietly let the racing do the talking and kept a sense of humor and simplicity along the way. Krista Voda has been a key part of that for several years now.
As the host of the pre-race show, called The Set-Up, Voda and her Producer stripped everything away this season and simply put Voda standing at the head of pit lane. During her thirty minutes, officials and team members walk by doing their jobs and curious fans snap pictures. Voda is un-fazed by it all, treats everyone like family and handles the elements like a trooper.
Rick Allen was plucked from Nebraska of all places and brought-into the Craftsman Truck Series as a relative unknown. Since that time, he has worked very hard to master his role as the play-by-play announcer for SPEED. Allen has kept things in perspective and shares the same gift with Voda. They let others shine.
The beneficiary of Allen's style has been Phil Parsons. In much the same way that Larry McReynolds seems to be a part of every single Sprint Cup Series race, Parsons is the single best source of Truck Series information on TV today. Showing the same relaxed and well-mannered style as his late brother Benny, Phil has cemented himself a place in this series with his hard work over the years.
Adam Alexander and Ray Dunlap cover pit road and report for the series during practice, qualifying and the pre-race show. Alexander is a quick study and has stepped right into this series without missing a beat. Dunlap continues to be the character that everyone loves to discuss. Although he has toned-down his off-beat antics, Dunlap is still opinionated and colorful as his recent appearance on Tradin' Paint confirmed.
The powers that be at SPEED put Michael Waltrip into the broadcast booth of this series to add some excitement. At the time, Waltrip was so over-saturated on SPEED and on NASCAR TV in general the move did not go over well. Waltrip did not help himself by shilling for Toyota and generally talking over-top of everyone.
This season, Waltrip has improved tremendously and that might be to the credit of Steve Byrnes. On Monday nights, Byrnes hosts This Week in NASCAR where Waltrip is a regular panelist. As opposed to the mild-mannered Allen, Byrnes is not afraid to step right in and stop Waltrip in his tracks when he is off on a tangent. The result has been that Waltrip has learned to listen.
As a group, the SPEED team has shown time-and-time again that less is often more on TV. Without the flashy graphics or the fancy features, SPEED has let the racing on all kinds of tracks lead the way. My belief is that is why the series has experienced a resurgence this season. Fans get the race and not the hype.
This Friday, the Trucks get the big Texas Motor Speedway to themselves in primetime under the lights. Voda hosts the pre-race at 8:30PM and the race kicks-off shortly after 9PM. Adding some spice to the Texas mix will be the fact that sports car ace Max Papis, Red Bull's chosen son Scott Speed and the one and only Kyle Busch will all be racing along with the series regulars.
The Daly Planet will be live during and after the race for your comments. As the season comes toward the end, perhaps you can use this post to offer your views on the coverage of the Craftsman Trucks Series this season on SPEED and suggest any changes you might like for next year.
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