Friday, November 7, 2008
NASCAR Schedules A Return To Outer Space
It might as well be a mission to Mars. We are now one month away from the Sprint Cup Series banquet in New York City. Put on your NASCAR space suit.
There is no place in the United States more diametrically opposed to all things NASCAR than New York City. There is no borough of the city more completely counter-culture to the NASCAR set than Manhattan. This year more than ever before, NASCAR's entry into NYC for the week is going to be a lunar landing.
Gone are the good old days of Richard Petty in his cowboy hat and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in those wrap-a-round sunglasses mixing with the locals. Gone are the days of the big headlines and the national media coming over to cover the Southern stock car boys in town. This year, even the mini-parade has been cancelled (click here) by the city government.
New York City made its feelings known earlier this season when NASCAR's Sprint Cup media tour came to town for a two-day swing to promote The Chase for the Championship. Click here for the NY Daily News story on that event.
ESPN had to send a reporter to the media tour because the network's NYC studios are closed. TNT and Fox Sports sent no one. SPEED sent a reporter, even though that network does not even have a NASCAR news program.
The NASCAR Media Group cameramen made sure to document the driver's awkward group appearance on David Letterman (click here). Even more awkward were the attempts to talk with the ABC and CBS morning shows. Since Fox has no morning program, several drivers crossed-over to the cable TV side and stopped-by Fox News to say hello.
NBC's Today Show told NASCAR not to even bother stopping by. The morning was topped-off (click here) by six drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson tossing ice cream at each other with Regis and Kelly.
It will be December 5th when the NASCAR gang again comes to town. It will be right on the heels of the worst financial meltdown in decades and shortly after a divisive Presidential election. At a time when American automakers and many citizens are literally struggling to survive financially, the welcome by the citizens of New York City should be a memorable one.
Both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series have their banquets in Florida. The NCTS will be at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, FL on November 17th. The Nationwide gang will once again be at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, FL on November 22nd.
Only the Sprint Cup Series clings to the decades-old belief that having this function in New York City actually serves a real purpose for the teams and sponsors. It certainly does not serve the NASCAR media judging from the emails and news stories of last year. Almost all the reporters are from the Greater Charlotte area, just like the teams and drivers.
The televised portion of the banquet is tough to watch. Even though Dr. Jerry Punch worked hard as the Master of Ceremonies last year, the entire evening is completely scripted from start-to-finish. How and why the banquet has become a politically correct evening of boredom is anyone's guess.
Click here for a video peek at the 1993 banquet hosted by Bob Jenkins, the late Benny Parsons and Punch. The festive atmosphere and solid TV production made fans feel they were a part of the evening, rather than intruding. It was Christmas time in New York City, the racing was over and smiles were all around.
After this season, it will be interesting to see if NASCAR finally relents and moves the function to the Charlotte Convention Center. Next summer the new NASCAR headquarters in downtown Charlotte will be complete. That building is attached to the new NASCAR Hall of Fame that MRN veteran Winston Kelley is in charge of opening.
So, set the DVR or the TiVo for December 5th at 9PM on the ESPN Classic Network. Just like last season, NASCAR is bumped to the "overflow" channel for the original airing of this function. It will re-air in a two-hour version on December 8th at 2PM on ESPN2.
What a way to end a ten month season for NASCAR fans who would like to see the top ten drivers out of their firesuits and in an awards show setting with their families as the final memory of 2008.
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