Saturday, March 29, 2008
The two hour live NASCAR RaceDay program comes along from Martinsville, VA at 11:30AM Eastern Time on Sunday morning.
John Roberts is hosting, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. Wallace should be interesting to hear since he will have the inside scoop on Chrissy Wallace's top twenty finish on Saturday in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Hermie Sadler will also be on the show to offer his track information and continue to grow his role as both a commentator and reporter. He certainly will have the latest information on his brother Elliott, who is suffering back pain and may not be able to go the distance on Sunday.
The guests scheduled for the program include Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola. Those three drivers should lead the panel into some good question-and-answer sessions. Jeff Burton's recent slam of the Nationwide Series "regulars" is going to be a hot topic when the two series meet again.
Wendy Venturini continues to carve-out a charmed legacy in the sport through her strong work ethic. This Sunday, her Real Deal feature will talk with three personalities at GEM. Ray Evernham, Kenny Francis and Kasey Kahne will all be included in this feature.
One big topic for the panel will be the absence of Kyle Petty from the field, and the continuing saga of the Top 35 rule. Also, this week Jack Roush made some more statements about "Part-Gate" while he was in the Media Center. Roush refuses to back down from his claims, despite Michael Waltrip stepping-up and pleading guilty to the charges. NASCAR continues to call it like the NBA, no harm no foul.
With no ESPN presence on-site except for a NASCAR Now reporter, RaceDay will be the star of Sunday morning. The program leads directly into the NASCAR on Fox coverage at 1:30PM Eastern Time.
ESPN counters with a one hour version of NASCAR Now at 10AM Eastern from the Bristol, CT studios hosted by Ryan Burr. Mike Wallace will be with Burr in the studio, and will also appear on the one hour Monday show with Johnny Benson and Mike Massaro.
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The email began to arrive once the IRL action got underway from the Homestead, FL track. It was not about the good pictures from ESPN or the good action from a series trying to survive.
What NASCAR fans had seen, apparently many for the first time, was the TV commercial breaks in the live IRL coverage. They had experienced the "missing link" in the TV coverage of NASCAR. They had seen ESPN's "side-by-side" commercial breaks.
The network runs the commercials in a big box on the right side of the screen. At the same time, they keep the live coverage of the race in another smaller video box on the left side. They also include a top three scoring graphic that immediately changes if there is a pass on the track. Simply put, it is fantastic.
The question of why NASCAR cannot do this has been addressed by everyone from NASCAR to the TV networks. From what I understand, it all hinges on the coverage of the Sprint Cup Series.
Unlike the IRL, NASCAR's top series is split between three TV networks during the season. Fox, TNT and the ESPN/ABC combined media company comprise the coverage of the February through November season.
As you might expect, these three networks are not friends in the corporate sense of the word. Though they must combine at the tracks in terms of facilities and manpower, their sales and programming departments operate to serve only their own companies.
To arrange for side-by-side coverage, three networks would have to meet and work through a wide variety of issues. Each of these companies has paid NASCAR a lot of money for the rights to the races they televise. The single driving reason for full-screen national ads is to get as much revenue from each commercial as possible.
Writers from Marty Smith to yours truly have addressed this issue. We believed that with the new TV contract, ESPN would lead the way in advocating this change. While network executives expressed an interest, they simply could not convince the many NASCAR advertisers to participate. So, here we are.
This NASCAR reality hit home for many people who ran across the primetime showing of the Homestead IRL race. At the height of the excitement, in front of what appeared to be a full house, ESPN announcer Marty Reid made the point over-and-over again to assure TV viewers that they would not miss anything as the network went to commercial.
This technology seems simple and with ESPN already doing it for the IRL, is should be easy to do for NASCAR. This theory and the cold, hard reality of national advertising dollars have so far been unable to meet. The IRL stresses that it worked hard as a sanctioning body to help facilitate this issue.
NASCAR spokesman have repeatedly stated that NASCAR sells the rights to TV networks and conducts the races. Once again, the struggles of NASCAR where media issues come into play are brought to the forefront with the success of the IRL and the side-by-side commercial format.
So, I certainly appreciate the NASCAR fans once again asking about the side-by-side coverage, but can only offer what everyone else seems to be saying. It is a great idea that is lacking the leadership to accomplish it across the board in the sport. Whether that comes from NASCAR or from a committee of the NASCAR TV partners is yet to be seen.
What is certainly being seen is every single national TV commercial full-screen while green flag racing goes on only in front of the people in the stands. As we all look around at our laptops, HDTV's, DirecTV satellite dishes and Blackberrys, it seems strange that three TV networks cannot use a technology that has been around for many years to accomplish this single goal for the good of the sport.
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The storylines for the Saturday afternoon Craftsman Truck Series race on Fox were fantastic. The diversity of the drivers in the field almost guaranteed a race with action from start-to-finish.
There were the Truck Series regulars that ranged from Rick Crawford to Ron Hornaday Jr. The Martinsville "visitors" included Modified champ Donny Lia, open-wheeler Scott Speed and young Chrissy Wallace. Almost the entire field had a story to tell.
Certainly, one of the most compelling was the ride Dennis Setzer was piloting. The remaining pieces of the late Bobby Hamilton's racing operation had been slowly coming together with lots of help from lots of people in racing. Combined with Setzer's well known short-track prowess, things could not have gone better.
It was Chris Myers and not Krista Voda who manned the Hollywood Hotel since this Truck race was on Fox. Regular Truck Series viewers are used to a competent and energetic Voda setting the table for the race. That was not to be the case here.
Myer's acknowledged "act" is ridiculous, as anyone who has seen the real personality of Myers on other cable sports programs knows all too well. Myers hosts Center Court, the signature interview program on The Tennis Channel.
That Chris Myers speaks intelligently to a diverse group of athletes, coaches and tennis personalities one-on-one. The difference between a stuttering and stammering Myers in the Hollywood Hotel and the sophisticated interviewer asking informed questions to international tennis stars is amazing.
On Saturday at Martinsville, Myers was simply a distraction while the rest of the broadcast team scrambled to provide the information fans needed. These Truck broadcasts on Fox have no pre-race show, so at least the racing was underway in a timely fashion.
Back after throat problems, Darrell Waltrip filled a nice role on this telecast. He and Phil Parsons have worked out a very good relationship on-the-air. DW talks big picture and Parsons fills-in the details. In this broadcast, that partnership was effective throughout the race. Between Waltrip's Martinsville history and Parsons Truck Series knowledge, the issue of Michael Waltrip being absent for this telecast did not arise.
Early in the race, it was clear that even on a cold Martinsville spring day, the Fox team was going to make good pictures and sound. Despite the gray skies, the technical crew delivered consistent coverage and just like a good basketball referee, was not really noticed. Everything just worked.
With 250 laps to run, the Fox Producer allowed viewers 25 laps before he introduced the one consistent presence that viewers would be seeing for the entire telecast. "Digger" the Gopher Cam was introduced on this short track with his animation and the race would never be the same.
The action on the track was outstanding, the stories throughout the field were compelling and the pit reporters were right on-top of the action. Unfortunately, by lap 37 the Fox Director had decided that "Digger" was going to be a part of the regular race coverage and not just a toy to use once and a while.
It was 58 laps into the race when "Digger" became a total distraction. As the field sorted out and the stories of the race began to unfold, "Digger" was now being used by the Director more frequently. The change in the perspective from high-to-low and the lack of any ability to see what was going-on in the race began to take its toll on the coverage.
During green flag racing, "Digger" would be used as the camera to frame a graphic for promoting other Fox programming. The meaningless tires of the Trucks would just stream by without any reference or meaning.
During a caution on lap 82, Fox introduced a new feature from the Hollywood Hotel. The Craftsman Tools of the Trade feature put a new air impact wrench on the set for Jeff Hammond to explain. Chris Myers holding an air gun looked like Superman handling kryptonite. It was clear he had never seen one before.
Hammond patiently explained that it was almost like the air guns the crews used down on pit road. Myers was puzzled, and asked "and what would you use it for in the pits?" As America drew a deep breath, Hammond quietly said, "taking lug nuts on and off." Is there anything more that needs to be said here?
Fox had now found yet a new use for "Digger." This was the camera angle used while going to commercial under caution. It was also the camera angle used to come back from commercial.
After lap 100, "Digger" began to dominate the telecast. Now, this camera was actively being "cut" into the telecast as a regular "camera cut" on a lap. "Digger" was now part of the live race coverage.
Slowly, all of the positive NASCAR on Fox production elements began to fade as "Digger" began to overwhelm viewers. The quad-split for the pits, the double video boxes for interviews and the nice crisp Fox graphics lost their luster.
The race recap just past halfway was nicely edited, but transitioned into Chris Myers selling "Digger" T-shirts from the Hollywood Hotel. Hammond seems mildly amused by all of this hype, and told Myers that "Digger" is "just as funny as you are." That quip was not lost on veteran fans.
With only 100 laps to go, "Digger" was once again on the air while 6th place Denny Hamlin spun. At the time, the announcers were once again talking about"Digger." With 67 laps to go, "Digger" was on the air when Brian Scott spun. Viewers saw the action on the track once again through multiple replays. Of course, the final replay angle was "Digger" complete with the animation and sound effects.
The big "Digger" moment came with only 13 laps to go when Rick Allen yelled "problems as Jack Sprague gets turned around coming out of 2!" Once again, Fox viewers had been watching big truck tires drive past "Digger" and missed another key moment of the race. The Director had been using his favorite toy and not covering the action on the track with less than 15 laps to go.
At the finish, a big gaggle of Trucks raced to the line. TV viewers saw the action from a nice wideshot, and in this case the benefit included two spins from the second and third place Trucks. This was the story of the race, Kyle Busch spinning Johnny Benson out on the last lap.
After the post-race interview with the winner, Fox made some very interesting choices. Chrissy Wallace was interviewed on her top twenty finish and Kyle Busch was interviewed on his "accident" on the final lap. Johnny Benson was left out in the cold even though he was a key story.
Fox also did not speak with Whelen Modified champ Donny Lia, or open-wheel veteran Scott Speed, who finished ninth and tenth respectively. Throughout the race, the unfolding Brendan Gaughan saga was documented extensively. Gaughan battled back from his late pitstop for fuel and finished in eleventh place. Despite his Davidson College storyline and the NCAA Tournament tie-in, he was not interviewed.
The SPEED crew produces their Craftsman Truck races as a "feature presentation." The effort from Krista Voda's pre-race show all the way through Rick Allen's final sign-off has been nothing short of outstanding for several seasons. The production choices are made because the team knows the on-going storylines of the series by heart.
At Martinsville, the announcers in the booth and the reporters on pit road turned in solid performances and gave the viewers all the information they could handle. The "hole" in this telecast was the over-use of one single "toy" that Fox has inserted into coverage this season for absolutely no specific reason.
Once in a while, the track-level perspective of "Digger" the Gopher Cam is interesting and makes for entertaining viewing. The key words in that sentence are "once in a while." It was unfortunate that the Director chose to insert this one production element far too many times in this Truck Series race.
It distracted from the good stories on the track, prevented viewers from seeing lots of key action, and ultimately became a storyline itself with the endless promotion and hype. Fox has been to this track for years without "Digger" and never had a problem with camera selection during the race. The same cannot be said for this season.
With a much longer Sprint Cup race on-tap for Sunday, it should be interesting to see if the NASCAR on Fox crew continues to shift the focus from the drivers and action on the track to their new "toy" that comes complete with a full line of merchandise. As we said in the headline, it was "Digger" that dominated this event from the drop of the green flag.
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This afternoon at 3PM Eastern Time the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be on the air from Martinsville, VA. The NASCAR on Fox production team will handle the broadcast, which means several things to TV viewers.
Krista Voda and The Set-Up will not be seen as the pre-race show because that is a SPEED program. Voda will be a pit reporter during the telecast, along with Adam Alexander. Sometimes, Fox chooses to add a pit reporter like Steve Byrnes or Matt Yocum to these stand-alone Truck races.
It will be Darrell and not Michael Waltrip joining Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth to call the action. DW is a "Fox guy" and Michael is a "SPEED guy." DW has a long and distinguished history at Martinsville, and should be able to provide some good overall perspective while leaving the details to the "Dean" of the NCTS, Phil Parsons.
There is a weather situation in the area, and the Fox telecast is scheduled to run until 5:30PM. The Fox East Coast primetime line-up does not begin until 8PM with Cops, and many Fox stations do not originate local news at 6PM on the weekends. This is very different than the ABC situation fans know all too well from last season.
Rick Allen has come a long way as a NASCAR announcer, and works especially well on the longer tracks where the action is continuous. Martinsville provides a special challenge to the TV play-by-play announcer because the short laps and flat track make the racing sometimes less than stellar.
Hopefully, the Fox production team will remain focused on the personality stories contained within the field and not lose sight of everyone except the lead pack as the racing progresses. Martinsville contains some of the most memorable runs to the flag of any NASCAR track, so viewers should be allowed to watch the lead lap Trucks race to the finish line. In person, the final laps are just great.
This post will host your comments about the NCTS race from Martinsville on SPEED. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page.
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The Craftsman Truck Series will qualify on SPEED beginning at 10AM Eastern Time on Saturday. This is a weekend where the NASCAR on Fox production team is handling the Truck activities. The regular SPEED production crew is home watching.
During practice on Friday, play-by-play announcer Rick Allen struggled to try and integrate Darrell Waltrip into the coverage. Allen and his partner Phil Parsons have been doing the Truck Series for years, and normally have Michael Waltrip alongside on the SPEED broadcasts.
DW is a very different person on TV than Michael, and Allen is going to have to figure out how to step-back and let DW have more of the spotlight. In practice, Allen was making jokes and references that were just a little bit outside of DW's base of knowledge, and that did not translate well on TV.
If they can get the on-air dynamic sorted-out on Saturday morning, that will make things much better for the race in the afternoon at 3PM Eastern on Fox. As most fans know, other than Kyle Busch vs. the Truck Series regulars, the other big story is Chrissy Wallace getting in the field for the first time.
It should also be interesting to see folks like Modified standout Donny Lia and some lesser-known names take to the track on national TV to qualify. The Truck Series is always good for some surprises and with Krista Voda on pit reporter duty, viewers should get the inside scoop.
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