Saturday, April 5, 2008
Fans of Tradin' Paint knew this was going to be an interesting show.
Since the departure of Michael Waltrip in the Spring of 2007, Kyle Petty has been a regular on this TV series. Along with host John Roberts, Petty and company welcome a different media guest to each program. The results often make for good TV.
Over the course of the 2007 season, Petty had many memorable differences of opinion with several of the biggest journalists in the sport. While notable names like Liz Clarke from the Washington Post and David Poole from the Charlotte Observer negotiated their way through the show with success, that was not always the case.
Both Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press and Bob Pockrass from scenedaily.com proved to be journalists that were not interested in negotiating. They had their views, stated them clearly, and they were not going to give any ground. That simply did not work well for Kyle Petty.
Often, it seemed that Petty was trying his best to talk about another time in NASCAR without facing the grim reality of the superteams and the superdollars involved in the sport today.
Petty stood-up for truth, for personal relationships among drivers and for a sport where any team could make the field and contend for the win. In Petty's mind, his views were right and he was not going to give any ground to "the media."
On this Saturday, it was a very different Kyle Petty that sat on the set of Tradin' Paint. Across from Petty was Richard Durrett of The Dallas Morning News. In the middle was Roberts and the first words out of his mouth sent the show in the very direction that many thought SPEED would not go. It was time to talk about the troubled Petty Enterprises on national TV.
We all know the story. The sponsorship of the 43 car will move to Childress for 2009, the 45 car failed to make the field at Martinsville and even after Petty stepped aside, the car failed to qualify for Texas. This weekend, rumors of driver Bobby Labonte leaving the 43 car for Childress Racing after the season is over are rampant.
Petty did his best to explain that stepping-out of the 45 car was a group decision. Earlier that weekend, he told Mark Zeske of the very same Dallas Morning News that vacating the car was not his decision. Even as Petty talked about the team and evoked memories of his late son Adam, the reality still had not sunk-in.
John Roberts has seen a whole lot of Kyle Petty and his temper on this show, especially in 2007. After allowing Petty to explain his views on the situation at Petty Enterprises unchallenged, Roberts soft-peddled a question to Richard Durrett about teams and sponsorships. Durrett was having none of it, and began to ask Petty his own questions directly.
Durrett asked how Petty felt stepping out of the car. He asked about the very future of the Petty Enterprises organization. He quietly took the host role and left Roberts in the dust watching from the sidelines. It was a good idea.
Petty did a good job of recapping the concerns of the company as they continue through this season and head into 2009. He mentioned the need for an investor and was honest in bringing up the Bobby Labonte issue. Petty once again used his new favorite term in saying Petty Enterprises has "a lot of balls in the air."
Roberts brought-up the BAM issue with Kenny Schrader being absent from Texas, and Durrett immediately pointed the topic right back at Petty for comment. Citing the "new world order" in NASCAR, Durrett asked if there was any option to the superteams. Despite the political talk from Petty, the answer seemed to be "no."
It was Michael McDowell's accident that quickly changed the tone of the show. Petty talked firmly about the safety components of both the track and the COT from a perspective few share. Durrett challenged NASCAR to mandate the SAFER Barrier all the way around the track at high-speed ovals like Texas. Both men made great points.
For some reason, John Roberts was off-balance in this program from the start. Perhaps, he was surprised that Durrett took the ball and asked his own questions to Petty. For whatever reason, his casual approach to the McDowell accident and his extended comments on several topics were just not fitting for the host role on a program structured to feature the other two panelists.
While Petty worked his way through this program with a very cooperative media partner, things are going to get interesting as the saga of Petty Enterprises continues to unfold. This is the risk that active drivers and team owners take when they commit to TV series. They are instantly put on-the-spot for issues that may not be very pleasant. On this day, much like Michael McDowell, Petty made it through unscathed.
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(photo courtesy of Preston R. Fischer - copyright 2008)
It only took the blink of an eye for Darrell Waltrip to know that something was not right.
It only took another moment until he knew something very bad was about to happen. As Michael McDowell headed for the wall in Texas, there was almost nothing to say.
Amid all the politics, the tire problems and the sponsorship woes, "reality" paid a call to NASCAR in the same stark and terrifying way it had in the past. Only this time, the results were different.
SPEED was live as the NASCAR on Fox crew of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip was on-the-air with Sprint Cup Series qualifying from the Texas Motor Speedway.
On a bright Spring day McDowell's car slid the rear-end going into the corner and veteran fans looked at his front tires. He steered to the right. On a track this size and at that speed, this one decision may have cost him dearly only a relatively short time ago.
Veteran NASCAR fans like myself only have to close our eyes to remember the one part of the sport we normally try hard to forget. The single element of NASCAR that continued to frustrate teams, fans and NASCAR itself for years.
Every day when you visit The Daly Planet, the face of the late Neil Bonnett greets you with his trademark smile. As Michael McDowell headed for the wall on Friday, I closed my eyes and saw Neil Bonnett's life ending at Daytona in 1994.
Like many NASCAR fans watching live, I kept my eyes shut and just listened. The stark words came from Darrell Waltrip in a halting manner. "Oh my gosh," said Waltrip. "I have never seen anything like that in my life." I felt around for the remote to turn-off my TV set. I could not go through this again.
As it has been so many times over the years, it was the voice of Mike Joy that came to the rescue. "Michael is moving around in the car," said Joy. While this choice of words may appear simple to the casual fan, those seven words actually speak volumes about Joy and his ability to deal with difficult racing situations. With this one phrase, viewers could once again open their eyes. Death had not come calling.
Instead of zooming-in on the driver or replaying the crash immediately, the veteran TV production crew stepped-aside. The Director picked a camera angle of the car that did not show the driver inside. Then, as Paramedics approached the car to lower the window net, viewers at home saw a camera shot of the SAFER Barrier.
In the TV truck, everything is seen from many angles. There were lots of other camera choices that included looking directly into the car right after it came to a stop. Instead, the TV crew quietly waited until the window net was down and the signal was given that there were no life-threatening injuries.
In a TV moment that many fans will remember for a long time, McDowell emerged from the car. Mike Joy immediately used the classic racing line from the old Diamond P Sports videos. "And he walked away and waved to the crowd," said Joy.
As McDowell stepped into the ambulance, the TV production team then switched modes and used all the resources at their disposal to answer the question of what had happened. The simple and effective commentary from both McReynolds and Waltrip really told the tale as the video replays rolled from multiple angles.
Over the years, lots of people have had fun at the expense of Larry McReynolds and his creative use of the English language. Sometimes, McReynolds even pokes fun at himself when he gets excited on-the-air and loses his focus on basic language issues like punctuation and sentence structure.
It was somewhat ironic then that it was McReynolds who closed-out this incident with a strong and concise statement on national TV.
"If there have been any fans, if there has been anybody in our industry that has questioned the Car of Tomorrow...Ladies and Gentlemen, take a look at this guy who just walked out of that race car a few minutes ago," said McReynolds.
Very quietly in the background, the voice of Darrell Waltrip was heard. "That is unbelievable," whispered Waltrip. NASCAR fans across America were nodding.
The professionalism of both the on-air announcers and the behind-the-scenes TV production team in a live situation like this cannot be emphasized enough. They did the right things at the right times and never for a moment allowed themselves to get off-balance on-the-air. But for the grace of God, things could have gone in a very different direction.
Kudos to our friends at Fox and SPEED and to all the TV production staff involved in the coverage of this incident. They absolutely could not have done a better job.
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ESPN2 returns to the Nationwide Series trail with coverage of the race from the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Allen Bestwick hosts the NASCAR Countdown show beginning at 2:30PM Eastern Time for thirty minutes. He will be joined in the Infield Pit Center by Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty. ESPN's Rusty Wallace has the weekend off from his TV duties.
Jarrett will then move-up into the broadcast booth and join Dr. Jerry Punch and Andy Petree for coverage of the race at 3PM. Jarrett has brought a new stability to this coverage, and both Petree and Punch have responded with a new found enthusiasm.
Reporting from pit road will be Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro. This high-speed and fast-paced event will be a big challenge for this team that mixes experience with enthusiasm. Often, the results are also mixed.
The Nationwide Series event will feature sixteen current Sprint Cup Series drivers and this should be the theme of the event. If any of the Nationwide "regulars" can step-up and run with the Cup guys it will go a long way toward raising both the profile of the series and the professional stock of the driver.
This page will serve to host your comments about the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show and the ESPN2 coverage of the event. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page.
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(click directly on the picture for the larger image of TMS)
After the dramatic events of Friday, the Sprint Cup cars return to the Texas track for two sessions of practice.
SPEED begins the coverage at Noon Eastern Time and will continue on-the-air live through the built-in lunch break at 12:45PM. The cars return to the track around 1:15PM and continue this practice session until 2:30PM.
As the combined Fox and SPEED announcers have done all weekend, it should be interesting to see which personalities are in which positions for this coverage.
SPEED then steps aside to make way for the NASCAR Countdown show and the live coverage of the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2.
Please note that two popular SPEED shows, NASCAR Performance hosted by Larry McReynolds and Tradin' Paint with John Roberts and Kyle Petty will air later Saturday night.
First up is NASCAR Performance at 7:30PM and then Tradin' Paint at 8PM Eastern. The guest on Tradin' Paint this week is veteran writer Richard Durrett from the Dallas Morning News.
This post will serve to host your comments about the live practice sessions on SPEED. There will be a new post up one hour prior to the Nationwide Series race for comments on that event. A column about Tradin' Paint will be posted Saturday night.
To add your comment about practice, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are listed on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.