Friday, April 25, 2008
The theory was a good one. NASCAR on Fox's Mike Joy and veteran analyst Larry McReynolds would remain "upstairs" in the announce booth to call the on-track action of the Friday Sprint Cup practices from Talladega.
Meanwhile, down in the empty pit road area, Steve Byrnes would act as the host to Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip. The two analysts would respond to questions and issues about the practice sessions using the resources available to Fox.
These would include the cut-a-way car, the various COT body parts and the assortment of shocks and tires. But, on this day there was something new. The network bought a pit wagon.
In what can only be described as interesting, a massive pit road wagon complete with TV monitors and elevated seating was set-up to anchor this new practice compound. While the wagon and surrounding hardware were impressive, the same could not be said for the decision to put both Waltrip and Hammond in white NASCAR on Fox driver suits.
While the duo pictured above may have cut a smooth profile on pit road back in the day, the choice of attire for this Friday TV program was not flattering for either man. Since they were both on-the-air for many hours live, matching the attire of Byrnes for these segments should have been the thing to do.
During practice, Waltrip and Hammond used the tools at their disposal to follow-up on the on-going issues being raised by McReynolds and the reporters in the garage. The innovation turned-out to be quite effective, in much the same style of ESPN's Tim Brewer who attempts to address equipment and car issues in that network's Tech Center. Of course, Waltrip and Hammond were outside.
The entire SPEED and NASCAR on Fox group had an outstanding Friday at Talladega. Sprint Cup practice, Nationwide Series qualifying and Trackside went off without a hitch. Even the NASCAR Live programs designed to bridge the gaps when the action was stopped on the track were effective. These types of programs are called "interstitial," which means they provide a bridge between two other programs or events.
Both Steve Byrnes and John Roberts hosted the Friday versions and while Bob Dillner appeared with good interviews on both, it was again Rutledge Wood who had a tough time deciding if he was a comedian or a reporter. His disjointed interview with Kasey Kahne proved the point. Talking to professionals in the middle of their workday requires preparation and planning. Perhaps, keeping the playtime for the two hour RaceDay would be the thing to do.
As the NASCAR on Fox crew began to experiment with the "Fox pit wagon," Hammond and Waltrip began to offer good explanations for a variety of current issues. The only problem was, behind them were Sprint Cup cars at full speed on the track at Talladega. The key words there are "behind them."
Fans tuning-in to see the on-track action were instead confronted by two men in drivers suits pointing at the cut-a-way car. In the same way that ESPN had to figure out the Tech Center, Fox discovered that putting Waltrip and Hammond on-the-air like this requires just one little thing. That is a second video box on the screen.
Simply by putting the full-speed Cup action on the screen along with the two analysts, viewers would have gotten the best of both worlds. Fox is very good at using this effect during the race, so perhaps it will become standard for the "pit box" segments when they appear during practice and possibly qualifying.
With good weather and great pictures, fans got a solid warm-up for the action to come. SPEED returns Saturday with Sprint Cup Series qualifying at 11AM Eastern Time. The Nationwide Series appears on ABC Sports at 2:30PM and the Craftsman Truck Series takes to the air from Kansas at 5:30PM. There will be a full rundown of shows, announcers and other TV notes posted on Saturday morning.
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