Saturday, May 17, 2008
What it all comes down to is the racing. Ultimately, the role of the NASCAR TV partners is simply to translate the action on the track to the TV screens at home. Saturday night in Charlotte, the SPEED TV team did exactly that.
It has been a long week for the TV network. All-Star programming on SPEED has included the Pit Crew Challenge, a special version of Wind Tunnel, and original programming like Wendy Venturini's Hometown Heroes.
The network has hosted a preview show every night from the SPEED Studios and worked through technical glitches that come with the live TV business. By the end of the All-Star race, NASCAR fans once again had been well-served by this cable TV network.
It was Brian France last Fall who said very pointedly that SPEED was a vital NASCAR TV partner and he expected that relationship to grow in the future. His words spoke volumes for just how far this relatively young TV network had come since it first stepped into the NASCAR world as SpeedVision.
SPEED set the right tone for the All-Star evening by putting Krista Voda and Jeff Hammond together in the infield SPEED Stage. These two were outstanding, and Voda brings a fresh new on-air dynamic when she is off of pit road and hosting the telecast. Hammond is focused and allowed to shine without interference.
As usual, the NASCAR on Fox gang of Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip provided the commentary for the All-Star evening. Joy earned his money from his appearances on-camera in the pre-race show through his energetic call of the on-track action in the final segment of the All-Star race.
Waltrip and McReynolds reprised their comfortable roles in the booth, with Waltrip continuing to try and balance his personal Toyota relationship with his commentary on Kyle Busch. This is a tough task, and fans are certainly going to find something he said and take him to task for it. In a way, Busch being eliminated from the race helped with the end of the broadcast where Waltrip's commentary was concerned.
SPEED's John Roberts and Steve Byrnes showed once again their versatility and endurance as they were seemingly on every SPEED All-Star show during the week. At the track, they even handled the driver and pit crew introductions from the main stage over the PA system.
Byrnes continues to be a NASCAR on-air presence that brings all three elements of sports announcing to the table. Byrnes hosts multiple studio shows, handles the pit reporting, and then hosts live on-track practice in the play-by-play role. As the season continues, he will add even more TV duties on SPEED as the "Chase for the Championship" begins.
One short video clip from a SPEED promo shows John Roberts unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt. Regular viewers of SPEED may have already suspected that Roberts is not really from this planet. On Saturday, Roberts hosted an exhausting three hour RaceDay program, introduced the drivers for the All-Star race and then handled the hosting duties for the post-race Victory Lane Show.
Of all the SPEED on-air personalities, Roberts handles the weekend duties with seemingly very little wear-and-tear. His story of transitioning from a part-time local TV sports anchor to a full-time national broadcaster is amazing. There is a very long way to go in the NASCAR season, so Superman better hang-on tight to that t-shirt.
The RaceDay show is a jewel for SPEED. The TV series has posted double-digit increases in ratings this season. The interesting thing is that no one reason explains why. It is an "ensemble" show in the best sense of the word. There is no star, and everyone pitches-in on a regular basis to keep the sport itself as the priority.
Venturini is having another solid year in her reporter and interviewer roles. Her first hour-long prime-time TV special, Hometown Heroes, was a big hit on Wednesday night. She is now joined by Hermie Sadler in the RaceDay reporter role. Sadler's on-air style is different from Venturini, but what they share is a comfort level in the NASCAR garage that is difficult at best for others to attain.
Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace continue to mix the serious and the ridiculous on a regular basis without warning. Spencer can be talking seriously about topics like changing the COT one hour into RaceDay after appearing in lipstick and a wig in the opening sequence. Unfortunately, that brief moment is now burned into the minds of many SPEED viewers.
Wallace continues to walk the line between driver and commentator. His personality and self-effacing manner will keep him a fan favorite, but his crash in qualifying ended his hopes for driving in this year's All-Star race.
Rutledge Wood continues to wander through the NASCAR on SPEED landscape as though he is unaware of the very strong feelings about him. While he may serve a certain age group with his antics, he often does not seem to be serving the sport itself very well. There are simply topics and moments that deserve respect. The fun and laughter of Roberts, Wallace and Spencer is very different than the manufactured comedy of Wood. That contrast is not lost on many RaceDay viewers.
By the end of the night, SPEED had once again shown to both the fans and NASCAR that additional NASCAR TV programming has merit. Not just for one week around a special race, but regularly on SPEED to tell the stories not contained in one hour of This Week in NASCAR on Monday.
After a day of rest on Sunday, SPEED returns once again to a TV network dominated by "lifestyle" shows. Monday's lone prime-time NASCAR hour show is surrounded by Supercars Exposed, Car Crazy at the SEMA Show and a highlight show of the Barrett-Jackson summer car auction.
SPEED made the All-Star race fun, worked hard to support the event, and pulled-off a nice finale with the on-track action. The seamless cooperation between the NASCAR on Fox personalities and the SPEED production crew was outstanding.
Perhaps, some of the All-Star programming will be added in video form to the open-wheel dominated SPEEDtv.com website. Other than YouTube, the network's website seems to be the only source for NASCAR content during the week from SPEED.
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All week long SPEED has added extra programming as the network builds-up toward Saturday night's Sprint Showdown and All-Star race.
Krista Voda returns to act as the host for the evening, with the NASCAR on Fox crew of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds calling the action. Perhaps, we will see Voda and Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel?
Just like last year, Carl Edwards will trade-in his helmet for a microphone as he acts as a pit reporter for SPEED during the first event, the Sprint Showdown. Edwards will join Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Dick Berggren on pit road. Those three will remain and cover the pits for the All-Star race.
There are a couple of interesting notes about the broadcast. The entire program will be shown in Times Square in New York City on the huge big-screen that dominates that area. Over at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, CA there will also be a big-screen so fans can watch the race between heats of live local racing.
This should be an interesting evening of racing on SPEED, with the normal twists and turns that fans have come to expect from the All-Star festivities.
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Things are always just a little bit different on All-Star weekend and this one has proven to be no exception. Saturday will feature another roll-out of NASCAR TV programming in a "block" by SPEED almost all day long.
This effort is designed to lead-up to a three hour edition of the popular RaceDay program and then transition to the All-Star festivities themselves. Since SPEED does not have any Sprint Cup Series points races, this is going to be as close as the network comes to the big time on the track this season.
Off the oval, SPEED has continued to partner with the NASCAR Media Group and dominate the weekend TV programming where racing is concerned. It will be NASCAR Live at Noon Eastern Time that kicks-off the original programming on Saturday. John Roberts will be on-hand to host with Hermie Sadler and Randy Pemberton reporting.
That show will transition into a re-air of the Pit Crew Challenge originally seen on Thursday night. SPEED had some glitches originally, but this re-air should be all cleaned-up if fans want to record a good version of this special to keep.
Speaking of recording, Tradin' Paint at 2:30PM will feature a re-match of one of the oddest couples ever seen on TV. John Roberts will be trying to keep the peace between Kyle Petty and veteran writer Bob Pockrass of NASCAR Scene and scenedaily.com. Put this one on the DVR or the VCR.
These two have combined for some of the most interesting and hilarious editions of this show since the concept first started some years ago. Oil-and-water does not do the dynamic of these two justice. Pockrass will not back down from his views on the sport, which in the past have resulted in Petty blowing his stack in spectacular fashion. It should be interesting to see which topics the Producer picks to discuss.
Larry McReynolds has quietly turned NASCAR Performance into a dynamo of a show. Next up at 3PM, this program features Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker delving into all kinds of racing subjects and offering all types of topical discussions from a crew chief's perspective. Even for a mechanical novice like myself, this program has moved to the "must see" list.
NASCAR In A Hurry is an interesting little TV series hosted by Adam Alexander. The thirty minute show which airs at 3:30PM uses footage of SPEED programs both on and off the track to offer a short "wrap-up" of things at Charlotte so far. The trick is, they only use footage from the previous 48 hours. They pack all the "happenings" together and show them...in a hurry.
The "franchise" steps-out of the shadows next as RaceDay offers a "three hour tour" of all things All-Star that leads directly into the event. John Roberts hosts, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. Wendy Venturini provides the news and several features. Hermie Sadler offers the track description and is also a reporter on the show. Rutledge Wood continues as the "comic relief."
This program is said to contain a big surprise guest this week. SPEED is not letting anything slip, but since the show is live there might be some fun moments where this "guest" is concerned. As viewers might expect, Wendy Venturini will finally sit-down with Dale Jarrett and get his take on this final night at-speed in a sport that has dominated his life.
Live guests include Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. This week, the Speedway has added a new wrinkle for All-Star day. The Pennzoil Platinum Victory Challenge is the official name for the new burnout contest.
While many fans have seen this type of event at motorcycle rallies and even local short tracks, this one is going to be new. It will be the "big boys" from NASCAR on Fox that will step-in and handle the commentary for this special event. Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip will do their best to see through the smoke and offer their expert analysis.
RaceDay will also dip into the NASCAR Media Group archives, and offer some brief flashbacks on the past All-Star races that have certainly featured some memorable moments. It should be fun to hear the comments from Spencer and Wallace on these sometimes controversial moments in time.
RaceDay will transition directly into the All-Star race programming at 7PM. The NASCAR on Fox crew will again call the action. This post will serve to host your comments during the pre-race programming, and a new post will be added at 6PM for the All-Star race.
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