Sunday, May 25, 2008
It was a fascinating day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Change was in the air and reflected in the racing, the fans and the ABC Network telecast.
Let's face facts. Previous Indy 500 telecasts suffered from bad announcers to over-the-top hype to screaming rock music played live on the grandstand roof. It only took the ESPN production team assembled for this Indy 500 a couple of hours to put all those memories to rest.
Marty Reid led a combination of booth announcers that offered the most insightful and honest commentary of this race in many years. Even Brent Musburger, brought in as the ABC "show host," proved to be in good form and well-rehearsed. Musburger blended well with Reid as they transitioned between the pre-race programming and the actual event.
The hit of the telecast proved to be the unique pairing of Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever. Referred to by Cheever as "my little nerdy Canadian friend" during the telecast, Goodyear was the provider of information and Cheever was the provider of explanations. Simply put, Goodyear talked about "how" and Cheever talked about "why."
Marty Reid was outstanding at working the pit reporters for everything they could muster during the telecast. ESPN's Jamie Little has finally found her on-air style, and never missed a beat. Newcomer Brienne Pedigo asked straightforward questions and even tracked down Danica Patrick after the race amid a huge media horde. Jack Arute is the Jerry Punch of the Indy 500, meaning he is the "dean" of the pit reporters. Vince Welch is still a little too blunt for me personally, but he knows his racing and asks the questions that need to be asked.
The pit reporters found themselves in situations ranging from car fires to angry drivers. They tip-toed into embarrassed car owners for comments and commiserated with frustrated drivers who fell out of the race. It was a strong performance all around on pit road.
Despite the single line racing, it was still the Indy 500. Reid kept a tight reign on the stories in-progress and repeatedly updated the high-profile issues. Number one on that list, to no one's surprise, was Ms. Patrick. Despite the other two females in the field, ABC could not ignore that fact that many fans were in the stands or watching on TV because of this single driver.
Her constant complaining over the team radio and untimely end to her day made for good TV. Her final angry tantrum served once again to cause fans to either love her for her passion or hate her for her arrogance. ABC covered her from start to finish, and then returned to the race.
The two hiccups in the telecast consisted of a poorly timed commercial with less than twenty laps to go as the field screamed around the oval running some of the fastest laps of the day. Then, upon returning to the race, Reid led a crescendo of excitement that ended with...the entire Dixon family. As Mr. Dixon crossed the finish line to win, Ms. Dixon and the rest of the Dixon clan from New Zealand filled the TV screens across America.
What there was included lots of hugging and crying and joy. What there was not included any other cars finishing the race.
The choice of showing the field finishing after a long and hard race vs. the emotion of a family on pit road should not have been difficult. One minute later, the family was still happy and crying. Unfortunately, one minute later the 15 cars on the lead lap had already crossed the finish line. This was an injustice to the teams, drivers and fans.
The valiant effort of Vitor Meira went unfinished. The controversy and strong drive of Marco Andretti's day was not paid-off. The frustration of Helio Castroneves and the amazing comeback of Ed Carpenter were never seen. Race fans knew where these drivers finished as they were interviewed after the event.
The IRL's side-by-side commercials continue to embarrass NASCAR and the "old guard" when seen by NASCAR fans. The TV networks continue to say it is NASCAR that is prohibiting this practice from occurring in the sport. Watching one IRL race like the Indy 500 only reinforces just how ridiculous NASCAR's view really is on this issue. If anything, having the race continuing on the screen keeps TV viewers in their seats rather than encouraging the two minute dash to the kitchen.
ABC went a long way toward returning Indy to its glory days with a good telecast that told a sweeping story involving drivers from all over the world. The drama of the race once again had been built-up and allowed to play-out. As the cameras panned the stands and the NASCAR t-shirts were on display, it was apparent that Americans had their attention turned once again to a series that is rapidly gaining ground with the public.
Hopefully, the NASCAR executives were also watching the overflowing stands and the enthusiastic crowds. After the success of the 2008 Indy 500, there is no doubt that voices will rise calling for changes to the COT before more fans decide to go dancing with the stars.
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TV fans certainly remember the episode of Seinfeld. Jerry did a favor for a friend and wound-up wearing something very memorable on national TV. This weekend, SPEED revived the "puffy shirt" concept in blue. It was just as memorable.
This season on SPEED where NASCAR is concerned has generally been outstanding. The choices in on-air talent and coverage of the Craftsman Truck Series have been fun to watch. The TV ratings are up on everything from the All-Star telecast to RaceDay.
One thing that has certainly been of interest to those watching has been the fashion choices. Early in the season, the "winter white" coats made an appearance on the NASCAR trail and spread to other SPEED series.
It was an interesting choice for a network that does a lot of outdoor TV to have their announcers in an off-white color. When the sun was out, those jackets certainly got the attention of the TV camera. This Fall, it should be interesting to see if that fashion choice returns.
When SPEED decided to end the Inside NEXTEL Cup franchise and begin another NASCAR TV series, there was yet another fashion decision to make. Without advance warning to the on-air announcers, SPEED asked the new This Week In NASCAR team to put on long-sleeve tan oxford button-down shirts. Unfortunately, on that day several of the announcers had worn khaki pants to the studio.
That led to one of Michael Waltrip's best lines. As the cameras revealed a six-foot five-inch man completely dressed in tan, Waltrip said "I feel like I'm in my PJ's." The entire panel was amused by the choice of attire in a TV world that demands careful choices in color and texture for any on-air announcer.
It was clear that no one had ordered a "tall" shirt for Waltrip, who could not button his cuffs. This was essentially because the sleeves ended about two inches above his wrist. Rather than take the time to deal with the situation, Waltrip was left sitting on the set looking like he was...in his PJ's.
This weekend on SPEED, the fashion situation got so bad that it has prompted this column. The reason is easy to understand. There is no need to make professional TV announcers look absolutely ridiculous on national television. That is what SPEED accomplished on Saturday.
Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond are professionals. They roll with the punches and present a wide variety of NASCAR TV programming for SPEED. Millions of dollars are spent on the TV equipment that it takes to originate the programs and events they announce.
There they all were on-camera from the Lowe's Motor Speedway in the heat of late May. The SPEED team was dealing with issues ranging from the Wheeler retirement to the seizure of two Sprint Cup cars by NASCAR. There was actually only one real problem on this day and it was very clear to see.
Big and puffy blue shirts with long sleeves possibly made for either Shaq or a future Seinfeld episode were downright embarrassing for the announcers. The sleeves on these shirts on national TV must have been five inches too long. On Sunday while this same group worked for Fox, they were all comfortably attired in jackets and ties of their own choosing. Perhaps, there is a lesson there.
Emails on this issue wanted to know if it was a new West Coast fashion trend or if the NASCAR on Fox team had recently inked a fashion deal with the local Big and Tall Man's Store. My guess is that the tall shirts accidentally went to the track and the regular ones got sent to Michael Waltrip. Either way, things on-the-air for SPEED need some attention.
With only one more race to go for Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip, maybe SPEED can take a quick look in the mirror and send these TV professionals out in real style.
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Saturday afternoon it was time for the Craftsman Truck Series to return to the short tracks. Mansfield Motorsports Park is certainly short.
The SPEED TV team went into the race talking about the Championship contenders and the pole sitter. Only fifty laps in, they were talking about the survival of the fittest.
Mansfield was one of the most action-packed Truck races ever seen on SPEED, and called on announcers Rick Allen and Phil Parsons to keep the energy high for the entire broadcast. They responded in sensational fashion.
Despite his superspeedway dramatics, Allen may have finally found his short track "legs" with this Mansfield telecast. He was supported by the SPEED TV crew, who did a super job of keeping things simple and fast-paced.
From the directing to the camerawork, it was clear from the start that the sudden intensity of the racing was not lost on the TV crew. NCTS veterans were racing for position with more than half of the race remaining like it was the last lap.
Caution flags were the order of the day, and hot tempers were sure to follow. SPEED used a easy-to-follow graphics package that included the races off pit road and the movement of Trucks through the field. The crew did not insert anything but what viewers needed to know to understand what was on the TV screen. It worked.
Allen ran the pit reporters around like dogs with Ray Dunlap reminding us once again of just how deep his knowledge of this series really runs. Dunlap always has the "story behind the story" complete with names and places.
It had been a while since NASCAR fans had seen a good beating-and-banging short track race. While the body of the race contained many good stories that the networks followed, the final lap really reminded TV viewers of the reality of the short tracks.
Rookie NCTS driver Donny Lia body-slammed Todd Bodine as he passed him for second place, and then put the chrome horn to David Starr and moved him aside to win the race. At many other tracks and in several other series, a sequence of events like that would have set off a rather large post-race discussion on pit road.
Instead, both Starr and Bodine spoke with the TV crew while Lia celebrated in Victory Lane. Starr was cool and collected as he congratulated Lia and talked about he final lap bash as simply short track racing action. While Bodine complained a bit, memories of his actions last week in Charlotte were not forgotten by the fans.
When the Truck Series began, there were a lot of short tracks on the schedule that featured a very different style of driving than we see in the current NCTS. Mansfield was a reminder that both the TV viewers and the fans in the stands enjoy the good, hard racing of a short track as a part of the NASCAR experience.
SPEED had to be pleased that after all the hard work of the All-Star week, the network could return to the very series that keeps them on the NASCAR map where hard racing and good TV coverage are concerned.
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It only took a couple of minutes for SPEED's Tradin' Paint program to finally get away from the vanilla-flavored conversations of the past couple of shows and find some content to spark some good NASCAR discussion.
"I think Humpy Wheeler was one of the greatest promoters that this sport has ever seen," said panelist Kyle Petty. "On the reverse side of that, I think the sport has passed him by. Even PT Barnum doesn't work in this market today."
All this was in response to show host John Roberts bringing-up the topic of Wheeler's sudden retirement and the subsequent comments of track owner Bruton Smith. The stories these gentlemen were telling absolutely did not match-up on the same topic.
This week on Tradin' Paint it was the lightning rod NASCAR reporter for the AP Jenna Fryer as the media guest. Fryer was more circumspect in her response on the Wheeler issue and raised several good points.
She contends that Wheeler had been distancing himself from both LMS and Bruton Smith for a while now. Wheeler was not involved in the new LMS drag strip and Fryer was convinced that racing just was not "fun anymore" for Wheeler.
At this point in the show, Roberts suddenly decided he would leave the host role and become a panelist. "One thing that I think everyone agrees about around here is the fact that Humpy Wheeler is a big part of what this speedway is...he will be missed around here but he will still be felt...in presence...because of what he has done at this racetrack over the years," commented Roberts. He added that he would be the first person in line to buy Humpy's book.
This is the problem that is currently on-going with Tradin' Paint. Suddenly, Roberts has begun interjecting his own opinion and often decides that he will have the last word on a certain subject. If he would like to appear as a media panelist, that might make for a fun show. Someone like Randy Pemberton or Bob Dillner could host.
In reality, this season it is Roberts who is the host of the show. His role is to allow the two panelists to shine. It is to allow them to speak, get across their views and then send the show off to the next commercial break. For some strange reason, this has suddenly become an issue.
A discussion of the recent purchase of Kentucky Speedway by Bruton Smith was next. Both Petty and Fryer raised great points about the on-going dynamics of this rather confusing situation. Fryer guessed another shoe was about to drop, and perhaps it was the purchase and subsequent closure of Pocono Raceway. Petty agreed that was a possibility, but thought that perhaps New Hampshire might be losing a race to Kentucky.
Once again, Roberts had the last word. "No one is powerful enough to make the year longer. There are already thirty-eight events on the schedule right now. There just isn't enough room to have another date," added Roberts. He went on even further with his own answer to a question intended for the panelists. Then, he led to commercial by joking that the next topic up for discussion was "rear ends." This was not the normal John Roberts that TV viewers have come to enjoy.
Petty then led an excellent discussion of the new "crab walking" Cup cars. His technical explanation of why and how this was done was simply outstanding. Fryer's point was that NASCAR continues to make the level of creativity smaller and the crew chiefs are essentially handcuffed with the COT cars. This conversation was exactly the type of interesting and informative TV content that Tradin' Paint was created to give to the fans.
Yet again, Roberts added his own paragraph to the answers of the panel before commercial. "Another thing there is no question about is that some of the smartest engineering minds in world work in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now so they will find a way around any new rules that come down the pike." said Roberts. This comment was strange given the fact Petty and Fryer had just finished talking about this subject. What the program needed was the host to "throw" to commercial.
The final big segment of this show allowed Fryer to finally talk about something in depth, and that was the situation with Juan Montoya's team. She had the details on the Ganassi troubles in the sport and Petty deferred to her on those issues. Petty then talked about the same subject from a car owner perspective. His main point was that Montoya should have been involved from the beginning on crew chief changes. If he was not, a new team chemistry is going to be very hard to find.
Over the years, Tradin' Paint has been hanging-in there as a quick thirty minute show that is seen twice a weekend and is then gone. The program is so topical that it does not repeat during the week. SPEED does not produce a season-in-review on this show at the end of the year.
If the host turns the focus to the panelists and makes them work hard where the topics are concerned, the program flows. If the host takes the last word on a topic as the show heads to break, it does not. This edition of Tradin' Paint had great information and interesting content. What it did not have was a rhythm and the reason why was clear for all to see.
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The TNT.tv website stares back at NASCAR fans with the faces that they have come to know all too well. Kyra Sedgwick is still The Closer. Holly Hunter is still Saving Grace.
One click of the SPORTS button reveals the love of the network for the NBA. There are videos, articles and even an NBA Message Board section. At the bottom, there are lots of pictures of Dennis Rodman celebrating his birthday. Apparently, they were taken prior to Rodman being arrested for domestic violence and checking into an alcohol rehab facility.
What there is not on the TNT website is any mention of the fact that in less than twenty days the network will be taking over the TV coverage of one of the biggest professional sports in North America. On June 8th, TNT will cover the Pocono 500 live as they begin a six race TV package of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Over at NASCAR.com there is a link to NASCAR on TNT. The updated video content is directly from the NASCAR.com site. The headline on the page says TNT information will be "coming soon." TNT announcer Bill Weber's last story is from November of 2007. Where NASCAR is concerned, TNT seems to be frozen in time.
At Pocono, TNT will not be televising practice or qualifying. Those sessions will be carried on SPEED. The first time we will see the TNT crew is on the pre-race show for the Cup race on Sunday afternoon. How long that show will be is not available, as TNT only provides the program schedule online two weeks in advance.
Last season, it was TNT's own Marc Fein who handled the show host role. Fein does some on-camera work for NASCAR.com, but hosting a multi-hour live high-profile race telecast was over his head. He is comfortable on-the-air with stick-and-ball sports, but since TNT originates no other NASCAR programming, Fein is out of the NASCAR TV loop.
Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds are the new kids in the TNT mix. Last season, they continually rescued the fractured telecasts with their veteran perspectives. Despite the problems Petty experienced in Sonoma, he got comfortable in his analyst role very quickly.
Throughout the telecasts, TNT primary analyst Wally Dallenbach was relegated to the role of beginning every sentence with "just like Kyle said." Having two drivers in the TV booth did not work. There was a good reason why.
Seated down on TNT's outdoor spinning stage was Larry McReynolds. Relegated to the infield by Dallenbach, McReynolds continually performed as if he was actually in the broadcast booth. Focused for the entire event, McReynolds provided strategy and technical knowledge. The telecasts often turned into conversations between McReynolds and Petty.
Viewers know that Weber has been around NASCAR for a long time. Last season, it often appeared that he wanted to be anywhere but at the track for TNT. Fein had taken his pre-race host role, Petty and McReynolds dominated the telecasts and the surprising pit reporters filled-in the gaps. It didn't take long for Weber to get mad, and stay mad.
After the problems that ESPN experienced in 2007, that network made wholesale changes in both personnel and production. The results have been the most dramatic turn-a-round in recent NASCAR TV history.
With less than three weeks before being live on-the-air, nothing has come from TNT about their NASCAR plans for 2008. What elements will change, what will remain the same and how TNT will approach the July race in Daytona are certainly going to be interesting issues to discover.
The featured information currently on TNT.tv is that all-new episodes of The Closer will be coming in July. That may be the last thing some fans want to hear, but it is almost certain that they will be reminded of it a time or two this summer.
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Over at The AOL Fanhouse, the soccer guys were buzzing about the potential for ESPN to acquire some additional high-profile soccer for 2009. As NASCAR fans continue to growse about the problems with non-televised Cup practice and Nationwide broadcasts, one answer from ESPN's own Soccer columnist was certainly interesting.
Here is it below, and here is the full link.
About a year and a half ago, ESPN announced that it was shutting down production on original programming for ESPN Classic. Since then, the network has shown everything from old American Gladiators reruns to run-off programming from the other ESPN networks, and everyone has been scratching their head wondering what would happen to ESPN Classic.
ESPN Soccernet columnist Ives Galarcep, who keeps his own blog at SoccerByIves.net, may have leaked the Worldwide Leader's plans for its least-watched channel.
"The word I just got from a source at ESPN is that ... ESPN has big plans for expanding ESPN Classic into potentially an ESPN3, with the English Premier League as one of the station's marquee draws. That whole scenario may wind up being wishful thinking but what is clear is the ESPN is interested in the EPL rights," said Galarcep.
Still, this begs the question of what kind of channel ESPN3 might become. Would it become an ESPN Soccer Channel of sorts to compete with Fox Soccer Channel? Would it have a more general focus on international sports? (Anything that brings Aussie Rules back to ESPN is okay by me.) Or would it just blend in with ESPN and ESPN2 to allow more events in all sports to be shown on basic cable and satellite TV?
The Daly Planet first raised this issue back in June of 2007 with this column addressing the obvious concerns about NASCAR's Fall races conflicting with other ESPN and ABC programming. In fact, both ESPN and ABC had a mess on their hands with all kinds of logistical issues. From ABC local stations leaving live races for regular newscasts to college football games pushing the Nationwide Series all over the ESPN dial, things were not good.
It was only a short time ago that NASCAR actually had to call on SPEED to telecast one of ESPN's own Nationwide Series races because of programming conflicts. Here is the column about that issue. ESPN had tried to move the race over to, you guessed it, ESPN Classic. That was a "no sale" with NASCAR and SPEED stepped-in and actually carried the entire ESPN broadcast of the race complete with ESPN announcers and graphics.
The bottom line is that there is plenty of product on the ESPN table to fill additional network time. Between soccer and NASCAR, two very hardcore audiences would welcome an opportunity to see live product uninterrupted and additional re-airing of games and races. The ESPN Classic offerings of old NASCAR races from the ESPN Speedworld days are fantastic.
Here we are in May, with a full schedule of college football once again about to push Cup practices and happy hour off-the-dial or to tape delay come September. Those same football games will no doubt have the Nationwide Series hopping around the ESPN Networks like the Energizer Bunny.
In one way, it is nice that ESPN has an opportunity to have ten pounds of programming in its bag for 2009. Now, the executives just have to figure out how to make their networks hold more than five pounds at a time. As the re-runs of Stump the Schwab and American Gladiators roll-by, all eyes are on ESPN Classic.
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The morning hours during the week, especially Monday through Wednesday, have always been a problem for ESPN. Back in the early days, ESPN did a non-sports show called Nation's Business Today hosted by Consuelo Mack from Washington, DC.
That gave the network a morning break from sports and seemingly filled a void that has existed on ESPN since the network began back in 1979. For the past several years, ESPN has basically thrown-in the towel and re-aired the late night version of SportsCenter over-and-over again.
This left any breaking NASCAR news or updates to Mike and Mike in the Morning or First Take. Needless to say, both of these programs avoid NASCAR like Superman avoids Kryptonite. When Mike and Mike visited the Texas Motor Speedway last year, they had no NASCAR presence until the final twenty minutes of the multi-hour show.
While some digital cable viewers have ESPN News, the "big boys" in the line-up are ESPN and ESPN2. Now, there is a change on the horizon that may yield some positive results for NASCAR fans. Her name is Hannah Storm.
Pictured above with Joe Montana and last seen anchoring The Early Show on CBS, Storm is a sports veteran with a solid background in the industry. She spent ten years at NBC Sports in a wide variety of roles, and worked at CNN as well.
Storm's new challenge is to take the 9AM through Noon timeslot and reclaim it for ESPN as a live "wheel" of SportsCenter content. As the world has changed, the demand for the news portion of the ESPN TV empire to "refresh itself" has also increased.
Often times, ESPN.com is already reporting breaking news and in-progress stories as the 2:30AM SportsCenter replays yet once again on ESPN in the morning. Basically, sports information technology has prompted this move.
Here is the AP story about the change, which features several interesting points. Storm will be joined by a second anchor in the mornings, although the name of that person has not yet been announced. ESPN has said they will select the person from the existing staff. Hopefully, NASCAR fans will not lose Ryan Burr to this new show.
The upside is that Storm has a hard-nose for news and is known as a no-nonsense person when it comes to determining priorities for stories. This new three hour live window is no doubt an opportunity for ESPN's NASCAR personalities to contribute.
Currently, the gap that exists between SportsCenter and NASCAR is huge. Many of the anchors have no NASCAR knowledge, while others treat the sport as a curiosity. Who can forget Kenny Mayne calling Jeff Gordon "Gordo" and referring to Jimmy Johnson's car as the "per diem" car because $48 is the amount anchors get on the road for expenses. Think that would happen with Joe Torre or Kobe Bryant?
This season, ESPN has turned-around NASCAR Now with the addition of Nicole Manske and Allen Bestwick. ESPNEWS has stepped-up to the plate with live post-race coverage from the Infield Media Center after every Cup race. While it is clear there is no reaching stick-and-ball crazy shows like Mike and Mike or First Take, there is now a new glimmer of hope on the horizon for SportsCenter.
The new live morning version of SportsCenter starts in August, just in time to welcome Dale Jarrett with his review of the Brickyard 400. Hopefully, the new morning SportsCenter crew will open the door and finally allow NASCAR to become a viable part of the most-watched sports program in the world.
Update: The strong rumor is that ESPN.com will "spin-off" a stand-alone site called SportsCenter.com which will be aimed at fans for scores, blogs and interactive content. This would make sense with ESPN ultimately taking SportsCenter live from 6AM through 3PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday in August.
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SPEED kicks-off the live NASCAR programming with a two hour RaceDay at 3PM Eastern Time. That will be lead into the NASCAR on Fox coverage of the Coke 600 from the Lowe's Motor Speedway.
John Roberts will host RaceDay, which this season has been a big success for SPEED. A double digit increase in TV ratings has been primarily driven by the diversity of content within this show.
Both Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer have fully embraced their roles on this program and understand that their opinions carry a lot of weight with the fans. It is up to the production staff to keep these two in check, and this year that has been done with great success. The "panelists" have been clicking with the fans.
This week, defending race winner Casey Mears will be a guest along with Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. The show will look at drivers who had their first NASCAR win in Charlotte. It will also review the opening of the new facility at the Victory Junction Camp sponsored by Kurt Busch. Finally, Roberts and company will preview how things are shaping up for the "Chase for the Championship."
Following the Kurt Busch theme, Wendy Venturini will offer her regular "Real Deal" feature profiling Kurt Busch. This season, he certainly has been the forgotten brother and his appearances in the top ten have been sparse.
Rutledge Wood will be reporting from the premier of the new NASCAR '09 video game from EA Sports. Wood is continuing to try and define his role on SPEED with appearances as both a credible reporter and a source of amusement.
Jimmie Johnson will also take TV viewers for a tour of Hendrick Motorsports, which is located right down the road from LMS next to the Concord Airport. Ryan Newman will also appear in a feature on this program and will be driving go-karts. As we said earlier, there is something for everyone on RaceDay.
The full NASCAR on Fox crew takes over at 5PM for the Coke 600. Chris Myers will host the show from the Hollywood Hotel with Jeff Hammond alongside. It will be Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds upstairs in the announce booth. Down on pit road will be Dick Berggren, Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes and Krista Voda.
There are only two races left in the Fox portion of the Sprint Cup TV package. After this, the team moves to Dover and then is done. There should be a heightened sense of urgency and a concentrated effort to put everything into this telecast as the season begins to wrap-up for Joy and company.
After the race, Victory Lane on SPEED will be on-the-air at 11PM, but it might be wise to put an extra hour of time on the VCR or the DVR. With live racing, you just never know.
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The day is here and the Indy 500 TV programming is set to kick-off.
It will be ESPN2 up first at 11AM Eastern Time with one hour of pre-race programming. Then, ABC will take-over at Noon with another pre-race show and then the event itself.
This is traditionally one of the toughest programs for the ESPN crew that normally handles the IRL races to produce. First of all, Indy has their own in-house TV production company just like NASCAR. IMS Productions will handle the manpower and staff the equipment at the Speedway.
This has led to things being a bit off-balance on the TV side. For those fans who remember the pre-race programming from last year, nothing more needs to be said. This year the pre-race show will no doubt be a little better coordinated.
ABC likes to have a show host for big events, and once again TV viewers will be dealing with Brent Musburger. Although Musburger is clearly a lover of stick-and-ball sports, he has come to understand the Indy 500 quite well.
This fact may come as a surprise to NASCAR fans, who dealt with a clearly out-of-place Musburger in 2007. ESPN has not yet announced if Musburger will return to the ABC Sprint Cup package later this season.
Luckily, the telecast has Marty Reid in the play-by-play position. While he does not have the dramatic flair of a Paul Page or the pipes of a Bob Jenkins, what Reid does have among all types of racing fans is credibility. Beginning with his off-road days and the old SCORE Series, Reid has also been involved in ESPN's NHRA coverage, is the voice of the IRL and fills-in on NASCAR events as needed.
Last season, Reid was involved in the infamous NASCAR Busch Series race from TN where ESPN actually pulled the live broadcast off all the ESPN Networks as the track chaplain was delivering the opening invocation. Once again, college football and NASCAR proved they do not mix. The point being, Reid has dealt with his share of challenges in live racing on TV.
What has IRL fans buzzing and may well get new fans talking is the hilarious combination of personalities alongside of Reid in the Indy 500 booth. Scott Goodyear's reputation as a wholesome and all-around good guy is just as solid as Eddie Cheever's reputation as a guy who is so difficult to deal with he could upset Gandhi.
Both have solid open-wheel experience, but their differences in style and personality make the combination work quite well. Reid may have to spend some of his time calling the race and some of his time playing referee when things get intense. Finally, the ESPN/ABC group may have hit on an effective team of announcers in the booth.
Most fans know TV veteran Jack Arute and ESPN reporter Vince Welch. Those two will play a key role at Indy by handling the pit road stories. Both of these personalities have a lot of experience, and could wind-up being called-on if serious issues arise from on-track incidents. Let us hope that is not the case.
Borrowed from ESPN's NASCAR coverage will be Jamie Little to fill the third pit road role. Little has a tendency to get a bit loud and a bit intense at times when neither is needed. This season, she has done a great job of defining her on-air personality on the NASCAR trail. As a former IRL TV veteran, Little should have no problem fitting-in at this event.
Squarely on the pit road hot-seat is young Brienne Pedigo. Now heading into her second Indy 500, this daughter of Panther Racing's owner has been working hard to gain credibility with the audience. She cut her TV teeth on the USAC broadcasts on the Outdoor Channel and still has some work to do on her TV skills. Now, with a full field and lots of good racing teams, this Indy 500 will provide her some good content to develop as stories during the event.
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