Saturday, October 25, 2008

Kyle Petty's Black Hat Makes A TV Statement

It is just a little thirty-minute TV program where two panelists talk about the NASCAR topics of the day. Tradin' Paint is a series on SPEED that takes place at the SPEED Stage on each Sprint Cup Series weekend.

The program host is SPEED veteran John Roberts. He leads a two-person panel through a series of topics with a live crowd listening-in as well. This panel consists of a NASCAR driver and a member of the NASCAR media.

While the media member is different almost every week, the driver selected for the program appears on every show. It was Michael Waltrip that got this series off the ground originally several seasons ago. Unfortunately, Waltrip and his new MWR team ran into some problems at Daytona and his credibility took a big hit.

SPEED and Waltrip came to an understanding that he would leave Tradin' Paint. His replacement was a popular one and a great choice for SPEED. Kyle Petty was a proven veteran with a long family history in the sport. He was also about to embark on a part-time TV career with the TNT Network covering the six races that network televises during the summer months.

In 2007, the first year of The Daly Planet, we documented Petty's season on Tradin' Paint. The word "meltdown" was used rather frequently. Petty found that several members of the NASCAR press corps did not agree with everything he said and sometimes disagreed completely. That did not go over well.

Credit goes to Petty for sticking-out the entire season and beginning to get his "TV legs" in this talk show format. Working with Bill Weber and the TNT crew helped tremendously in this pursuit. Weber is foremost a journalist and Petty clearly benefited from working with a veteran media member who also has extensive TV experience.

This year, Petty has been walking a very fine line on the program. His TV skills and ability to talk with anyone on any topic are now outstanding. Reporters like Bob Pockrass and Jenna Fryer who caused titanic Petty meltdowns in 2007 now get a head shake and a smile when they go-off on tangents.

Unfortunately, the dark underlining of this show has been the real meltdown at Petty Enterprises. Kyle has gone from the smiling host of the press conference introducing the Boston Ventures investment firm to now being pushed-out by the CEO of the new company.

The Daly Planet article about the press conference in June was called "SPEED Televises The NASCAR Culture Clash." Click on the title to read the full column. Basically, a non-racing group bought the majority of Petty Enterprises to use the Richard Petty name, logo and properties for their own purposes.

On one hand, Kyle is in the middle of a growing TV career and a new direction in life. On the other, so much of what is personal and almost sacred where his family business and racing is concerned is being forcefully taken away.

This weekend, Tradin' Paint welcomed reporter Bob Pockrass back to the program in Atlanta as the media guest. It was cold outside and Kyle Petty wore a Petty Enterprises jacket and a black baseball hat for his #45 car and its sponsors. Only this week, TV viewers saw that something was different.

In the same way that policemen and firemen put a black band around their badges when a co-worker is lost, Petty had a black band firmly placed right through the numbers on the front of his baseball hat. It was clear for all to see that the #45 car that Kyle had clung-to in memory of his late son Adam was no longer his.

The frustration emerged on a day when it was reported that Boston Ventures CEO David Zucker had said the company would field two cars for 2009, but that Kyle Petty was not going to be involved with either effort. "Part-time if a sponsor could be found" was the phrase used to describe Petty's future opportunities.

Petty's words on that topic came out during a Tradin' Paint discussion about mergers. "I have not seen an acquisition help any team in the sport yet," said Petty about the new wave of outside investors. "I have not seen Boston Ventures help Petty Enterprises be more competitive now than what they were at the beginning of the year."

"When you look at it and ask what do they get (in mergers), I don't have a clue what they get," continued Petty. "You are taking two organizations who are falling or stable and just putting them together. Sometimes, warm water and warm water (combined) just gets colder."

It was a shame that Roberts or Pockrass did not take a moment to ask Petty about the black band on his hat and the future of his beloved #45 car. As the season draws to a close, it is also a shame to see what has happened to the Petty family business. The one thing that is very clear for all to see is the tension on Kyle's face.

Sunday in Atlanta, rookie Chad McCumbee will once again be piloting the #45 Petty Dodge in the Sprint Cup Series race starting from the 41st position. While Kyle Petty may have been in Atlanta for Tradin' Paint, he is not working on the TV broadcast of the race and may once again not even be at the track on Sunday.

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Nationwide Series in Memphis on ESPN Classic And SPEED

Here we go with the hot topic of the weekend. The Nationwide Series race from Memphis is going to be carried live on ESPN Classic beginning with the pre-race show at 3PM. This program is going to be hosted by the TV crew of Marty Reid, Randy LaJoie and Rusty Wallace.

Over on SPEED, once the Craftsman Truck Series race from Atlanta is over, the network will simply join the ESPN coverage and carry the Memphis Nationwide Series race to the conclusion. This is a great move to allow NASCAR fans who do not have ESPN Classic in their cable TV package to see the race.

There is a lot on the line for many of the teams in the Nationwide Series. Some of them have admitted that this may be their final race for the season because of the financial issues currently plaguing the nation. Bobby Hamilton Jr. is one of those drivers whose season and future may be hanging on his Memphis result.

This is a hybrid TV crew that consists of Shannon Spake, Rusty Wallace and Mike Massaro from the full-time team. Marty Reid, Randy LaJoie and pit reporter Vince Welch are freelancers brought in to help with this telecast. For Welch and Reid there are some issues on the table as ESPN has chosen not to air only a handful of IRL races next season. That leaves Reid and Welch with some dates to fill.

One of the big issues at the conclusion of last season was whether or not ESPN would create a different set of announcers for coverage of the Nationwide Series. Reid and LaJoie have been outstanding that putting a very different spin and using a unique approach to Nationwide telecasts.

As well all know, ESPN is going to be doing some major decision-making in this off-season and there is no doubt a lot of corporate eyes will be on Reid and LaJoie during this broadcast.

This race has a sprinkle of Cup drivers, some Nationwide regulars and a lot of youngsters with dreams of the big time. The racing dynamic of a mix like this should make for some interesting TV viewing. ESPN has been strong with its Nationwide Series telecasts and several of them this season have been simply outstanding.

Look for a lot less of the bells-and-whistles on this coverage. There is no Infield Pit Center and less stories to cover on pit road. The short-track style of racing has resulted in many caution flags in the past, but a lot of these drivers are looking to keep their equipment in working order with the current economic issues in the sport.

NASCAR has announced that the Nationwide Series will be racing these same cars in 2009, but is still looking to move to a new COT version for 2010. Hopefully, this move will encourage the current team owners to continue in the sport for at least one more season.

This post will serve to host your comments about the TV coverage of the race and the simulcast. 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. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Craftsman Trucks On SPEED From Atlanta (1PM ET)

It is a very big week for the Truck Series. First of all, the teams are racing on the high-speed Atlanta track on national TV on Saturday afternoon. Secondly, the series has just picked-up a full multi-year sponsorship from the Camping World corporation.

The TV coverage will start with Krista Voda hosting The Set-Up. This thirty minute pre-race show will have a special guest this week. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis will be with Voda to talk about why the Truck Series sponsorship made sense for his company.

Even better news for the sport in general is that Camping World will continue their sponsorship of the East and West regional NASCAR series that have been so very successful this year.

After the pre-race show, coverage will begin with Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip calling the action. This trio has found their stride and the reason things are clicking is the performance of Waltrip. Gone is the sponsor-shilling goofball and in his place has emerged a thoughtful and enthusiastic analyst. Waltrip has become an asset instead of a liability to the telecasts.

Look for Ryan Newman to be the possible spoiler in this event. Driving in a "one off" ride for Kevin Harvick Inc., Newman was fastest in practice and has absolutely nothing to lost in terms of points. He is only there for the win.

The championship battle between the popular Johnny Benson and the veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. is once again fantastic and should be the focal point of the coverage. These two have often been the class of the field and Atlanta is just the type of track to put all the teams to the test.

SPEED has perfected the "old school" approach to NASCAR coverage. They present a stripped-down TV package without overwhelming graphics and free of needless distractions. There is no infield pit center and only two pit reporters. The action on the track is the focal point of the coverage from the green flag.

With only a handful of races left in the season, this may be an opportunity for fans to see the SPEED TV crew at the top of their game. With good weather and a very green track, the racing action should be interesting.

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Sprint Cup Series Practice on SPEED (Noon ET)

It will be Steve Byrnes hosting the early Sprint Cup Series practice session from Atlanta. He will be joined by Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds. Handling the interviews from the garage area will be Wendy Venturini and Bob Dillner.

This live session will lead directly into the pre-race show for the Truck Series. Krista Voda will have the CEO of Camping World, Marcus Lemonis, as a guest.

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Nationwide Series Qualifying on ESPN Classic

Marty Reid will host the Nationwide Series qualifying from the Memphis Motorsports Park on Saturday morning. Rusty Wallace and fan favorite Randy LaJoie will be alongside of Reid for this session and the race later in the afternoon.

Handling the interviews and reporting on the news from the garage area will be Shannon Spake, Vince Welch and Mike Massaro. Spake, Massaro and Wallace will be flying back to Atlanta for the Cup coverage on ABC Sunday afternoon.

This is a stand-alone Nationwide Series race with fifty cars trying to make the field. Lots of colorful characters and some notable young drivers are going to be in the line-up.

Race coverage begins at 3PM with NASCAR Countdown and then the on-track action follows. For those without ESPN Classic, the race will be simulcast on SPEED once the live Craftsman Truck Series race is over.

This post will serve to host your comments about the NCTS qualifying on ESPN Classic. To add your comment, just click on the COMMENT button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.

Truck Practice In Atlanta On SPEED

The weather is clear and the track is fast in Atlanta. Truck practice is on SPEED with Rick Allen, Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons. Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander are reporting.

The reason this is not qualifying is the fact that all practice was rained-out on Friday. The Trucks will start on points and this will be the only practice session before the race.

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ESPN Refuses To Promote Memphis Simulcast

Update: ESPN has corrected the graphics during the qualifying session from Memphis to reflect the SPEED simulast. While this cannot fix the tremendous damage that was done during the week, it is a statement that ESPN is trying to get its NASCAR act together.

Friday's NASCAR Now program wrapped-up a long and wet day of NASCAR on ESPN2. Host Ryan Burr reviewed the soggy conditions in Atlanta. Then, he let ESPN veteran Marty Reid preview the Saturday Nationwide Series race in Memphis, TN. Burr ended his program by sending viewers back to Atlanta for scheduled Sprint Cup Series qualifying.

The Memphis race is very important to that area as well as to the teams and sponsors in the Nationwide Series. In this event, eight cars will be racing with paint schemes designed by the children from St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital as a part of the "design a dream" contest. What a great story for TV as the picture above so clearly shows.

That race is also going to give a lot of new young drivers and some good old Nationwide Series "regulars" a chance to shine on live national TV. Unfortunately, where the Memphis race is concerned, TV really is the issue.

ESPN will have two football games, one horse race and one Nationwide Series race at the same time on Saturday. That makes four live events. The ESPN family of TV networks available to distribute those four events consists of ESPN, ABC and ESPN2. That makes three TV networks. Fundamentally, that's a problem.

The original ESPN solution was to put the Nationwide Series race on the ESPN Classic Network. This channel is completely "empty." What that means is that there is no original programming on it at any time.

Several years ago, ESPN Classic began re-airing only TV shows that ESPN already owned. Classic is like a huge video player with the SHUFFLE button permanently engaged.

Sometimes, ESPN Classic is used for live events when the ESPN networks are full. In most cases, these events are college sports-related. With a smaller number of households and limited availability, ESPN Classic cannot serve as a primary TV network for distributing a NASCAR race.

To solve the Memphis problem, ESPN and NASCAR enlisted the help of one of NASCAR's most important TV partners. SPEED stepped-up and agreed to carry ESPN's broadcast of the Memphis race. Here are some comments from last week when this arrangement was announced.

"ESPN is here to serve sports fans, and we appreciate the cooperation from NASCAR and SPEED to make this simulcast possible," said Julie Sobieski, ESPN Vice President, Programming and Acquisitions. "This effort ensures an opportunity for the greatest number of fans to be able to watch the Memphis race."

"This is a busy time of year for live sports and we really appreciate ESPN and SPEED working together to come up with a plan that takes care of our fans," said Robbie Weiss, NASCAR's Vice President of Broadcasting. "ESPN and SPEED will work aggressively to promote this simulcast."

Let's take a moment to rewind that last comment from Weiss. "ESPN and SPEED will work aggressively to promote this simulcast." Apparently, someone at ESPN did not get that memo.

From the moment this past Sunday when Allen Bestwick signed ABC off-the-air from Martinsville Speedway, there has been a deliberate and purposeful effort to do just the opposite of what Mr. Weiss stated. SPEED's simulcast of this event has never been mentioned on-the-air by ESPN.

First by the TV veteran Bestwick at Martinsville, then by NASCAR Now host Ryan Burr all week long it was just ESPN Classic for Memphis. Finally, ESPN's own IRL and NASCAR veteran Marty Reid joined-in the effort. He totally and absolutely avoided any mention of SPEED simulcasting the race while he was on the air Friday afternoon.

The program that Reid was hosting was live Nationwide Series practice...from Memphis.

Several times in the telecast, Reid ran-down the line-up of networks for Saturday's NASCAR action. SPEED was never on the graphics promoting the race. SPEED was not in the promo copy that he read. SPEED was never even mentioned by his partners in the booth Randy LaJoie and Rusty Wallace.

When this happens in network television across multiple networks and on many different programs, there is only one answer. ESPN's Vice President of Motorsports, Rich Feinberg, made the decision that despite the words from Ms. Sobieski and Mr. Weiss, the ESPN brand would come before the NASCAR fan once again.

TV viewers watching all of ESPN's "branded" NASCAR programming for the past week have never seen a promo for Memphis that included SPEED simulcasting the event. What that means is that NASCAR fans are being told by ESPN that they must use ESPN Classic to see the race on TV.

Pardon me, but isn't ESPN Classic how this entire problem got started in the first place?

Perhaps, Mr. Weiss was busy this entire week and no one from his staff took the time to point-out the fact that SPEED was missing from every ESPN mention and promo of the Memphis race. So much for promoting aggressively.

It is only through the good-faith efforts of SPEED that both NASCAR and ESPN will not suffer a huge public relations disaster. Imagine putting a stand-alone NASCAR race on an obtuse TV network after showing the entire Nationwide Series all season-long on ESPN2 and ABC.

There are only four Nationwide Series races left of the thirty-five on the 2008 schedule. ESPN has spent millions of production dollars to chase this series across the nation since February. It is the only NASCAR series seen exclusively on the ESPN family of TV networks. ESPN uses the high-profile team of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree to call almost all of the races.

It seemed ironic that closing-out the Friday NASCAR TV on ESPN2 was that same trio talking racing from the ESPN Infield Pit Center while the rain continued to fall in Atlanta. With qualifying cancelled, it gave Punch and company plenty of time to cover all kinds of topics. When it came time for the Memphis race, Punch again followed the company line and told fans it was only on ESPN Classic.

Just when ESPN had finally regained its footing with many NASCAR fans, the company deliberately pulls one of the cruelest stunts of the season. Using the "us vs. them" mentality that has invaded the new ESPN culture, SPEED's simulcast was pushed aside as perhaps something that Weiss and NASCAR forced upon ESPN.

Let's set the record straight. I was asked to be patient and wait for all three parties to resolve this issue before writing about the problem. I cooperated fully. Now, that issue has been resolved but ESPN will not mention on-the-air that NASCAR fans without ESPN Classic have another TV option.

So, here is my Memphis race promo:

"TV viewers with ESPN Classic can tune directly into the Memphis Nationwide Series coverage at 3PM for NASCAR Countdown and the race will follow. For those NASCAR fans without Classic, the race will be simulcast on SPEED."

You know, that just did not seem all that hard to say.

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