Thursday, November 13, 2008
It has been many months since Darrell Waltrip has been on the air handling a live NASCAR race. Memories of the Daytona 500, the Kyle Busch controversy and an emotional close to the NASCAR on Fox season come to mind where "ole DW" is concerned this year.
Friday night, SPEED will add Waltrip to the TV crew broadcasting the final Craftsman Truck Series race from the Homestead Miami Speedway. The trucks have been a tremendous success for SPEED this season with amazing increases in TV ratings that even took the network by surprise.
Certainly, one ingredient in the upswing in ratings has been the great racing offered by the drivers and teams. Fan favorites Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. have led a very diverse group who have provided good competition all season long.
One other key ingredient in this equation has been the top-notch television production by the SPEED crew. Led by veteran Producer Keith D'Alessandro, this team has finally broken-through to the mainstream NASCAR audience and gotten them hooked on the trucks.
As opposed to the drama of Fox and the buttoned-up Yankee hype of ESPN, D'Alessandro and his team of five announcers make viewers feel as if they are part of a big extended racing family. There is no pretense, no ego and lots of fun.
Never was this more in evidence than on Halloween (click here) when the announcers stepped-up to the plate and did the pre-race show in full costume. Memorable moments included Ron Hornaday freaking out and Todd Bodine kissing Glinda, The Good Witch.
SPEED handles the entire Truck Series from start to finish and produces all the races except the one or two seen on Fox Sports. Mixed weekends often relegate the Truck Series to the second or third tier race on the track. This season, that designation has been ripped to shreds.
The racing and the TV coverage have combined to form a potent mix where NASCAR is concerned. Often, the Truck Series race is the best of the weekend. This year, the Truck Series TV coverage is often the same.
Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip have been front-and-center where the on-track action is concerned. Allen and Parsons get along wonderfully on the air. This season, Waltrip has learned to listen as well as speak and the results have established him as a solid third man in the Craftsman Truck Series announce booth.
While other networks use four pit reporters, SPEED has the budget for only two. Covering thirty or more pits, Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander have once again done the job for the fans.
Alexander has expanded his resume to also include a solid job hosting The SPEED Report on selected Sunday evenings. Dunlap's personality makes him a fan favorite, including his unique sense of humor and ability to make fun of himself.
Krista Voda is the icing on the Truck Series cake. Gliding in to host the pre-race show, Voda has once again shown herself to be a complete TV trooper. While fans may remember her perched on Rattlesnake Hill over looking PIR as the sun set last week, it's not very hard to drum up memories of a freezing Voda in Daytona at the head of pit road to start-off the season.
Voda also hosts The SPEED Report and is someone who could assume a greater role should SPEED decide to increase the weekday NASCAR programming. This Friday, Voda will be teamed with Darrell Waltrip on The Set-Up pre-race show. Waltrip certainly brings a new level of exposure to the program, but this season the question is does SPEED really need it?
Waltrip will transition "upstairs" after The Set-Up and become the fourth man in the TV booth. Parsons and Michael Waltrip have been doing a great job this season, so they will have to consciously pull back to make room for "ole DW" in the telecast.
Darrell has not been associated with the Craftsman Truck Series this season, so it should be interesting to see his level of knowledge and familiarity with the drivers and teams. Perhaps, this move by SPEED will pay dividends and draw even more TV viewers to the Friday night race telecast.
One thing is for sure, this year "ole DW" should consider himself lucky to score an invite to sit-in with the hottest NASCAR TV crew of 2009. With the drama of the championship battle and the great racing in Homestead, the Friday night race will be eagerly anticipated by SPEED executives as perhaps their biggest ratings winner of all time.
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