Friday, November 28, 2008
As we wrap-up the "best of" series over the next several days, we are trying to cut the TV pie into pieces that make sense to discuss. NASCAR offers a lot of experts on TV and one big category is the guys who talk to us during the pre-race, the race itself and from the studio.
Let's get your opinion on the analysts who work at the track or the network headquarters. We'll start with the folks who travel to the races.
The NASCAR on Fox gang kicks-off the season with Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel. Although he is joined by Darrell Waltrip during the pre-race show, Hammond goes it alone as the infield expert while he watches the race with Chris Myers.
Hammond is another one of the hardcore NASCAR TV personalities. He works on several TV programs every racing weekend. These include "Trackside" on SPEED along with the practice and qualifying sessions for the Nationwide and Cup Series. Hammond moves seamlessly between the broadcast and cable TV networks.
Although previously mentioned in the booth analyst category, the name Larry McReynolds pops-up again in this one. McReynolds moves down to the infield for the six TNT races and his presence has made quite an impact. His role is to provide advice on race strategy during the live telecast.
McReynolds could easily have become the fourth man in the booth. TNT's Kyle Petty kept a running commentary with him and continually asked his perspective on race-related issues. Several times it was McReynolds who predicted the racing strategy used to win the TNT Sprint Cup Series races.
Credit goes to Rusty Wallace for being a team player. Moved from the Lead Analyst position down to the ESPN infield, Wallace made the best of his new role and never was at a loss for words. Aided by the professional TV presence of Allen Bestwick, Wallace seemed to enjoy his new role.
For better or worse, Brad Daugherty has to be put into the studio analyst role. In addition to his season of work in the Infield Pit Studio, he was a regular on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" and routinely addressed all types of NASCAR topics.
As the season moved on, Daugherty became the cheerleader while Wallace was often the skeptic. Both of these roles had their place and Bestwick really made the most of this duo. They are the only ones who worked together in this setting for the entire ten months of the racing year.
The other pre-race analysts are on SPEED. Jimmy Spencer has a personality that is defined on "RaceDay" by large cigars and a rather unique hairstyle. He is also well-known for his hard-nosed opinions and very direct style. Spencer means well, but his rough and tumble upbringing sometimes leaves him just a bit short in the sophistication department.
His tag team TV partner is Kenny Wallace. "Herman" has been around the sport for a very long time and is a personality that many fans just love. Enthusiastic and honest, Wallace has worked hard on his TV skills in order to handle his roles on both "RaceDay" and "Victory Lane."
One key TV element of both Wallace and Spencer is their ability to laugh at themselves. Whether dressed up in black gowns and white wigs to hold court or being featured in "RaceDay" pieces that question their ability to form complete sentences, these two keep things in perspective where TV is concerned.
Another face that viewers saw in 2008 was Boris Said. He became a semi-regular in the ESPN studios on "NASCAR Now" and was often the analyst in the network studios on Sundays handling two shows. Said is eager to learn better TV skills and came a long way this season.
The final name in this category is Ray Evernham. Moved around by ESPN this year, Evernham settled into a role in both the Infield Pit Studio and on Monday's "NASCAR Now." Rumored to be selling his interest in GEM and retiring from NASCAR, fans should expect to see a lot more of Evernham in 2009 where ESPN programs are concerned.
An honorable mention goes to Ricky Craven. He was a frequent panelist on Monday's "NASCAR Now" and was then invited several times into the studio on Sunday to work alongside Ryan Burr or Nicole Manske. He handled all these assignments well, but was not a TV regular where ESPN was concerned. It should be interesting to see where Craven lands for next season.
When you listened to these men speak about NASCAR topics in 2008, who did you trust and understand? What person gave you a perspective that made sense and talked in terms that brought the sometimes complex issues of NASCAR to you in an orderly manner? There was a whole lot of talking going on in 2008. Who did you listen to?
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Now that we have discussed the play-by-play, booth analyst and pit road positions it is time to move onto what should be a very interesting category. There are lots of strong feelings, both pro and con, about the NASCAR TV hosts that come into our home for the ten months of the season.
Originally, we were going to combine all the show hosts together but we got lots of email about this topic and decided to only put the pre-race show TV hosts in this column. That is the exterior and the interior of the ESPN Infield Pit Studio above. You can click on the pictures to see them full-size. Thanks to Andy Hall from ESPN's PR staff for the photos.
Chris Myers starts the season off in the Hollywood Hotel and then hangs-around during the race to provide inserts with Jeff Hammond during the event. Myers has been on the NASCAR on Fox package for a long time and is a TV veteran. He can be seen on other Fox Sports events and fans may remember him from both The Tennis Channel and his long-running "Up Close" interview show on ESPN.
On Fox, Myers represents the "outsider" or the casual fan. Even after all these years, his role in the telecasts has not changed. He is the straight man, the goofy guy and the clown. This is such a complete opposite role from his other TV appearances that it is amazing.
When TNT comes along, Marc Fein and Bill Weber combine to host ninety minutes of pre-race TV. Fein is a Turner Broadcasting "in-house announcer" and works on many other sports for that company. He is well-known in other professional circles, but new to NASCAR.
Fein's role was to direct traffic during the pre-race show down on the TNT infield stage. His six race run was solid, although he battled some tough weather conditions on the outdoor stage at times. Fein was perhaps helped the most by having Larry McReynolds alongside to provide the NASCAR expertise while Fein continued to direct on-air traffic.
Weber stepped-in for the final thirty minute pre-race show done from the TNT "cocktail table" up in the announce booth. Joined by Wally Dallenbach, Weber showed off his journalist skills and covered a wide variety of topics. Weber is primarily a writer and this came through in several outstanding commentaries.
ESPN's ironman is Allen Bestwick. In 2008, he handled the pre-race shows for the entire Nationwide Series schedule and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series events. After each race, Bestwick flew back to Connecticut and hosted the one hour "NASCAR Now" Monday roundtable show.
After a tough first year with Suzy Kolber, Brent Musburger and a cast of thousands, Bestwick was just what the doctor ordered for ESPN and ABC. He took the laughable pre-race show and used Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty to turn the Infield Pit Studio into something many viewers wanted to watch.
One of the most memorable TV moments from 2008 was Krista Voda hosting the Phoenix Truck Series pre-race show from Rattlesnake Hill with the beautiful sunset in the background. The stripped-down and basic approach of SPEED paid-off this season and Voda was a big part of the reason why.
All season long, Voda has provided just the right touch for the Truck Series telecasts. Nothing is overdone, things are kept in perspective and the SPEED announcers and the truck teams make viewers feel they are part of an extended family. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Voda has seen it all this season.
So, there you have it. The five faces that helped you through the pre-race programming for the past year and left some kind of impression that we would like you to share. Telling us what memories you might have of your favorite TV host and letting us know what rubbed you the wrong way this season would be appreciated.
To add your comment, 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet in the off-season.
As you can see from the picture of TNT's Lindsay Czarniak above, the 2008 group of NASCAR pit reporters came in all sizes, shapes and ages. Rookies and veterans combined to offer both compelling coverage and awkward moments on national TV where NASCAR was concerned.
This post is going to offer a thumbnail view of the 13 personalities who regularly patrolled pit road in 2008. What we are asking you to do is pick your favorite and perhaps offer some observations about moments you may remember.
SPEED's Truck Series pre-race host Krista Voda recently joined the NASCAR on Fox team as a full-time pit reporter for the Sprint Cup Series coverage. Voda is a well-known TV veteran who has been in various hosting and reporting roles over the past several years. Her upbeat and friendly style makes her popular with both the teams and the TV viewers.
Dr. Dick Berggren is a long-time NASCAR and racing aficionado who continues to be active in the publishing world. Berggren brings a veteran perspective to Fox, but continues to be a nice guy in an industry rapidly filling with tough guys. He has the ability to draw-out comments from drivers, crew chiefs and owners because of the trust he has built up over the years.
One of the busiest men in the NASCAR world is Steve Byrnes. Handling the pit reporting for the Fox package is only the start of his resume. Working for SPEED on Trackside, This Week in NASCAR and as the host of practice and qualifying shows he is on the NASCAR trail all season long. His sense of humor and good nature is well-known throughout the NASCAR world.
Also very busy this season was Matt Yocum. On pit road, he works for both the Fox and TNT race packages. Yocum often flies under the radar, but he is a talented TV-type who always has multiple projects underway. He may be best-known for producing the Tony Stewart radio program on Sirius. Veteran fans may also remember Yocum for his work on both ESPN and TNN's NASCAR coverage.
As TNT began, it was Czarniak who was the outsider trying to make her way into the NASCAR garage. Her full-time job is a local station sports anchor and reporter for NBC-4 in Washington, DC. Czarniak worked on practice and qualifying coverage for SPEED as well as the six TNT races. Her hard work won her a lot of praise from teams and her part-time job seems to have turned-out quite well.
Ralph Sheheen stepped-over from SPEED to report for TNT and walked back into a sport he knows very well. The past several years have seen him working on AMA, World of Outlaws and various sports car series on several networks. Sheheen is another TNN veteran and is now one of the hosts of the re-vamped SPEED Report.
If there is anyone on the TNT crew that has been around racing from the beginning, it is Marty Snider. A regular at Caraway Speedway, he eventually graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and headed for MRN Radio. Since that time, Snider has been on TV and radio continually for a variety of networks.
When ESPN rolled-out the 2008 pit reporter line-up it was anchored by Mike Massaro. He has been a blessing for ESPN with long-time ties to the network and a credibility that has been earned over some very tough years. Massaro became a semi-regular on the Monday NASCAR Now program and perhaps has an opportunity to expand his role for 2009.
Shannon Spake found herself as a full-time pit reporter for ESPN on both the Nationwide and Cup coverage this season. Ready or not, this was her chance to step into a full-time role. Despite some weakness with live interviews and a non-assertive presence at times, Spake kept the details straight and survived the very long season. With little experience on this level, that was a victory in itself.
A veteran with a long and diverse history is ESPN's Dave Burns. This season, the versatile Burns was given the opportunity to host several pre-race shows for Nationwide Series races and did a great job. But, many fans still remember him from standing-by while Leonard Chesser dunked the swamp buggy queen in the "sippy hole" on TNN's American Sports Cavalcade with the late Steve Evans.
A lot of attention follows Jamie Little everywhere she goes. Since moving over to the NASCAR package in 2007, Little has won the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race and regularly golfs with her ESPN co-workers. Little improved in 2008 and tried hard to integrate herself into the NASCAR culture. A model, reporter and mountain biker, Little may be the only pit reporter with an X-box and Playstation video game on the market.
Smiling all the way to the bank this season has been Adam Alexander. Although somewhat new to the Truck Series, Alexander stepped-in with no problems and handled the live national TV races all season long for SPEED. In return, the network expanded his role with hosting duties on NASCAR in a Hurry and The SPEED Report. He capped the season with a memorable Glinda, the Good Witch performance on Halloween.
Perhaps the most colorful pit road announcer once again is Ray Dunlap. His style is often times hilarious and his ability to poke fun at himself is well-known. This year, Dunlap made it through with no suspensions and no off-track antics that made the newspaper. He has been with the Truck Series and SPEED for a long time and perhaps exposed more viewers to Craftsman Tools over the years than anyone else. Unfortunately, it is going to take the entire off-season to block-out the memories of Dunlap skipping down pit road as Dorothy in a blue dress complete with Toto in a basket.
Since Speedweeks in February, some of these pit road personalities have been working continually on the Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races. While the four ESPN pit reporters carried the heaviest load, the diversity of the overall group is amazing.
For those of you wondering about names like Wendy Venturini, Hermie Sadler and Marty Smith, there will be an additional posting for the reporters who did not participate in the actual race coverage of the three national series.
Please take a moment and share with us your favorite pit reporter choice for 2008 and perhaps some other memories of interviews and moments on pit road that got your attention during the ten long months of the NASCAR season.
To add your comment, 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet during the off-season.
As we continue our "best of 2008" conversation, this time we are going to ask for your opinion of the TV booth analysts.
To limit the field this season, we are going to concentrate on the men who called the races for all three of NASCAR's national touring series. You can click on the picture of Andy Petree above to see it full-size.
Darrell Waltrip is the first person that many fans hear as the season begins. His style over the years has changed and 2008 saw Waltrip get very emotional when the Fox season came to a close. This year also marked Waltrip as the centerpiece of a "Let's Go Racin' Boys" song that was unveiled at Daytona to mixed reviews.
Waltrip's season was memorable for the Michael McDowell crash. "I've never seen anything like that in my life," said Waltrip at the time. There was also the very public primetime moment when Waltrip watched Kyle Busch make contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Richmond. "Oh, he turned him!" yelled Waltrip.
The dichotomy of Waltrip as either an elder statesman of the sport or simply a sponsor-driven pitchman continues to haunt his every TV appearance. One minute speaking eloquently about racing issues and the next minute hawking "Digger" T-shirts on his website, Waltrip is someone fans have strong opinions about.
Waltrip's time in the booth is spent with the hardest-working man in NASCAR today, Larry McReynolds. While continuing to re-define the English language, McReynolds may be the most trusted of the booth analysts. While he plots strategy and fills-in the details for the Fox TV package, that is only the tip of McReynolds' TV iceberg.
He moved to the infield for TNT's coverage and proved to be a key to the network's summer success. In addition, he teamed with Jeff Hammond to call practice and qualifying sessions for both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts on SPEED.
Add to that his presence on Trackside and his hosting of NASCAR Performance on SPEED and there is no doubt that to many fans McReynolds is the top NASCAR TV authority.
McReynolds shared the TNT broadcast with Kyle Petty. With his career in transition, Petty learned from his Tradin' Paint TV experience with SPEED and let his personality shine through on the TNT broadcasts. The results were fantastic.
Petty helped TNT to one of their best summers ever. Fans also got to learn more about his off-track personality and knowledge of the sport. Certainly, all race car drivers have egos, but Petty managed to create a team environment and treat all the on-air TV personalities as equals. He will return to TNT in 2009.
Wally Dallenbach Jr. needs to be mentioned, but his priorities lie elsewhere right now as TV viewers can attest. An avid outdoorsman, Dallenbach is deeply involved in TV programs about hunting, fishing and conservation. He does not attend NASCAR events or participate in any other NASCAR TV programs than the six TNT races.
Dale Jarrett became ESPN's Lead Analyst this season and stepped into Rusty Wallace's former role. Much like his father, Jarrett uses a carefully practiced and polished approach to live TV broadcasts. It is clear he has been well-trained and is always professional and well-mannered. His strong work ethic this season has been regularly called upon as ESPN struggles to find a direction for its racing coverage.
Flying under the radar once again has been Petree. After a season of being talked-over by Rusty Wallace and routinely having his opinions dismissed, Petree came to life in 2008. Jarrett and Petree were the perfect pair to deal with the wild set of issues TV viewers saw NASCAR endure this season.
These two had to watch the Indy debacle, try to inject some excitement into The Chase and call lackluster Nationwide Series races all season long. Often, it was these two who combined to provide the majority of the play-by-play descriptions for viewers of The Chase races. Jarrett eventually may be a good candidate for that position.
Phil Parsons has been the voice of the Truck Series for a very long time. With his distinct mannerisms and voice, Parsons commands respect on the air from viewers and competitors. Over the seasons, Parsons has worked with a variety of announcers and his steady demeanor has helped make all of them better broadcasters.
Parson's biggest challenge may have been Michael Waltrip. Assigned by SPEED to the Truck Series telecasts, Waltrip began by talking over-top of anyone and everyone during the races. As the excitement level rose, so did Waltrip's voice until he was overpowering the entire telecast.
This season, the patience of Parsons helped Waltrip to craft a role on the Truck Series broadcasts that actually worked. Finally, Waltrip figured out it was his knowledge and experience that viewers wanted to hear, not just his voice.
That is a snapshot of the group of people who have been in the NASCAR TV announce booth this season. Please take a moment to let us know who you enjoyed the most this year and why. If you would like to rank them in order, feel free to do so.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. 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. Thank you again for helping us with this "best of 2008" series.
Thank you for returning to The Daly Planet in the off-season. To start the look back at the ten months of NASCAR racing on TV we are going to take an opportunity to talk about "the best of 2008."
Rather than hand-out awards, this seems to be a good time to take a deep breath and remember what we all liked best about the hundreds of hours of national TV offered to NASCAR fans this year. To start-off this post-season project, we are going to ask you to pick one of four men as the best NASCAR play-by-play announcer this season.
The picture above is of a very young Ken Squier on the right hosting a post-season awards program for his Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, VT. Before TV came along, the best announcers were on the Public Address system. Squier and others like Chris Economaki felt it was critically important to be the source of excitement for the fans. It kept them coming back for more.
It was sometimes said that Squier could make a wheelbarrow race sound exciting. As NASCAR migrated to TV, it was often Squier and Economaki who continued to keep the excitement level high anytime cars were at speed. To them, the thrill of racing was something everyone should experience...even from the living room. Watching the Daytona 500 live with Squier on the call brought millions of fans to the sport.
Our four TV personalities have varied backgrounds and all came to NASCAR with the same goal as Squier. That was to give their best effort to translating the reality of the racing to those fans watching on TV. Let's meet the four TV professionals.
Mike Joy kicked the season off on Fox and then Bill Weber stepped-in to handle the TNT summer schedule of the Sprint Cup Series. Both of these announcers had limited exposure, but Joy also handled the Cup series practice and qualifying sessions on SPEED during the Fox portion of the schedule.
Perhaps, the most memorable moment of Joy's season was being live in the booth for the Michael McDowell crash in Texas. Click here for a column that will refresh your memory about how the TV veteran Joy handled that moment.
Weber does not have the luxury of handling practice and qualifying. He is here and gone in six short races. This season, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds helped Weber have the best summer of his life on TNT. Relaxed and calm at last, Weber was able to keep his perspective and finally put his extensive knowledge of the sport to good use on the air.
Click here for a column that summed-up the TNT summer visit for 2008. One key to Weber's success was the outstanding TV directing of veteran Mike Wells. After the forced drama of Fox and Artie Kempner, Wells was a breath of fresh air who showed fans the race and aggressively followed the action from start to finish. It made a big difference for Weber.
Just like in 2007, ESPN made Dr. Jerry Punch double-up and call both the entire season of Nationwide races and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series events. He also handled the practice and qualifying sessions for both series.
This NASCAR experience of the last two years has been rough for Punch. The veteran reporter and beloved NASCAR icon had a tough time in the role ESPN chose for him.
Click here for a column that talked about the team struggles of ESPN and the issues that happened over the 2008 season. Credit goes to Punch for hanging-in there and completing another season of the ESPN/ABC TV package.
The final person in our discussion is Rick Allen. A complete NASCAR outsider, Allen was imported from Nebraska and placed directly in the national spotlight on the third-tier Craftsman Truck Series coverage on SPEED. Needless to say, success has followed.
Click here to read about the great season the Trucks have enjoyed on SPEED and the role that Allen has played in that success. As with Joy and Punch, Allen also handles the practice and qualifying sessions for the Truck series.
There are always a variety of opinions on topics like this, but what we would ask is for you to pick the person among these four who you enjoyed most in 2008.
Feel free to tell us the reasons behind your choice and what memories you have from this year. While you may discuss the announcers other than the one you chose, please understand that derogatory speech will cause your entire comment to be deleted.
Thank you for helping us in this "best of 2008" series as we review the personalities involved in this past season. To add your comment, just click the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you again for stopping by.