Thursday, July 23, 2009
Did ESPN Make Your Heart Race?
There is little doubt that when ESPN commissioned documentary filmmaker Doug Pray to create a thirty-minute preview show for the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage it had any idea just how bad NASCAR fans needed a program like this.
Feel Your Heart Race was a simple little show that effectively mixed the words of fans with those of select drivers and other NASCAR personalities. Jeff Burton was featured as the driver whose comments were spread across the entire short film.
Brilliant in its simplicity, this presentation aired immediately after the first NASCAR Now special from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Allen Bestwick led Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree through a top-notch hour of NASCAR programming. Contributions also came from Nicole Manske, Marty Smith, DJ Copp and Mike Massaro in a bowling shirt.
The NASCAR Now producer struck a nice balance between offering fans information about the upcoming race and celebrating the speedway itself as a truly unique slice of American history. From taking on the Goodyear tire issue through reliving the resurrection of the speedway after World War II, this program raised the bar for NASCAR television.
The fact that Dale Jarrett was back on the air for ESPN was a godsend. His role in this coverage from studio shows to live races cannot be overstated. He has quickly become the franchise. His boundless enthusiasm for Indy, his history in winning at the speedway and his ability to relate to TV viewers is the cornerstone of ESPN's NASCAR coverage this weekend.
Pray and his film crews did what no other NASCAR TV partner has done this season. They discovered that NASCAR fans have voices, personalities and can complete sentences. Pray wandered into the infield at Daytona and brought out the type of real racing history that has zoomed past Fox, TNT and SPEED for years now.
The faces of these fans did not paint a profile of idiotic drunk rednecks, but of passionate sports fans from across the nation and beyond. These people looked like you and me for one simple reason. They are us. The readers that come to this site, the fans that tune-in every racing weekend and the families who still make vacation plans around NASCAR races.
This season, NASCAR fans have almost seen it all. NASCAR on Fox decided the lasting memory for fans would be of an animated creature whose job was to sell t-shirts. Darrell Waltrip got caught up in the Digger hysteria and never recovered. TNT lost their play-by-play announcer halfway through the summer six pack.
Jeremy Mayfield continues to detract from the racing and on Thursday afternoon DeWalt Tools thanked NASCAR and Roush Racing for over a decade of exposure for the company and walked away. The potential for other major companies to depart at the end of the season looms on a racing horizon that has not yet lightened.
Yet, there on ESPN2 were the smiling faces of Americans happily taking the time to speak to a camera while putting up tents, watching Daytona practice and walking through the infield. All shapes, sizes and ages of folks happy to be at a race and supporting their driver.
Pray and his crew didn't do anything but let people talk. Random comments, funny moments and serious topics mixed together to produce the drama that is NASCAR racing. Fans who have been to a race know that meeting other fans is simply a blast. Casual conversations turn into friendships, photos and phone numbers.
Friday, the action begins for all three of NASCAR's top series, but the focus is clearly on the Sprint Cup teams at IMS. For both NASCAR and ESPN, this is the moment to begin to get things going in a positive direction for the rest of the season.
In terms of getting that flow going, both NASCAR Now and Feel Your Heart Race delivered just what was needed. The complete TV schedule for the Indy racing weekend is listed on the right side of The Daly Planet main page. We will be live blogging the TV coverage of all three races. Join us if you can.
In the meantime, what was your reaction to the two Thursday programs? To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.