Sunday, July 19, 2009
Marty Reid Starts His ESPN Nationwide Series Run
This season ESPN decided to give Jerry Punch a break from calling both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races down the stretch. For the past two seasons, Punch also handled the practice and qualifying coverage for both series. It really wore him out.
ESPN made a great decision to bring in TV motorsports veteran Marty Reid for the remainder of the Nationwide Series races. Reid will also handle some of the other weekend coverage, lifting the load off Punch during this seventeen race run.
Saturday night from Gateway, Reid began his journey with the stand-alone Nationwide Series event. This was a smaller TV crew as some NASCAR on ESPN announcers took the weekend off. Dale Jarrett was out, so Rusty Wallace moved up to handle the race analysis with Andy Petree.
There was no Infield Pit Studio, so Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty were nowhere to be found. Instead, Mike Massaro left the NASCAR Now studios to double as pit reporter and pre-show host. In his firesuit from pit road, Massaro hosted a fast-paced and much more casual show that really worked well.
Once Reid led the TV team into the actual race, it was very clear that things were going to be a little different. As NHRA and IRL fans know, Reid is smooth and enjoys all forms of racing. His last few seasons on ESPN had him hopping between the drag racers and the international field in the IRL events.
Like a good TV pro, Reid keeps things light and lets his analysts handle the replays and opinions. Reid focused on keeping the telecast flowing and the information correct. That was no small task in this race.
One attribute that immediately surfaced was Reid's commitment to keep track of every car on the track. Earlier in the day, the SPEED TV team watched 13 of the 34 Camping World Trucks roll into the garage and park. 13 teams cashed a check without even bothering to race. It was never mentioned.
Not only did Reid mention the start-and-park cars, he did it immediately when they pulled off the track. Avoiding the game that NASCAR plays when they assign a word like transmission or engine failure to each car to hide the truth, Reid was front and center with the fact these cars were there to get paid and had no intention of racing.
That honesty carried on when Rusty Wallace's colorful son Steven was involved in an accident. Reid allowed Rusty to watch the replay and despite the fact that his son was still raging on the track at the other driver, Rusty called it honestly and said his son was off-base with his emotions.
Rusty was not made to feel uncomfortable or left out to dry on the air. During the last telecast that Wallace worked with Punch, there were long periods of awkward silence. This time, everyone kept their heads and the race continued.
Petree has been a rock for ESPN since the first season. Quietly consistent, he has apparently fought off the critics who called for Ray Evernham to take over that role. Once again on this night, Petree was outstanding in his ability to recognize what strategies the teams were using and what the crew chiefs were thinking.
Credit to ESPN for breaking into commercial and returning to the telecast when the situations warranted. This was a small track with fast action and the responsiveness of the entire TV team was noticeable. Good pictures and great sound have become so commonplace with this crew it was barely noticed.
ESPN's graphics on the crucial race off pit road work well, but have yet to translate to the finish line. The "flying headshots" of the drivers whizzing by as they finish the race have never worked and this is really the only graphic element that needs tweaking before the big Indy weekend coming up next.
Massaro and Little were solid on pit road, but Dave Burns had a very tough time with Kyle Busch in Victory Lane. Smiling and happy, Busch was not asked about the race but about giving his smashed guitar trophy pieces to his crew earlier in the week. This was a question that only belonged in a pre-race interview and left most of the real information about Gateway and the upcoming ORP event still on the table.
Just as NASCAR struggles to define who is watching by demographic, ESPN struggles to add the kind of music in these races that makes sense for adult viewers. Matching the music to the track never worked, so at Gateway the driving beats of an Associate Producer's iPod were apparently used.
This strange music struggle has been a tough challenge for all four of NASCAR's TV partners. Now thankfully done with TNT's Buckcherry and seven months away from Fox's "Let's Go Racin' Boys," the time is right to pick a theme and stick with it for the ESPN/ABC races.
All in all, what a nice breath of fresh air and solid performance from both the TV team and the Nationwide Series drivers. From an interview with Morgan Shepherd before the race to the intensity on the track, this was a fun telecast to watch.
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