Monday, July 27, 2009

Randy LaJoie Sparks ESPN's Saturday Night

Randy LaJoie looks about as comfortable in a suit and tie as many NASCAR fans. His language is plain and sometimes a bit rough. He seems to be the kind of guy who would be a lot of fun at a party. He was exactly what ESPN needed on Saturday night.

ESPN split its announcing staff between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and O'Reilly Raceway Park this weekend. Marty Reid and Rusty Wallace were paired with LaJoie as the team calling the network's Nationwide Series race at ORP.

TV viewers had been sitting through hours of Jerry Punch and company over at IMS as long rain delays kept the action to a minimum. Once things dried out, Punch hosted a Sprint Cup Series qualifying session that contained no real excitement and featured the usual cast of characters.

It was the moment that Reid led his TV team onto ESPN that everything changed. Pit reporter Mike Massaro took charge of the pre-race show and informally hosted it while walking up and down pit road. Massaro has been having a great season on ESPN and showed once again that he is the kind of versatile announcer this type of coverage needs.

Instead of all Carl and Kyle, ESPN worked to spread out the pre-race content and did a much better than normal job of treating everyone equally. The real stories of the race were presented in an upbeat and casual fashion.

Once the action moved to the booth, it became clear very quickly that Wallace was going to have to shift gears to keep up with Reid and LaJoie. This is Reid's first season calling this group of Nationwide races and he has been a breath of fresh air. Nothing is going to shake his enthusiasm and ORP under the lights was the perfect location for this type of announcing.

Momentum is something talked about for race teams, but it was very clear that the entire TV crew caught Reid's enthusiasm. They delivered one of ESPN's best NASCAR telecasts of the season. Suddenly, NASCAR on TV was fun again and that has not been the case for a long time.

One great TV element in use was the blimp. Used by the director for wideshots and restart coverage, this ultimate high camera really helped viewers get a perspective of this facility. The ESPN director also resisted the urge to overuse the in-car cameras and kept the coverage moving through the field.

It was easy to watch and listen to this race as even the pit reporters began to get caught up in Reid's enthusiasm. Even normally polite and low-key Shannon Spake got fired-up and put in a solid performance on pit road. It should be interesting to see how her Saturday night experience carries over to Sunday's Cup Series race.

Reid again called out the start and park cars the moment they pulled into the garage. This exposure is the only way to get a handle on this problem. The TV team was also aggressive in getting interviews with drivers out of the race after several accidents. That was appreciated.

LaJoie was simply a blast. When the pace car pulled out early and caused an accident on the track, he asked if maybe it was battery powered. Nothing like a little swing at the Sprint Cup hybrid version. LaJoie delivered many classic lines and great humor all night long. Simply put, ESPN needs him on the Nationwide broadcasts.

Wallace is more at home in the infield with Allen Bestwick, but he hung in there and enjoyed watching the success of his teams during the race. This type of telecast really does not need a third announcer in the booth. Reid and LaJoie together may be a pairing that can bring this series home over the next several months.

A great combination of elements came together for an enjoyable NASCAR telecast from ORP. Hopefully, someday soon network TV will figure out a way to guarantee viewers a full post-race show regardless of the time. Kudos to ESPN for staying focused and listening to the feedback of the fans. We can only hope the Sunday Sprint Cup telecast builds on this success.

TDP would like your comments on the Saturday night Nationwide Series telecast on ESPN. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


TexasRaceLady said...

THIS was the ESPN we all knew and loved back in the 90s.

I had fun ---
fun watching the race because I could SEE the race, not driver cams/bumper cams

fun listening to the guys in the booth and the pit reporters because they were giving me information, not fluf and nonsense.

Dot said...

Wasn't it last year that we were singing the praises of a NW race only to be disappointed for the CUP race?

Tomorrow is the big test for BSPN. Indy is so hyped. I hope it's a good race.

Anonymous said...

Wow. A race that started off a little soft in the first half grew real big pointy fangs as the second half emerged. What a treat to have Marty lead the way in the booth. He drove the coverage, keeping the viewers on top of all the salient action with enthusiasm and focus not seen since BP was in the booth. No small feat that. Having seen, well TiVo'd actually, every race in the top three NASCAR series this year, last year and the year before that. This was the best performance from any team in a NASCAR TV announce booth, full stop.

Marty was superb. Wilst his talent shone on previous ESPN NASCAR broadcasts, but this one shimmered like the Aurora Borealis. JD's comments on Randy were dead on. I can add nothing. Rusty too came along for the ride with his enthusiasm up a sizable notch from normal.

Massaro couldn't get any better, and he did, and Vince Welch was really up on the chip with great reporting. Shannon seemed uncharacteristically lost at times and Jack Arute, who deserves a racing broadcast hall of fame nomination somewhere for wonderful work over the years, seemed tired. I chase race cars for a living and am about Jack's age. This is a game for the young.

Gold stars across the board for this gem.

Sophia said...

It was great improvement but I am with Dot on the NW vs Cup races and ongoing disappointment last year even as the NW improved.

so I am not hopeful. Different DIRECTOR tonight than Cup races it appeared..and they can NOT resist the roof cam, in car cam, bumper cams in the CUP races.

we shall see.

I must say Rusty was better than he usually is as he did not dominate so much.

I don't remember hearing Kenny Wallace coming in 10th I think? No drop down menu.

THAT would be helpful at the end along with finish line of cars ..and stopping the unbiquitous PIT CREW celebration. THAT can always be replayed later..the end of the race it can not.

Indira Newell said...

I really enjoyed the coverage of the race; normally Rusty Wallace irritates me beyond belief but he did not dominate the broadcast like he usually does. Randy was a breath of fresh air and Marty was awesome. I liked that they covered the exciting racing and not just the Cup guys.

RobFromCanada said... local sports network TSN..left it ALONE!!..i got the espn broadcast in all its was one of the best in years..for the first time in many moons..i at no time started to nod off.
It didnt hurt the race itself was one of the best..most exciting nail biters in ages either..combined..the race..the was a classic..a gem :)

Lesley said...

Rusty needs to stop moving his hands around so much!!Its not just him,But for god sakes please tell these retired athletes gone sports casters...You dont need to move your hands around to get us to listen to you!!Who came up with that anyway??JUST BE YOU!! I like Randy!I dont like Marty!but he is good at what he does!Call me old fashion..but when I here Jerry Punch..I think of Nascar the way It use to be..

Anonymous said...

Marty Reid is a much more dynamic voice than Jerry Punch who is ever increasingly monotonous and seems to be surprised and confused at crucial junctures of races. Jerry's lack of analysis into even some most cliched, tried-and-true talking points is remarkable. He essentially, quite monotone, reads what is on the screen in front of him and us with no regards to past or future - no context from earlier int he race or earlier in the season.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Randy Lajoi was exceptional last night. Personally, I can't stand Rusty. Worse, I think they went totally overboard shilling for Steve Wallace. Granted, he didn't wreck half the field and did finnish in the top 10 for a change, but listening to the booth, you'd think he was leading the race!! The Indy Cup race never lives up to all the hype with its flat corners.

tom in dayton said...

Well, it's 7:45am and time to head west two hours to get back to the track! Boogity, Boogity, darn the gopher and watching out for the bat-cam, I'm going racing and will check back for everything I miss on the telecast by being at IMS to see the race!

50 yr. fan said...

A good improvement, but still need
to get rid of Rusty and his faux
excitement. Two announcers would
have been plenty for this short

Still too many in-cars. I'm thinking about writing my legislature and see if we can get them banned in the last 25 laps.

dawg said...

It didn't hurt that they had a very good race to cover, but I have to agree. Less Rusty, means less annoyance. Could no Rusty, mean no annoyance? Randy would seem to be perfact for the Nationwide series, as he's proved he doesn't like to work on Sundays.

Vicky D said...

Very entertaining broadcast and race but maybe it's the small track that does that. Lots of action all around but Marty, Randy & Rusty kept up with the action. I think Marty & Randy work well together, on air Marty seems to respect Randy's accomplishments in the Busch series. Liked seeing the old video of the #74 cross the finish line too.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Mr Editor -
Good show all the way ...Marty, ever the old pro, educated, enlightened and entertained throughout the broadcast ...Randy seemed better than ever and several times seem to prompt Rusty to his best effort in quite sometime ...production, direction and execution was strong

Anonymous said...

The race coverage last night was just what NASCAR on espn needed. Racing shown on the track, with an announce team that was awake & fully involved, enjoying what they were doing & fully focused on it. I want to add my thanks for the mentions of the S&P brigade & interviews with drivers post wreck.

It was a good race, after a bit I quit checking this blog, kicked back & simply (for the first time in a long while w/espn) enjoyed watching a race!

Thank you ESPN & may you do the same today for the Cup race ( fingers crossed)

(verify word = oveedo?)

Newracefan said...

It was a well done race by ESPN and a great race. Staying with the fight for 3rd instead of staying with the leaders was a fantastic decision. I really enjoyed watching the race and ever Rusty didn't annoy we too much and that is saying something. How well this race was done makes me even more worried about what we are going to get with the cup race. ESPN has stepped up before in NW and the crushed me with the cup coverage. But I am hopeful.

WC Diane said...

@ 50 yr fan...maybe congress could bury your "no in-car cam" request in the 1000+ page health care bill as a remedy for high blood pressure!

Ditto all the positive remarks. I like Marty Reid...can only get better with more races. Randy is great...just being Randy. Rusty...not so much, but tolerable with the other 2 guys. How about just Marty and Randy.

Camera work light years better. Thank you.

Yesterday I said "ESPN, go away". Well if you can replicate the NW race today at INDY I'll retract my request.

WickedJ said...

LOL the pacecar caused a wreck? i slept through most of the this footage on youtube?