Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NASCAR Brass And Media Collide On Thursday

This season has been very strange for NASCAR since the first day of January. No cars on the track at Daytona, bad team news every single day and many fans who almost seem shell-shocked about what is happening to the sport they love.

The first ten days of NASCAR TV programs on SPEED have made it clear the way NASCAR has chosen to approach these issues. SPEED's marching orders are to make believe everything is just fine.

Conversations about babies, off-season trips and anything else under the sun other than the reality of the sport at this moment is fair game. Other than a momentary slip on Monday (click here), it has been all smoke and mirrors with happy smiling faces.

What is left of the national motorsports media is being driven around the Greater Charlotte area on their annual media tour this week. Stops have already been made at several shops with less than stellar attendance by team owners and key drivers.

Richard Childress was off hunting, Roger Penske had a prior engagement, Elliott Sadler is on his well-timed honeymoon and George Gillett was nowhere to be found.

The traveling media pack has dutifully reported on what they were told, done their TV interviews and then got on the bus to the next stop. This year, the final destination will be the NASCAR Research and Development Center on Thursday afternoon.

This is where Brian France, Mike Helton and the NASCAR executives will face the media after France gives his annual "State of the Sport" address.

Lee Spencer from talked about the possible scenarios:

NASCAR State of the Union — Traditionally, this has been an opening-day event. With no Daytona testing and Speedweeks less than a month away, it will be interesting to hear the spin for 2009. This is (also) NASCAR's opportunity to unveil any significant rule changes (perhaps some miracle to keep the Camping World Truck Series afloat?).

The picture of what NASCAR will be putting on the track in 2009 is hazy at best for many fans. This is an opportunity for France to talk candidly about how NASCAR is going to buckle-down, come together and race through this deep economic crisis.

Once France and his executive team are through, it will be up to the media to ask about the issues NASCAR has been hesitant to address. With outspoken writers like Jerry Bonkowski, Mike Mulhern and Bob Margolis no longer writing for major publications, it should be interesting to see and hear which members of the media put France on-the-spot about the real issues.

There are a lot of very fundamental questions that have not been answered by the NASCAR TV partners or the website writing staff. It should be fascinating to see how the combined print, Internet, radio and TV journalists approach this one opportunity to speak directly with France, Helton and the rest of the top executives of the sport.

TDP will have a full report on Thursday afternoon with the details of what was asked and how those questions were answered.

In the meantime, perhaps you have some suggestions of a good question or two that the NASCAR media folks could ask France or Helton? Please feel free to click on the COMMENTS button and give us your thoughts.

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On-Air Mistake Finally Shows Real NASCAR Problems

Note: We are on day two of comments about why the NASCAR TV coverage on SPEED has been so off-base. The column below sparked the discussion, which is taking place in the comments section. Thank you for all the great opinions.

The first of five Trackside shows aired Monday evening at 7PM on SPEED. These programs were taped during the weekend Fan Fest in Daytona.

The regular cast of characters were back once again. Steve Byrnes hosted the show with Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds as his panelists. Instead of the SPEED Stage or a live set outside among the fans, the show took place in the indoor studio located in the infield.

The program opened with Sprint Cup driver Paul Menard and Camping World Truck Series veteran Rick Crawford on the set as guests. The opening segment gave both drivers an opportunity to talk about the upcoming season with the panelists.

After the first commercial, the program returned but something was just not quite right. What fans were seeing at home was the casual conversation between the panelists and Crawford as he was leaving. There was little doubt that this content was not intended to be on the air. What happened next was amazing.

The panel was addressing the real problems NASCAR was about to experience. For some reason, this type of content has been banned from SPEED so far this season. Polite talk and softball questions have been the order of the day since SPEED returned to the air with NASCAR programming.

"When we get to California, I have a feeling it might look like a ghost town," said Darrell Waltrip. "Everybody that's broke drags everything they got down here (Daytona) because they know they can make a buck if they can get to start the race."

Apparently, the discussion on the set was about the reality of the season after the Daytona weekend. This is exactly the kind of frank talk that fans have been waiting for and not getting on SPEED. Waltrip had more to say about the Camping World Truck Series.

"NASCAR did this market study and they said that fans did not like the fact that there were no pit stops," said Steve Byrnes. He was talking to Waltrip about the truck series and the recent talk about changing the rules.

"Oh, they are not going to," answered Waltrip. "But, if there are no fans there, who cares?"

A commercial was suddenly inserted and that ended the only real talk about NASCAR issues on this program. If fans wanted to know about Jeff Gordon's baby, his recent trip to race Go-Karts or his animated character in Speed Racer, Trackside was suddenly the place for them once again. Reality had left the building.

Other than the accidental "real talk" that had mistakenly made its way to the homes of TV viewers, Trackside had joined the parade of fluff that SPEED has presented this season as NASCAR TV. Why and how this shift happened is anyone's guess.

How long it will continue is something only the SPEED executives can control.

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