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.

Joe Gibbs Comments on ESPN About Jeremy Mayfield

Joe Gibbs has been around NASCAR for a long time now. His transition from the NFL to NASCAR was driven by family issues and he has grown JGR into a family business.

Wednesday afternoon, Gibbs appeared on both NASCAR Now with Mike Massaro and Outside The Lines with host Reece Davis. On OTL, Gibbs followed a news report from Marty Smith that brought viewers up to date on the Jeremy Mayfield situation as the sport heads toward Indianapolis.

Smith basically said that the B sample from Mayfield's second test is going to be heading for an independent lab and that the results of that test will either confirm or change everything. Smith also confirmed that Mayfield's attorneys are going to argue that someone tampered with Mayfield's second A sample. That is a huge allegation.

The OTL producers made a point in the pre-produced portion of the introduction to include Mayfield's personal allegations against NASCAR Chairman Brian France. They showed footage of France and used Mayfield's radio soundbites about him. This was certainly a surprise, because the drug testing issue involved focuses on NASCAR's licensed participants who are team members, officials and drivers.

Gibbs was at ESPN to promote a new book he authored, but Davis put him on the spot and asked about these drug testing issues. "NASCAR was very careful about putting their program in," said Gibbs. They think they have a great one and I agree with them."

"So, if you violate those are going to have to pay the penalty," he continued. "I think in that case, Jeremy is going to have to pay that penalty."

Davis reminded Gibbs that currently Mayfield is disputing that he has done anything wrong. "I think that is going to have an impact on his future and the way that he is looked at. What we have in NASCAR is a sponsorship side to it. When a driver signs-on to race for a race team, he is saying that he is going to be a corporate representative. That's where the problem will be in the future for Jeremy."

Davis tried to pin Gibbs down on ever hiring Mayfield in the future. His answer was succinct. "I probably would not put myself in that situation," stated Gibbs.

In closing, Gibbs left no doubt where he stood on the drug testing issue. With prior professional drug testing experience from the NFL, Gibbs' comments perhaps carried a little more weight than some other NASCAR owners.

"I am definitely for the substance abuse testing that we have in NASCAR," said Gibbs. "I think we need it. I think it helps protect the sport. I am solidly behind it and NASCAR."

After all the weeks of Mayfield-mania, it was nice to hear some clear-cut comments from a voice of reason who has personal experience in this area. Kudos to both Reece Davis and Marty Smith for their contributions on this program.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for stopping by.