Friday, January 15, 2010

SPEED Strikes Gold At Last

Well, it certainly was a very long time coming. Veteran TDP readers know the frustration we have expressed over the past several years with the lack of weekday NASCAR programming on SPEED.

Monday on SPEED used to feature This Week in NASCAR in the evening. That show was taped in the early afternoon and focused on racing highlights. Once it was done the long wait began until the network started telecasts from the next racetrack on Friday.

Over the years, SPEED has offered a wide variety of excuses for running and re-running the weekday "lifestyle programming" that one of its executives championed. The original long-form NASCAR programs fell off the radar screen while people towed trucks, chased stolen cars and bracket-raced at drag strips.

Here are excerpts from an article in TV Week several years ago where SPEED VP Bob Ecker talks about why the network dumped racing-related programming on weekdays:

The network’s (new) strategy is to air what it calls "automotive lifestyle programming" in prime time. When Fox acquired control of SPEED in 2002, the network took on part of the company’s NASCAR package and showed racing seven nights a week, said Robert Ecker, VP of Programming.

But, SPEED’s racing programming on weeknights stalled. “It didn’t work. It didn’t resonate,” Mr. Ecker said. That led SPEED executives to start to develop automotive lifestyle programming.

“We have discovered over the course of time that while there are race fans, there are also people that have a love affair with the automobiles but are not necessarily interested in racing,” Ecker said.
Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Well, a funny thing happened last year prior to the week of the NASCAR Hall of Fame selections. SPEED suddenly scrambled to put a half-baked NASCAR news show on the air called Race Hub. It just appeared out of thin air. The buzz was that it actually appeared after a phone call from NASCAR.

Originally, it was so bad you couldn't turn away. Then, things began to change. NASCAR personalities started to appear in the North Charlotte, NC studios of SPEED. They just drove over to SPEED in their blue jeans and talked about NASCAR topics.

Unfortunately, the season ended shortly after Race Hub was just finding a groove. Amazingly enough, SPEED quickly confirmed it would return on January 11 for a new season. The network also added a repeat at 8:30PM Pacific Time to serve the West Coast NASCAR fans. Suddenly, there was an hour of NASCAR on SPEED Monday through Thursday in primetime every single week.

This season, something rather amazing has happened. NASCAR has come alive on SPEED during the weekdays. Steve Letarte, Danica Patrick, Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, Travis Kvapil and many others have been in the studio. Cars have been brought in to make driver and sponsor announcements, Reed Sorenson being the latest. All this was in just four days of thirty minute shows.

Slowly but surely, NASCAR is awakening to the fact that live national TV exposure is now available literally right down the street. Perhaps, SPEED is awakening to the fact that this sort of program should have been on the air years ago.

Many of the Race Hub shows this week struggled to fit into a thirty minute format. Guests like Mike Joy, Robin Miller and even Danica Patrick seemed to be having fun and could have continued with their racing conversations. Maybe one hour pre-season shows next year would serve to allow even more NASCAR personalities to stop by and chat.

SPEED will continue to rotate its own announcers through this program as hosts. On February 1, ESPN2's outstanding NASCAR Now program returns to offer earlier news updates on the sport at 5PM on weekdays. Race Hub is going to have to exploit the Charlotte location and studio interaction to keep the current momentum going.

Have you watched Race Hub this week? How about sharing your opinion on the format, hosts and potential of this TV series? 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 The Daly Planet.


Kyle said...

I watched the first few shows last year and then stopped. However, this week I tuned back in and can say the difference is amazing. I absolutely love the show. You're title says everything I could ever think about the show: "SPEED Strikes Gold At Last."

Thanks SPEED (and apparently NASCAR) for getting this on the air. I think it should be expanded to a one hour show from the looks of it. I would imagine they were nervous about filling a full hour in the preseason thanks to the periods of dead news in the past, but I think they could easily do it.

Anonymous said...

There is still something really corny about the show -- like they aren't having genuine fun yet, but the fun is manufactured. It still needs a lot of work. The show still lacks a hook to look forward to.

Haus14 said...

I have enjoyed Race Hub so far this year. As others have said, the relaxed atmosphere that is portrayed at least gives the illusion that everyone is being themselves more than trying to fit into the corporate mold that is more prevalent at ESPN.

The west coast re-air is also great as it gives me the opportunity to watch or DVR the show since I already have other shows recording during the 7:30 time slot.

dwight said...

I've DVRd, and watched most of the shows so far this season. I have been pleased to get some racing content. I have found the shows informative. Nice to have the show low key and relevant. I fear that ESPN and NN will be over-hyping, distorting, and beating things to death, as has become more and more their style in so much of their programming, from Sports Center through their NFL, NBA, NCAA content.

BToS JD said...

Concur with dwight's comments.

The SPEED culture fits NASCAR.

ESPN's culture and program paradigms are out of place covering NASCAR as is their studio in NE.

Anonymous said...

Feels contrived, tries too hard to be cool, just like all things "FOX"

These idiots had it right in their hands with the orig IWCR and pissed it all away.

Now they figured out that format actually works..........all these years later, and they expect pats on the back?

rich said...

I watched last season and have continued this new year. Wish that it was a one hour show. I think that they could have easily stretched Robin Miller or Larry Mac or Danica to let them say more.
The unveiling of the #6 Nationwide car driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first of many that I think we will see. Others will have seen that and say wow, free publicity.
Jeff Hammond revealed a couple of hot news items in his interview. He said that his sources say the spoiler comes back at Martinsville and that Nascar has a new gear rule. Both of those items were breaking news to me and I crawl the nascar web sites quite regularly.
Keep up the good work and I think the natural feel of the show will develop.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to like Race Hub. It is still kind of 'forced' feeling but that can always change.

I really wish Speed would get back to showing all forms of racing like it used to. Bring us the Canadian Tire series, some dirt track in Montana, old Cup races, etc. Anything with racing like the days when it was Speedvision. They certainly lost the 'vision' part.

d said...

I watched Race Hub on Speed for the first time Thursday night. I didn't make it through the entire program (changed channel after Reed Sorenson was on) because it was nothing more than the usual regurgitated "Nascar is so grrreattt!" mantra that Speed shovels down our throats.

So this is supposed to be a news show that keeps up with Nascar during the week?Then why wasn't there nary a mention of the biggest story in Nascar yesterday -- ABC choosing to shift almost all of the chase races from free to air television to ESPN?

Oh, that's right. Then someone might have to talk about sagging ratings and all the other problems going on with Nascar. Or maybe they didn't want to talk about the "other" network.

The show did, however, announce that the Phoenix spring race has been extended from an already daunting 500 kilometers to a red-eye-popping 603. I could hear the glee in truck-series-man's voice as he announced the news; add that extra hour and a half to the three and a half hours it takes to watch the race, the 90 minutes of pre-race show, and then the two hours of pre-pre-race gaga nonsense on Speed. What a rush!

The high point of the show was the interview with Mike Joy. He talked about the Barrett Jackson auction.

But the idiot hosts also steered that interview in some type of twilight zone direction: they asked Joy to comment on how Jimmie Johnson would fare in 2010 with a baby on the way, due in July. They compared the situation to Jeff Gordon in 2007, saying the birth of Gordon's child really messed with his season and Gordon had a hard time keeping focused.

What? Excuse me? 2007 was one of Jeff Gordon's best seasons ever. He had something like 6 wins, several poles and he and teammate Johnson put on the best chase since the concept was introduced, the student defeating the master in close competition…maybe the last time Nascar had a hint of excitement.

The other interviews seemed like nothing but sponsorship commitments from Scott Speed and Reed Sorenson. In typical Teen Beat fare, we learned that the skinny-as-a-rail Speed had "put on some pounds" during the, what, six weeks off since the conclusion of the season and had just started his killer workout regimen to sweat that weight off (all the while proudly proclaiming that he was sleeping until 11 in the morning and going to bed at 4 a.m.). Perhaps this is why his average finish is so high.

Interesting? Hardly. Newsworthy? Maybe if you think Scott Speed is the bee's knees. Gigantic cooler of Red Bull on set? Check. (Along with a 1992 or '93 Nascar calendar, featuring Sterling Martin. Hey, I think I had that one.)

It's really hard to take the Speed channel seriously anymore about anything dealing with Nascar. They have no backbone! There are no critical discussions whatsoever -- whenever they do have someone of importance on to have an interesting conversation, like, say, Mike Helton…Kenny Wallace dominates the airwaves with his buttkissing and constant downtalking to "fans."

Oh, well. I'm getting off the subject of this particular show… all that is for another discussion.

At least milk-n-toast John Roberts wasn't on it.

Donna DeBoer said...

I loved Race Hub from the start and am thrilled to see it catch fire! My favorite part is the guests, as long as they talk to a racing -somebody- every day, it will be interesting to me. I also like that they are getting news bits no one else has yet, not sure if that will continue when NN comes back, but I think it speaks volumes for RH's convenient studio location and hosts' familiarity that the race team members seem more comfortable doing interviews and dropping these news items. It's very attractive too to make team announcements, that's right, free publicity!

50 yr. fan said...

Ditto on all the compliments for
Hub. The ability to have a local
stage for face-to-face presentations for the participants
makes it real. I hope they expand
the format to include some team
members from the pits and the shops
for some behind-the-scenes
scenarios instead of just drivers & owners.

glenc1 said...

I've seen a couple of them this week. I've said it before, but I really couldn't care less what people are wearing so long as a show is informative and entertaining. I see nothing wrong with the suits at NASCAR Now, and nothing wrong with jeans on RaceHub, provided they're giving me a good show, which they generally do. I felt for Randy having to ask Scott Speed the 'Danica' question...but it was handled well by both. The hosts still sometimes look a bit awkward sitting on the cars and moving around the studio set...Mike Joy was good as always (the 'joy' of watching car auctions is lost on me, but I appreciate his enthusiasm.) Like 'Now' if it's on every night they'll probably have up & down shows, but since I have missed the old RPM2Nite it's good to have not one but 2 race shows. The trouble is, I can see we're probably going to get a lot of duplicate stuff once NN is back on. But then, that's always been true of race shows; sponsors/teams want all the TV time they can get, understandably.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail ont he head! That is exactly what ESPN does, over hype and sensationalize over and over and over.

Speed is Nascar's best friend and and Speed needs Nascar. The shows on Speed like drifting and bracket racing are so child like.

It is not quality entertainment.

Can't you see the 15 to 16 year old male sitting at home eating his microwave pizza and driking his Monster energy drink.

That's not a good target audiance.

That's why there is MTV.

Come on Mr. Hill, give us some great NASCAR coverage in 2010.

KoHoSo said...

Yes, I have been watching Race Hub and have been enjoying it very much. "Potential" was a great word for Mr. Daly to use because it's the exact same word that I said about it last year wen the program seemed to appear out of nowhere. This show really could go places. However, Anonymous 7:22 above said it very well...

Feels contrived, tries too hard to be cool, just like all things "FOX"

Of course, I could see that also being attributable to still shaking off the off-season rust and it being a show still trying to find its identity. Still, even if it keeps that occasional "ha ha aren't we so wonderful" attitude, so far it has been a show well worth watching.

Ritchie said...

I too have been enjoying Race Hub. It has been nice to have a NASCAR show on during the offseason. I have enjoyed the in studio interviews, even though the Danica interview was done remote, just like ESPN does it(therefore, they shouldn't get credit for that one).

I guess we have to put up with the sponsorship announcements in order to get the interviews, however I don't like watching them. I would be surprised if many people do.

Is it better than NASCAR Now? No, its just different. I agree that RH must continue to rely on interviews to differentiate themselves from NN. RH is never going to out do NN on the news side. Most of the SPEED guys are not journalists, they are personalities (and they will tell you this themselves). Therefore it is just a matter of what you are looking for in a racing show.

JohnP said...

I've enjoyed Race Hub this week. Got informed about it here on this blog. Last year I just watched TWIN. RIP TWIN. We will miss you dearly. Watched tuesday through thursday night. It's good. As long as it stays 1/2hr I'll be willing to watch it 3 or 4 times a week. Does interfer with the news a little. The real news, not Nascar news. At first I thought moving it to 8pm would be good. Changed my mind. To much competition at 8pm for viewers. Seeing the different personalities was wonderfull. Still needs some polishing. As others have said, looks a little forced. But I've only seen three shows so can't be that critical. Looks good so far. If Speed's and Nascar's marketing machine can do it right, it will be a winner over some broadcast produced far away from the heart of Nascar.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to "call out" SPEED for not airing Race Hub during next week's Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour?

I was shocked and disappointed to only find a Monday episode upcoming on my DVR.

I'm sure Barrett-Jackson has an audience, but this is the most important week of January for NASCAR.

GinaV24 said...

Finally! A reason to watch Speed Channel again.

I have been watching the show this week. I've been very glad that TPTB decided to re-air it at a later time because even though I'm on the east coast, I'm busy in the early evening, so being able to catch it later on really works for me. If all else fails, I set the DVR.

I like the fact that it is current events as they are happening.

It's about time that Speed figured it out.

Richard in N.C. said...

I've enjoyed Race Hub since it went on last year, and the rough edges do seem to be getting smoothed off. I try to catch it every night.

I guess it shows my age, but I always find it irritating and distracting when a guest sits on the back of the sofa with his feet on the seat.

Chris from NY said...

Despite missing it enough times, I managed to catch a couple of Race Hub episodes this week. One of them was the one where Ricky Stenhouse and the new Nationwide #6 were introduced. That car will look hot as a Mustang later this year, and better with a non-Cup driver in it. Forward progress is better than regression, especially when it comes to Nationwide.

Those episodes were okay. Race Hub is not the best show NASCAR has ever had, but still is great. Who remembers Speed News NASCAR Edition?

Jon Medek said...

It seems to me that these shows always lack a basic business plan that describes in detail what the purpose and goals are for the show, and exactly who is the prospective audience. For Hub it seems to be only about a show in Charlotte that is casual. From a business standpoint that doesn't get into enough detail to plan it out well. Hence the current method of "tweaking the show until it works" (or until it dies). The goal of a NASCAR related show with NASCAR related people is not enough. From what angle will the coverage be from; what will differentiate this show from others; what are the growth areas? The reason for the constant TV fumbling is lack of detailed planning and research. Just putting on a show about NASCAR doesn't map it out any more than wishing for world peace is a plan for solving problems.

Anonymous said...

The Hub is like an oasis for us folks up north , We dont have access to ESPN and SPEED was the only weekday network that had any racing coverage . You can only watch so many episodes of Pinks , Passtime and Towtruck Time , it gets stale real fast ...

Anonymous said...

Simply the show and hope they continue
rotating hosts. Think the plus here is that our
drivers, team personal, owners can all drop in.
As fans, we do like to see personalities too.

Unknown said...

With the title, I was hoping SPEED signed Eli Gold, not THAT would really be striking gold. There is no one better to listen to calling a race than Eli.