Friday, February 12, 2010
NASCAR TV Season Off To A Great Start
Well, what a start to the NASCAR TV season. Thursday featured a full day of coverage from both ESPN and SPEED. There were a wide variety of personalities working hard to cover the activity both on and off the track. We are going to feature some of those folks in this column and then ask for your opinion on their performance.
Pictured above are Statler and Waldorf. Those are the two muppets who sit up in the balcony and generally pass judgment on everyone below them. If you have been watching SPEED, you have seen Dave Despain and Ken Squier appearing on camera from their infield perch.
This is not to suggest for even a moment that Despain would have a somewhat cynical view of NASCAR or that Squier would sometimes hearken back to the good old days in his comments. Those two would never bicker between themselves and would probably stay focused on just one topic during their time on the screen.
Actually, during the downtime between sessions on the track or before practice begins, Despain and Squier have been hilarious to watch. No matter the weather, Despain looks grumpy and Squier does his best to poke fun at him constantly. The best part of Squier's routine is that he only uses Despain's last name in addressing him on the air. "Oh, Despain come on!" says Squier in mock disgust.
The new lightning rod for the SPEED team is Kyle Petty. Taking over on both RaceDay and Victory Lane this season, Petty has also been featured on the many NASCAR Live programs during Speedweeks. The results have been fantastic.
Petty will jump in and discuss any NASCAR topic at the drop of a hat. This former driver has seen the highs and lows of this sport in so many different ways. His work at TNT in the summer and his interest in social media have made him a fan favorite. This is about to be a very big year on TV for Kyle Petty.
It was the NASCAR on Fox team that called the Gatorade Duels Thursday for SPEED. Having Mike Joy back on the air was a big positive for the sport. Certainly, he has a definite ability to be politically correct at times, but the excitement he can generate doing play-by-play has been missed.
Joy is a master at directing traffic on the air and he shows how a smooth broadcast with many voices can be run efficiently. The chaos of the Duels, with the many scenarios underway in each race, was handled quite well from the announce booth. Joy is a trusted personality and having him set the tone for the season has been a big plus.
The line from ESPN's Marty Reid was very simple. As the play-by-play announcer, Reid did what is called a "throw" down to pit road for a Nationwide Series report. That was the easy part. The hard part came when Dr. Jerry Punch took a deep breath and started his new life as a NASCAR pit road reporter.
Following a cycle that saw him stay with the network when NASCAR left, Punch became a well respected college football sideline reporter. When NASCAR returned, Punch was inserted into the play-by-play role for ten months of non-stop coverage, including the Chase for the Championship. It never clicked.
This season, he is back home where he distinguished himself and helped to grow a grassroots sport into a national phenomenon. Veteran fans remember Punch jumping in to save the life of Rusty Wallace after a violent crash near pit road. Punch was there in the sweltering heat of a Darlington summer day and almost single handedly helped many Americans come to know a rough and tough driver named Earnhardt.
Nothing could help this TV season get back on the right track more than the revamped NASCAR on ESPN team clicking right out of the box. After three years of changes, frustration and embarrassment this may be the year that ESPN finally delivers.
Friday night, Michael Waltrip will be calling the truck series race as a color analyst. Waltrip appeared Wednesday on the debut of Inside NASCAR on Showtime, where he is a panelist. He also called truck series practice and qualifying sessions for SPEED this week.
Thursday, during the Gatorade Duels, Waltrip appeared in his firesuit in the Hollywood Hotel and joined Krista Voda and Jeff Hammond on camera. Waltrip cried when he made the Daytona 500 as a result of another driver's finishing position in the second race. Waltrip had crashed in the first.
After this Sunday, Waltrip will not be in a firesuit on TV. He will not be in the Hollywood Hotel. He will not be in the truck series booth. There are no races for several weeks. His TV exposure will be a mid-week late night talk show on a small premium cable network.
Love him or hate him, Waltrip has been a consistent TV presence for over a decade. It should be interesting to see how things sort out for both Waltrip and his fans as the reality of his new situation sinks in.
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