Thursday, March 4, 2010
"NASCAR Now" vs. "Race Hub" Battle Fizzles
We are now down the road a ways with the newest NASCAR TV situation. This season, both ESPN and SPEED have committed to fulltime daily NASCAR news programs. ESPN began NASCAR Now in 2007. SPEED launched Race Hub late last year and made the decision during the off-season to bring it back for 2010.
Each series leverages the strengths associated with the respective networks. ESPN has a vast resource of reporters working fulltime on NASCAR assignments for TV, magazines and websites. SPEED has virtually the entire NASCAR world right outside its backdoor in the Concord and Mooresville areas of North Carolina.
ESPN learned a hard lesson when the network tried to overlay an existing sports formula on hardcore NASCAR fans. The original on-air talent knew nothing of the sport. Several of the contributors from the ESPN journalism family were little better. The hype-driven approach to NASCAR news fell flat.
None of the three co-hosts now working on the series participated in the early years. Allen Bestwick, Mike Massaro and Nicole Briscoe have teamed-up to give the series a firm foundation. Bestwick's superb Monday hour mixed with the ability of Briscoe and Massaro to work both in the studio and at the track has resulted in unqualified success.
Gone is "columnist" Tim Cowlishaw, the stick-and-ball reporters and the long fantasy racing segments. Now, Lead Reporter Marty Smith is joined by a cast that includes Ryan McGee and Ed Hinton. This year will also see Shannon Spake take on a bigger role both in the studio and on location with news reports.
Since the beginning, the series has also used the NASCAR on ESPN on-air talent as contributors. This year Ray Evernham has been a bonus with his technical knowledge of the many issues and changes currently in progress inside the sport. Rusty Wallace has been his outspoken and feisty self while Brad Daugherty has proven to have much more value in this setting than in his seat at the track.
The biggest improvement of 2010 has been the series taking questions and comments directly from Twitter. An email account still provides a link, but the growing social media trend should not be ignored. The remaining challenge is to increase the number of Sunday night shows from the final seventeen race weekends to the entire season.
NASCAR Now has matured into a comfortable presence in the sport that packs a lot of information into each program and features timely interviews with the newsmakers. Those goals are still quite a bit down the road for SPEED's Race Hub.
Instead of hiring one on-air news personality for the Monday through Thursday programs, SPEED continues to rotate a wide variety of announcers through the position. One day it may be a play-by-play announcer coupled with a pit road reporter. The next it might be a pre-race show host with a news-oriented reporter. The results are uneven.
Race Hub made a casual clothing statement early on, but is still struggling with where to put everyone on the set. The show has evolved into clearly pre-taped interviews that generally accentuate the positive and follow the NASCAR mandate for this season.
The news in the program is presented right off the top. Click over to Race Hub a little late and you have missed the most topical information. One pleasant surprise has been that Jeff Hammond seems to work very well in this setting. He has been perhaps the most outspoken and opinionated analyst on the show.
Jamie McMurray has just been added as a weekly regular, as has Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo. McMurray's appearances start next week, but Palumbo has been working hard to figure out exactly what she is doing on the show. It's certainly not very well defined right now.
SPEED can get almost anyone to just drive over to the studio. What's important is having the news credibility to ask them the tough questions fan want answered. While Race Hub does have a Twitter account, the series is still trying to determine the best way to get things more interactive.
The two big positives of this series are that it is in primetime and has almost all of the potential guests just a short drive away. The downside is the lack of a permanent host and the softball questions.
Last week, truck series announcer Rick Allen was put in the awkward position of interviewing his own color analyst Phil Parsons on the day of the big "start and park" controversy. Allen never even brought it up although Parsons was at the center of the issue.
Right now, the two TV series are happily going their separate ways in style, substance and format. What we thought would be a battle over guests, between hosts and over breaking news headlines never materialized. The NASCAR TV news battle has simply fizzled.
Can you tell us which show you watch and why? What suggestions would you have for the producers of these programs? Who has been the on-air personality that impressed you the most this season?
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