Monday, May 17, 2010

"Race Hub" Discovers The Power Of The Hour

Ever since SPEED rolled-out the weekday program called Race Hub, it has been fun to watch the series try to find its footing on the slippery slope of NASCAR TV news.

Back in 2007, ESPN introduced NASCAR Now with disastrous results. The network had to step-in rather quickly and try to figure out how to solve the credibility and knowledge gaps that existed between the "Bristol gang" and the NASCAR community in North Carolina.

Click here to read a TDP column from May of 2007 that describes the first day that big time change came to the NASCAR Now set. After months of chaos, one of those NASCAR TV types showed up to host the show. Only he wasn't from North Carolina, he was from Rhode Island. His name was Allen Bestwick.

Here are some excerpts from that column:

After an endless moving disaster of "NASCAR illiterate" hosts since February, one of the most respected NASCAR broadcasters was in Bristol, CT. Reporters Marty Smith and Terry Blount did the best they could to hide the smirks on their faces, but they knew well in advance that there was a new sheriff in town.

It may have been the first time for many ESPN staffers that they experienced a true NASCAR broadcaster hosting "their" show. If there was ever a moment when the glaring difference between "those who know" NASCAR and "those who ESPN says know" NASCAR was front-and-center, this was it. Can you imagine if ESPN used Bestwick on the one hour NASCAR Now Monday show? That would make any fan smile.

Needless to say, the rest is history. ESPN did use Bestwick for the Monday show, asked veteran Mike Massaro to host fulltime and hired Nicole Briscoe away from SPEED where she was in the middle of her own on-air disaster. Today, NASCAR Now is the flagship show for ESPN's coverage of the sport.

As we watch SPEED try to get organized, it's easy to understand what Race Hub has to offer. As real estate folks always say it's location, location, location. Most of the NASCAR shops are just a short drive away from the SPEED studios. As this show has grown, studio guests have become a centerpiece.

The network is still gun-shy and continues to use two co-hosts for a thirty minute pre-recorded show. This week, SPEED extended the weekday programs to one hour. Monday, TV viewers found out just how powerful that can be.

Race Hub was finally loaded with a mix of personalities, features and news. In one-hour form, this could be a franchise series for SPEED.

Steve Byrnes is clearly the right host for this program. A studio veteran, Byrnes has been making his living on the road but has a long history of hosting indoor series. This unscripted environment plays to his strength. Monday showed once again his ability to keep a sense of humor about the sport even while asking the tough questions.

A good balance of multiple guests, edited features, race highlights and in-studio analysis set a tone that SPEED viewers just don't get on any other program. Jeff Hammond was in the studio Monday and again reminded us of just how much more he has to offer than his current Hollywood Hotel role. Hammond and Byrnes are a great pair on TV and it showed.

The hour format also allows for soft features and historical reminders. What better time to roll-out this extended format than during the Hall of Fame induction week. Reminding viewers of the past is an important part of understanding how NASCAR got to the point of national interest and global distribution.

A one-hour Race Hub show is also an important vehicle for SPEED to promote programming, race schedules and NASCAR charities. JD Gibbs was a Monday guest and at the conclusion of his interview plugged his special charity event. Is there anything more poignant than a father holding a celebration because his child has beaten Leukemia? Click here for the link.

ESPN and SPEED's programs can easily co-exist because they are two completely different approaches to the same sport. The buttoned-up suits and ties of the NASCAR Now panel on the immaculate HD set are a far cry from Kyle Busch sitting at the Hub Pub in sneakers and jeans. Both programs get their message across, just in very different styles.

Race Hub will continue to be one hour this week at 7PM ET and 8PM Pacific for the West Coast re-air. Steve Byrnes returns to host on Tuesday with Rick Allen. John Roberts reports from the Hall of Fame. Ryan Newman and Alan Gustafson are the guests.

If you have watched Race Hub, let us know what you think of the series. To add your comment on this topic, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I thought it was a good show. Nice format with useful information. I'll watch it again for sure.

Ritchie said...

JD - Although I agree with you that SPEED's Race Hub has a lot of potential and I really hope that it does well, I still think that you tend to view SPEED shows through rose colored glasses.

A show that reports on NASCAR for the network that we all hope grows into a more racing centric network has to be more substantial than merely a locale to introduce sponsors and charity events. This only comes from being an observer of NASCAR instead of a patsy for NASCAR. Show after show from SPEED demonstrates the latter (Trackside, the former TWIN, etc.)

I know that you admire Steve Byrnes, but he let Michael Waltrip dominate TWIN (it could be argued that the Waltrip mafia controls all of SPEED) and hasn't demonstrated the ability to control the NASCAR guests on a consistent basis.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with being more laid back than ESPN, but I think that it is important to understand that it does fans a disservice to merely be a mouthpiece for the sport instead of being the fan's "third eye".

Anonymous said...

Surprised you didn't mention Jimmy Spencer's appearance on Race Hub. Maybe a small little spot for his defunct "What's the deal". I also think "Race Hub" has a better time slot.

Donna DeBoer said...

I've watched Race Hub since Day 1. I LOVE the show in its half hour format, and thought it worked well expanded to an hour for All Star week. After, I'd like to keep a 1 hr Mon show and 1/2 hr rest of week. It's gone through a few bumps here & there. I keep seeing complaints about the set! I like it just fine, and so do the kids, its like a mini-museum they are always looking for something new added. I like the casual dress and format, compared to the more formal NASCAR Now (which I also like). The biggest thing I'm looking for from the Hub isn't news (which I get from ESPN) but the guests and location reports. I've been interested in just about every segment and guest they've ever had. I've been happy with the rotating hosts, I like all of them so if they decide to pick 1 or 2, good by me! I like guys like Hammond better here than I do on Fox. I like the lack of Waltrip barrage, nothing against them personally. I will be pleased to see this show continue and grow for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I,too, was often critical of how Steve Byrnes failed to take control of Twin while Mikey would wander off-topic or dwell on inside jokes the viewers were in the dark on. Before I retired from the Corporate world, we had a saying... "Be careful of what you ask may get it!" I'm sure a number of people wanted to host Twin. But Byrnes got the hosting job along with all the responsibility,accountability and challenges that went with it. I watched last night's show,but will withold any comments until I see a number of shows for the full hour to let things shake out. I wish them well.

glenc1 said...

I enjoyed the show...I do agree to some extent that it has been used to promote things (you always know, as with NASCAR Now, if you have someone scheduled there's usually a 'reason' for the timing. Either a sponsor thing or charity event. RPM2Nite was sort of the same.) But as long as they use the time to talk about all things, I don't find that to be a problem. A few weeks ago Jamie Mac was on because he was going to be driving the car with Bill France Jr's name on it. But of course they talked about other things, how the season was going, etc. Rick asked about he & JPM, even if Jamie refused to discuss it. They also asked JD about Hamlin/Bowyer. I found it smart that they updated the news at 7:30 in case anyone forgot they started at 7. I couldn't care less what anybody wears...sometimes I have found the seating arrangements to be a bit awkward, but as long as they're in a good discussion, it's not that important. Best of all, it's on when I can watch. I just don't care enough about NNow to record it special most of the time. Wish it was 5:30.

Anonymous said...

Still not a fan of Race Hub. NASCAR Now has set the bar too high for Race Hub to even compete. Expanding to a one hour format with the FOX & SPEED good ole boys is just 30 minutes more of face time for their egos.

GinaV24 said...

Well, I like Steve Byrnes and I hope he does well as a host on RaceHub. I agree though that Speed in general needs to step up and do their job presenting the sport with all its ups and downs and quit being apologists for NASCAR.

This show may find its footing a bit better with a full time host and an hour to do its deal in. I'll continue to DVR and watch it, but I'm not staying home and changing my life for it.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Ritchie that SPEED tends to rely on boosterism of NASCAR particularly re soft features. I've watched most Race Hub shows but haven't been home to watch recordings of this week's shows yet.

I agree w/JD that Race Hub has a geographic advantage over Nascar Now on ESPN w/live guests on short notice being the main benefit to the viewer. However, like with late-night tv talk shows, I tend to tune in or skip watching depending on guests.

Overall I tend to prefer Nascar Now to Race Hub. We'll see if that changes in the future.

Tom said...

Yeah, soft is a good word for how things are handled on SPEED, with the exception of Sunday nights. I know many are fans of Steve Byrnes, but frankly I never thought he was very good, not bad, just very second string. When he was on the old Ned Jarret show in the 80's, he was good for a feature now and then, but that's about it. He really hasn't improved to the level where he can take control of a show and make it work- He sometimes feels fun, but lacks the substance that is needed (but rarely found) in a show host. Regardless of what David Hill thinks, there are some very solid folks that are NOT on the FOX broadcast, and as quickly as that ship is sinking, I would think that it might be wise to create a SPEED identity that is known for sharp reporting and authentic voices rather than woodchucks.

Inverness, FL

Vicky D said...

I think this show is better in the one hour format. I really enjoyed Rick Allen's interview on last night's show. Someone also mentioned Jimmy Spencer, he looked terrific and he would be good giving some Nascar updates. I don't think he'll go on anymore tangents either.

Anonymous said...

not for nuthin, but ESPN is hardly holding people's feet to the fire with cutting edge journalism on NASCAR Now, either. Other than *poor* coverage of certain incidents (the Hornaday deal, for one), they aren't that hard core either.

Richard in N.C. said...

I have enjoyed and watched Race Hub since it first went on and really find it to be a complement to rather than an alternative to N-Now. I believe the Monday N-Now with AB is the best NASCAR related show on TV hands down - and in fact is far and away one of the 2 best shows on EESPN.

I believe there are many crew chiefs and truck and small team drivers that are likely to get exposure on Race Hub that would never get exposure on N-Now.

Personally I do not find it reasonable to presume that pro-NASCAR views are more biased than the far more prevalent criticism of NASCAR. Having watched the media, NASCAR and otherwise, become increasingly more negative over the last 20 or so years, I am convinced there is a theory in the media that negative sells. For instance, in almost all cases local news leads with the "baddest" news they can find for the day.