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.