Thursday, March 24, 2011
Getting The Band Back Together (Update)
Update: Kenny Schrader will be joining Ricky Craven and ESPN the Magazine writer Ryan McGee on Monday's NASCAR Now program on ESPN2 at 5PM ET. Allen Bestwick hosting.
This is a repost of an item that ran earlier after ESPN's original announcement of Schrader and Johnny Benson appearing on NASCAR Now this season.
To many who read the recent NASCAR on ESPN media release, it was just another sentence about the network's plans for 2011. The impact on most of the NASCAR media was a resounding thud. There is a group, however, that found deep meaning in the following words.
Veteran NASCAR drivers Johnny Benson Jr. and Ken Schrader will be frequent guests on the Monday roundtable edition of NASCAR Now in 2011.
It was not lost on hardcore fans that a happy Allen Bestwick recently posted pictures of his off-season marriage on his Facebook page. That was a big departure for the formerly very private and highly-organized TV pro who has been a presence in NASCAR for decades.
Allen Bestwick's most personal venture on television began as a Monday night show on a fledgling cable TV network called SpeedVision. It was a one-hour show taped in the late afternoon that featured three local NASCAR personalities discussing the racing from the weekend. At least, that was the theory.
Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip became cult TV hits as Inside Winston Cup Racing hit the air. Seen under several titles, the show featured the kind of uniqueness that has now been almost wiped from NASCAR TV. Unlike the current crop of cookie-cutter shows, this one was different.
Bestwick relished his role as the ringleader of the NASCAR circus. His personality just meshed so well with the three troublemakers. Waltrip repeatedly bounced comments off the wall that just defied all forms of human logic. Benson was the straight man who tried to keep his cool and interpret Waltrip's observations. Schrader was the enforcer who kept everything in perspective, including Waltrip.
This show clicked because of Bestwick. He arrived early on taping day, reviewed the highlights and prepared the entire show format with the producer. It was clear to those who watched that it was his baby.
Instead of finding it annoying, Bestwick celebrated when the dumpster truck arrived in the middle of the show and was clearly heard through the thin walls of the Sunbelt Video studios. In the early years, so many things just happened that discussing the show with fans became a great conversation. Remember the replay controllers? Not a good idea.
As with all things in TV, change is usually awkward and forced. A new production executive swept through SPEED and decided that the network was going to go Hollywood. Among the changes was the firing of Bestwick and Benson on the spot. No goodbye show, no video memories and nothing but the awkwardness of Dave Despain trying his best to follow orders. It was miserable.
The saga of Bestwick includes his rebirth at ESPN. Starting as an entry level pit road reporter, Bestwick has risen in five years to his current status as the senior man on the NASCAR totem pole. Along the way, the network wasted time, effort and money on a ton of wannabees before putting Bestwick in the Infield Studio and as the host of the Monday NASCAR Now . The idea that Bestwick should replace Marty Reid in the broadcast booth was a popular one after Reid struggled in the Chase.
They say good things come to those who wait and Bestwick has been a patient man. This season, his influence may finally help to guide ESPN back into the good graces of many fans. The faces of Benson and Schrader, along with a bit more fun and a bit less formality, will go a long way toward bridging what we call the "Bristol gap."
With Michael Waltrip gone to the Inside NASCAR series on Showtime, the popular suggestion among the ESPN personalities to fill the final place on the Monday panel is Ricky Craven. It should be fun to watch this dynamic unfold. It should also be fun to watch Kenny Schrader at ESPN in his High Definition make-up and necktie. I wonder how long that will last?
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