Monday, March 7, 2011
The TV Lightning Rod: Darrell Waltrip (Reposted)
Update: Darrell Waltrip just received a two year extension from FOX. That puts Waltrip as the Lead Analyst on the FOX package of Sprint Cup Series races until 2014, the final year of the current NASCAR TV contract. This is a repost of a column post-Daytona that discussed Waltrip and his on-air presence in the sport. The comments section is open.
There were plenty of reminders last weekend of the original race for Darrell Waltrip as the lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX . Highlights, review shows and news features recapped Waltrip's debut on a race that mixed triumph with tragedy.
During a week that featured younger brother Michael authoring a book about that day, older brother Darrell had to speak often about mixing family pride with the untimely passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the very same moment.
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that day ten years ago. The NASCAR profile of FOX Sports is now a familiar one. The network builds the excitement for the Daytona 500 and then runs out the remaining string of races before shifting to baseball and NFL football.
Waltrip's transition into the TV booth came at a time when NASCAR was at the height of its popularity. Today, things are different. The sport is different. The faces are different. The cars are different. Younger fans know Waltrip only from TV. Younger drivers as well.
Waltrip is 64 years old. Other network TV analysts like Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty are a decade or more younger. Marketing folks still marvel at Waltrip, who can walk the fine line between analyzing the sport on national TV and being simultaneously involved with specific brands and sponsors behind the scenes.
It's hard for some of us to forget the on-air hawking of Digger by Waltrip when the animated character was introduced by FOX. After replays, on restarts and seemingly after every commercial Waltrip reminded viewers that Digger merchandise was available at his own personal website.
Over time, Waltrip has become caught-up in the same issue that currently surrounds his boothmate, Larry McReynolds. Being on so many TV shows ultimately creates a problem. Sooner or later real NASCAR issues that are not particularly fun, not particularly nice and may be very politically incorrect need to be addressed. Neither man can do it anymore.
There was a time when Waltrip would stand his ground and defend his opinions if he thought anyone, including NASCAR itself, was wrong. That time has long since passed. Now, the message being delivered by Waltrip from the NASCAR on FOX TV booth is lacking in opinion and instead dripping in emotion.
We dealt with this topic one year ago when Waltrip openly and emotionally rooted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
Here is an excerpt from a TDP column after the 2010 race:
When David Reutimann bumped Dale Earnhardt Jr. toward the front in the endless game of bumper cars that is plate racing at Daytona, the world changed for Waltrip. As Earnhardt was pushed between two cars, Waltrip lost it. At a time when Mike Joy should have been calling the race and indicating when Waltrip could step in, there was going to be no stopping the NASCAR on Fox analyst.
Luckily, Joy got just enough time to call out Jamie McMurray's name as he crossed the line. It was clear, however, that once again Waltrip had allowed an emotional outburst to get in the way of the telecast. Where Waltrip used to wait for his moment and make it count, he now simply cannot step back and let Joy have the spotlight.
This year, Waltrip made it a doubleheader. Rick Allen was the first victim as Waltrip screamed "Mikkkkkeeeeeey" over top of Allen's commentary as Michael Waltrip crossed the finish line to win the Camping World Truck Series race.
Allen has worked for years on this series and adding color and excitement to the final lap of truck races on SPEED has become his trademark. Without any hesitation, Waltrip robbed Allen of one thing every play-by-play announcer wants to achieve. That is the memorable call of the end of a race that will live on once the race is done.
Two days later, Waltrip's second victim was TV veteran Mike Joy on the biggest race of the year. At some point on the final lap, the role of the analyst ends. Memorable final lap calls from Bob Jenkins, Allen Bestwick, Eli Gold and others over the years are what creates the television history of the sport. Waltrip took that opportunity away from Joy.
In response to fans addressing this point on Twitter, Waltrip offered the following:
Waltrip: Come on man, the 3 of us got excited, watching history being made, can't sit on your hands at that point! In my world the last lap and coming to the line is a 911 not 411.
By the end of a Sprint Cup Series race the TV analysts in the booth, the reporters on pit road and the team in the infield studio have been on the air for hours. Pit stops have been called, incidents have been replayed and opinions have been shared.
On the final lap the spotlight should be on the one person in the TV booth who has worked hard to earn the right to call the winner crossing the line. Ultimately, it comes down to respect and the ability to let someone else take centerstage.
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