Thursday, September 8, 2011

Allen Bestwick: The Quiet Man

In John Ford's 1952 film called "The Quiet Man," American boxer Sean Thornton played by John Wayne arrives in Ireland seeking a second chance. After an incident in the boxing ring, he is on a quest to regain a normal life.

Eventually, Thornton has to stand up for himself and show that his pride is intact despite the grim reality of his past. In the climactic fight scene, even his archenemy in town learns to respect Thornton and a friendship is born.

As the 2004 NASCAR season opened, Allen Bestwick was on top of the world. He had worked his way up from an MRN radio announcer into the TV side of the business. He was the lap-by-lap announcer for the races on NBC, TBS and TNT.

Since 1996, Bestwick had also been hosting a Monday night TV program first on SpeedVision and then on SPEED Channel. Changing names with sponsors, it had begun as Inside Winston Cup Racing and then incorporated Nextel and Sprint as the years went by.

The Monday show was a cult classic when it featured Michael Waltrip, Kenny Schrader and Johnny Benson as the "expert panel." With Bestwick playing the straight man as the frustrated host trying to maintain order, the program put Sprint Cup Series drivers into the TV spotlight as never before and launched a TV career for Waltrip that continues to this day.

In September of 2004, Bestwick was playing in a charity ice hockey game near his home in Rhode Island when he broke his leg. The injury and subsequent surgery put him on the shelf for only two races. NBC moved infield host Bill Weber into Bestwick's position.

Shortly after returning to TV, Bestwick was informed by then president of NBC Sports Ken Schanzer that he would be replaced by Weber upstairs in the TV booth for the 2005 season. Bestwick was offered the job of hosting the pre-race show from the infield.

In the blink of an eye, Bestwick's run as the face of Sprint Cup Series racing on NBC was over.

Later in 2005, viewers of the Monday show on SPEED saw a shaken group of panelists offer an off-balance and disjointed effort. Something was clearly wrong. In fact, former SPEED executive Chris Long had summarily fired Bestwick and Benson before the program. After almost a decade of work there were to be no goodbyes. It was an awkward and awful ending.

When ESPN returned to NASCAR in 2007 the network chose to promote three personalities in the national media. ESPN veteran Dr. Jerry Punch would step into the lead announcer role. He would be paired with new arrival Rusty Wallace who would be the network's lead analyst.

The third face was one the network said was familiar to sports fans nationwide. He would host the pre-race show, remain in the infield to offer comments during the telecast and then host the post-race show. His name was Brent Musburger.

Listed last on the press release were the names of the pit reporters. Behind Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Mike Massaro was the name Allen Bestwick. Three years after his hockey injury, losing his original NBC job and having his beloved series on SPEED cancelled, Bestwick was starting over.

Only four months into the first season, ESPN's NASCAR Now studio show was sinking fast. One host had already been fired and the tension between the teams and ESPN over reporting practices was building. Host Erik Kuselias and analyst Tim Cowlishaw were hype artists treating NASCAR as nothing more than fodder for redneck jokes.

On the last Wednesday in May frustrated NASCAR fans got a big surprise. The face hosting the show was none other than Allen Bestwick. Many employees at ESPN had never met a "real NASCAR guy." With only one program, Bestwick set the tone that got the show back on track both inside ESPN and with the personalities in the sport.

Click here for a TDP post on that day. Veteran reporters Marty Smith and Terry Blount were both doing liveshots via satellite and could not hide their smiles with Bestwick hosting the program.

After the show, one fan (Jules H.) offered this comment. "When I heard AB’s voice I stated jumping around the room like a kid on Christmas morning!"

Since that time, Bestwick has gone on to grow his relationship with NASCAR Now into becoming a vital part of that franchise. His "Monday roundtable" show echoed the format of his former SPEED series with various drivers, crew chiefs and reporters chiming in over the course of an hour.

Although ESPN at first changed the Monday panelists every week, Bestwick has now managed to bring back two NASCAR veterans as semi-regulars for the Monday show. You may remember them from a while back. Their names are Schrader and Benson.

It didn't take long for NASCAR fans to register their frustration with Musburger. Even when he moved into the new Infield Pit Studio, it was clear Musburger was a stick-and-ball fish out of water. ESPN tried several new faces before settling on in-house anchor Suzy Kolber as host. After one season, she was gone.

"Allen Bestwick Emerges From The Shadows" was the title of a February 2008 post at TDP. Click here to read it. After running out of options, ESPN had finally moved Bestwick from pit road to the infield host position for good.

Immediately, Bestwick tabbed Brad Daugherty as the "Voice of the fans" to help explain Daugherty's awkward role on the telecasts. Bestwick also helped Rusty Wallace with TV lessons in when to talk and when not to talk. That was an early struggle for Wallace as a TV novice.

As Dr. Jerry Punch faded in the booth time and time again, it became clear that ESPN needed to return the good doctor to pit road and bring in someone with a better play-by-play style of presentation. ESPN looked around and Vice President of Motorsports Rich Feinberg made a decision. It would be IndyCar and NHRA veteran Marty Reid taking over that role beginning in 2010.

Now in his second season, it's become clear that Reid's lack of a NASCAR history has handicapped him in the TV booth. After five months of Reid working the Nationwide Series telecasts this year, Feinberg finally made a move. Just a week before ESPN starts its fifth season of Sprint Cup Series races, a new face would head the team.

After restarting his TV career in 2007 as a Nationwide Series pit road reporter, Bestwick finally gets the chance to return to the spotlight. While Reid will continue on the Nationwide telecasts, Bestick will call the Sprint Cup Series races for ESPN and ABC.

It seems ironic that rather than utilize Bestwick in this role from the beginning, it has taken ESPN five years to put the pieces of the puzzle in the right places. Now alongside of Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, ESPN is poised for the first time to come at the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races with Bestwick leading the charge.

In all the media releases, interviews and social media conversations over the past five seasons there has never been a moment where Bestwick has complained about his role, about any of his fellow announcers or even offered a negative comment.

During a media teleconference on Tuesday, Bestwick was asked how he felt about getting the opportunity to return to a TV role he enjoyed in a sport he cherished. He simply said it was an honor to get a tap on the shoulder from the coach asking him to get in the game and play.

As Bestwick walks into the TV booth for the Brickyard 400 telecast, you have to wonder what kind of thoughts will be running through his head. This saga of TV frustration turned into a triumph of success through hard work is simply amazing.

In many ways over the last five seasons, Bestwick has truly been NASCAR TV's own version of "The Quiet Man."

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


sbaker17 said...

I have a feeling that both DJ and Andy Petree will flourish with Bestwick in the booth. My only beef with Bestwick (and I quote from your column) is I wish he had told R Wallace that the best time for him to talk is 'never'.

"Bestwick also helped Rusty Wallace with TV lessons in when to talk and when not to talk. That was an early struggle for Wallace as a TV novice."

Dot said...

I bet no one tells AB to "break a leg" before he goes on the air Sunday.LOL

Seriously, I am very happy AB is back in the booth. I'm actually looking forward to watching Fontana with bricks just to hear him.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Bestwick didn't want my pity, but he has had it for the last several years working at ESPN. I can't imagine what it was like working for a company that does not understand or respect the sport you love and have devoted your career to.

If ratings rise during ESPN's cup coverage, I hope Bestwick gets the credit he deserves rather than the gimmicks ESPN loves.

RPM said...

Finally, ESPN makes a smart move! AB is one of the premier NASCAR announcers and has long deserved to be put back in the booth.

I'll never understand the whole NBC thing, but then I'll never understand the IWCR thing, either.

Congrats, AB!

AllisonJ said...

A corporate straight man who lacks emotion.

But then again, this is probably not the forum to advocate for emotion, as you guys bang on anyone who has any.

Watch Speed's F1 crew: that's how racing coverage should be done.

red said...

to this point in the season, i've either watched racing on RaceBuddy or just ignored the race all together. but at this moment, i'm ready to watch every second of indy, a race i normally dislike watching.

the obvious difference? Bestwick where he belongs, in the booth. yes, it's a whole ton of pressure from us, the fans, for him to score a hat trick (to borrow an analogy from his favorite sport!) but he's the reason i'm hooked on nascar and he's the reason i'll put aside a big block of my sunday afternoon to watch a race i really don't enjoy.

Bestwick, welcome back! we kept the light on.

rich said...

A well deserved move up for a well liked veteran. I would only caution AB to be patient (he has already shown that he is) because change comes slow where he works. Hopefully his successful direction at Nascar Now will be valued and change in the broadcast can start sooner rather than later.
AB, remember, just call the race. Tell us about troubles on track and follow-up always. Don't leave us hanging.
I know that you will do your through the field as always.
And tell those guys in the truck that not everyone has ADD. The camera shot is not required to jump every 3 seconds. Remember headlights and not taillights. And use the aerial shot. A battle on track can be shown well by starting high up and then zooming in on the battle.
See if you can convince them to sell about half of those in-car-cams on ebay.
Lastly, good luck to someone who really deserves it.

Ghost of Curtis Turner said...

Thank you God for answered prayers!

GinaV24 said...

JD, when I was reading your column, I could clearly picture all of those moments with Allen and I remember how terrible I felt for him as he was pushed aside for those people, who in my opinion, were far less qualified.

For me, Allen personifies grace under pressure and the fact that he never cracked into negativity says a lot about him.

Obviously I'm very happy that he's finally getting the opportunity at being the "voice" of ESPN's Cup races. I'm hoping that ESPN uses this opportunity to actually show us the race that Allen can call.

Sbaker17 - LOL, I was thinking when I read that line about Rusty is that it is a CONTINUING struggle, not only to know when to talk, but what to say.

Sam said...

I remember him working for MRN and of course his past work before his 'leg' incident. I look forward, and I haven't said that since 2000, to ESPN covering a Cup event. Go AB!

Newracefan said...

The Quiet Man my favorite John Wayne movie. I didn't realize until you pointed it out how well AB handled being punched in the gut repeatedly and thankfully for us he prevailed. I agree with Rich's comments regarding the video portion of the race and I promise (well I'll try anyway) to give him time to improve the ESPN telecast of the cup races. I usually want to scream when they take over and now I can't wait for it to start.

Anonymous said...

So very pleased that AB is back. Hope he sees all the great comments about his return to the booth. He has been sorely missed in my house on sundays. Welcome back, Mr. Bestwick and may you never leave the booth again.
I'm sure Andy and Dale are loving this.

MRM4 said...

I heard Dr. Punch say earlier this week the original plan for ESPN was to have him do the studio show and have Bestwick be PxP. Somewhere, it was changed and we know how it worked out.

ESPN finally made the right move. I think we'll finally see Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree at their best.

The Mad Man said...

Good to see somebody at BSPN finally woke up for a moment. This is the best move they've made since signing the TV contract. Now if they could improve the coverage and dump Crusty and the other biased team owner/commentator.

Anonymous said...


You mentioned in the column that Allen had been offered the NBC prerace show. Did he decline that? I don't remember him ever hosting it - I thought he was simply relegated to pit reporter.

Anonymous said...

What a mistake it was for NBC to take AB out of the booth. Glad he's FINALLY making his return.
Hey, JD.
Whatever happened to Bill Weber - the self-important, great-on-pit-road but horrible-in-the-booth on air "talent" who would run over his grandmother for TV time? Is it true that he's now doing magic tricks at a hotel lounge in Florida somewhere?

Anonymous said...

Bill Weber was recently tagged as the lead Hydroplane boat racing announcer for Versus in a press release about a month ago. So I guess he is working his way back up as well. Maybe?

Anonymous said...

Glad AB is back, I enjoy him. Now if he can fix this single file racing then it might be time to watch again.

KoHoSo said...

That was a very nice piece of writing, JD. My highest compliments!

Anonymous said...

As usual, JD's narrative was eloquent. It pained me a bit to recall some of those awful moments. Before retiring, I spent my entire adult life at one of the fastest growing companies in America. I saw a lot of good and decent people get hurt including myself at one time or another. The people I respected most were those who persevered, believed in themselves and moved forward putting one foot in front of the other. If asked, I would tell AB to be patient, establish realistic expectations and recognize what he can control and what he can't. Let's all hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

the PxP guy should be the straight man, at least most of the time. The color guys are the ones who largely provide the emotion. It's worked in the NFL, that's how it should be. Allen is first rate & I look forward to having a true professional in the booth.

Anonymous said...

It's about time. Inside politics are a bitch! Welcome back Alan, you're way over due for a decent break. You're the best out there, it's just a shame that politics have gotten in the way. RB

Jim said...

Met AB just after the leg incident at the Charlotte studio with the original INCR cast. His personality is understated and his humour is subtle...he's not an emotionless corporate driod. He IS a class act from stem to stern who absolutely understands that, "what goes around, comes around" and that you never burn a bridge in broadcasting/communications industry by slagging obvious mistreatment or lack of supporting talent.

mrclause said...

Funny how things change. AB has a couple of little things he does that I used to find annoying and because of that I didn't respect his real talent.

All of a sudden after far too much time listening to Marty Reid and Adam Alexander I kind of think that Bestwick could talk with a mouth full of marbles and not a complaint one will come from me. Thank you ESPN.

Joe said...

I still feel it should be about the game or race....not the talking heads. When at the race I don't listen to TV or Radio...I watch the race. The talking head has nothing to do with what we see on the screen and it is sooooo easy to hit mute and watch vs all the folks say they will not watch if "insert name here" is the talking head.
Just try to enjoy the event not the folks trying to say something to get noticed.

Sophia said...

Rich said:

..'And tell those guys in the truck that not everyone has ADD. The camera shot is not required to jump every 3 seconds. Remember headlights and not taillights'

I've said for years some smart company needs to sponsor a WIDE ANGLE SHOT of the race for about 5-10 laps, uninterrupted from other cameras.

Then I might tune in to watch.

Otherwise, though I've had issues with the booths, nothing replaces Good camera work from the truck F1 is starting to use too many on car cams, as is Indycar, but the SPEED guys in the booth are the best!!

Anonymous said...

At least there will be a reason to watch the Indy race this weekend! Totally happy to hear that AB is back; hopefully he and the booth-guys can make what has become a pretty boring race a little more interesting.

Welcome back Allen.

Anonymous said...

Guess my comment didn't post, there was a Blogger error but said it saved when I page backed? Oh well

*giggles* sbaker

So so so so so so so happy that Allen is back where he belongs! It's going to be so nice to have REAL PxP, exciting calls to the finish & great sound bites. No more *crickets* or what can only be described as a hot mess of calling the race.

I hope that they put him in for N'wide next year as well but since we all know it's only Cup they care about, I'll take it :).

As Gina stated, I remember those situations too. It was a shame & when he lost IWC you could see the hurt. He's always done an excellent job in all his roles that he could do any of them with one hand tied behind his back & one eye closed.

Sandee Pangle said...

Great article and vignette of Bestwick. Without commenting further on a couple of points you made, I'll just say I've had personal experience with one of the media execs mentioned in the piece and the way that particular incident panned out for AB is pretty close to what I experienced as well. I could not be happier for how things have turned out for him and I echo your notes about his hard work. He's a picture of perseverance and he deserves the blessings he's enjoying now!

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
Great that ESPN had taken a positive first step for its 2011 return to Cup racing we'll see if production values are advanced on an equal level ...While I know the mute button on my set works, I expect to use it seldom, if ever during ESPN's broadcasts ...with Shrader, Benson and Bestwick back where they belong, nothing better except to bring back the 'tread cam', eh, JD?

GinaV24 said...

Joe, at least in my experience, when Allen does the PXP, the EVENT is the focus. As you say, the ones that are really good at it, do it so smoothly, they aren't a distraction but a complement.

It's what Mike Joy used to be able to do on Fox and IMO isn't allowed to any longer.

old97fan said...

AB back isn't a great thing YET he has some big shoes to fill from previous (not recent) generations. I am excited that he is getting the chance and whether he succeeds of fails has more than earned his shot. Ironicly the 2 responsible for his demise, Schanzer is retiring now that his guardian Ebersol is retiring and NBC is under new managment and Chris Long is finding new ways to screw up another company (DirectTV). Good Luck AB-we are pulling for you.

Also, A kudo to Daly on this weeks column. It still has impact even in the shadow of Hinton's column on his wife.

Cathy said...

@ old97fan - thank you for the mention of Hinton's column. I had seen the headline but didn't bother to read it but just did. What a sweet story about a true love story. God bless them.

Vicky D said...

I remember AB interviewing a former Busch series champ (driving a second class car) on pit road before a race about 5 years or so ago, both of them not doing what they really deserved. But now I'm glad Allen is back, unfortunately our former champ is watching the races from his living room. Looking forward to the cup broadcast but why did it take them so long to make this change. I really liked your column it brought back all sorts of unhappy memories and some things I didn't even remember. JD, you didn't mention Dave Despain taking over the show and was terrible doing it too.

Supercell said...

Allen Bestwick is the kind of grade-A professional that a lot of folks breaking into the broadcasting business should look up to. His professionalism and the way he conducts his business cannot be beat.

Barb Benson said...

This articles says it all. I have had the privlege of seeing Allen on the set of Inside Winston Cup. He was already at the studio preparing for the hour before Kenny, Mikey and Johnny arrived.

Instead of becoming bitter or negative, Allen forged ahead with other opportunities. It's nice to see him rewarded with the top spot in the chase.

Allen - we wish you all the best as you embark on this new adventure. We are with you all the way!

John - thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful column.

Anonymous said...

The good old -"If your new to Nascar"-Bestwick.Dreading the change.

Anonymous said...

'Bout damn time... This line up will rival Fox. Finally Bestwick.

Arniect88 said...

Thrilled for Allen, and have no doubt he will improve the booth at ESPN. DJ and Andy need a firm hand asking the right questions at the right time, which Allen is so good at.

Allen knows the history and the rules of NASCAR as well or better then anyone, and with him at ESPN and Mike J at FOX both major networks have first class PXP men in the booth. That said they can only do so much, witness Mike's struggles with DW and the directors at Fox.

We will be watching and hope for great success for this new booth team.

JS said...

What is this strange sensation I'm feeling....I've never had this feeling at this time of year as a NASCAR fan. It''s...excitement for the ESPN segment of the Sprint Cup schedule? Has the proverbial Hell frozen over?

In seriousness, I'm looking forward to AB in the booth. Should be great.

oldnewenglander said...

With Bestwick's return to the booth, the Sprint cup lap-by-lap announcing is once again weighted heavily in favor of my fellow New Englanders.

It is somewhat ironic that the two ace announcers -- Mr. Joy and Mr. Bestwick come from New England racetracks rather than the hotbed of the sport.

Any thoughts on why?

GinaV24 said...

oldnewenglander - maybe it's because there's as much racing up in New England as there is in other places. I don't really know but I enjoy it when Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick are allowed to call the races without a lot of interference from outside influences - ie corporate hacks!

Jonathan said...

SOOOO Happy Bestwick is in the booth this year! I think he will steer this ship in the right direction... Allen knows whats best for Nascar so hopefully we will see a much more polished race with better camera shots, information and NO MORE MEAT IN THE SANDWICH PLEASE :)

Oh and thanks for such a great article JD as you know I became a fan in the middle of the '04 season and always wondered what happened to Allen!

Anyways im getting ready for my road trip to the Brickyard going to be awsome

Have a safe fun weekend everyone

saltsburgtrojanfan said...

AB alone will not make a difference. The difference will be if there are better shots and showing the race THROUGHOUT THE FIELD.

TexasRaceLady said...

AB in the booth is like curling up in my big, comfy chair wearing my favorite jammies.

Sooooooooo fine.

KoHoSo said...

Something I just thought of a few minutes ago...I wonder if AB's origins will help smooth things out between the NASCAR crowd and the folks in Bristol, CT. I notice that AB tweets a lot about the Bruins and Red Sox and I would guess he also follows the Patriots and Celtics. I hope he can use that to be some sort of bridge between the stick-and-ball-only folks at ESPN and those of us that also like racing so maybe we'll see a little more respect shown toward NASCAR.

Leave the country out of it Songs that is said...
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Hope for the best prepare for the Worst wick said...
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EdofSoutheastPA said...

Allen is better than ever. He is smoother, more detailed and alert to everything going on. Way to show us all how we must never quit trying to be better.

Anonymous said...

Always loved the "Inside" show with AB, Johnny, Kenny and Mikey. I am fed up with announcers, commentators and anyone else on TV who you can tell are holding their noses while reporting on Nascar.

Anonymous said...

Allen is good - maybe the best - he puts the race at the center instead of himself. As a knowledgable fan, to me one of the best broadcasts ever was him and Mikey on one of the single race Nationwide sites - it was like watching a race with two friends - no hype. The Inside shows were special and gained NASCAR a bunch of fans - I remember mentioning it in an airport waiting room in NJ and finding a bunch of people who had discovered it channel surfing, then tuned to NASCAR. I always called it the "Johnny Benson" show because I thought his droll comments were so wise.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I hate to say it but my wife and I think he (AB) is annoying. Nascar fans since 1981 so not new to the sport.

reddpups said...

What a great read, TY for sharing. AB clearly enjoys what he does, it shows on his face & in his actions..When they removed him from the Monday nite show, I was so upset, & the show was NEVER the same..
I jumped for joy when I heard that warm calming voice again, in Feb & I sent him a tweet saying that I was just glad that he was back, I enjoy his company.
But the 'Best' was at Dover when I shook his hand...such a gentleman..It still shakes me just thinking about it...
Betty Pappas

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent article about AB. He did a stellar job this past season and it can only get better from here.

While ESPN has never done well since 2007 (old ESPN was great), Bestwick at least makes them look good. Heck, if Bestwick joined FOX, it would be an all-star broadcasting crew.

I wish him the best in the future. For a guy that got screwed by NBC and SPEED, it must feel good to be on top once again.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing more exciting than hearing AB's voice on TV! I love him!

John Valliere said...

Allen is a class act both on and off television. I remember him when he was a radio announcer in Norwich Connecticut and I was trying to break into radio about 1980. He taught me to do your best all the time and had a huge effect on my professionalism today as an attorney.
He was always kind and generous back then as well. He deserves the best.