Friday, October 14, 2011
It has been a long couple of days for Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. ESPN has put the team front and center this weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now, after a four hour stint on the air the trio is about to call the Nationwide Series race. It might be time for some 5 Hour Energy drink to be delivered to the TV booth.
In two days of practice and qualifying, the Charlotte track has proven to be lightning fast. Tonight, temperatures are supposed to sink into the upper 50's by the middle portions of the race. It's a recipe for good racing.
Mike Massaro, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty are in the Infield Pit Studio for the thirty minute pre-race show. With Jamie Little and Vince Welch in Las Vegas for the final IndyCar race, Shannon Spake will join Dr. Jerry Punch and Dave Burns as pit reporters for the race.
This has been a rough year for the Nationwide Series that is getting rougher. Reed Sorenson was third in driver points when he was fired from Turner Motorsports and replaced in tonight's race by Brian Vickers. Kevin Harvick is closing his KHI operation and Carl Edwards is leaving the series to move to the Nationwide Series TV team next year.
In a familiar scenario, many expect current Sprint Cup Series drivers to dominate tonight. The scourge of the series is that on TV it often appears to be two very different groups of cars racing on the same track. The "haves" and the "have nots" are easy to pick-out.
ESPN produced the best Nationwide Series telecast since 2007 last weekend in Kansas. It should be interesting to see how the TV team follows that up in Charlotte. The potential is certainly there for an outstanding night of live NASCAR racing.
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Veteran fans may remember Kenny Wallace from his early days on TV when SpeedVision started the little Monday night NASCAR program that lasted for over a decade. Wallace was not a regular, but rather someone who came in as needed and provided his opinion on, as host Allen Bestwick would say, topics of the day.
Wallace seemed right at home filling-in for Kenny Schrader, Johnny Benson or Michael Waltrip. His personality made him an instant hit on TV and his candid comments were often worth repeating. It seemed his star was on the rise.
Friday night, Wallace will start in Nationwide Series race number 519 as a driver. This start ties him for the most in that series with veteran Jason Keller. Wallace first raced in Charlotte in May of 1989, an event that he won. Those days are long gone.
This week in Charlotte, Wallace told the media he is tired of the sponsor grind and will probably race just one more year in the Nationwide Series. One last try to inch his way up and contend. The one-man band of Wallace will have to deal with the big dollar operations of Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana, among others.
This weekend the Wallace Toyota Camry is a fan car. His supporters paid twenty dollars apiece to have their names on the race car. The primary sponsor is the University of Northwestern Ohio. In addition, Wallace is eligible for the $100 thousand cash bonus offered by the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash contest. It's going to be a big night.
Younger fans know Wallace in a different way. His weekly appearances on the RaceDay and Victory Lane programs on SPEED offer a very different TV personality than the one seen many years ago. Whether sitting next to Jimmy Spencer, Michael Waltrip or his current partner Kyle Petty, Wallace is over-the-top and has the volume button firmly on loud.
In the truest sense of the word, Wallace is a hustler. Whether doing a commercial to keep his family traveling in an RV or expounding on the virtues of ethanol, Wallace is always paying the bills. A search on Google of his pictures finds him posed endlessly with fans at functions large and small, but always working hard.
Wallace is only 48 years old, but this year he looks a lot older. Explaining that he took the advice of longtime friend Mark Martin to heart, Wallace dropped twenty pounds through diet and exercise before the season. It left him with a very different look on TV.
Like most NASCAR personalities who work both sides of the fence, Wallace has his critics for his unwavering support of everything NASCAR in his "TV mode." Perhaps that emotion is softened by recalling the RaceDay trio several years ago in white wigs and judge's robes holding racing court. Wallace also expertly table danced for fans during commercial breaks.
These days, it seems quite clear that Wallace intends to eventually move his family back to his beloved St. Louis area and effectively retire. He has commented on this topic many times over the last two years and seems to be at peace with his plans.
Most TDP readers know and TV viewers can see that SPEED is once again going through a wholesale change of programming, on-air personalities and direction. Shows like Trackside, The SPEED Report and Victory Lane have already been affected.
In some ways, the TV business is even more fickle than racing. Through it all, Wallace has quietly kept his RaceDay and Victory Lane franchise intact in much the same way that he has clawed and fought to keep himself on the track. For well over a decade, he has been successful at both.
Friday is a big day for the entire Wallace family. It just might be the final marquee moment on the track and on TV for this longtime racer, unabashed family man and proud St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan.
On this day, I rise in praise of Kenny Wallace. Your hard work and determination have not gone unnoticed.
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