Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Race Wrap: NASCAR On TNT From New Hampshire

Another NASCAR TV transition is complete as TNT ends its summer series for 2012. Currently, the network has two more full seasons on the existing TV contract with NASCAR.

Adam Alexander hosted another pre-race show that was packed with information and features. The "Countdown to Green" has been solid this season. It seems this forum works best for Alexander in a host role. This week, Greg Biffle was the special guest on the infield set.

Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds were on the pre-race panel. These two work well together in conversation but struggle to cooperate while standing at the TORC car and trying to speak about issues while pointing at car parts.

Pit road reporter Marty Snider was out ill, so TNT went with a three-man pit road team. Ralph Sheheen, Matt Yocum and Chris Neville did the job with no problems. The pit road reporters have been the foundation of this coverage.

In the TV booth, Alexander again led casual and non-excited conversation about the race right up to the end. This is the style TNT chose and they stayed with it for all six races. It leaves a lot of information on the table while the booth talent is joking and talking about the race in general.

The coverage was basic. Tight shots of cars were mixed with in-cars and focus shifted from driver to driver. Beautiful aerial shots were only used as transitions out of commercial. Even in boring racing, the director chose to stick with the identical style of coverage lap after lap. It was tough to watch.

Commercials once again were an issue as TNT does not use the side by side format. Several minutes of racing were followed by several minutes of commercials. This forced fans to use the live PRN radio coverage and the online RaceBuddy to keep some sort of live racing going during the TV commercials. Normally, these commercials cover about one-third of the total race.

This post is to ask you about how you enjoyed the coverage of this race and the TNT season as a whole? Your comments may be moderated prior to posting. Thank you for stopping by.

ESPN Closes Tech Garage

Tim Brewer was the youngest crew chief ever at Bowman Gray Stadium in his native Winston-Salem, NC. He called the shots for local driver Ernie Shaw. Brewer was 14 years old. Four years later, he became one of the youngest crew chiefs in NASCAR history when he joined the Cup Series team of a popular driver named Richard Childress.

Since 2007, younger NASCAR fans know Brewer for a very different reason. He has been stationed inside the ESPN Tech Garage at both Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races carried by the network. ESPN made a larger commitment of resources to the Nationwide Series telecasts than any network before. That included Brewer's mobile garage and a full infield studio of three on-air personalities.

When coming back into the sport, then ESPN president George Bodenheimer called the Nationwide Series a diamond in the rough. Now, during season six, that diamond seems to have lost some of its luster. The network has confirmed that Brewer's recent hiatus from the Nationwide Series coverage will be permanent.

ESPN returns to Sprint Cup Series coverage in July with the Brickyard 400. The Tech Garage will also not be part of that coverage. This year the final seventeen Cup Series races will be without Brewer on TV.

"It has been a great feature of our NASCAR coverage," said a network spokesman. "We will continue to look for places to showcase the garage where appropriate."

That means that while ESPN did not sell the Tech Garage, the unit is parked. Unfortunately this also affects more ESPN team members than just Brewer. In addition to the camera crew inside the studio, the Tech Garage also had "runners" who grabbed damaged pieces of cars during the race and brought them back for Brewer to explain.

The upside of the Tech Garage was that Brewer presented information that was custom-tailored to each race. During the pre-race show, Brewer's role made a lot of sense and he could show-off the decades of knowledge he had about the sport. His timely reminders of what could go wrong often ultimately told the tale of the race.

It was once the green flag flew that Brewer's role became convoluted. At many tracks, the live action just did not lend itself to creating an opening that made time for Brewer's updates. Often, he became a presence on the air that seemed forced. There are only so many times that tight, loose and push can be explained to the same audience.

With the significant commercial load that NASCAR's TV partners carry, there was often just no natural break to insert Brewer into the coverage. Instead, forcing him in meant missing green flag racing while a technical explanation about a part failure or team change was done. It sometimes meant missing key pitstops while an update on a relatively simple topic was repeated once again.

Brewer's insertions into the live racing became a running joke, especially if there had been no accidents, engine failures or mechanical issues on the track. The producer was once again made to use Brewer who now had no choice but to once again repeat his keys to the race or a basic NASCAR topic.

Perhaps, Brewer's personality and knowledge were used best on the now defunct one-hour Monday NASCAR Now roundtable show. Brewer got feisty at the drop of a dime, never minced his words and kept the old school racing mentality that he developed in North Carolina on display. Host Allen Bestwick clearly loved it.

One truth about sports TV is that comfortable goodbyes rarely happen. Normally, parting is awkward and rarely done under circumstances chosen by the person leaving. This seems to be the case for Brewer, who quietly went on hiatus weeks ago and now will not return for ESPN's stretch run.

His on-air look was unique from his hair to his jewelry. He made no apologies for who he was and never got flustered under fire. It's too bad he never got a TV series that could show-off his knowledge about the sport to the fans and let his personality come out as well.

So, thanks to Tim Brewer. He kept a level head and sense of humor through it all and ultimately ESPN's NASCAR coverage was better off because of his presence. As they say in TV, see you down the road.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.

Repost: NASCAR Needs Junior On Twitter

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. is all grown up. At 37, he is a veteran of the NASCAR game and has experienced the highs and lows of the life he has chosen. His Sprint Cup Series win in Michigan on Sunday brought him center stage in the sport once again. This time, he handled it with the cool professionalism of a man in control.

As impressive in post-race interviews as he was on the track, it's now easy to place him among the top contenders for the series championship. Many things have changed in the sport since he first came to the Sprint Cup Series. One of the most profound changes in dealing with the fan base is social media.

Earnhardt's Twitter account is @DaleJr. If memory serves me correctly, his sister reserved it for him should he decide to become active in the social media world. It was a good move on her part because the time for him to make that move is right now.

It's easy to see on TV the deep integration of Twitter into NASCAR. The past two weeks have also featured a heavily promoted special online page created and staffed by Twitter employees for NASCAR tweets during the races. There is currently no more efficient digital platform to get a message out to the NASCAR fan base than Twitter.

From 53 year old Mark Martin to 22 year old Austin Dillon, almost all professional NASCAR drivers have come to realize the power of social media and what a single Twitter account can accomplish. While top NASCAR stars like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson both have over 200 thousand followers, an international motorsports star like Rubens Barrichello has 1.7 million.

The early fears of Twitter as being unkind to major sports personalities have been put to rest. Smart use of social media just means that top American athletes provide information that helps with marketing, sales and ultimately the bottom line. Like most digital communication tools, the user controls the content.

Every time Brad Keselowski sends a tweet, he does so to 271 thousand people. Keselowski worked hard for those followers and continues to interact with fans, other personalities in the sport and media members. One tweet from Earnhardt would make its way to 132 thousand fans immediately. That is how many Twitter users are already following his empty account and just watching and waiting.

Twitter does not have to be personal. It can be used for marketing purposes, provide links to websites and offer pictures or videos in support of a company agenda. That is precisely the purpose that almost all of the NASCAR sponsors use the service to provide. The race tracks are there too, as are all the major teams including Hendrick Motorsports. 

There is little doubt that if and when the official Earnhardt Twitter account becomes active it will quickly top one million followers. The marketing power for Hendrick, JR Motorsports and NASCAR in general would be tremendous. In a time when sponsors are looking for exposure and the sport is looking for a spokesman, cranking Earnhardt's Twitter account up would make a lot of sense.

It took a little encouragement for some personalities to join Twitter. Perhaps, this might be the encouragement for Earnhardt. Simply by asking folks like Martin, Darrell Waltrip or Kevin Harvick about their experiences Earnhardt would find out just how much a simple app on a cell phone can accomplish. His sister and his Nationwide Series sponsors would also perhaps point out what it would mean to JR Motorsports.

Ultimately, the most powerful force in welcoming Earnhardt to Twitter would be the NASCAR fans. While all celebrities using social media have to learn how to screen out the haters, the success stories for NASCAR drivers and personalities where Twitter is concerned are plentiful.

Perhaps the best example of someone close to Earnhardt using Twitter successfully is crew chief Steve Letarte. His personality shines through and his Monday evening tweets suggested he was going to be giving away the hats worn in Victory Lane by his winning team but first he was off to his son's swim meet.

If there was ever a time for the most popular driver to get in the social media mix, it is now. Perhaps with a little encouragement, Earnhardt can sign-on and discover what many of his celebrity friends, teammates and fellow drivers already know. Twitter is the ultimate way to say thank you to the fans.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Repost: The Creature From The Black Lagoon

It came from a land far away and spoke a language most of us do not understand. It struck fear in the hearts of those without iPads, smart phones or Twitter accounts. Why it had come was not completely clear, but everyone who encountered it had a strong reaction. Then, just like that, it was gone.

Sunday afternoon will breathe life back into this strange West Coast creature. Like it or not, the #NASCAR hashtag will once again come to life.

Part man and part machine, the hashtag creature has at its heart an algorithm of double top-secret NASCAR information. It can chew through thousands of NASCAR tweets in seconds and leave them in a heap by the side of the road. Only the chosen few emerge unscathed and crawl to the safety of the "landing page."

Figuring out what makes the creature tick is a mystery guarded closely by a select few gathered in an undisclosed location. Laptops at the ready, they try to control the beast by monitoring its diet of social media content. The idea is to keep the creature focused on the race at hand. It's not an easy task.

An algorithm is the way to make a computer solve a problem. In this case, the problem seems to be how to create a stream of NASCAR content quickly enough to attract new fans during a live race. The solution is to feed the tweets of well-known NASCAR personalities and veteran fans into the hashtag creature and see what comes out.

What came out last Sunday was a homogenized stream of milk. Instead of featuring the passionate fans, the hashtag creature pushed them aside and embraced the teams, sponsors and NASCAR personalities. The results were bland and easy to digest.

This Sunday, there is little doubt that many more fans will try to feed the creature by creating tweets strictly for the purpose of making it to the hashtag stream. In a hectic race on a track known for long green flag runs, sorting the thousands of tweets may prove to be a very interesting challenge for the hashtag monster.

Casual fans may love the results and those looking to use Twitter for the first time may find this is a perfect pathway to NASCAR. It's still a bit puzzling what appeal this stream has to hardcore fans or veteran Twitter users. Most have set-up personal timelines to feature their own NASCAR favorites.

As the hashtag creature chews through the social media churn from MIS, unfolding tire stories and driver complaints may cause some momentary indigestion. This Sunday, before the creature sinks again into the dark Pacific Ocean, we will get a much better picture of whether we have to respect this monster or simply smile and pat it on the head.

Happy to have your opinion on the #NASCAR hashtag project currently underway on Twitter.