Friday, December 28, 2007
December has been an eventful month, for both happy and sad reasons.
The Daly Planet has continued to host NASCAR TV personality interviews while being affected by the untimely passing of a TV friend, and then celebrating the survival of another.
The links to these columns and stories are contained below, just click on the title to be taken directly to the individual pages:
"SPEED Channel Answers Back" from December 27th.
"Daytona as a Place of Healing" from December 26th.
"Nationwide Series Announcement Lacks Some Info" from December 25th.
"ESPN Audio Veteran Ron Scalise Will Be Remembered Fondly" from December 23rd.
"Your Interview With NASCAR on Fox's Mike Joy" from December 19th.
"Wendy Venturini Answers Your NASCAR TV Questions" from December 16th.
"Steve Byrnes Answers Your NASCAR TV Questions" from December 8th.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
One day after the Homestead Championship Weekend, something changed in "NASCAR TV Land."
Suddenly, after a year of high-profile network TV coverage of NASCAR's three major racing series, there was silence.
Fans that got into the habit of tuning-into or recording some sort of NASCAR-related TV program every single day for the previous ten months didn't know what to do. When the year-in-review programs from NASCAR Images were duds, and the three series banquets were lackluster, it finally sank in...it was really over.
No matter how many times fans checked SPEED Channel, it was still PINKS, Redline TV, and Super Bikes. One spin of the dial to ESPN Classic yielded no better results. One thing was certain, there was no NASCAR TV to be found.
So, we promptly reminded everyone that lots of NASCAR video was to be found on the good old "still wild and untamed" Internet. That part of our December 18th column was accurate, but we were in for a big surprise.
The Public Relations folks at SPEED sent me a quick note that I had jumped the gun with my complaints. They told me that the network would prove me wrong very soon. Well, here we are in late December and sure enough, SPEED has just made a bold move that took us by surprise.
The bottom line is, January for NASCAR fans will never be the same again. SPEED President Hunter Nickell unveiled a completely new schedule of NASCAR pre-season programming that signals an unprecedented commitment of the network to the sport.
"There will be a lot of interest in seeing NASCAR back on the track in '08," said Nickell. "SPEED will be there from the very beginning, we'll be there all season and we'll be there at the end."
NASCAR puts the first tires back on the track with Sprint Cup testing from Daytona beginning on January 7th. What Nickell released was a mind-altering schedule that shows SPEED originating a daily NASCAR program of some type from that first day all the way through Daytona SpeedWeeks in mid-February. Here is a slice of the content:
• NASCAR Sprint Cup Testing from Daytona – Jan. 7-10 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Testing from Daytona – Jan. 11 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Sprint Cup Testing from Daytona – Jan. 14-17 (6:30 p.m.)
• NASCAR Nationwide Series Testing from Daytona – Jan. 21-22 (7 p.m.)
• 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour – Jan. 23-25 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Testing from Las Vegas – Jan. 28-30 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Testing from Fontana – Jan. 31-Feb. 1 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR 2008 Team Previews – Feb. 4-6 (7 p.m.)
Filling-in the dates not listed above will be NASCAR coverage on The SPEED Report, as well as new Charlotte-based live programs from the SPEED studios.
Popular host John Roberts will anchor the Sprint Cup coverage, joined by Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and Bob Dillner. On both the Truck and Nationwide Series, Roberts will be working with Ray Dunlap and Phil Parsons.
This entire line-up is being billed as NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder. It is exactly the kind of coverage that The Daly Planet and fans have been asking for of this sport all season long. The timing is perfect.
Just like the NFL Network coverage of events and personalities away from the playing field, this commitment by SPEED is going to open-up a huge window into the sport that fans have never seen before.
The impact of the NFL Network on ratings for the games has been amazing. Does anyone believe that the game itself has changed? No, what has changed is that the sport now has a designated TV network "supporting" it.
In our earlier column, we accused SPEED of being "in denial" that fans wanted NASCAR TV in the off-season, and that the network was "hiding behind" endless re-runs of PINKS to fill their air time. This is certainly more of an answer to that than we ever expected.
In a November interview, Brian France mentioned specifically that he wanted more TV shows about the sport and more original TV programming from his NASCAR partners. In that same interview he made a point of reinforcing his commitment to SPEED and the fact that this network dedicated to motorsports was his business partner in expanding the NASCAR TV universe. Now, we know what he meant.
So, dust off those DVR's, TiVo's and VCR's because original NASCAR programming will be returning on January 7th to SPEED and running almost every single day through the middle of February.
Who says it too late for one more Christmas present?
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
In January, I usually drive over to the Rolex 24 Sports Car race at Daytona. While it is fun to see all the interesting machines and to watch the NASCAR drivers try to fit-in with guys named Derek and Hans, there is also something very interesting going-on.
The activity in the pits, the practice sessions and the Fan Zone vendors help bring something back to life that for many of us has become a vital part of our existence. It's a return to normalcy that evokes a strong emotion.
There is a sense of healing at Daytona now. I felt it when I saw the fans posing with Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s statue outside the speedway. I felt it when the fans in their NASCAR clothing stopped sports car drivers and asked for their autographs...by name. I felt it when I looked in the infield and saw Ferrari and Porsche flags flying alongside the red #8 and the black #3.
For racing fans, the Rolex 24 has once again become a melting pot of top drivers from all over the world, from different racing series, and from very different backgrounds. One recent addition over the last five years or so has been the influx of high-profile NASCAR drivers. For this one event, that has made a huge difference.
My last trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24 helped me to get the courage and conviction that I needed to begin this blog. Returning to Daytona for the NASCAR events just fortified my belief that much of what was right with the world can be seen at a big racetrack. It seems like everybody of every shape and kind is there, and having as much fun discovering each other as getting ready to watch the race.
It never fails on a race weekend that the memories of some of the people you meet stick with you. America is full of characters, full of stories, and full of people who have overcome big things in their lives just to be at the racetrack.
In a couple of weeks, the Infield Media Center at Daytona will brush off its dust and open once again to the racing press. The reporters who assemble for the Rolex 24 are just as varied as the fans in the stands. Some are there to follow a driver or team, others were sent by their editors because of the curiosity factor.
The racing media veterans are always there, hunched over a laptop and using a cell phone while simultaneously listening to a driver interview and trying to see what is for lunch. This year, a friend of The Daly Planet will be there only by the grace of God and his own personal courage.
When I started emailing with Bob Margolis from Yahoo! Sports, he was very kind to take the time to respond to an unknown blogger from Florida. Since that first time, I took him up on his offer of advice during the season on a wide variety of topics.
While he told me some very wise things, he left something out. The entire time, while emailing with me about NASCAR topics, he was in the middle of a life-or-death battle with Cancer.
In his understated style, he kept things focused on racing, despite the real issue at hand. Once I was made aware of his situation, I asked him how things were going. At that time, they were not going well. His disease had pulled him off the road, removed him from his job, changed his life forever, and now was trying to end it.
Many of us held our breaths while Bob battled on through a wide variety of challenges on both a personal and medical level. As regular readers of Yahoo! Sports know, Bob never lost his desire for racing or his ability to write about it.
Now, as the Rolex 24 looms at Daytona once again, Bob Margolis will be one of the reporters walking into the Infield Media Center ready to get back to work. While nothing in life is certain, Bob finally made public his struggle with an outstanding column that is a must-read for every NASCAR fan. It can be read by clicking here.
Bob's article talks about the people who helped him and the people he met along the way during this season on the brink. I never thought that I would be one of those people. It's been one of my greatest pleasures to know that Bob is reading my columns, and appreciates what we are trying to do with The Daly Planet.
In just a couple of weeks, it will also be my pleasure to read Bob's stories of the Rolex 24, and know that he is once again at Daytona...where the real healing process can begin.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email email@example.com if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
There is a big shift this season in NASCAR's second-tier national series. As fans know, Busch Beer is gone and coming on-board as the new series sponsor is the insurance company, Nationwide.
This transition is completely different from the NEXTEL-to-Sprint change that the Cup Series will undergo for the 2008 season. While that is the merger of two cell phone giants, Nationwide comes aboard out of the blue and steps directly into the NASCAR spotlight.
One key element for Nationwide in sponsoring this series is that all of the races are carried on the ESPN family of TV networks. That consistency is what NASCAR always wanted for this series, and what only ESPN can deliver. The media company has designated ESPN2 as the "home" of the Busch Series, with an occasional race stepping-up to both ESPN and ABC Sports.
After Nationwide came along, ESPN pledged support for the overall effort to turn this brand around and NASCAR pledged to get some consistency in the rules about who can compete in the series. NASCAR desperately needs to turn this series from a Cup practice session into a full-fledged national caliber racing series. 2008 is a pivotal year.
Along those lines, the ESPN PR group has a well-written press release out about the series, including the new schedule and the details of their efforts for this second year of live national TV coverage. The information details the extensive TV distribution and the high-tech electronic toys that the network will bring to their coverage.
While this press release is interesting for what it contains, it is much more interesting for what it is missing. Nowhere in the nine paragraphs of ESPN information about the Nationwide Series are there the names of the ESPN TV announce team. There is not even the name of one ESPN on-air NASCAR personality.
January 18th is the first day that the Nationwide teams take to the track at Daytona. So, it is now less than 25 days until the sport returns, and less than 50 days until the grind of practice, qualifying, and racing begins.
Back in October of this year, several of us began receiving email "tips" that Rusty Wallace was perhaps not returning to do all of the races on ESPN in 2008. One thing led to another, and that same day ESPN VP Norby Williamson put out a statement.
"Rusty Wallace is our guy," said Williamson. "We have a long-term contract with him and he is the voice of NASCAR on ESPN." In light of the current Nationwide press release, this begs one very good question. What happened?
The ESPN press release mentioned the Dish Tech Center, the Infield Studio, the Draft Track and ESPN Deportes, the Spanish language network. It described in detail ESPN's "multi-platform" approach to NASCAR. ESPN.com website traffic was up over one hundred percent they pointed out.
What ESPN forgot to point out was who would be calling the 35 live races...on ESPN.
Will Jerry Punch return for the Busch races as the play-by-play announcer for the entire season? Since Rusty Wallace has a long-term contract, why wasn't he mentioned? Where was Andy Petree, didn't he sign a multi-year deal with the network?
The reason these questions come up is because ESPN did an extensive job of promoting their NASCAR talent for the Busch Series in 2007. What changed? Is this simply the function of Christmas vacation and a wait for the New Year?
After an impressive first season on-the-air with ESPN, it should be interesting to see what role part-time driver Dale Jarrett will play in the Nationwide Series coverage.
Fans remember that DJ was limited to the Infield Studio in 2007, but often wound-up being the focal point of the telecast even from that location.
Along with Jarrett, fans watched the musical chairs in the Infield Studio until ESPN decided that Allen Bestwick would host the Busch Series pre-race show. Bestwick stayed off pit road, and also handled the Infield Studio duties during and after the races.
Despite his hard work in many substitute roles in 2007, Bestwick's "TV place" in the upcoming Nationwide Series could range from handling the play-by-play to going right back on pit road. It is TV...after all.
As the 2007 season wound-down, we saw Brad Daugherty get the opportunity to move up to the announce booth and call a Busch Series race with Rusty Wallace and Jerry Punch alongside. Daugherty changed the rather "dry" dynamic of the ESPN booth immediately with his inquisitive nature and his endless enthusiasm. It was almost like having a fan from the stands join the guys in the booth. It was kind of...fun.
Looking back at ESPN's first NASCAR season, one thing is certain. By the time that the Brickyard 400 rolled around for this TV announce crew in July, the primary on-air talent were fried. Even with a vacation, these same three guys were basically looking at around 33 Busch races and 17 NEXTEL Cup events.
50 races is a lot of races for one announce team. Throw in a bunch of practice and multi-hour qualifying sessions, and by late summer only one thing remained in the ESPN announce booth. Burnt toast.
Perhaps, ESPN will be a bit more flexible with the booth teams for 2008, and let other talent step-up during the Nationwide practices and qualifying. Even on some Busch Series events, Randy LaJoie brought a breath of fresh air to the series, and Allen Bestwick and Randy seemed to click in the booth. That Montreal memory is hard to shake.
We also saw Mike Massaro host the Infield Studio, and Brad Daugherty worked very well on live practice and qualifying. He asks good questions, which in turn make the analysts and pit reporters step-up to give good answers. Also on the ESPN crew is Shannon Spake, who co-hosted a TV series from the NASCAR infield a while back on the SPEED Channel. ESPN is clearly not lacking in available talent.
Later columns will talk about the changes in NASCAR Now and the Sprint Cup coverage on ESPN for the 2008 season. That is going to be interesting.
Now, the focus is on the struggling Nationwide Series, which clearly received short shrift from ESPN in 2007. Hopefully, we will all soon learn what announce team ESPN has assigned to their biggest NASCAR TV race package. It would have been nice if that info was in their first Nationwide Series press release.
That kind of makes one wonder if some things for 2008...are still in discussion.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS page below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish not to be published. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
(Updated 12/25/07 Please Read Comments) Word started to circulate through the sports TV community on Friday morning. One of ESPN's best known "crew guys" had lost his life late Thursday night in a single car accident on a Connecticut highway.
Ron Scalise was only 54 years old. In his decades of hard work on the road, Scalise had become an audio legend. As we said many times this season, the ESPN audio of the NASCAR races was outstanding. It had to be, if Ron was in charge.
Over the years, Scalise had moved-on to become what many consider the "audio guru" of sports television. He wanted to educate both the industry and the public on the incredible changes taking place in the audio side of the television world. The technical innovations that he helped bring to TV sports coverage will never be forgotten.
NASCAR fans may remember during the "old" ESPN days when Ron pushed the "natural sound" from the cars right-up against the announcers voices. Even though the announcers were actually high-up in an air conditioned booth, Ron still made them "talk over" the real sound of the race. It made all the difference in the world.
Remember loudly hearing your first "air gun" on a pit stop? How about the tires of a car squealing as it left pit road? When a car spun, hit the wall and you actually heard it hit...at home. That was Ron.
Few people in the sports TV business had the single-minded focus of Ron Scalise. As a part of his drive, he met and befriended many young people who were willing to work hard and learn the audio side of the business. One outstanding testament to Ron's influence can be read by clicking here for Frenchy's blog.
Ron influenced the importance of audio in almost every sports telecast, and he was able to do it because ESPN was on-the-air every day for 24 hours. As the network grew, Ron was able to pass along his belief that a strong natural sound "bed" should be a vital part of every sports event. Sports TV viewers grew to expect that if they saw it, they should be able to hear it.
In the middle of a screaming crowd at a Duke vs. Carolina game, ESPN viewers could hear the players sneakers squeaking on the floor under the basket. When Tony Hawk or Saun White tipped slowly off the lip and headed down the "vert ramp" at lightning speed, all four wheels of that skateboard made their way right into your home.
That was the whole idea. While the announcers told you about the action, and the cameras showed it to you, there was only one way to make it real. That was to hear it.
In my ESPN NASCAR days, it was Ron Scalise at one analog audio board behind a glass window mixing the entire race by hand. He sat in the same part of the TV truck as the Producer, Director, Technical Director, Graphics Operator, Assistant Producer, and Associate Director. It made for cozy confines, and rather stimulating conversation.
Decades later, Scalise was moderating seminars on how Digital Dolby Surround Sound should be used in major sports venues. His success was due to hard work and seemingly endless dedication to his cause. We can only hope that the generation of audio mixers influenced by Ron will keep his memory alive by passing on his passion for using audio to bring the event right into the viewer's home.
Ron Scalise won 14 National Emmy Awards and called Kenmore, NY his home. The sports TV world will go on, but it will never be the same.
Update: To post tributes to Ron, go to ronscaliseaudio.blogspot.com, a site that was set up for that purpose. There will be a memorial service on Dec. 26th in Southbury, and the address for the fund to help his children with college is posted below in the comments section. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share a thought.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments on this column from those who have something to add about Ron, and his work. Just click on the COMMENTS button below. Thank you.
This season, we wrapped-up a full year of NASCAR TV action by interviewing three of the most popular TV personalities here on The Daly Planet.
First up was Steve Byrnes, who has perhaps one of the busiest schedules of any on-air "talent." His appearance in the movie "Dale" and his memories of Dale Earnhardt Sr. were hot topics. To read his interview, click here.
Following Steve was his SPEED co-worker Wendy Venturini. Having just returned from her marriage and honeymoon in the Caribbean, Wendy sat down for a late night session of answering questions submitted by The Daly Planet readers. Please click here to see her answers.
Finally, we greatly appreciated NASCAR on Fox's Mike Joy stopping-by just before Christmas vacation to fill us in on his opinions on a wide variety of topics. Mike has a long and diverse history with all types of racing, and his answers reflected someone with a veteran perspective. To read them, click here.
The Daly Planet interview series will continue the week after Christmas with Krista Voda, the host of the Craftsman Truck Series pre-race show and the "new kid on the block" as a pit reporter for NASCAR on Fox.
We are still talking to a variety of NASCAR TV personalities to complete this "reader interview" series during the off-season. There will be an update shortly.
There are also some new stories involving the TV "faces" that you know from last season's coverage that are about to break over the next several weeks. After a short break of our own, The Daly Planet will return on Wednesday, December 26th.
To all the loyal readers of this blog, thanks for a great season. We received thousands of comments about the hundreds of hours of TV programming that was sent our way by the NASCAR TV partners.
This year will long be remembered for some very interesting TV moments. If you have a favorite single moment that you would like to share, please feel free...within our wonderful guidelines, of course.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the simple instructions.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The readers of The Daly Planet spent several days posting questions for veteran motorsports TV commentator Mike Joy. That is Mike in the middle of the "NASCAR on Fox" gang pictured above.
He has been kind enough to send along some responses, and here they are. At the bottom of this article there will be a comments area where you can add your reaction to his answers.
Q - Since it's almost that time of the year, Kevin observed that you really seem to enjoy your time during the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction. He wondered if you get to test drive any of the cars, and what other car/racing interests do you have outside of NASCAR?
A - Kevin, I often get calls to evaluate vintage cars for folks. My first love is sports cars, including an MGB that is getting one of Bill Guzman's V6 conversions.
My best drive was when Ken Epsman asked me to drive his 1970 Mark Donahue/Penske Javelin at the Lime Rock Vintage Festival. That is me, pictured above.
George Follmer and Sam Posey were both there. My eyes filled-up when I was on the pace lap, looking at the infield hillside. That's where I had sat watching Mark race that very car against Sam in '70, and George had raced it in '71 and '72. It was a very emotional experience, and what a car to drive!
Q - Vicky in TX asked if NASCAR is getting too expensive for one-car teams to field and race against "the big guys?"
A - Vicky, the level of engineering and development at the biggest teams greatly reduces the chances of a small team being competitive...which makes it much more exciting when one of them has a great finish.
Q - Several readers including Karen in British Columbia asked about your weekly schedule during the race season. She imagines that it is just as hectic as the earlier interview comments from Steve Byrnes and Wendy Venturini. Can you let us in on it?
A - Karen, both Wendy and Steve have lots of off-track shows they are involved in during the week, while I broadcast practice and qualifying. That leaves me to prep for the race telecast, including garage time, time with our Fox Production folks, and sponsor appearances at dinners and track hospitality. During the week, my family says I spend too much time on the Internet and the phone chasing down vintage cars and parts. Mostly, it is spent on race research and includes surfing websites like this one so we can improve our TV coverage.
Q - Franna in TX asks what was the most difficult interview you ever had to do?
A - Franna, several times I have had to talk to Bobby Allison on-camera about his sons. As a father, its incredibly hard to imagine what life has been like for the Allisons. Bobby has always been gracious with his time, and candid with his comments. He is a good friend, and that makes my task easier...but it always leaves me with a lump in my throat and a great sense of loss.
Q - Both Makiki and Ann asked what was your most difficult moment on the air to report? They also both can't wait to hear you back on the air in February.
A - Thanks, Makiki and Ann. The 2001 Daytona 500 finish was a great moment for the Waltrip family, but we knew that Dale Earnhardt Sr. had crashed hard. No one would give us any sense of his condition beyond Ken Schrader's reaction which you saw on TV. We feared the worst, but hoped for the best...that maybe Dale was just knocked unconscious. Absent confirmation, I wasn't comfortable explaining what I thought could be true from what I was seeing and how people were reacting. That day still produces a great conflict of emotion.
Q - Lots of people asked about "the three amigos," and the fact that folks love to hear you, Larry, and DW call a race. How have you three developed such a good chemistry together?
A - We've known each other for twenty or more years. We're good friends, but most importantly, we all have a high respect for each other's experience and point of view. Our bosses at Fox, David Hill and Ed Goren, encourage us to have a good time, to inform, and to entertain. We love to go to work every day, and that means a lot.
Q - Tammy asks if you could please describe what goes on in the Fox booth during a race? She pictures "organized chaos," but says you, DW, and Larry Mac always manage to give us the race information we want and the camera angles to back it up. Like many Daly Planet readers, she wishes you could call all the races.
A - Tammy, so do we! Everyone filters out the "noise" and concentrates on the input needed for their task. I have the announcers in one ear, and the producer and director in the other. We have a statistician and a historian in the booth who hand us brief notes. Larry, DW and I maintain eye contact while watching both the TV monitors and the track. All this multi-tasking is very challenging, so getting it right is a big part of what makes it so much fun.
Q - Sally, Sophia and others are a bit upset. NASCAR's mantra is always "it's about the fans." Between the bad coverage on TV this season (not from Fox), the COT switch, the homogenizing of the driver's personalities, empty seats at the tracks, lower TV ratings and too many commercials...something must be done. What are your ideas?
A - Sally and Sophia, we have on-going discussions with NASCAR about your points. Strong rivalries, drivers showing personality without the fear of penalty, and an easily understood point system would help engage more fans in the sport.
Q - Matt has been a fan of yours since the TNN days with Neil Bonnett. What was broadcasting NASCAR back then on TNN like? How different is it now with Fox compared to those days?
A - Matt, thanks for mentioning Neil, he is still really missed. It was very different, it takes 200 Fox people on-site to televise a race and TNN did it with just 60. The biggest advantage is the computerized scoring and information flow. Back in 1991, the "points as of now" stat had to be figured with a paper and pen, and we only got a scoring rundown...every ten laps!
Q - A fan asked if you and Fox have considered what would happen in the event Sunoco became the object of serious criticism in the NASCAR garage? (Mike is also the CEO of New England Racing Fuel, a distributor of Sunoco racing fuels in the Northeast.)
A - I would voluntarily disclaim my potential conflict, but not shy away from the discussion. I'm glad NASCAR and Sunoco enjoyed a seamless transition to unleaded fuel...that was a big step. For the street, I see ethanol creating more problems than solutions. The Europeans have proven there are already more efficient options available...like biodiesel.
Q - Larry says last season's Daytona 500 ended with a dash to the checkers as a multi-car crash was ensuing behind the leaders. Do you believe that NASCAR should allow racing back to the yellow on the final lap of a race?
A - Larry, sorry for the pun...but its a no-win situation. NASCAR needs to have flexibility. We all want each race to end under green, if the track is safe in front of the leaders. I feel they made the best call they could that day under the circumstances. Maybe we could get two chances at a finish in Overdrive (a green-white-checker).
Q - Joe met you on Labor Day weekend about 11 years ago up at Loudon, NH when you were running your SCCA sports racer. Do you still have it, and do you still race it?
A - Joe, I sold the Valvoline car when we moved to North Carolina. The Fox/SPEED schedule and two children did not leave much time for racing. I'd like to do more vintage racing, and I've got my eye on a historic Trans-Am that I don't think Ed is ready to sell just yet.
Q - Sharon says you are one of the best in the business. She thinks its a shame we don't have more people like you in NASCAR. There have been a lot of changes in the sport over the last couple of years, what is one change you would like to see reversed, and why?
A - Thanks Sharon. I wish that ownership had been capped at three Cup teams. But, that horse is out of the barn, and with "satellite teams" and all, I fear we could one day have as few as eight real team owners.
Q - Alex wants to know if there is anyone that you would have liked to work with in the booth that you never had the chance to?
A - Alex, David Pearson and Richard Petty together in the booth would be really interesting. Each of them did a little TV, but not together.
Q - A fan asks what do you consider to be the most memorable moment of your broadcasting career? Also, is there anything left that you haven't gotten a chance to do as a broadcaster that you would still like to accomplish?
A - The 1998 Daytona 500 was a very special team effort. Our group did so much research so that Ned Jarrett, Buddy Baker and I could properly educate viewers on just how close Dale Earnhardt Sr. had come so many times before to winning. On your second question, I would like to help Darrell Waltrip win an Emmy, and to continue to be part of this great team for many years.
Q - Since we talked about the Barrett-Jackson event earlier, Patrick wants to know what amount of prep work do you do before the show? Also, what collector cars, past or present, have graced your personal garage and do you have a wish list?
A - Patrick, most of my prep was done in 40 years of owning, driving and working on these cars but I read and surf the web to improve my specific knowledge once we get the auction catalogue. Someday, I'll get a website up to showcase the cars I've enjoyed and what it cost to own them. From the '60 Chevy Impala I drove in high school to the new car I asked Santa to bring...there is always a wish list!
Q - Brian appreciates the fact that you make watching races fun, and have for many years. From your days as a pit reporter to the present, who has been your biggest inspiration to help you become who you are today?
A - Brian, there are three people who I owe more than I can every repay. Ken Squier, Barney Hall, and Ned Jarrett. Not just for the high standards they set as broadcasters and the doors they helped open, but for the life lessons I learned under their guidance.
Note from Mike: Thanks, John for this forum, and thanks to everybody for the questions. Merry Christmas, and we will see you in Daytona before too long!
Once again, The Daly Planet readers have come through with some fantastic questions which have gotten some very interesting answers. We always welcome comments from readers, and encourage you to post your reaction to this interview.
To add your post, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the easy instructions. We do not want your email address, and there is nothing to join. Here at The Daly Planet, we just want your opinion. Thanks for adding it.
As we approach the Christmas break, the countdown clock over at Jayski.com is now telling us there are less than sixty days to the 2008 Daytona 500.
So far, we have seen a lot of press releases from the NASCAR TV partners about the past season, but almost none about the future.
In 2007, there were some notable issues in "TV land" with respect to on-air announcers. In the TV biz, they are simply called "talent." As we saw during the past eleven months, that word can quickly take on an ironic twist.
Mr. Doug Banks left his co-hosting duties on NASCAR Now after only a short time. It was a tough start for that new ESPN2 show. Banks returned to his highly successful radio career on The Doug Banks Show and does not seem to be any worse for the wear. His run certainly was interesting.
Ryan Burr from ESPN News was brought-in to fill this role, and did a fine job. He was the relief host for Erik Kuselias, easily the most controversial "talent" of the 2007 NASCAR season.
After having trouble hosting NASCAR Now in the studio, Kuselias was "auditioned" live in the ESPN Infield Studio at the track hosting NASCAR Countdown. That memorable performance was not repeated.
There has been no word from ESPN about the line-up of NASCAR Now for next season, or a date when the show will begin. With lots of changes behind the scenes on the ESPN Radio side, there may well be a better opportunity to use Kuselias and his extensive stick-and-ball knowledge...elsewhere.
Boris Said and Stacy Compton served as the NASCAR Now studio analysts, and Compton's down-home style was a sharp contrast to the biting tongue of Kuselias. Said merely treated Kuselias as a distraction, and laughed a lot. What these two drivers are doing for 2008 on TV has not been disclosed.
Something remembered by NASCAR fans was the sudden appearance of driver Bill Lester one weekend, who did all the NASCAR Now shows live in the ESPN studio and then was simply...gone. ESPN said it was "an experiment." Interesting.
Staying with ESPN, the host chair in the Infield Studio should be open for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. Originally, ESPN said that Suzy Kolber was a fill-in, and her "appointment" to that position followed a long line of names like Musburger, Fowler, Bestwick, Massaro, and Kuselias who tried to fill that role.
The ESPN season is a long one, as Jerry Punch and company can attest. His team handled the entire Busch Series schedule, and then added the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup events. Maybe, we will see ESPN bring in some additional "relief talent" for the core TV crew. We noticed that they auditioned Brad Daugherty in the booth during a Busch Series race, and also used Allen Bestwick and Marty Reid to spell Jerry Punch during his vacation time.
A while back, I got several emails from TV friends saying Rusty Wallace was not returning to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Almost immediately, I got several emails from ESPN saying Rusty Wallace was returning...and I was an idiot. That happens a lot.
We all had fun with "Eric Amarillo" and "David Gilligan," but Rusty did complete his first season without backing down from controversy and without missing an assignment. What the ramifications are of Dale Jarrett doing his "semi-retirement" tour this season are still to be seen.
One thing is for sure, with the entire Nationwide Series and seventeen Sprint Cup races, there are plenty of analyst slots on races, qualifying, and practice sessions for both Rusty and DJ to share in 2008.
The TNT guys are silent. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds did solid work, but what will become of Wally Dallenbach, Bill Weber, and Marc Fein remains to be seen. The tension on the pre-show set at TNT was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Wouldn't someone like a Bob Jenkins or an Eli Gold at the helm shake-up that crew?
Over at SPEED, we are still awaiting official word on the line-ups of their big weekly NASCAR shows, although no significant changes seem to be on the way. Shows like Trackside, Victory Lane, and NASCAR Live seem to be working just fine.
The same is true of the Truck Series, with a solid broadcast team, and no rumored changes on the horizon. Although, Krista Voda is clearly on the verge of bigger things. Last season, she moved up to NASCAR on Fox as a pit reporter. Wouldn't it be interesting to see her directing some traffic from the Hollywood Hotel? Take that Suzy Kolber!
One interesting question will be if Kyle Petty returns to Tradin' Paint. One might believe that it would depend as much on his blood pressure as his desire to expand his TV career. Petty had some pretty big blow-ups with some NASCAR media types, and The Daly Planet has suggested that adding a fourth panelist like Randy Pemberton or Jeff Hammond might take the heat off Petty and not make things seem so "personal."
SPEED's "King of the Jungle" in NASCAR land is RaceDay. With most of the staff under contract, the questions really concern Rutledge Wood and Ricki Rachtman. Not only has this show grown in stature to become SPEED's highest profile NASCAR program, it has also spent a good part of the season matched-up head-to-head with both TNT and ESPN/ABC's pre-race shows. Make no mistake, this is the big time.
In looking for a feature reporter to balance the news-oriented Wendy Venturini, SPEED has tried several candidates. This season, it will be interesting to see if they go with a veteran like Pemberton, stay with the current dynamic duo, or bring in a fresh face to handle the non-racing feature reports.
Finally, here comes the program series that generates the most mail and the most comments each time it is mentioned. Inside NEXTEL Cup must be discussed once again. Changing gears for next season, it will be interesting to see if SPEED makes changes in the program format and the panel.
Many times on The Daly Planet over the course of the season, we have debated the pros and cons of having a host who was "encouraged" by the network to take the job, panelists who do not race in the races, and part-time panelists still wet behind the ears when it comes to solid NASCAR experience. There are lots of good points on both sides.
Love him or hate him, everybody knows Dave Despain. Michael Waltrip has just re-vamped his company, his teams, and will now be playing the second Toyota fiddle to Joe Gibbs. Schrader is still working on a combo-deal, but is not retiring. Greg Biffle is poised to make a solid run at a Championship. Those are some interesting personal dynamics at work when it comes to making forty weeks of memorable TV programs.
For all these shows, look for word to start slowly leaking out about confirmations of who is "in" and surprises of who is "out" during the days after the Christmas break. Network logistics are such that names and travel schedules and paperwork and production meetings are going to be all confirmed before January 1st.
One wild card who just emerged on the scene is John Kernan. As The Daly Planet mentioned in an earlier article, he has relocated to Chicago and ended his radio work for PRN and Sirius. Flying out of Chicago, Kernan could be just what the doctor ordered for several NASCAR TV vacancies that would compliment his current part-time NHRA schedule.
If you had an opportunity to suggest some change to the network executives, who would be included? We have now had some time to calm down after a tumultuous season on TV, and our heads are hopefully a little clearer. Tell us who would be "out" and why, and then who you would like to see "in" for next season.
As always, keep your comments focused, and make your point. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page prior to adding your comment. To post, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
You might not recognize NASCAR VP Jim France on the left, or the late veteran New England racer and track promoter Ed Yerrington on the right. Chances are, however, you absolutely recognize the young man in the center of the picture.
No matter how you slice it, Mike Joy is one of the best-known NASCAR television personalities in the nation. There are plenty of reasons why.
Mike and I share the small town of West Hartford, CT in our respective histories. I graduated from Northwest Catholic, and Mike from Conard High right down the street. He went on to the University of Hartford, and then Emerson College in Boston, one of the top broadcasting and communications schools in the nation.
It's a long road from the PA Announcer at Riverside Speedway in Agawam, MA to the top NASCAR play-by-play position on TV today, but Joy has made the most of the journey. Older fans remember his years working for MRN, and his TV appearances for CBS as a pit reporter for the Daytona 500.
Moving to the play-by-play position, Joy anchored the first NASCAR race televised by ESPN and then years later, did the same for TNN. He called the NASCAR events on CBS, including the Daytona 500, and expanded his resume by covering Formula One for several seasons on Fox.
In February of 2001, the stars seemed to align when NASCAR on Fox hit the airwaves and took the nation's NASCAR fans by storm. The New York Times wrote "every TV motorsports race team should be measured against Fox's Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry McReynolds for pure intensity."
There are also some facts that most fans might not know about the Chicago-born Joy. He has driven in the 24 Hours of Daytona and won SCCA races at Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, Loudon and Pocono. He is a former Vice President of the National Motorsports Press Association, and even served a couple of elected terms on the Windsor, CT town council.
Now comfortable in the Lake Norman area of Greater Charlotte, Mike has been kind enough to give The Daly Planet readers an early Christmas present...his time.
He said he would be happy to field your questions about TV, NASCAR, racing, or any other topic that you feel would be appropriate to ask a veteran media personality. This opportunity does not come around very often, so my advice would be to focus on one topic, and make your question count.
Update: The Mike Joy mailbox is closed, the answers are being put together, and will be appearing shortly. Thank you for all the great questions.
His answers will appear in an article that will be posted on Friday evening. All we would ask is that you review the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before asking your question. Multiple questions in the same posting have not had a very good track record of being answered.
It has been a long year of very hard work putting The Daly Planet together, and I can't think of a better way to head into the Christmas break than by having Mike Joy stop by.
So, Merry Christmas from all of us and here is our little present to you. Ask NASCAR On Fox's Mike Joy the one thing you were always curious about, and come back Friday for your answer. Good luck!
The email from ESPN was very brief. It simply said there were no plans to air any NASCAR "content" over the winter.
A quick check of the SPEED schedule finds the one hour SPEED Report, where recaps of various NASCAR issues are offered from a news perspective. That is pretty much the extent of SPEED's off-season NASCAR "content."
Over at TNT, every shred of NASCAR "content" is gone from the network. It was gone the second that the final race of the "summer six pack" ended.
In the old days, one might understand that the official "NASCAR TV partners" would not have an interest in re-airing "old" programs or creating retrospective shows right after the NASCAR season was done.
The networks believed that the NASCAR fans had simply had enough, and were "done" until February. They could not be more wrong.
NASCAR TV is alive and well and living on the Internet. With the simple click of a mouse, fans can re-live almost any race and re-visit almost any moment of the 2007 season.
While ESPN, SPEED and NASCAR Images are deep into their corporate denial, this situation is perhaps the worst possible nightmare for the cable TV networks and NASCAR's own production company.
Only several weeks after the three banquets signaled the official close of the season, fans turned their time and effort to the Internet...with incredible results.
With no big cable TV bill, no pre-set program schedules, and absolutely no user rights fees, a single broadband Internet connection into a home computer has made cable TV almost obsolete.
Back on April 22nd, we offered a column entitled "NASCAR Fans Turn To Internet As TV Networks Fail To Deliver." You can read the entire column by clicking on the title.
The idea resulted from a fruitless search of the cable TV networks for any kind of NASCAR highlights the day after a Saturday night race. Then, while writing the column on my personal computer, I just typed "NASCAR Phoenix" into my Google video search engine and entered a whole new world of NASCAR TV.
My highlights were delivered on YouTube.com already edited and voiced-over courtesy of a man named Joe Foster. Other NASCAR video offerings showed whole chunks of the race, and repeated the TV network coverage with commentary included. It was amazing.
Today, just by typing "NASCAR 2007" into YouTube, there are almost three thousand results. Simply typing the word "NASCAR" to see all the online content results in a mind-boggling twenty-nine thousand responses. They range from amateur editors who recap the season to compilations of wrecks or a certain driver's year in review.
Countless other Internet sites from Yahoo! to individual MySpace pages have gotten into the NASCAR TV act by hosting all types of video projects made from the very television footage that NASCAR Images guards like Fort Knox when TV producers come calling. Yahoo! Sports alone has over one hundred NASCAR videos online.
This is a very dangerous time for the NASCAR TV partners, and here is the reason why. This three month period is the first "off-season" since the new NASCAR TV contract began. Needless to say, many fans feel that they were "under served" by the efforts of this NASCAR TV "gang of four."
With the continued reluctance of NASCAR and its TV partners to adapt the side-by-side TV commercial format, more and more fans are using their DVR's, TiVo's and computer hard drives to record the races and then skip through the myriad of commercials and promos. In essence, the "thrill" of watching live racing is being slowly removed by the TV networks themselves.
Ultimately, NASCAR races become no more than tape-delayed highlight reels, and completely lose the thrill of the live excitement and the breath-taking speed that brought the sport to the TV forefront to begin with. What an interesting situation.
Over at Jayski.com, the ESPN NASCAR videos sit frozen in time. David Spade from the Cup Banquet. The slow parade of Chasers in their show cars creeping through New York's Times Square. Jimmie Johnson with Kenny Mayne. The story tells itself, ESPN has moved-on to other sports that are still "in-season."
When February comes around, the danger is clear. What is going to be the appeal for the fans to return to more of the same bad TV? Brent Musburger at his podium. Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty talking basketball. Only seeing the winner finish the race. A tired Dave Despain on INC reading his tired script. NASCAR Now...still in Connecticut.
In 2008, the "TV boys" will have to present a very strong case for NASCAR fans to give up their NASCAR.com and YouTube and Sirius/MRN/PRN habits. With NASCAR.com offering all the races online, YouTube offering an almost instant "turn-a-round" of the highlights, and online radio offering live race commentary and talk, where do ESPN/ABC, SPEED/Fox, and good old TNT fit into the picture?
If the pressure was on the NASCAR TV partners and NASCAR Images in 2007 to offer an exciting view of the sport on TV, imagine how much more there will be after lower TV ratings, angry fans, and an exasperated sanctioning body.
Meanwhile, ESPN Classic is on-the-air right now with outstanding December fare like the 1995 Peach Bowl and the 2005 World Series of Poker. To add insult to injury, that network is just beginning a look back at classic NHRA races of the past. 11AM Eastern Time...for your DVR.
Brain France recently mentioned SPEED as a TV partner that he would like to see develop more original programming with his production company, NASCAR Images.
Instead, this off-season SPEED has hidden behind endless re-airs of American Thunder, PINKS, Unique Whips, Redline TV and the classic Super Bikes...where no one wears their helmet while "stunting."
The Jayski.com countdown clock to the Daytona 500 says 60 days. That's two more months for millions of NASCAR fans to get even more...computer literate.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email email@example.com if you wish not to be published. Please review the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
A big thank you to Wendy Venturini for taking some time out of her busy off-season schedule to answer some Daly Planet reader mail.
Below are the questions you submitted, and her answers. At the bottom of the story is a link for your comments. Here we go:
Q - Stricklinfan wants to know about your work on DirecTV's Hot Pass. Can you reflect back on being the first female NASCAR play-by-play announcer? Is this a role you see yourself pursuing in the future?
A - Stricklinfan, thanks for recognizing my work on DirecTV. I never set a specific goal to be the first female play-by-play announcer, it just kind of happened.I always wanted to be known as a hard worker dedicated to motorsports no matter what role I have in television.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity in the booth this past season thanks to my boss at DirecTV, Chris Long. I'm glad I made a small mark in history, but there's much more I feel I need to learn. If my career takes me to the booth, then so be it. I just keep doing what I know, and learning from my peers.
Q - Lou from NY wondered about your Real Deal segments. Do you or a Producer decide who the Real Deal subject will be?
A - Lou, we have a production meeting every Monday morning after race weekends. It's everyone who works behind the scenes and they let me participate, otherwise they would decide RD subjects without me! We do these on Monday mornings, despite the late Sunday races, so the production crew can get the ball rolling on that week's production elements. We are all allowed to give out thoughts and opinions on all the different elements of the RaceDay show.
Sometimes, there are ten ideas on the table for that week's RD and sometimes there is silence. It all depends on that week's relevant stories and also how tired everyone is from traveling! We try really hard as a team to keep our Real Deal segments very timely so planning in advance doesn't work for this segment. We agree on two or three choices and then it is left in the hands of our Producer, John Morris. He is responsible for lining up the logistics of the interview, which can be very frustrating when it comes to driver availability.
Q - Tammy from PA asks about those "grid interviews" on RaceDay. Do you have to set them up in advance, or do they just happen?
A - Tammy, that is a great question. Our SPEED Channel boss, Hunter Nickell, would probably also like to know the real answer to that one! We are very prepared as a production team and always try to book interviews in advance, however, it never works out perfectly.
I usually have the same Field Producer on Sundays, Becky Blankenship. If anyone has seen me in the garage during RaceDay, you have probably seen Becky too. She and I coordinate where we are headed toward the end of the show. Sometimes they are booked guests, but other times I literally bump into people I feel like talking to on pit road.
SPEED VP Frank Wilson and RaceDay Producer Ted Laukaitis have given me a lot of freedom on those grid walks. It's more difficult than one would think to talk to the camera and look for potential guests in your peripheral vision at the same time. This is the most challenging and fun time of the show for me...IF it goes well. I am truly my own worst critic!
Q - Racefan1 wants to know when you do the Real Deal interviews? They seem to be very time sensitive. Do you do them, and then travel right to the track for the next race?
A - Racefan1, that is what I am most proud of on the RD interviews, the ability as a TV production team to keep them so timely. We always shoot the week the interview airs, and I always do the interviews myself. Our special effects are not that good!
As I mentioned, we come up with our ideas "back at the shop" on Mondays. The interviews take place by Tuesday or Wednesday where I am asking questions usually at a shop or the home of a driver. Our Producer, John Morris, will prep the interview on Thursday and then edit it in Charlotte on Friday.
I leave for the track on Thursday, so I don't get to see the finished product until the tape arrives at the track on Saturday. That is my favorite time at the track on Saturdays, when the tape arrives and I can finally see all of the pre-produced elements for the Sunday RaceDay show.
Q - Matt in NYC wants to know if it's weird working ARCA races where your brother is racing? Do the TV guys keep you out of his pit? How do those pit assignments work?
A - Thanks Matt, I like to address this question as often as possible. I consider it a unique situation that mom gets to watch both of her kids work in one race!
Much to the disbelief of some ARCA viewers, I often choose not to cover my brother's pit to cause less controversy. TV producers have never forced me one way or the other. Pit assignments are picked among the pit reporters themselves for the ARCA races. I consider it an easier day when I wind-up with Billy's pit, because no studying is needed for that team! But, sometimes it just does not work out that way.
Q - GS in CA wants to know what advice you would give a young person who wants to pursue a career in TV, either behind or in-front of the camera?
A - One word...internships! Do as many as possible while in college, even if you don't get credit. Most colleges have programs in media or television production, get involved in the college TV station if they have one.
Keep beating on the doors of the local TV station and TV production companies to let you do something to gain experience. Experience is invaluable in the TV industry. Before college, I would suggest working on public speaking. I was heavily involved in public speaking competitions in high school, and became very comfortable addressing large crowds. I think that helped a lot in my career today!
Q - Franna in TX asks that out of all the interviews you have done, was there one that really made an impression on you and stands-out?
A - Franna, I have been fortunate enough to interview some veteran drivers really rich in NASCAR history. But, quite honestly my favorite interview was with Bobby Hamilton Sr. at his home in Nashville before he lost is battle with neck cancer. Take away the cameras and crew surrounding us that day, and it was one of the most moving conversations I have ever had. He spoke words that still remain with me today.
Q - GlenC1 asks if there are still people in the garage area who do not respect a female reporter as much as a male?
A - Glen, even if they think that, they haven't treated me as such. I can't speak for every female reporter in the garage area, but I never feel inferior to the male pit reporters. I feel that as a young professional, I get the respect I deserve.
The more years in the garage, the more respect you will get. I'm not leaving to go and cover other sports, NASCAR is my home and I'm staying as long as I can. I think a lot of people in the garage know my sincere passion for this sport and that speaks volumes in itself.
Q - Kevin wonders what is the favorite part of your TV responsibilities for any of the shows or races on which you appear? Once you tell us, why is it so?
A - Wow, Kevin...that is a tough question! I really can't choose my favorite but I will give you my top three:
1 - Covering Victory Lane: I am not the best story-teller, but I try to make the fan feel that they are right there with us. I love to witness the celebration of the team and the drivers. It's the reason we race.
2 - Just talking! Sometimes, I can't believe they pay me to talk about racing. I probably shouldn't say that. There is a lot of research, homework and memorizing but it's worth it. The more you learn, the easier it is to communicate on TV. I feel fortunate that I am one of the people who get to bring those stories from the garage to the fans sitting at home. My grid walks are not always the most professional "walk and talks," but they are the true me!
3 - The travel. It is my favorite...and least favorite. It's hard to explain.
Q - Ann in AZ wanted to know if your college studies in psychology helped with your interviewing skills?
A - Ann, it may be the most beneficial degree I am using! My Communications degree was so broad-based. The psychology courses really help me to be a better communicator, especially reading my subject's body language. I react to how my subject is feeling.
Without sounding boring, I can tell what kind of mood a certain driver is in by their body language on any particular day. I'm learning when I need to bring more to the table and when I just need to sit back and listen. It all depends on the driver, the day, and their mood. Also, I may use it to my advantage when I need a specific answer. I may ask the same question two different ways. I always try to make sure my subject is comfortable with me before an interview. I definitely put those psychology studies to good use!
Q - Andypandy asks who in the garage area do you like to goof around with when you are doing an interview and who do you have a good relationship with?
A - Andy, Carl Edwards and I get along nicely both on and off-air. He was driving in the Craftsman Truck Series the same year I was pit reporting there. We both moved over to NEXTEL Cup at the same time, so we have seen each other succeed in our own respective fields.
I always joke with Tony Stewart on and off-the-air because he is an easy target, however...he will get you back!
Matt Kenseth and I get along well. Before Matt was racing full-time, he was building chassis for a Midwestern company where my dad was a customer. Technically, Matt built some of my dad's ARCA chassis years ago. I like Matt's sense of humor, but not many people understand it.
Q - Ritchie wants to know if you ever lost your cool with a NASCAR personality either on or off-the-air?
A - Sorry to disappoint you Ritchie, but I don't really get hot under the collar. I'm a pretty easy-going person. I have had some driver's PR reps lose their cool with me and I have taken the brunt of their ridiculous outbursts. It's actually embarrassing...for them! I've learned not to take it personally because the outbursts have never been a result of my own actions. I just happen to be "the TV face" in the garage.
Q - Mr. Bean wants to know when you were growing up, did you have a role model outside of your family?
A - Within our racing community, Benny Parsons was a huge inspiration for me. When I was fifteen years old, he encouraged me to pursue a job in NASCAR TV because there weren't many females who had been raised in the sport and wanted to make a TV career out of it like I did. I didn't want to race, so I figured the best option would be motorsports television!
Outside of racing and my family, I admire Barbara Walters. She is classic "old-school" and made history by being the first female evening news anchor in 1974. She is 78 years-old, has accomplished so much, and is still involved in some of the highest-rated programs on TV. She is known for "personality journalism," often eliciting emotional answers while still asking the tough questions. She opened doors and pushed the limits in a male-dominated news industry. In the TV news world, she went where no woman had gone before. I admire her for that.
Q - Vince from MI wants to know what a typical race day is like for you from the time you wake-up until the time you leave the track?
A - Are you an early riser, Vince? My hotel wake-up call is always 4:30AM on Sundays. I have the same routine, doing my own make-up and hair, and packing my suitcase on race morning.
The TV crews arrive before the Cup garage opens. I receive my RaceDay format from my producer on Saturday evening. I spend the first part of my Sunday morning marking my show format and making notes for myself. We don't use scripts or teleprompters on RaceDay, what you see is what you get with our guys. It makes for fun live TV.
Our production meeting takes place in the TV compound around 8AM. Imagine a "double wide" trailer filled with our producer, field producers, and all of the announcers. I have a hard time calling any of us "talent!"
Right after the SPEED meeting, I head into a DirecTV meeting. After that, I touch-up my make-up, gather my show notes and clothing for later, and head into the track.I suit-up with my "very fashionable" RF wireless audio pack, and go into the garage for the start of the show. Then, it's two hours of fun on RaceDay.
Here is a secret that most people do not know. As we are signing-off on RaceDay, I have people helping me with my "switch" from SPEED to DirecTV. I do a quick wardrobe change with pre-planned layers of clothing and then put on the DirecTV wireless RF pack for Hot Pass. It is about a two minute "turn-over" and I go right into talking on Hot Pass.
I cover Hot Pass until the checkered flag and then it's a race out of the track. I fly home on Racing Logistics, a chartered flight for the race teams. We take off around 8 or 9PM depending on the race, and usually land around 11PM. I usually walk into my home around midnight. It's a long day, but I love my job!
Q - Shawnna in OKC wants to know how you communicate and work with the other TV network personalities that are on pit road?
A - Shawnna, when it's the Fox Network, it's like our own family. We all communicate and work around each other very well. It gets more complicated when the other networks are covering the race. My Pit Producer, Mark Smith, communicates with the ESPN Pit Producer to compare driver interviews and make sure they don't overlap. On the reporter side, Jamie Little and I are very courteous to each other. I have my set of unwritten rules where I try to avoid walking into another network's shot. I think it's tacky. It seemed to work well this season.
Q - Slithybill says your "pit walk" through the field at Bristol was fantastic TV. He wonders what aspects of your behind-the-camera work have helped you now that you are in front of it?
A - Thanks SB, that was the most fun "pit walk" of the whole season. The hype of Bristol night racing can't be repeated every weekend. I am sure my experiences have helped me in more ways than even I realize. More often than not, I just throw the typical "stiff" TV image out the window. I become more of a producer walking down pit road giving fans a show-and-tell of what I see. It's a great concept by SPEED, and they let me have free reign on that part of the show. It's a lot of fun!
Q - Finally, Jill in FL wants to know how you spend the off-season? Do you stay home after all that travel, or go on vacation somewhere?
A - Well, Jill check-out my website (click here) for the full story! I usually head to the Caribbean at the end of the season to "detox" from the loud and hectic lives we have on the road.
This off-season was very memorable in my personal life as I got married on Wednesday, December 5th! I have literally just returned from my honeymoon and jumped back into work by answering questions for The Daly Planet readers!
Thanks again to Wendy Venturini for making us a priority and taking the time to give us some great answers. I hope that her remarks gave you a greater understanding and appreciation for the "NASCAR TV world" and the issues and struggles of working on the NEXTEL Cup trail.
I think they also told us a lot about her character. I know you all join me in congratulating her on her recent marriage. This TV personality interview series will continue through January of 2008.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers of this article. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and then follow the instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.
Note: A surprise guest who will be taking your questions will be announced on Monday, December 17th at 8PM Eastern Time. This will be a special Christmas gift to readers of The Daly Planet, and an opportunity not to be missed by any NASCAR TV fan.
To read any of the recent columns on The Daly Planet listed below, just click on the title:
"TV and Radio Veteran John Kernan Leaving Sirius and PRN" from 12/15/07
"Your Christmas Present for the NASCAR TV Networks?" from 12/15/07
"Inside Track Talks NASCAR TV on Saturday" from 12/14/07
"Shannon Spake Leaves NASCAR Nation Far Behind" from 12/13/07
"A TV Tale of Three NASCAR TV Banquets" from 12/12/07
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The buzz on the street and in the Sirius Satellite Radio forum is that John Kernan is leaving his job hosting The Driver's Seat and relocating to Chicago, IL.
The Driver's Seat is produced by PRN, and aired on Sirius. Kernan is moving for family reasons, and he is going to be unable to do the show from his new home-base in Chicago.
This does make Kernan available for some additional weekend TV duties beyond his limited NHRA commitments. It certainly would be interesting to see Kernan sitting in the Infield Studio at Daytona for the first Nationwide Series race. That would get a big fan reaction.
Kernan has been a steady voice in the sport for a long time, and seems to have the type of personality that lends itself to simply "directing traffic" as a host and letting the other guests and announcers shine. That certainly is rare these days.
Kernan's departure from PRN and Sirius brings another interesting scenario to mind. If Kernan moves to the Infield Studio for the Nationwide races, will that mean Suzy Kolber will be doing the "top end" interviews for the NHRA coverage?
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment.
Sometimes, those people that seem to already have just about everything anyone can think of are hard to shop for at this time of the year. Ties, mugs, front door mats and socks with batteries just don't seem to measure-up where this group is concerned.
On the NASCAR TV Christmas List we have four names. ESPN, SPEED, TNT and Fox Sports. They each come with their own family, and each have very nice homes in California, Georgia, Connecticut and North Carolina.
This Christmas, it will be the first time that this group is sharing something together. In 2007, they all joined as one to comprise the group known as the NASCAR television partners. If you watched NASCAR, you met the group.
As we approach the week before Christmas, it might be a good time to think about the past year, and perhaps suggest something that we could give to the members of the group to make 2008 a better year. It's our NASCAR TV Christmas List.
It might be something they were missing, or something they already had that seems to have broken. It could be something a couple of them have, but somehow did not share.
Sometimes, a surprise gift is a great idea, so please consider a complete surprise gift or two on your list.
ESPN seems to already have a lot of "stuff," so maybe something other than even more "stuff" would be a good idea. SPEED, on the other hand, has some very fundamental things that it needs for 2008. It might not be too hard for regular readers of The Daly Planet to guess what is going to be on my list.
TNT is in Atlanta, which is a wonderful city. Since TNT stops by the NASCAR scene for only a couple of weeks in the summer, it might be a good idea to suggest a gift that made sense for that time of the year. It seems to be the only time they are around.
Fox Sport presents a big problem. They seem to have it all, and as the senior member of the group they need a gift with meaning. Hollywood Hotel coffee mugs are out.
As NASCAR fans, what one gift would you give to the four NASCAR TV partners that could make them have a better 2008 season? It's the time of the year for sharing, so how about letting us in on your ideas?
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment.
Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and fill out this 2007 Christmas List for the NASCAR TV partners.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Saturday, December 15th, Dave Ross and Vicki Johnson of Inside Track wrap-up the NASCAR season with a Sirius Satellite Radio show about the NASCAR Media, including the TV partners. The program will be broadcast at 9AM Eastern Time live on several radio and Internet outlets.
Steve Waid, the wonderful NASCAR editor and journalist, will be on the show discussing the print and electronic media side of the business. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to follow Steve with a discussion of the year-in-TV. That should be interesting.
Now that some time has passed, this 2007 NASCAR season was truly amazing when it came to the TV side of the business. Who would have thought that the myriad of problems we saw on national TV would come from the networks themselves, and not from the action on the racetrack?
Our friends at Fox Sports started the year off with a bang at Daytona, and then promptly decided not to show any car finish any other race...except the winner. Bristol and Martinsville got the fans steaming, but when Kyle Petty finished the Coca-Cola 600 driving the Coke Zero Petty Dodge in third place to a standing ovation and his finish was not shown on TV...The Daly Planet email-box exploded.
Despite great announcing, fantastic pictures and interesting racing, the Fox Sports 2007 Cup season will be remembered for showing the national TV audience only the winning car finishing each race. What a shame.
Petty stepped-out of his Dodge and into the TNT announce booth shortly after the Charlotte race. On second thought, he might have chosen to remain securely strapped in his race car. Five of the six TNT "summer six-pack" races were disasters.
TNT left one race fifteen minutes early to show a Vampire movie. They got lost at Sonoma and a flustered Bill Weber was so bent out of shape that TNT went off the air without showing the final results. Needless to say, the Kyle Petty profanity playback was also during that race. It is now a YouTube classic.
Certainly, TNT's Daytona effort using a side-by-side approach for commercials got a lot of press and made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, their other five races more than cancelled-out that effort.
Can anyone forget Kyra Sedgwick, Bill Engvall, or Holly Hunter being hammered into our minds over-and-over again until NASCAR fans were begging for mercy?
OK, we get it...she's The Closer, Engvall has his own show and Holly Hunter looks old. These six races were a platform for TNT's own network promotion, and little else. Ask the Loudon, NH race fans about that fact.
The old pro's strolling back into town were the ESPN "Punch Bunch." Dr. Jerry Punch and friends had months to polish their NASCAR TV skills on the Busch Series races before their coverage of the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup weekends began.
Ultimately, it appeared that the one thing ESPN forgot was that these programs were about NASCAR, and not the network. ESPN made itself the center of the racing telecasts, and made NASCAR simply the "background noise."
Lots of press releases detailed every move of the broadcast team, and talked about the multi-platform distribution of the global non-linear content...or something like that.
What those press releases did not mention was that ESPN forgot to reset the field after pit stops...and then missed the restart again. They forgot to interview the drivers leaving the Infield Care Center. They were so busy following their pre-planned storylines, they basically forgot to show the race.
ESPN brought all the glitz and glamour and hype to the racetrack, and left all the NASCAR TV fundamentals somewhere in a basement storeroom in Bristol, CT.
While Andy Petree was a surprise success, Rusty Wallace was a mess. One minute opinionated and outspoken and the next minute completely mistaken and egocentric, Wallace turned-off viewers from the start. Even after dropping his "catch phrases" and taking a second to think before he spoke, ESPN made sure that between the Draft Track and the In-Car Reporter....Rusty looked like an idiot.
The wheels started to come off this train even before "The Chase" began, and fans used the Internet to let ESPN have it from all sides. By the stretch drive, Jerry Punch showed himself to be a reporter forced into a play-by-play role. His supporting cast of Brent Musburger, Brad Daugherty, and Suzy Kolber offered him absolutely no help and condemned him to his fate.
At season's end, many fans were questioning their desire to come back and repeat this nightmare of TV coverage once again in 2008. After all, the players will be exactly the same. There were some good questions to be asked.
Three hours of watching TV, your driver is battling for third...but the TV network refuses to show him finish. What's the point of watching? Two hundred Dale Junior fans in a sports bar looking at each other and saying...isn't this Bristol? Wasn't Junior in the top five? Did the TV network actually just miss him finishing the race?
Three hours of coverage and one hour of it is commercials. Every three or four minutes, a two minute or three minute commercial break is on the air instead of racing. What's the point of watching? NASCAR has become the best reason to get a DVR or TiVo. Just come in for the last hour, fast forward through the commercials, watch the last thirty laps live, and you're done.
NASCAR and the TV networks have taken the thrill out of watching live NASCAR racing on TV due to the inability of all parties to sit down and reach a consensus. What is best for the sport, the networks, and the fans? The simple answer to this question is side-by-side coverage of all Sprint Cup races in 2008.
Dave Ross and Vicki Johnson have talked to a lot of guests on Inside Track over the course of the season, just as The Daly Planet has covered a lot of topics. On Saturday morning, we will come together and reach our own consensus on just how the NASCAR TV partners performed this season, and what changes in the TV coverage can be made to boost the sagging ratings and get this sport back on the right track.
Inside Track can be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 123 live and will be repeated several times. Just a reminder, this is Channel 123 and not the normal full-time NASCAR Channel 128 that has a different program line-up on Saturdays. Don't email if you can't hear us, just check your dial.
As a part of Sporting News Radio, the program can be heard directly on the Internet by going to this link. You can listen live with an existing player or download a free one. There are also archives available for those unable to be present for the live broadcast.
Thanks again to Dave "The Race Doctor" Ross for taking the time to include a discussion of the NASCAR TV scene on his year-in-review program.
Please feel free to post your reactions to the program, as well as the Steve Waid interview on this page. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. Please review the rules for posting on the right side of the main page before adding your comment to The Daly Planet.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
This season has been a tough one for the ESPN gang. Along the way, however, there have been several individuals that have proven over the course of ten months that they are simply without a doubt very hard workers. At the top of that list is Shannon Spake.
Debuting on ESPN as a field reporter for NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown, Spake quietly moved into a pit reporter role for many telecasts as the season progressed. Now, with the season concluded, ESPN has just announced that Spake will be given an opportunity to be a college football sideline reporter.
While the network has not identified the Bowl Game or Division Championship events Spake will be working, the message is clear. We like what you did and here is your reward. The bottom line is, she deserved it.
Many NASCAR TV viewers remember Spake from the infamous NASCAR Nation on SPEED where "stock car racing mixed with Hollywood Celebrities." It turned out that "collided" would have been a better word. Created around model turned celebrity turned sportscaster Leeann Tweeden, the program fizzled.
Spake was a reporter for the series, but also hosted another minor show called Backseat Drivers. Without all the glitz and glamour, that show forced Spake to stand-up on her own in the NASCAR world, no easy task for a female. Spake did well, and added some additional reporting from the NASCAR garage before that season was over.
Moving to ESPN was a big step, and in many ways she was thrown into the deep end of the pool with the NASCAR Now series. Fans may remember that this series was hosted by two men who had never been on a TV series before, or knew anything about NASCAR. What a nice thing to walk into as the primary NASCAR field reporter from Mooresville, NC.
There is absolutely no doubt that Shannon Spake and the NASCAR Now Insiders reporting the news kept this show afloat. Even as ESPN decided to defend their ill-chosen hosts, all-stars like Spake and Marty Smith, along with newcomers Terry Blount and Angelique Chengelis created the only content of interest to fans.
Michael Knight, the veteran motorsports writer said "on ESPN's weekday and pre-race programs, Spake has emerged from the wreckage of SPEED's wretched NASCAR Nation as a solid, straightforward reporter." High praise from an informed source.
Back on April 15th, only two months out of the box, The Daly Planet said "Spake has proven to be a consistently good reporter with a laid-back style of presenting information that works well with the NASCAR set."
When NASCAR Now let go of their original co-host Doug Banks, the suggestion was made to let Spake step-up and take a shot at hosting. Memories of her time on SPEED and her Backseat Drivers program with Marty Smith were still fresh. The network chose instead to extend those opportunities to Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro.
This season has been tough on veterans like Massaro, who has been in the wrong place at the wrong time...a lot. From badgering Junior about missing The Chase, to asking Mark Martin the stupidest question in NASCAR TV history, Massaro is probably glad this season is in the books.
With Allen Bestwick bouncing back and forth between pit road and hosting duties in ESPN's Infield Studio, Spake was inserted to work with Jamie Little and Dave Burns on pit road. Burns is a clown, and his nature is to play the fool. Little has a very aggressive and over-the-top style, which rubbed some NASCAR fans the wrong way.
That left Spake, once again appearing younger than her thirty-one years, to be the focus of attention. Her memorable run-in with Kurt Busch where he not only chastised her on-the-air but off it as well was certainly an interesting moment for both, and probably ultimately served as a lesson learned for each as well.
This season The Daly Planet has typed Shannon Spake's name over two hundred and fifty times. When we reviewed NASCAR Now, there she was. When NASCAR Countdown was in our sights, there she was again. When ESPN2 or ESPN News covered breaking NASCAR news...guess who was on scene?
This has truly been a breakout TV year for Spake, who is a resident of the Lake Norman area near Mooresville, NC. A Florida girl who graduated from Florida Atlantic University, Spake has made the most of her TV opportunities along the way. It will be interesting to see how ESPN uses Spake in her college football debut, and what she can make of this big opportunity far away from the NASCAR stage.
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Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The ESPN2 presentation of the Busch Series Banquet on Tuesday night completed the TV airing of all three of NASCAR's national touring series end-of-season affairs.
In seemingly direct contrast to the ability of NASCAR to entertain millions with exciting high-speed racing action, the inability of the sanctioning body to provide even a hint of excitement or spontaneity during these functions is puzzling.
NASCAR fans are a bit handcuffed where the banquets are concerned. The NEXTEL Cup Banquet aired on ESPN Classic, which is in far fewer homes than ESPN2. This move was a tough one, as ESPN2 had been the "NASCAR network of record" all season long for the ESPN group. The reason it was moved, as racing fans know all too well, was for stick-and-ball sports once again.
In a final ironic twist, when the Cup Banquet re-aired on ESPN2, the start was delayed for a SportsCenter telecast due to a live game running late. Now, after midnight on the East Coast, NASCAR fans without ESPN Classic had set their DVR's and TiVo's to ESPN2 for the originally scheduled time.
Needless to say, they wound-up missing a good portion of the show. Even with the last NEXTEL Cup program of the year, ESPN could not buy a break. It's just been that type of season for this family of networks.
Both the Busch and Truck Banquets were taped by their respective networks, and then edited for broadcast. It seems that this is the way to go with this type of content. Even the NEXTEL Cup Banquet would have been better served if shown a bit later to viewers in an edited fashion. It allows the network to eliminate the "dead time" on the stage and also to "tighten-up" the sequence of events.
In terms of hosting, both the Truck and Busch Banquets struggled a bit with co-hosts. As a single host, Dr. Jerry Punch did an outstanding job with the tough NEXTEL Cup assignment. In both the formal and informal styles shown this year, it seemed that two heads were not better than one.
One of the vestiges of the Bill France Jr. era was the continuation of the posh Waldorf-Astoria banquet setting for the Cup Series. A decade ago, this location and format had a very different function and a very different meaning. Now, we live in a YouTube and Google dominated world where media is sent by text and phone and almost every other way imaginable.
One can only wonder what kind of events and functions could be clustered around a relaxed multi-day setting in Las Vegas or Charlotte where all three national series could have their banquets, with the Sprint Cup function being the finale. That topic was debated in an earlier column, which you can read by clicking here.
The advertisers of Madison Avenue have long since changed to only advertising agencies. They represent NASCAR sponsors with headquarters in Atlanta, Memphis, Dover and ironically enough, Mooresville, NC. That would be the Cup champion.
The fundamental argument that NYC is a global sports media mecca or that sponsors simply can walk to the banquet from their offices is a myth. Things have changed, and this year was the ultimate example.
ESPN just closed their Manhattan studios. ABC's Good Morning America wanted little to do with the NASCAR boys, and everything to do with Helio and his dancing skills. The parade around Times Square made no sense, and most of the national media on-hand were the NASCAR bunch...who live in Charlotte. To top it all off, for Jimmie Johnson to appear on NASCAR Now, he had to drive to ESPN in Bristol, CT.
While some media stories touted one hundred thousand people surrounding the "parade of cars," the YouTube video told a very different tale. The same old New Yorkers, dressed in their dark colors, merely stopped to see what was making all that noise and holding up traffic.
The fact that NASCAR was once again allowed to block off Times Square in the middle of the day is still the source of NYC area website debate. After all, its not like the Yankees won The World Series...or something important like that.
The biggest positive statement of all three banquets across the board was that NASCAR may still have some of the most interesting and appealing athletes of any professional sport in North America. On TV, you would have to go a long way to match the heartfelt emotion of Bobby Hamilton Jr. or the feisty confidence of Tony Stewart during their time in a tuxedo.
Finally, what other sport can offer a grandfather reading his championship speech from a wrinkled piece of notebook paper? Ron Hornaday was thanking the young man who used to sleep on the Hornaday couch when he was new to town. Back then, an unknown racer named Kevin Harvick just needed a place to stay.
Now, years later, Harvick paid Hornaday back with a Truck Series ride and the rest is history. In documenting his own health issues, thanking those close to him, and showing a national TV audience his own humility, Ron Hornaday displayed the kind heart of a tough racer in exactly the way that would have made Bill France Jr. very proud. These are the TV moments that bring new fans into the sport.
What were your opinions about the 2007 NASCAR Banquets? Do you think they were aimed only at the sponsors in the audience or maybe feel short-changed by the lack of fun? If you could suggest one thing to improve the TV presentation, what would it be? What was your opinion of the musical guests?
We know the best suggestions come from TV viewers, and this blog is read by a lot of diverse NASCAR industry types, so give it your best shot.
To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the simple instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for stopping by The Daly Planet and adding your opinion to this on-going Internet conversation.