Saturday, April 7, 2007

ESPN2 in Nashville: TV Lets The Busch Series Shine

Nashville's cold weather just could not put a damper on the Busch Series "stand-alone" party. Without the big names, without being second class citizens, and without Brent Musburger, these guys were ready to put on a show.

Lots of ESPN's Busch regulars were also on vacation, and with live tennis running thirty minutes long, the pre-race show was eliminated. Unfortunately, we still had to deal with Erik Kuselias and his struggles to continue being viable in ESPN's NASCAR agenda. His off-balance opening segment as series "host" set the telecast off on a bad foot, but fans knew that behind him were the pros just chomping at the bit to get racing. In his first assignment as host, Kuselias voice was so high and his words so disjointed that they made no sense.

It only took Marty Reid, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree about thirty seconds to raise the excitement level to a fever pitch, and re-assure the viewers that the pros were, in fact, ready to go. The all-star pit road reporters Mike Massaro, Alan Bestwick, and Jamie Little set the tone early that the ESPN crew respected these drivers, and this race, just as much as a NEXTEL Cup event. They carried this attitude throughout the telecast. Fantastic performance.

The racing was great, and there is no doubt that Marty Reid brings something to the table that Jerry Punch does not. These guys just clicked. The same week that ESPN's daily show NASCAR Now hit on a solid host, the addition of Marty Reid to this team really added a new element. Just like NASCAR, things in the TV world are always changing. Hopefully, if ESPN noticed...for the better.

Early on in the race, the production team tried to insert Erik Kuselias, Brad Daugherty, and Stacy Compton from the infield set. Kuselias was so out of his element that it was painful. Between the booth and pit road there were seven voices on a Busch race, and that is plenty. When ESPN discovers that, and stops treating the Busch Series as a NEXTEL Cup rehearsal, they will finally give it the respect it deserves. And no doubt, both NASCAR and ESPN need this series to get a lot better respect in the media.

From start to finish, Marty Reid made this race a pleasure. Its a bit easier when a dynamic combo like Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree is alongside. Nashville promised to be a fast-paced race, but a second racing groove never really materialized. Despite the fact of no side-by-side racing, this crew kept it interesting right up to the end.

As if to put an official cherry-on-top, ESPN showed the lead lap cars cross the finish line and inserted a scoring graphic when they did. On behalf of all NASCAR fans, thank you for letting us see the drivers finish the race. With NASCAR Now sorted out, and strong performances like this one on races, ESPN has to be smiling that things are finally looking up for their sizeable investment.

Special Report: NASCAR TV In Crisis

A while back, The Daly Planet wrote about the the way in which TV stations, regional sports networks, and cable TV networks were treated by the NASCAR's "gate-keeper" of video, called NASCAR Images. This company, located in Charlotte, NC, is the arm of NASCAR that enforces the tight restrictions placed on the TV and media here in the US. It is no coincidence that NASCAR Images also produces television shows for distribution to the very same TV outlets.

Prior to the existence of NASCAR Images, there were many regional TV shows that promoted the sport of NASCAR around the nation. These were usually produced by "local guys." They focused on drivers from the area and used footage taped directly off-the-air to show race highlights and driver interviews. Needless to say, no one got rich off these shows. However, they gave NASCAR its character, regional flair, and had a loyal fan following.

When NASCAR gathered the television rights to its races years ago, it also decided to buy the old Sunbelt Video in Charlotte and create NASCAR Images. Once established, NASCAR Images and its corporate partner, NASCAR Digital Images, released the new guidelines that all TV and media outlets must obey when using NASCAR footage. These restrictive guidelines immediately priced the existing TV shows out of business. Just like that, NASCAR wiped the local, regional, and national TV racing shows off the face of the planet. They have never returned.

Today, years later, these restrictive guidelines still prohibit TV networks from attempting to produce NASCAR-related shows. NASCAR Images prices the footage of the racing, and the drivers, at a premium. Even the rights to shoot video footage during a race at the racetrack itself are controlled by NASCAR Images. If that is the way NASCAR believes it should work, that's fine. But, something has thrown a wrench into their plans, and that my friends, is the internet.

Right now, there is only one daily NASCAR show on only one TV network in the entire US. It airs at 6:30 PM Eastern time on ESPN2. Fans can either watch it, tape it, or miss it. This one show, produced solely by ESPN, is the daily face of NASCAR on TV. In the meantime, there are currently 13,200 videos available right now on with the NASCAR tag. They include the final laps and post-race interviews of the 2007 Daytona 500 lifted directly from NASCAR on Fox. Purchased from NASCAR Images, this same footage would force you to sell your car to pay the bill. And, is just one of many sites with NASCAR video.

Some fans turn to for video content. They are surprised to learn it is a private company run by Turner Interactive in Atlanta, GA. Its not really NASCAR, but another licensed product that is a source of revenue for NASCAR. currently features a pretty young lady who hosts a new video each day, and they have a small archive of video content. This is the official NASCAR website...can you believe it? A licensed, for-profit, third-party "hosted" business located in Georgia.

Now, let's take a stroll through the real home of NASCAR TV. Simply by using the Google search engine on the blog function, any user can find a wide selection of NASCAR video of any type available for free. Some sites, like, feature a huge amount of video that would easily cost TV stations and networks hundreds of thousands of dollars just to use...once. Currently, there are 853 videos of NASCAR action on this one amateur website alone. Can you see the point I am trying to make? While NASCAR vigorously guards the video footage in the "vault" in Charlotte, thousands of fans are simply editing and posting their own NASCAR TV shows each and every day all over the internet. Does this make any sense?

Even at the smaller sites like the "video of the week" is the final two laps of Cup at Bristol. It is complete with the audio portion of the NASCAR on Fox commentary. Fox paid millions for the exclusive rights to this race, and NASCAR Images owns the rights to this footage twenty-four hours after the event is over. If a TV station, cable network, or broadcast network even approached NASCAR Images about purchasing this footage for use, they would have to lead with their checkbook. This is the NASCAR way.

So, here we are in April of 2007. We have one NASCAR daily show on the air for thirty minutes a day...not in primetime. We have no weekly racing shows. No magazine shows on cable networks each week. Not one live fan call-in show dedicated to NASCAR on TV nationwide. SPEED has Inside NEXTEL Cup, and some weekend support programs like RaceDay and Victory Lane, two of our favorites. But, that is not the point of this column.

The struggle right now is between the conventional media, television, and the new media, the internet. As I wrote in my last column, it appears that NASCAR Images still has "dial-up." NASCAR needs to loosen the reigns on cable and network television in the US, or face a continuing migration of NASCAR fans onto the internet. Pretty soon, the only need for TV networks will be for the races themselves. With DirecTV's "Hot Pass" and the other pay-per-view in-car packages, that network audience has already eroded significantly.

How many of you listen to the radio broadcast of the race on your computer while you watch the video from the TV networks? If the video of the race was online, would you need to turn-on your TV at all on Sundays? OK, I agree that the Jimmy Spencer pre-race hair check is mandatory. But, other than that? So, many of you are already actively involved in the migration to on-line NASCAR TV.

Remember SpeedWeek, This Week in NASCAR with Eli Gold, Raceline, Prime Time Motorsports, and the other mid-week NASCAR shows? Remember when SPEED used to replay the Cup race from Sunday during the week in a shorter version? Were you a fan of NBS 24/7 or Totally NASCAR? All this TV content has gone missing because of the inability of NASCAR Images to define its role.

Meanwhile, the 13,200 videos on just sit there, calling your name.

Marty Reid and NASCAR at Nashville

It was nice to hear the familiar tones of Marty Reid back on the NASCAR trail this weekend in Nashville. With Jerry Punch on vacation, Marty stepped over from his NHRA duties and joined Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree, and the ESPN2 NASCAR gang.

Saturday morning, qualifying took place in frigid conditions for everyone involved. With Marty at the helm, things on ESPN2 were as comfortable as NHRA fans have come to enjoy over the last several seasons. The key for this type of single car qualifying is information, and this crew was amazing. Andy Petree has begun to take on many of the positive aspects of our late friend Benny Parsons. Petree seemingly talked to everyone in the garage before qualifying, and had information on so many different things from drivers to set-ups. His positive energy is infectious.

Rusty is really on-his-game, and with his son Steven driving fulltime in the Busch Series, Rusty knows the players. Throughout this normally boring session, Rusty delivered the kind of insight that we have come to expect, especially when young drivers are involved. This season, Rusty seems to be more comfortable with himself as a person, and not as judgemental as we have seen in the past. Even when the ESPN crew mistakenly inserted a graphic over his son's first qualifying lap, Rusty kept his cool and made it into a funny moment. One cool customer.

With Mike Massaro, Alan Bestwick, Vince Welch, and Jamie Little along covering pit road, one got the feel that this crew really liked and respected each other. This is the kind of vibe that ESPN has been looking for since they cranked up the racing coverage at Daytona. Without some of the characters that are featured on the Busch Series race broadcasts, this stripped-down version of NASCAR on ESPN worked...and worked well.