Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tony Stewart May Change NASCAR TV...Forever

There are some things that TV networks just don't do well. It happens to be the nature of the beast. One of the things at the top of that list is promoting a special event that does not make them any money. Other than PBS, every network is a big business with profit-and-loss pressure on the management. This is why you may not have heard of the "NEXTEL Prelude to the Dream."

If you have, you are probably a die hard NASCAR fan who gets their information from the Internet or radio. Around the sport, this upcoming special one-night-only Late Model Stock Car race is absolutely setting the NASCAR world on fire. Everyone involved in the sport, each with their own reasoning and perspective, will be watching this one race, on dirt, at Eldora Speedway in Ohio.

No, its not for the race date, its on Wednesday June 6th. Its not for the track, Eldora has been around for a long time. Its not even for the type of racing, as Late Models have been circling through our world forever. Most NASCAR industry types will be watching for only one reason. To see if it works.

Tony Stewart has joined forces with HBO to offer the first prime time live pay-per-view racing special. It features an "all-star" cast of drivers specifically chosen to attract attention to this event. There are no points, there are no big purses, and there are no NASCAR tech officials in sight. This is the "Woodstock" of racing.

HBO feels as though NASCAR fans will purchase a pay-per-view package just like the style of all-night boxing that HBO has made so successful. For less than twenty-five dollars, fans get a Wednesday night "happening" that they can watch and record for posterity. HBO is bringing the TV "stuff," and handling all the pay-per-view details.

As the host, all Tony Stewart has to do is bring the drivers and announcers. The line-up of talent is going to be key to the success of the entire project. From where I stand, things are looking pretty darn good. Let me re-phrase that...things are looking spectacular.

So far, Tony has confirmed Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, and Bobby Labonte. Stewart says there will be more announced before race day. Just for spice, Stewart added a little pepper to the mix. Cruz Pedregon, the classy NHRA driver is on board. Pedregon is a dirt track veteran, and owns several midget and sprint car teams.

Finally, as if there can be anything more comes Juan Pablo Montoya to a dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio for a Wednesday night Late Model Show. That, my friends, will truly be a moment in time to be remembered.

Tony and Sirius Satellite Radio sidekick Matt Yocum will co-host the event, with Tony departing when his driving duties beckon. Veteran Mike Joy is going to be joined in the broadcast booth by his NASCAR on Fox colleague Darrell Waltrip, and the co-founder of the Victory Junction Gang Camp Kyle Petty. On pit road, none other than the original Dick "Dr. Dirt" Berggren will be handling the duties. What a line-up.

TV Update: NASCAR on Fox Emmy Award Winning Pit Producer Pam Miller will be producing the event, with her Fox partner Artie Kempner calling the shots as the Director.

The "hook" for the potential participants was that the entire evening will benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Tony Stewart Foundation. That's right, its for charity and that makes it different. No sponsors can whine, no car owners can cringe, and no ESPN anchors can ask "what if he gets hurt?"

The way is clear for a good solid night of heat races, the "B" main, and then the feature. Its going to be dirty, nasty, ugly, fender-bumping, caution-throwing, lots of complaining short track dirt racing. Every fan deserves to see good dirt action, even if they have never seen a short track race, never been to a race in person, or only want Tony to spin Jeff on every lap he can. Face it, this is going to be fun.

The bigger picture is also on the horizon. These are a bunch of professional racers from NASCAR and the NHRA getting together on an "off-day" to race. What if they wind-up generating several million dollars in pay-per-view revenue? What if they outdraw the biggest boxing matches ever on HBO and make tens of millions? Does this mean that the Hendrick vs. Rousch pay-per-view package from Humpy Wheeler's dirt track at Lowes Motor Speedway can be far behind? The potential success of this one night of racing could serve as the catalyst for huge changes in racing on television.

If they got the top twenty NEXTEL Cup, the top twenty Busch, and the top twenty Craftsman Truck drivers together...would you watch them race at Homestead on Christmas Eve? Why not bring along the Indy 500 winner and the top twenty IndyCar guys? Its nice and balmy at Homestead during the Christmas season. What if they opened the stands for a one night "Christmas Eve in Florida" event? Heat races, eliminations, fan voting, and all of this on pay-per-view. See where I am going with this?

Tony has a great idea, and I certainly hope for good weather and great racing. If it works, the charities are going to be much better off, and NASCAR fans never let charity down. If it is super-successful, then look-out for lots of new "TV ideas" to come your way soon. While TV networks do a lot of things poorly, one thing they do copy success to make more money. Can the Jimmy Spencer vs. Kurt Busch match race be far behind? The Brickyard...under the midnight. Two men enter, and only one walks away the winner.

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