Tuesday, June 5, 2007
One day after the passing of Bill France Jr. ESPN2's NASCAR Now took to the air with Ryan Burr at the helm. The production staff faced the difficult challenge of blending the continuing story of Mr. France's death with the on-going stories of the sport itself. Tuesday, NASCAR Now rose to that challenge, and showed us once again what this daily show can be with the right combination of talent and content.
Burr opened the show and led directly to reporter Terry Blount. Burr then stepped aside to let Blount talk about the details of the France funeral, the memorial service, and the tributes planned by the racing community.
Then, Felix Sabates appeared via liveshot and contributed a wonderfully personal interview containing both facts and stories about Mr. France. Burr led Sabates through the entire interview slowly and respectfully. It showed Burr's journalism skills and his professionalism. It also showed NASCAR Now in a very good light.
Transitioning back to the on-going NASCAR issues, Burr welcomed Max Siegel from DEI for a discussion about life after Junior. Burr asked the right questions, and pushed Siegel on several issues including Greg Biffle, and the possibility of Junior having second thoughts and returning. This was a top notch interview of a key player in the NASCAR world, and covered all the needed bases.
In the past, NASCAR Now would follow this type of important personality with either Tim Cowlishaw or Brad Daugherty. They would speak in "non-expert" terms about the very person who had just spoken for themselves. Today, that changed when the show followed Siegel with reporter Terry Blount. His hard-hitting information finally allowed viewers to understand why he is an "Insider," and he proved that following a good interview with a good NASCAR journalist can get even more information to the viewers. This was a great "one-two" punch.
At last, the show let a reporter address more than one story at a time. Blount also addressed the Kurt Busch vs. Tony Stewart situation, and the possible penalties by NASCAR. Excellent sound from Tony's radio show put into perspective his feelings about the situation, and let Burr "tag" Tony's sound bite with up to the minute information about NASCAR's pending actions.
Thankfully, NASCAR Now reduced the "fantasy racing" segment into one panel of the top ten drivers as they stood before Pocono. This is all the viewers need, and the previous practice of allowing the "fantasy editor" to "pick" drivers head-to-head was absolutely wrong. With no Busch or Truck highlights, no regional racing series news, and no personality profiles, dedicating four or five minutes to "fantasy racing" was way out of line.
Finally, as if the show was not packed enough with content, Burr rolled out Troy Aikman for a great interview about his second year as a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup owner. Aikman provided lots of information about his goals, his team, the sport, and his plans for the future. Burr was smart enough to give Aikman some added credibility by asking if he had contacted Dale Junior about a driver spot. It was a nice touch.
Unfortunately, the ESPN Promotions Department still has their fingers in this show. Out of a Troy Aikman interview, on a Tuesday evening, for absolutely no reason, Burr was forced to promote the upcoming weekend NHRA event. How strange is that? A Saturday and Sunday promo of a non-NASCAR event out of a NASCAR owner interview and before another NASCAR story. NASCAR Now has to put the IndyCar, NHRA, and other ESPN promos in the same location in each show so viewers understand that this is the "ESPN promo zone." The NHRA promo really took the wind out of the Aikman interview.
Before leaving the air, Burr quietly dropped the big bombshell of the evening. Many viewers may not even have heard him. I had to play this show back two times on my DVR to understand that what I heard is correct. On Wednesday, NASCAR Now is leaving the studio and originating from Eldora Speedway. That's right, the show is leaving the High-Definition "mothership" and venturing out into the world with the rest of us.
In their press release of June 4th, ESPN never even mentions going to Eldora and covering Tony Stewart's "Prelude to the Dream." This one time invitation only race will feature a bunch of NASCAR regulars racing Late Model Stock Cars on dirt. It will be carried live as a pay-per-view event on HBO. It might be worth the $24.95 just to see Juan Montoya sling a dirt Late Model on a Wednesday night in June in Ohio. Finally, ESPN seems to be on the right track to showing NASCAR fans what is going on in the sport, and featuring the people who are making it happen.
Many fans have emailed The Daly Planet asking for Ryan Burr and Allen Bestwick to host this program series. We have seen ESPN make recent changes to improve, and with Tuesday's outstanding show things might be rounding into shape. This was a fun show with a good host, great interviews, and super reporting. Alone on the set, Ryan Burr reminded some of us of John Kernan. Lots of information flowed, lots of interviews happened, and lots of news was reported. If a NASCAR fan watched this show, they would tune-in tomorrow. So, let's see what tomorrow brings.
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