Friday, September 21, 2007

SPEED's "Trackside Live" Rocks The House With Junior

Steve Byrnes and his Trackside Live gang were pumped on Friday night in Dover. Along with The Chase, the panel had something else on their mind. Only days after his big announcement about sponsors and car numbers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was appearing on the show live and in living color.

One of the biggest crowds in the history of the SPEED Stage turned out with lots of signs and lots of energy. It certainly appeared that Junior nation was still in full force. Both the signs in the crowd and several of the chants also proved that the Junior gang had not lost any of their creativity.

Junior himself was brimming with energy, and this one hour program just overflowed with information that fans wanted to know. Kudos to Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond for taking their time and asking all the right questions. Once again, these two have proven to be the top NASCAR analysts by far, and reinforced it on this show.

Steve Byrnes continues to fly under the radar as one of the best multi-purpose announcers among the NASCAR TV partners. Trackside Live has become a Friday night franchise for SPEED, and the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the panel is unmatched.

For fans staying at the track, the SPEED Stage is a great place to stop-by after the on-track activities end, and have some fun. Tonight, it was the place to see and be seen at the Dover track. Junior was going to be live, and this was as close any many fans would get to him in a lifetime.

One of the newest personalities on Trackside is Elliott Sadler. He has worked very hard on his TV skills, and now fits in quite well with the older and more experienced panel. In this show, he had several opportunities to ask Junior personal and in-depth family questions that few others would dare to ask. It was clear that Junior respected him, because he clearly and honestly answered all of them.

It was also clear that Junior was a bit nervous to be in-front of a raucous crowd, but he hung-in there and deserves credit for dealing with a ton of background noise while he kept his focus on the panel and answered their questions.

SPEED's TV crew did the right thing and kept things simple. No fancy music or graphics, no sound effects or tons of footage used. It was just Junior and the gang, alone and live in front of a throng of pumped-up fans.

As usual, Trackside gave one announcer an opportunity to step to a smaller side-stage and interview the guest one-on-one. The SPEED Producers made a great decision and selected Elliott Sadler. In his own down-home style, Sadler conducted a unique interview that really played on his personal relationship with Junior and the feelings he has experienced over the past six months.

SPEED allowed Junior a couple of sponsor plugs, and they included a poker site that he and Sadler had created. That should bring some additional stories in the media over the next several weeks. Sadler prodded Junior into admitting his concerns over the COT and his hope that NASCAR will continue to be flexible in its development.

Junior brought on his current team mate Martin Truex Jr. and this was a great moment for fans to step-back and absorb the incredible level of change that was about to happen in the sport next season. Both men talked about their time together, and how things would play-out when next season began. Truex is about to assume a mantle that will be tough to wear, but he seems to be game to do the job.

In a great moment, Larry McReynolds quizzed Junior about DEI and how he felt about their future. Junior was clear in his good feeling that Mark Martin and Aric Almirola would be the two drivers sharing his former ride for 2008. He also had kind words for Max Seigel, the new DEI executive, and his hard work in learning the industry.

Although it does not have the flash of RaceDay, there is no doubt from the fan reaction that Trackside Live has been a solid addition to the NASCAR TV package once again this season. Friday night's show with Junior and Martin Truex really worked hard to showcase both drivers away from the track and address not only their professional but also their personal sides.

One has the feeling that the SPEED executives might be trying to expand this program for 2008. With most of the drivers present at the track as the program airs, the potential exists to broaden this franchise and work to include more racing personalities in a setting other than pit road or the garage.

With the success of the two hour edition of RaceDay, the network might have a point in considering expanding the Trackside series as well. We shall see.

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