Friday, December 7, 2007

"Chasing Glory" Goes Out On A High Note

It certainly has been an interesting year for the powerhouse NASCAR Images media production group. Sometimes, it must seem that they are running a high-volume electronic cafeteria and we are all customers that want to eat right now.

I am not sure that short-order cook is in any of the job descriptions down in Charlotte, but that is exactly what a whole lot of the NASCAR Images staff has been for NASCAR fans this season. We want our shows...and we want them now.

Along the way, there have been some orders that were not exactly cooked the way the customer wanted. Needless to say, some complaints were filed with the management. As most of our readers know, two of the biggest complaints came about the Chasing Glory and Survival of the Fastest TV series.

This week, the final installment of Chasing Glory aired on ESPN, and it was a good way to mend fences with the fans. NASCAR Images camera crews showed us exactly what we all wanted to see. From the drop of the checkered flag at Homestead, fans got a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes reality of the business of being the NEXTEL Cup Champion.

Instead of the grandiose booming voice-over announcer, the Images guys toned it down to let us in on everything post-race from the long interviews and picture taking sessions right up through the scene in New York City at Champions Week.

Unfortunately, things continue to be produced very "formally" in a time when Internet reality videos and "HD handicams" set a very informal tone for most sports-based reality style shows. The old "NFL Films" approach did not allow for an element of humor and fun to be inserted in this program in the amount that it could have been. Everything was very serious in a sport where many things...are simply not.

It was nice to see Eli Gold on-camera again, and also Jimmie Johnson and the other drivers interacting with the NASCAR print and electronic media they all know so well. This is a slice of the everyday NASCAR pie that fans would like to see a lot more. Put the NASCAR media on-camera and let them talk, instead of the dominating NASCAR Images scripted announcer.

Seeing Clint Bowyer riding around NYC on a tour bus was just fun. Hearing Tony Stewart and Matt Yocum doing their Sirius Satellite Radio show was lots of fun. Watching the practice for the NEXTEL Cup Banquet was priceless. Kudos to Images for allowing fans behind-the-scenes for this fascinating moment. I have the feeling many fans had no idea there was an official practice for the Banquet.

This brings-up the one main theme of this column. That is, what else have fans been missing? With the "old footage" issues explained, NASCAR Images faces another serious crisis in the off-season. That is the overall lack of post-produced long form programming provided by that company this year for ESPN and SPEED.

Certainly, Images has a lot on its plate with the live shows from the SPEED Stage at races, the TV compound duties, and its production of magazine style shows like Inside NEXTEL Cup for SPEED. While that is certainly an impressive workload, it is no excuse for the overall lack of availability of NASCAR Images programming on various cable television networks.

This off-season is a virtual NASCAR TV "dead zone" when it comes to keeping fan interest alive during this three month period. What a great time to dedicate one timeslot a week to a carefully chosen programming line-up that can slowly build-up to Speedweeks. Both ESPN2 and SPEED have plenty of timeslots that can provide a set time when fans can record programs for viewing. It does not have to be primetime, just a set time each week.

As a pure motorsports TV network, SPEED has especially taken the heat from fans for simply walking away from the sport once the NASCAR Truck Series Banquet takes place. Why not partner with NASCAR Images to create some retrospective programming for fans during the winter? What a great time to "empty the vaults" of fun and interesting footage that maybe did not have a place during the very competitive regular season.

Sometimes, NASCAR Images struggles with the fact that fans don't always need racing or a racetrack to be involved in NASCAR TV programming. This sport, this industry, and this lifestyle is big enough to allow new TV program ideas to flourish, and they have not. This new partnership between NASCAR Images, SPEED and ESPN has simply not resulted in the kind of quality post-produced programming we have seen from Images in the past.

Let's hope that next year, after the Banquets are over, there is at least one dedicated network timeslot for continued NASCAR programming during the off-season on both ESPN and SPEED. The ability to re-live, expand-on, and even to finally explain some of the things that went on during this ten month season needs to be given to those that lived it, and offered to those who love to watch it.

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