Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Your Interview With Fox's Mike Joy

The readers of The Daly Planet spent several days posting questions for veteran motorsports TV commentator Mike Joy. That is Mike in the middle of the "NASCAR on Fox" gang pictured above.

He has been kind enough to send along some responses, and here they are. At the bottom of this article there will be a comments area where you can add your reaction to his answers.

Q - Since it's almost that time of the year, Kevin observed that you really seem to enjoy your time during the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction. He wondered if you get to test drive any of the cars, and what other car/racing interests do you have outside of NASCAR?
A - Kevin, I often get calls to evaluate vintage cars for folks. My first love is sports cars, including an MGB that is getting one of Bill Guzman's V6 conversions.

My best drive was when Ken Epsman asked me to drive his 1970 Mark Donahue/Penske Javelin at the Lime Rock Vintage Festival. That is me, pictured above.

George Follmer and Sam Posey were both there. My eyes filled-up when I was on the pace lap, looking at the infield hillside. That's where I had sat watching Mark race that very car against Sam in '70, and George had raced it in '71 and '72. It was a very emotional experience, and what a car to drive!

Q - Vicky in TX asked if NASCAR is getting too expensive for one-car teams to field and race against "the big guys?"
A - Vicky, the level of engineering and development at the biggest teams greatly reduces the chances of a small team being competitive...which makes it much more exciting when one of them has a great finish.

Q - Several readers including Karen in British Columbia asked about your weekly schedule during the race season. She imagines that it is just as hectic as the earlier interview comments from Steve Byrnes and Wendy Venturini. Can you let us in on it?
A - Karen, both Wendy and Steve have lots of off-track shows they are involved in during the week, while I broadcast practice and qualifying. That leaves me to prep for the race telecast, including garage time, time with our Fox Production folks, and sponsor appearances at dinners and track hospitality. During the week, my family says I spend too much time on the Internet and the phone chasing down vintage cars and parts. Mostly, it is spent on race research and includes surfing websites like this one so we can improve our TV coverage.

Q - Franna in TX asks what was the most difficult interview you ever had to do?
A - Franna, several times I have had to talk to Bobby Allison on-camera about his sons. As a father, its incredibly hard to imagine what life has been like for the Allisons. Bobby has always been gracious with his time, and candid with his comments. He is a good friend, and that makes my task easier...but it always leaves me with a lump in my throat and a great sense of loss.

Q - Both Makiki and Ann asked what was your most difficult moment on the air to report? They also both can't wait to hear you back on the air in February.
A - Thanks, Makiki and Ann. The 2001 Daytona 500 finish was a great moment for the Waltrip family, but we knew that Dale Earnhardt Sr. had crashed hard. No one would give us any sense of his condition beyond Ken Schrader's reaction which you saw on TV. We feared the worst, but hoped for the best...that maybe Dale was just knocked unconscious. Absent confirmation, I wasn't comfortable explaining what I thought could be true from what I was seeing and how people were reacting. That day still produces a great conflict of emotion.

Q - Lots of people asked about "the three amigos," and the fact that folks love to hear you, Larry, and DW call a race. How have you three developed such a good chemistry together?
A - We've known each other for twenty or more years. We're good friends, but most importantly, we all have a high respect for each other's experience and point of view. Our bosses at Fox, David Hill and Ed Goren, encourage us to have a good time, to inform, and to entertain. We love to go to work every day, and that means a lot.

Q - Tammy asks if you could please describe what goes on in the Fox booth during a race? She pictures "organized chaos," but says you, DW, and Larry Mac always manage to give us the race information we want and the camera angles to back it up. Like many Daly Planet readers, she wishes you could call all the races.
A - Tammy, so do we! Everyone filters out the "noise" and concentrates on the input needed for their task. I have the announcers in one ear, and the producer and director in the other. We have a statistician and a historian in the booth who hand us brief notes. Larry, DW and I maintain eye contact while watching both the TV monitors and the track. All this multi-tasking is very challenging, so getting it right is a big part of what makes it so much fun.

Q - Sally, Sophia and others are a bit upset. NASCAR's mantra is always "it's about the fans." Between the bad coverage on TV this season (not from Fox), the COT switch, the homogenizing of the driver's personalities, empty seats at the tracks, lower TV ratings and too many commercials...something must be done. What are your ideas?
A - Sally and Sophia, we have on-going discussions with NASCAR about your points. Strong rivalries, drivers showing personality without the fear of penalty, and an easily understood point system would help engage more fans in the sport.

Q - Matt has been a fan of yours since the TNN days with Neil Bonnett. What was broadcasting NASCAR back then on TNN like? How different is it now with Fox compared to those days?
A - Matt, thanks for mentioning Neil, he is still really missed. It was very different, it takes 200 Fox people on-site to televise a race and TNN did it with just 60. The biggest advantage is the computerized scoring and information flow. Back in 1991, the "points as of now" stat had to be figured with a paper and pen, and we only got a scoring rundown...every ten laps!

Q - A fan asked if you and Fox have considered what would happen in the event Sunoco became the object of serious criticism in the NASCAR garage? (Mike is also the CEO of New England Racing Fuel, a distributor of Sunoco racing fuels in the Northeast.)
A - I would voluntarily disclaim my potential conflict, but not shy away from the discussion. I'm glad NASCAR and Sunoco enjoyed a seamless transition to unleaded fuel...that was a big step. For the street, I see ethanol creating more problems than solutions. The Europeans have proven there are already more efficient options biodiesel.

Q - Larry says last season's Daytona 500 ended with a dash to the checkers as a multi-car crash was ensuing behind the leaders. Do you believe that NASCAR should allow racing back to the yellow on the final lap of a race?
A - Larry, sorry for the pun...but its a no-win situation. NASCAR needs to have flexibility. We all want each race to end under green, if the track is safe in front of the leaders. I feel they made the best call they could that day under the circumstances. Maybe we could get two chances at a finish in Overdrive (a green-white-checker).

Q - Joe met you on Labor Day weekend about 11 years ago up at Loudon, NH when you were running your SCCA sports racer. Do you still have it, and do you still race it?
A - Joe, I sold the Valvoline car when we moved to North Carolina. The Fox/SPEED schedule and two children did not leave much time for racing. I'd like to do more vintage racing, and I've got my eye on a historic Trans-Am that I don't think Ed is ready to sell just yet.

Q - Sharon says you are one of the best in the business. She thinks its a shame we don't have more people like you in NASCAR. There have been a lot of changes in the sport over the last couple of years, what is one change you would like to see reversed, and why?
A - Thanks Sharon. I wish that ownership had been capped at three Cup teams. But, that horse is out of the barn, and with "satellite teams" and all, I fear we could one day have as few as eight real team owners.

Q - Alex wants to know if there is anyone that you would have liked to work with in the booth that you never had the chance to?
A - Alex, David Pearson and Richard Petty together in the booth would be really interesting. Each of them did a little TV, but not together.

Q - A fan asks what do you consider to be the most memorable moment of your broadcasting career? Also, is there anything left that you haven't gotten a chance to do as a broadcaster that you would still like to accomplish?
A - The 1998 Daytona 500 was a very special team effort. Our group did so much research so that Ned Jarrett, Buddy Baker and I could properly educate viewers on just how close Dale Earnhardt Sr. had come so many times before to winning. On your second question, I would like to help Darrell Waltrip win an Emmy, and to continue to be part of this great team for many years.

Q - Since we talked about the Barrett-Jackson event earlier, Patrick wants to know what amount of prep work do you do before the show? Also, what collector cars, past or present, have graced your personal garage and do you have a wish list?
A - Patrick, most of my prep was done in 40 years of owning, driving and working on these cars but I read and surf the web to improve my specific knowledge once we get the auction catalogue. Someday, I'll get a website up to showcase the cars I've enjoyed and what it cost to own them. From the '60 Chevy Impala I drove in high school to the new car I asked Santa to bring...there is always a wish list!

Q - Brian appreciates the fact that you make watching races fun, and have for many years. From your days as a pit reporter to the present, who has been your biggest inspiration to help you become who you are today?
A - Brian, there are three people who I owe more than I can every repay. Ken Squier, Barney Hall, and Ned Jarrett. Not just for the high standards they set as broadcasters and the doors they helped open, but for the life lessons I learned under their guidance.

Note from Mike: Thanks, John for this forum, and thanks to everybody for the questions. Merry Christmas, and we will see you in Daytona before too long!

Once again, The Daly Planet readers have come through with some fantastic questions which have gotten some very interesting answers. We always welcome comments from readers, and encourage you to post your reaction to this interview.

To add your post, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the easy instructions. We do not want your email address, and there is nothing to join. Here at The Daly Planet, we just want your opinion. Thanks for adding it.

Zero Hour For NASCAR Announcers

As we approach the Christmas break, the countdown clock over at is now telling us there are less than sixty days to the 2008 Daytona 500.

So far, we have seen a lot of press releases from the NASCAR TV partners about the past season, but almost none about the future.

In 2007, there were some notable issues in "TV land" with respect to on-air announcers. In the TV biz, they are simply called "talent." As we saw during the past eleven months, that word can quickly take on an ironic twist.

Mr. Doug Banks left his co-hosting duties on NASCAR Now after only a short time. It was a tough start for that new ESPN2 show. Banks returned to his highly successful radio career on The Doug Banks Show and does not seem to be any worse for the wear. His run certainly was interesting.

Ryan Burr from ESPN News was brought-in to fill this role, and did a fine job. He was the relief host for Erik Kuselias, easily the most controversial "talent" of the 2007 NASCAR season.

After having trouble hosting NASCAR Now in the studio, Kuselias was "auditioned" live in the ESPN Infield Studio at the track hosting NASCAR Countdown. That memorable performance was not repeated.

There has been no word from ESPN about the line-up of NASCAR Now for next season, or a date when the show will begin. With lots of changes behind the scenes on the ESPN Radio side, there may well be a better opportunity to use Kuselias and his extensive stick-and-ball knowledge...elsewhere.

Boris Said and Stacy Compton served as the NASCAR Now studio analysts, and Compton's down-home style was a sharp contrast to the biting tongue of Kuselias. Said merely treated Kuselias as a distraction, and laughed a lot. What these two drivers are doing for 2008 on TV has not been disclosed.

Something remembered by NASCAR fans was the sudden appearance of driver Bill Lester one weekend, who did all the NASCAR Now shows live in the ESPN studio and then was simply...gone. ESPN said it was "an experiment." Interesting.

Staying with ESPN, the host chair in the Infield Studio should be open for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. Originally, ESPN said that Suzy Kolber was a fill-in, and her "appointment" to that position followed a long line of names like Musburger, Fowler, Bestwick, Massaro, and Kuselias who tried to fill that role.

The ESPN season is a long one, as Jerry Punch and company can attest. His team handled the entire Busch Series schedule, and then added the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup events. Maybe, we will see ESPN bring in some additional "relief talent" for the core TV crew. We noticed that they auditioned Brad Daugherty in the booth during a Busch Series race, and also used Allen Bestwick and Marty Reid to spell Jerry Punch during his vacation time.

A while back, I got several emails from TV friends saying Rusty Wallace was not returning to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Almost immediately, I got several emails from ESPN saying Rusty Wallace was returning...and I was an idiot. That happens a lot.

We all had fun with "Eric Amarillo" and "David Gilligan," but Rusty did complete his first season without backing down from controversy and without missing an assignment. What the ramifications are of Dale Jarrett doing his "semi-retirement" tour this season are still to be seen.

One thing is for sure, with the entire Nationwide Series and seventeen Sprint Cup races, there are plenty of analyst slots on races, qualifying, and practice sessions for both Rusty and DJ to share in 2008.

The TNT guys are silent. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds did solid work, but what will become of Wally Dallenbach, Bill Weber, and Marc Fein remains to be seen. The tension on the pre-show set at TNT was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Wouldn't someone like a Bob Jenkins or an Eli Gold at the helm shake-up that crew?

Over at SPEED, we are still awaiting official word on the line-ups of their big weekly NASCAR shows, although no significant changes seem to be on the way. Shows like Trackside, Victory Lane, and NASCAR Live seem to be working just fine.

The same is true of the Truck Series, with a solid broadcast team, and no rumored changes on the horizon. Although, Krista Voda is clearly on the verge of bigger things. Last season, she moved up to NASCAR on Fox as a pit reporter. Wouldn't it be interesting to see her directing some traffic from the Hollywood Hotel? Take that Suzy Kolber!

One interesting question will be if Kyle Petty returns to Tradin' Paint. One might believe that it would depend as much on his blood pressure as his desire to expand his TV career. Petty had some pretty big blow-ups with some NASCAR media types, and The Daly Planet has suggested that adding a fourth panelist like Randy Pemberton or Jeff Hammond might take the heat off Petty and not make things seem so "personal."

SPEED's "King of the Jungle" in NASCAR land is RaceDay. With most of the staff under contract, the questions really concern Rutledge Wood and Ricki Rachtman. Not only has this show grown in stature to become SPEED's highest profile NASCAR program, it has also spent a good part of the season matched-up head-to-head with both TNT and ESPN/ABC's pre-race shows. Make no mistake, this is the big time.

In looking for a feature reporter to balance the news-oriented Wendy Venturini, SPEED has tried several candidates. This season, it will be interesting to see if they go with a veteran like Pemberton, stay with the current dynamic duo, or bring in a fresh face to handle the non-racing feature reports.

Finally, here comes the program series that generates the most mail and the most comments each time it is mentioned. Inside NEXTEL Cup must be discussed once again. Changing gears for next season, it will be interesting to see if SPEED makes changes in the program format and the panel.

Many times on The Daly Planet over the course of the season, we have debated the pros and cons of having a host who was "encouraged" by the network to take the job, panelists who do not race in the races, and part-time panelists still wet behind the ears when it comes to solid NASCAR experience. There are lots of good points on both sides.

Love him or hate him, everybody knows Dave Despain. Michael Waltrip has just re-vamped his company, his teams, and will now be playing the second Toyota fiddle to Joe Gibbs. Schrader is still working on a combo-deal, but is not retiring. Greg Biffle is poised to make a solid run at a Championship. Those are some interesting personal dynamics at work when it comes to making forty weeks of memorable TV programs.

For all these shows, look for word to start slowly leaking out about confirmations of who is "in" and surprises of who is "out" during the days after the Christmas break. Network logistics are such that names and travel schedules and paperwork and production meetings are going to be all confirmed before January 1st.

One wild card who just emerged on the scene is John Kernan. As The Daly Planet mentioned in an earlier article, he has relocated to Chicago and ended his radio work for PRN and Sirius. Flying out of Chicago, Kernan could be just what the doctor ordered for several NASCAR TV vacancies that would compliment his current part-time NHRA schedule.

If you had an opportunity to suggest some change to the network executives, who would be included? We have now had some time to calm down after a tumultuous season on TV, and our heads are hopefully a little clearer. Tell us who would be "out" and why, and then who you would like to see "in" for next season.

As always, keep your comments focused, and make your point. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page prior to adding your comment. To post, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.