Thursday, December 27, 2007

SPEED Channel Answers Back

One day after the Homestead Championship Weekend, something changed in "NASCAR TV Land."

Suddenly, after a year of high-profile network TV coverage of NASCAR's three major racing series, there was silence.

Fans that got into the habit of tuning-into or recording some sort of NASCAR-related TV program every single day for the previous ten months didn't know what to do. When the year-in-review programs from NASCAR Images were duds, and the three series banquets were lackluster, it finally sank was really over.

No matter how many times fans checked SPEED Channel, it was still PINKS, Redline TV, and Super Bikes. One spin of the dial to ESPN Classic yielded no better results. One thing was certain, there was no NASCAR TV to be found.

So, we promptly reminded everyone that lots of NASCAR video was to be found on the good old "still wild and untamed" Internet. That part of our December 18th column was accurate, but we were in for a big surprise.

The Public Relations folks at SPEED sent me a quick note that I had jumped the gun with my complaints. They told me that the network would prove me wrong very soon. Well, here we are in late December and sure enough, SPEED has just made a bold move that took us by surprise.

The bottom line is, January for NASCAR fans will never be the same again. SPEED President Hunter Nickell unveiled a completely new schedule of NASCAR pre-season programming that signals an unprecedented commitment of the network to the sport.

"There will be a lot of interest in seeing NASCAR back on the track in '08," said Nickell. "SPEED will be there from the very beginning, we'll be there all season and we'll be there at the end."

NASCAR puts the first tires back on the track with Sprint Cup testing from Daytona beginning on January 7th. What Nickell released was a mind-altering schedule that shows SPEED originating a daily NASCAR program of some type from that first day all the way through Daytona SpeedWeeks in mid-February. Here is a slice of the content:

• NASCAR Sprint Cup Testing from Daytona – Jan. 7-10 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Testing from Daytona – Jan. 11 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Sprint Cup Testing from Daytona – Jan. 14-17 (6:30 p.m.)
• NASCAR Nationwide Series Testing from Daytona – Jan. 21-22 (7 p.m.)
• 2008 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour – Jan. 23-25 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Testing from Las Vegas – Jan. 28-30 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR Testing from Fontana – Jan. 31-Feb. 1 (7 p.m.)
• NASCAR 2008 Team Previews – Feb. 4-6 (7 p.m.)

Filling-in the dates not listed above will be NASCAR coverage on The SPEED Report, as well as new Charlotte-based live programs from the SPEED studios.

Popular host John Roberts will anchor the Sprint Cup coverage, joined by Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and Bob Dillner. On both the Truck and Nationwide Series, Roberts will be working with Ray Dunlap and Phil Parsons.

This entire line-up is being billed as NASCAR Pre-Season Thunder. It is exactly the kind of coverage that The Daly Planet and fans have been asking for of this sport all season long. The timing is perfect.

Just like the NFL Network coverage of events and personalities away from the playing field, this commitment by SPEED is going to open-up a huge window into the sport that fans have never seen before.

The impact of the NFL Network on ratings for the games has been amazing. Does anyone believe that the game itself has changed? No, what has changed is that the sport now has a designated TV network "supporting" it.

In our earlier column, we accused SPEED of being "in denial" that fans wanted NASCAR TV in the off-season, and that the network was "hiding behind" endless re-runs of PINKS to fill their air time. This is certainly more of an answer to that than we ever expected.

In a November interview, Brian France mentioned specifically that he wanted more TV shows about the sport and more original TV programming from his NASCAR partners. In that same interview he made a point of reinforcing his commitment to SPEED and the fact that this network dedicated to motorsports was his business partner in expanding the NASCAR TV universe. Now, we know what he meant.

So, dust off those DVR's, TiVo's and VCR's because original NASCAR programming will be returning on January 7th to SPEED and running almost every single day through the middle of February.

Who says it too late for one more Christmas present?

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