Thursday, January 24, 2008

Richard Petty Speaks His Mind On SPEED

As the "new and improved" Pre-Season Thunder programs continue on SPEED, the network found itself right in the middle of the Media Tour without a whole lot going-on.

Then, someone came along to to change all that. His name is Richard Petty.

The Thursday version of this thirty minute series was again hosted by Steve Byrnes, but even Byrnes had to do a whole lot of talking to keep this show interesting.

There were bunches of drivers, a lot of owners, and a whole lot of everyone saying what they were supposed to say. That would be the Media Tour.

Folks like me wondered how the Media Tour would translate into a same-day TV show, when it was basically set-up to supply print, radio and local TV crews with taped material that they could use to prepare stories about the upcoming season for their own companies.

As several readers have mentioned, the Wednesday show was disjointed because everyone was in different locations. The host, the two reporters and the two analysts all seemed to be out-of-sync.

On Thursday, reporter Randy Pemberton was not even seen on-camera, and Wendy Venturini filed several reports that essentially featured more drivers saying what they were supposed to say.

SPEED put the big stories of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his teammates on hold until Friday, although in real life the Media Tour ended Thursday. On this day there was no Jeff Gordon and no Jimmie Johnson to be found. This shifted the focus back to the best story of the program, and that was Petty Racing.

After Kyle Petty put the recent move of Petty Racing into historical context, SPEED then aired some very frank and candid comments from Richard Petty that seemed both interesting and in many ways...sad.

Even Kyle in his opening remarks said that Richard Petty's move from Level Cross to Mooresville, NC was basically to "go down swinging" as a NASCAR team owner. It was to project that Petty Racing was "doing something" to get better.

The King himself began by saying he was trying to "get into the mainstream instead of being on the outskirts" of NASCAR. He admitted he had been "eat-up by the competition."

Squarely in Petty's sites were the "super teams" in the sport. Petty quietly admitted he once led in the sport, then he just wanted to stay with the crowd. Now, in his most candid admission, he flatly stated he was "just holding onto the back" of the sport. With the recent changes at Yates Racing and the departure of Morgan McClure, his words really carried a lot of meaning for veteran fans.

I had hoped that SPEED would venture beyond the basics of the Media Tour, and use some of the familiar journalists for comments on exactly the type of story that Kyle and Richard Petty presented on this program. There were plenty of NASCAR media folks right there on-scene who have a long and storied history with the Pettys. It seemed a shame not to use them.

You have to give credit to SPEED, this is a first-time project that will hopefully continue to grow in future years. Deciding whether or not to include the journalists on the tour as on-camera subjects is absolutely their call. It is just so rare to have them all together without a race in-progress and deadlines to meet.

Steve Byrnes does a nice job directing traffic, an assignment he has done for SPEED now for many years both in the studio and on the road. His testing wrap-up shows with Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond in the studio were more interesting. Thursday, Byrnes basically had only pre-recorded "packages" to introduce, and not a whole lot else to work with.

One guest on the set to react to the Petty situation, and add other tidbits into the drivers and owners comments might be a touch to consider for the future. Making a commitment to get all the teams who participated in the Media Tour on these three days of programming might also be something to re-consider.

SPEED viewers want the inside scoop, not the Public Relations and sponsor messages. That lack of behind-the-scenes reporting left this show a little bit on the light side, even with The King and his very honest interview. Perhaps, Wendy Venturini will bookmark Petty for a follow-up on her Real Deal segment for RaceDay.

Hopefully, SPEED will close out their Media Tour shows on Friday in style. The network takes a break for the Rolex 24 from Daytona, and then the key pre-season tests at Las Vegas and Fontana close out the testing action. As several drivers have said on this series, the Las Vegas test may be the most important of the season for many teams to see how their COT program stacks-up against the competition.

Veteran fans will want to watch or record these testing programs next week that air at 7Pm Eastern Time. This will truly be brand-new first-time TV in the making.

Update: There will be follow-up columns about the pilot episode of The Humpy Show and also the information about the "new and revised" program that will be filling the timeslot formerly occupied by Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing. Stay tuned.

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