Monday, February 11, 2008

"The Humpy Show" Kicks-Off Tuesday Night

The pilot episode of The Humpy Show is airing on SPEED Tuesday night at 9PM Eastern Time for one hour. This one should be interesting.

Humpy Wheeler from the Lowe's Motor Speedway is one of those guys you can just sit and talk with for hours. His stories are interesting, hilarious and historical.

At this time in his life, it seems to be a very good idea to get Humpy on-the-air to talk with other personalities in the sport and also to throw-in his own brand of racing wisdom.

Wheeler has told me stories that I repeat to friends now some ten years later. From the old pick-up truck with the Alaska license plates to the decision to build the first condos at a racetrack, he is always an interesting character.

It should be worthwhile tuning-in or recording this program, as SPEED continues to try and originate more NASCAR-related programming for 2008. This one could be fun!

Byrnes Brings Back The Fun On Mondays

Steve Byrnes has led the Trackside show on SPEED for several years. That program has evolved into a free-wheeling and raucous hour with lots of guests and lots of racing talk from the panel. Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and Elliott Sadler can handle almost any topic even in front of a big and very live crowd.

Monday night, Byrnes made his debut on a new show under the best of circumstances. He was on the SPEED Stage with the same TV crew that handles the Trackside production. This time he was at the reigns of This Week In NASCAR, the program replacing the ten year old Inside NEXTEL Cup.

Michael Waltrip and Kenny Schrader have returned to this program, and on this first episode Toyota driver David Reutimann was the third member of the panel. Things worked well right off the bat, because Byrnes knew all the players on the stage and had been working with them for the past week.

SPEED decided to re-name, re-vamp and re-energize this program for the 2008 season. Byrnes replaced Dave Despain, and the entire format of the program was moved to reflect the new reality of NASCAR. The program will now address all three national touring series, and both review and preview the weekly racing.

The best thing about Byrnes is that he cannot be rattled. As the on-air dynamic plays-out between Waltrip and Byrnes, there will certainly be moments where the relationship will be tested. While Byrnes is a long-time professional TV personality, Waltrip has always been a moving target.

On this show, Waltrip was eased out of the Toyota cheerleader role and moved on to general racing issues by Byrnes. Schrader did his best to point out to Waltrip when he was walking on the other side of the street from the conversation at hand.

The best part of this show, and the dynamic that may really re-charge its energy is the potential success of the panelists in racing. Last year, it was sometimes just sad to see Waltrip and Schrader, knowing that they were not in the race and sometimes were not even at the track.

New program elements for this show included two features of past Daytona 500's, which worked well for the fans in reminding them of what was on tap for the weekend. The final feature was tough to watch, as both Schrader and Waltrip were parties invovled in the race that took the life of Dale Earnhardt Sr. Their reactions after the replay of the final lap showed the emotions from that day still lingered inside of them both.

Highlights of the Truck Series put everyone back in a good mood, and things began to take shape even as Byrnes tried his best to keep Reutimann in the conversation. Despite his best efforts, it was the Kenny and Mikey show when it came to commetary and opinion. This points out one interesting issue.

Once the show moves into the SPEED studios, Chad Knaus will be added to the panel. While Knaus is fine on his other SPEED show, it may be a very different matter when he is facing a trio like Byrnes, Waltrip and Schrader. That interaction should be fun to see next week.

This show faced the normal technical problems any outdoor program deals with, including the wind sounds and the variations in the audio levels. The entire panel deserves credit for dealing with the elements, including the blinding sunshine.

Memories of Dave Despain and the "controlled and scripted" approach of INC were swept aside in a smart move by SPEED. By changing the name and the format, but keeping the timeslot and key program elements, they made the best of a tough situation. The new show will serve the agenda of the network and the sport a lot better.

Viewers will get a much better sense of all the program features and the rest of the new wrinkles the network has in store for 2008 when the show moves into the studio after the Daytona 500. Even in the wind at Daytona without a points-paying race in the books, the changes to this program are already paying off.

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Bestwick And Friends Make A Statement

The pressure was on, and Allen Bestwick dove right into the deep end of the pool.

It was the first edition of the new and re-vamped Monday edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. This time, the stick-and-ball network might have hit a homerun.

Without the fuss and hype of last season, Bestwick guided the program straight into the Bud Shootout highlights and then into Junior's post-race comments from the Media Center. It was clear right from the top of the show, things were going to be different.

Last season, a Rusty Wallace or Andy Petree sighting on NASCAR Now was rare. Now, less than four minutes into the show Wallace and Petree were on-camera from Daytona and breaking down the on-track happenings.

For the first time in a very long time, the host and guests were talking NASCAR without any scripts and with a clear mutual knowledge of the sport. Wallace is effective in this role, and is a fun and exciting guest because of his personality.

If there was any tension between Petree and Wallace, it certainly did not show as the single camera kept both men in the picture during the entire liveshot.

Bestwick set a blistering on-air pace, and quickly recapped the pole qualifying and then brought in Michael Waltrip by liveshot. Good old Michael promoted SPEED's new This Week In NASCAR program and his XM Radio show without missing a beat. Bestwick asked good questions, and during this interview it became clear that he had single-handedly changed the tone of this entire program.

Newcomer Nicole Manske was also on-scene in Daytona, and is just beginning to get her feet wet in this sport. She filed a solid report about team and driver changes in the series, and featured good and fresh driver "sound" addressing this topic. It should be interesting to see her get more comfortable in her new roles as both studio host and on-site reporter.

Lead Reporter Marty Smith joined the show from the track, and chimed-in with his facts and opinion about the Tony Stewart vs. Kurt Busch controversy. Bestwick and Smith are going to be keys to this program all season-long.

Defining this on-air relationship and using Smith in the right manner can raise this show to the level many expected it to achieve in 2007. Free from the scripted questions and un-informed hosts, Smith will finally get a fair shot at delivering the goods.

In 2007, The Daly Planet was begging for Brad Daugherty to be allowed to conduct interviews and file feature reports. His personality and knowledge of the sport as a fan would be a wonderful perspective for a program like NASCAR Now.

Monday night, Daugherty did an upbeat and insightful interview with Richard Petty. As a follow-up to the classic Daytona finishes feature, it worked quite well. Hopefully, ESPN will continue to allow Daugherty to expand his role and then judge the results.

Bestwick did an extended interview with Marty Smith to clear-up any remaining issues from both the on-track and garage areas at Daytona. Bestwick pushes Smith for opinions and conclusions, without putting him on the spot or demanding "yes or no" answers.

In place of the roundtable discussions, which will begin next week, the program aired a Daytona feature that may have NASCAR fans talking for a long time. With parts pulled from the outstanding Ultimate NASCAR series, the highs and lows of the legacy that surrounds the Daytona 500 was featured in dramatic and emotional fashion.

In a very good piece of producing, the program brought-in Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree in the final segment to follow-up a solid feature on the greatest Daytona driver. This gave the key members of the NASCAR on ESPN team the opportunity to once again establish their presence on this show, and speak freely about various topics within the sport.

Closing the program with a "roll-out," it was clear that the changes made by ESPN during the off-season would pay-off. This program did not even resemble the Monday hours of 2007, either in tone or content.

From start to finish, the is exactly what the network needed to begin the season on a positive note. Welcome to NASCAR Now, Mr. Bestwick.

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Surprise! "This Week In NASCAR" Will Debut Tonight On SPEED

Monday night takes on a whole new profile as SPEED has confirmed that the first episode of This Week In NASCAR will debut tonight at 9PM.

Still putting the final touches on this new program, SPEED had originally intended for the first "official" episode to air after the Daytona 500. Tonight should be an interesting show to put on the DVR or TiVo, as a new era begins for the network.

Steve Byrnes steps in as the TWIN host, and tonight Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip will be joined by Toyota driver David Reutimann. With all of the on-going stories about Daytona, including the success of MWR, it should be interesting.

Byrnes faces the challenge that Allen Bestwick handled so well, and that Dave Despain handled so poorly. Balancing three very distinct personalities all of whom have their own personal and professional agendas on display has always been a task.

The transformation of Schrader into a part-time Cup Series driver was painful to watch for many veteran fans. It was the exact same feeling when Johnny Benson transitioned to the Truck Series, and then ultimately off of the show. Now, Schrader is a story once again, and his mentoring of young drivers and his diverse racing activities other than Cup have come to the forefront.

Waltrip faces a choice of returning to the "Mikey of old" or continuing to push the boundaries of his personal credibility with ill-timed sponsor mentions and politically-driven tangents of conversation. This show played a key role in exposing the wonderful and quirky personality of Waltrip, and in 2008 it can once again serve to return him to a fan favorite. The choice is his.

While this espisode is in many ways a dress rehearsal, it may be just the "ice-breaker" that the new cast and production staff needs to get this TV series back on track. There is one non-points race to review, pole qualifying to discuss and the upcoming four days of racing to preview.

This may be exactly the right mix of topics for Steve Byrnes to explore as he begins to work toward the goal of injecting fun and laughter back into this show.

As Inside NEXTEL Cup gives way to This Week In NASCAR, it should be interesting to see if the magic is back. This first episode airs at 9PM Eastern Time on SPEED.

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