Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Gentlemen, Start Your Computers!

The summer of NASCAR racing on TNT is upon us once again and this time things have changed. While it is true that the same on-air bunch will return, this year there will be something very different for the fans. Gentlemen, start your broadband computers!

TNT is unleashing a wickedly smart concept that is going to open some eyes among tech-savvy fans. Beginning this weekend, TNT and NASCAR.com are teaming-up to deliver fans directly into the race broadcast as never before.

The concept is called RaceBuddy. That is the handsome gentleman pictured above. This page on the NASCAR.com website is going to be a very busy one this summer. Here are the reasons why.

The TNT gang will be offering an opportunity to use your broadband computer as an active companion to the cable TV telecast. This new offering will include four video feeds that will contain different angles of the race and will include one in-car camera feed that fans can vote to switch during the event.

In addition, fans can forward videos and pictures along with questions to the actual TNT crew before, during and after the event. The idea is to get the fans as interactive as possible during the race in the same type of way that many fans now visit other chat rooms or websites. This time, it will be Larry McReynolds in the infield who will be reading the email and responding. That is pretty darn interactive.

The most interesting part is that RaceBuddy is free of charge for all the video, audio and interactive applications. Race fans have not heard those words in a while.

The RaceBuddy concept will also include lots of new website opportunities for fans to chat and post and network. There will be several contests and prizes offered during this series, including one with CNN's popular morning host Robin Meade. There is a video on the website that explains that contest, and good luck to all.

During the Daytona race in July, TNT will once again roll-out the "wide open coverage" concept that featured long-form original advertising in a second video box on the screen while keeping the race video active. While the network still has to leave for the local cable system commercials, last season fans missed less than five laps during those interruptions.

On a Tuesday afternoon conference call, the TNT gang sounded like they had a new focus and energy. Bill Weber expressed his desire to create an atmosphere this season that feels like a conversation between fans. Wally Dallenbach wanted to see if Kyle Busch can continue his good racing luck and Kyle Petty was happy to switch gears and step back into the TV booth.

Changes beginning this weekend also include a resurrection of Wally's World as a viable feature and not a useless TNT promo session. Dallenbach and Petty will both steer cars onto the track and try to explain the challenges facing the drivers with the COT cars during these six races. This could turn-out to be a useful feature once again, as one of Dallenbach's strengths used to be talking about the track while having some fun at the same time.

This season pit reporter Lindsay Czarniak has also been given a feature that will appear somewhere in the ninety minutes of the pre-race programming. Lindsay on Location will allow this veteran news reporter to uncover and explain a unique or little-known story from each of the six summer venues.

Pride of NASCAR will return to offer a feature on the veterans of the sport, beginning at Pocono with Bobby Allison. An accident at this track changed his life forever, and it will be good to check-in with him again about his activities. The final feature will be called NASCAR Future Stars. It will focus on the up-and-coming drivers with an eye on the Sprint Cup Series.

TNT's own Marc Fein will again handle the infield hosting duties, which mostly consist of keeping an eye on McReynolds. Ralph Shaheen, Matt Yocum and Marty Snider round-out the veteran crew covering pit road this summer.

For those fans like myself who have never joined NASCAR.com's Trackpass or purchased the Sprint Race View, this broadband computer experience during the race will be new.

In response to the last season's issues involving post-race interviews, TNT will continue to partner with NASCAR.com and use TNT's on-site announcers to handle the online post-race show on NASCAR.com. Yes, you heard me correctly.

This season, when the TNT broadcast is over, the full crew of announcers will switch-over to NASCAR.com for a post-race show that will once again be offered to fans free of charge. Now, when time is tight on TV, the rest of the top finishing drivers and those involved in race issues will be talking live on NASCAR.com immediately after the race. How about that?

Certainly, all of these new concepts are a lot to digest, but they have one good thing in common. They are all intended to increase the interaction between the fans and the sport. When the racing action settles down at Pocono, fans will now have an online opportunity to check-out other cameras, forward questions to the TV crew and socially network with each other.

RaceBuddy seems like a super concept coming along at just the right time. TNT needs to seize the positive momentum from Fox and work hard to make the summer races something unique for the fans. So far, it seems they are off to a very good start.

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DW's New Column Talks NASCAR TV

We suggested that perhaps Darrell Waltrip might sum-up his feelings in his weekly column over at foxsports.com, and that is exactly what he has done.

Among other things, Waltrip states "the thing that was so sad for me on Sunday was that as a broadcaster, I don't get to call any more races this year. I will still go to some races, text back and forth with the drivers, see them at events like Wednesday's deal in Eldora for Tony Stewart, but I won't be up in the booth."

"I've had a great year, said Waltrip. "It's been the most fun I have ever had. I think about David Cook after he won American Idol. He sang "I Have Had the Time of My Life". I think it reflects how I have felt about this season. I said it was going to be compelling. I said it was going to be interesting and it has not disappointed. It's not over with yet and I still don't think it will be disappointing."

"Maybe the best is yet to come and maybe that's what is so sad to me for not being able to be there. But like I said, I will still be at the track occasionally but I will always be watching."

You can read the full column by following this link. Comments on Waltrip and the Fox portion of the season can be continued on this post. Please review this column about Fox that evoked a lot of emotion and opinions.

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The NASCAR On Fox Gang Walks Away Quietly

It certainly was not the type of day that Mike Joy and the rest of the NASCAR on Fox TV crew had hoped for as their final Sprint Cup race. One big wreck had taken-out a lot of the contenders and the reality of the COT at Dover had taken-out the racing.

Once again, it came down to the Kyle Busch show and the ability of Joy and the pit reporters to chase down every single "other" story of the race. Ultimately, Busch ended the season for Fox by pulling away from the second place car. The COT added a special touch by crushing any hope for final lap battles in the top ten.

From the beginning of the telecast, it was Darrell Waltrip who was almost overcome by emotion several times. TV viewers saw this with Waltrip on the Trackside program on SPEED earlier in the weekend.

For some reason, the end of Waltrip's year on TV has hit him very hard. Along with his Fox job ending, Waltrip also turns-over his spot on Trackside to Elliott Sadler for the next five months.

Several times in the Hollywood Hotel pre-race show, Waltrip veered off the topic and talked about the end of his TV time. Chris Myers tried to keep things on track, but it was Jeff Hammond who talked Waltrip off-the-TV-ledge several times. Maybe Waltrip will write in his Foxsports.com column about his feelings during this clearly emotional weekend.

Larry McReynolds was all business in Dover with good reason. He really is the Energizer Bunny of NASCAR TV as he will continue his multiple TV roles on SPEED next week and also add a new assignment as a commentator for all six TNT races. Last season, McReynolds was the star of the "summer six pack" even while located in the infield. This season should be no different.

Other NASCAR on Fox personalities will also continue their pursuits in the sport. Krista Voda heads back to the Truck Series, Matt Yocum will report from the pits for TNT and Steve Byrnes will continue his multiple SPEED roles.

This season, one of the biggest strengths for Fox has been the veteran pit road reporters. Sometimes criticized for not asking the tough questions, this group has to walk a fine line in a sport where they deal with the same personalities for ten months. They seem to always get the right information, and they do it more successfully than the other two NASCAR TV partners in the Sprint Cup Series.

Mike Joy is about to give way to Bill Weber in the play-by-play position. Much like Dr. Jerry Punch, Weber is a reporter who has been moved over time into the play-by-play role. Weber is a skilled writer and great at interviews, but perhaps a bit short on some aspects of a true play-by-play announcer.

Joy has more patience in the broadcast booth than any other on-air NASCAR talent. Last season, Weber was hard-pressed to match Joy's level of professionalism and good humor. Since Weber has recently begun to appear on NBC doing off-road races with Wally Dallenbach, it may be that he comes into this short NASCAR stint with a much better attitude than 2007. Marty Snider is also a part of that CORR TV package.

This year on Fox, we met Digger. As if the 43 NASCAR teams and the high speeds and racing were not enough, Fox decided to create a name for a piece of equipment used by the TV crew. Then, the network launched a line of merchandise around that "concept" and collectively beat it into the psyche of the NASCAR TV viewers.

This camera angle was not new, did not serve a purpose and was over-used in several races to the point of fan anger. Here is a column about the original track-level camera used on ESPN over fifteen years ago that won a Sports Emmy Award.

Fox also could not solve the Achilles Heel of its coverage, which was the final lap. Columns like this and even this documented the amazing production decisions to eliminate all the racing other than the leader on the final lap.

Overall, the body of work that the NASCAR on Fox crew created for 2008 is going to be negatively affected by the COT and positively affected by the emergence of Kyle Busch. One young man with something to prove driving a Toyota for an old football coach has dominated even the Earnhardt Jr. saga this season.

As TNT unveils their new and innovative RaceBuddy approach to NASCAR, it will signal yet another fundamental shift in the level of integration and technology surrounding Sprint Cup Series racing.

By the time Fox comes back around in February, there will no doubt be a new level of viewer interactivity that will make 2008 appear archaic. Imagine asking Jeff Gordon a question live under caution from your Sprint phone on the Fox broadcast.

How about being on the Hollywood Hotel live from your computer camera? NASCAR TV technology is going to make the future TV broadcasts very different. For this season, farewell to the entire NASCAR on Fox gang.

This is a good time for Daly Planet readers to think about what impressed you as a viewer this season and what things you did not particularly like during this stretch of coverage. You can post your thoughts right here, keeping in mind the rules listed on the right side of the main page.

To add your opinion to The Daly Planet, 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. We just want to know your opinion about the NASCAR on Fox coverage of the sport in 2008. Thanks for stopping by.