Tuesday, August 19, 2008

E:60 Offers A Taste Of Untold NASCAR Stories

The ESPN news magazine E:60 has once again ventured into NASCAR. This time, the outcome was much better than the previous visit. Reporter Lisa Salters is an ESPN veteran and she delivered a compelling feature on GM Program Manager Alba Colon.

Handling Chevy's NASCAR teams in the Sprint Cup Series, Colon is front-and-center as GM's senior representative at the racetracks. This native of Puerto Rico told her heart-warming story of hard work and dedication. It contained soundbites from Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon who spoke about her years of service to the company.

What really got the attention of viewers was an interview with Tony Stewart. Now, almost done with his one year of driving a Toyota, Stewart said his personal relationship with Colon was one of the factors bringing him back to Chevrolet. Stewart related that he felt he had let Colon down by leaving Chevy and he was most happy to be returning in 2009.

While Salters did address the recent harassment suit against NASCAR, Colon was defiant in the fact that she has made her way in the world on her own terms and would never stand for such behavior. In her own way, she quietly suggested that things are getting much better in this male-dominated sport.

Salter's piece was just a story in a program with several others. That is the letdown for NASCAR fans. Over the last two years, long-form TV programming based on the hundreds of colorful personalities in the sport has come to a grinding halt.

NASCAR Confidential on SPEED has six one-hour episodes spread over twelve months. Dale Earnhardt Jr. bought his way onto ESPN for five episodes of Shifting Gears. In one of them, he apologized for having so many commercials. He said that is what it took to get on ESPN.

A while back, SPEED aired a pilot called The Humpy Show. More episodes of that program were never produced. TNT does not air any NASCAR programming outside of their six races. The Fox Broadcast Network has no time in prime-time for any NASCAR unless cars are on the track.

In the summer of 2007, ABC aired NASCAR in Primetime. It was five episodes of a look behind-the-scenes at several teams and drivers. Since the show was post-produced, the footage was old and the interest was low. It did not return for 2008.

This is a truly amazing situation. It is almost a Mexican stand-off. In Charlotte sits the NASCAR Media Group ready to format and produce any type of long-form program or provide technical support for a production company to do the same. The phone does not ring and there is a good reason why.

NASCAR's TV partners have no obligation to carry any sort of long-form post-produced programming. They simply don't have to do it.

We know that both ESPN and ESPN2 are chocked-full of other programming. TNT is an entertainment channel with limited sports and no interest. SPEED has made a decision to invest in "lifestyle" program series that have nothing to do with motorsports. That list is seemingly endless.

The true irony of Salter's story is that it was never told before. Colon has been in the garage and on pit road for years. Her story, and the stories of the many other interesting and unique people associated with this sport will continue to be ignored until one of NASCAR's TV partners gets pro-active and takes a risk.

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Tough TV Questions Surround Track Swap

It was Ed Clark from the Atlanta Motor Speedway who was the first guest on Tuesday's edition of NASCAR Now. Ryan Burr returned as host and the topic was changes to the Sprint Cup Schedule for 2009.

Clark is a respected veteran and he spoke clearly about the big issue. Atlanta was giving up their one race in The Chase to take an earlier date on the schedule. Clark said the magic words several times in his answer to the question of why the change was made. Those magic words were "night race."

Atlanta had given up a Chase race for a night race, California's Auto Club Speedway will be welcomed to The Chase in October and Talladega will scoot back a bit into November. That big track will stay firmly in The Chase races. Over on Foxsports.com, Larry McReynolds called it a win-win-win for the tracks and the fans.

Rusty Wallace was all smiles as Burr welcomed him into the show from the Iowa Speedway. Wallace is a partner in the track and was instrumental in the design. Burr let Wallace have his moment in the sun as Iowa Speedway was awarded a Nationwide Series race for next season. Clearly, Wallace has designs on a Sprint Cup Series race in the future.

Burr recapped the Tony Stewart number swap, with Stewart releasing the number 4 and telling Ryan Newman he will be in the 39 for next season. Hard feelings aired by the Morgan McClure team had a little something to do with that decision. Stewart has once again shown himself to be a very savvy businessman.

David Newton was not around, but Burr added a "Newton nugget" that the Montoya team had lost the Texaco-Havoline sponsorship for next season. It would have been nice to let a Ganassi spokesman address that issue. Burr closed the show with a promo for E:60 and the feature piece on Alba Colon, GM's Program Manager for NASCAR. There will be a column up on that program when it is completed.

There certainly was a lot happening in the racing world and this NASCAR Now episode covered almost all the bases. When the Gibbs team penalties come out tomorrow, maybe Burr can ask Andy Petree if he still believes the drivers were involved in placing the magnets on the cars. The email about that statement from both Petree and Tim Brewer has not let up. Wednesday should make for another interesting program.

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