Sunday, February 22, 2009

In-Progress From Auto Club Speedway: Sprint Cup Series On Fox

The second race of the season for the NASCAR on Fox TV crew comes along from the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

Interesting to note is that there is a thirty minute overlap between the SPEED RaceDay show and the pre-race programming from the Hollywood Hotel on Fox. RaceDay airs from 3:30 to 5:30PM, while Fox takes to the air at 5PM for an hour pre-race show.

Chris Myers will start the Fox coverage by hosting Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond from the infield. Waltrip will present an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. talking about the accident with Brian Vickers at Daytona.

Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Waltrip will call the action. Dick Berggren, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Krista Voda will cover pit road and the medical center.

Fox presented the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday and featured Digger throughout the telecast. Expect Digger to play a major role during this California race, the event closest to the Fox Sports headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Once again, Digger will be featured in a cartoon episode during the pre-race show.

This is a long and grinding race that is often won on fuel mileage. When there is an incident, it is often spectacular and potentially dangerous. Watch for the manner in which the TV team handles this type of accident.

One developing story is that five cars have moved to the back of the pack including the two that tangled in Daytona, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This post will serve to host your TV-related comments during the race. Just click the comments button to post and refresh your screen often. This is a family-friendly website, no foul language or hateful speech please. Comments may be moderated before they are posted. A full column about the race will be posted shortly after it is over.

Thanks again and happy posting.

Does Anyone Miss "Tradin' Paint?"

Since the 2007 season one of the favorite topics here at TDP has been the SPEED TV series Tradin' Paint. This show has been the scene of some of the most memorable NASCAR TV moments in recent years.

Ray Dunlap was suspended from SPEED and forced to apologize after candid comments on this series. While guests like Mike Mulhern, Randy Pemberton and Humpy Wheeler took their turn in the "media" chair, it was the pairing of Kyle Petty and's Bob Pockrass that provided real fireworks.

On one episode Pockrass dismissed the chances of Juan Montoya winning a race in 2008. Petty forcefully reminded him that racing luck plays a big role and in theory any driver could win on any Sunday. "Does that include you?" asked Pockrass.

Later in that same program, Pockrass basically disagreed with Petty on every topic from Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series to the future of the COT. Petty just lost it on national TV. He said the NASCAR print media was full of BS and that Pockrass owned his own smoke machine. The sole purpose of this device was for Pockrass to blow smoke up the rear-ends of NASCAR fans on a very regular basis.

Veteran journalists like David Poole, Holly Cain and Liz Clarke have negotiated their way through this program with style. One popular guest, however, has used her rather blunt style to become one of the most talked-about media members on the panel.

Jenna Fryer from the Associated Press pulls no punches when she talks about NASCAR. While that style may come across one way in print, it came across in a very different way on Tradin' Paint. Unfortunately, that did not sit well with Petty.

Veteran host John Roberts often did his best to keep things under control, but Fryer and Petty butted heads on a wide range of racing topics. Click here for a recap of one memorable episode.

"When does Jenna get to talk?" asked Fryer after Petty and Roberts dominated the conversation early in a show. "With the stuff you write, go ahead and talk," answered Petty. Kyle took every opportunity possible to advance the agenda that the NASCAR media often created stories just to satisfy their own needs.

This program was more than just fireworks, it was the only regular opportunity to see the print and Internet journalists who work the NASCAR beat on TV.

While ESPN2's NASCAR Now hosts several reporter versions of the Monday roundtable, Tradin' Paint came right from the track with the men and women of the media who had just left the garage area. The news was fresh and the perspectives were diverse.

This season, without explanation or discussion, SPEED cancelled Tradin' Paint . The unofficial whispers were that the show had "played itself out." Normally, that means that the episodes had lost their luster and were repetitive.

Now, the two NASCAR TV partners who supply almost all the news and interview content feature their own in-house cast of experts, analysts and reporters. ESPN and SPEED appear to be the Hatfields and McCoys. Two TV teams talking about the same subjects from the same tracks but never acknowledging the other exists.

SPEED has replaced Tradin' Paint with a game show called NASCAR Smarts. Click here for a brief review of the first episode. Petty and Rutledge Wood star in the show along with two fans chosen from the audience and Roberts hosting.

So, did you miss Tradin' Paint at Daytona and do you care that this TV series got cancelled? Does the Internet and shows like NASCAR Now and RaceDay make-up for the lack of independent conversation about NASCAR from media folks not employed by a TV network?

To add your opinion to this post, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly site, so foul language and hateful speech will cause a comment to be deleted.

Thank you and happy posting.

Meet The Original "Digger"

Three TV networks cover the points races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Fox starts things off for thirteen events and then yields to TNT for six races. ESPN eventually steps-in and takes the sport all the way through the end of the season.

Each of these networks brings to the sport a different team of announcers and a different production philosophy. ESPN runs a tight ship with buttoned-down on-air talent and lots of sports information during the races. TNT focuses on promoting the network's entertainment programming and offers the Daytona race in July with limited commercial breaks.

The NASCAR on Fox telecasts began as a friendly group of well-informed experts talking about stock car racing in terms that anyone could understand. Fox made it clear that they welcomed new fans to the sport and wanted to embrace what was called "the casual fan." While the announcers are still welcoming, some things have changed.

Fox executive David Hill likes animated characters in his TV sports programs. "Cleatus" is a robot that appears in the Fox NFL games. Click here to see Conan O'Brien express his views on that topic.

The TV network, however, has other ideas about what to do with their robot. Click here to scope-out the action figure available of this animated creation. Perhaps, the reality that these concepts were ultimately created to drive revenue has not zoomed past you at this point.

All of this brings us to "Digger." The picture above is of the original "Digger." No, not the one from Fox. This "Digger" was an original creation over two decades ago crafted by a company you may remember.

The Shirt Tales was a short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon about five woodland creatures (Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon, and Bogey Orangutan) who lived in Oak Tree Park– and spent their time battling crime when they weren’t teasing Park Ranger Mr. Dinkle. The TV cartoon series ran from 1982 through early 1984. Click here for The Shirt Tales Wiki page.

The late voice-over veteran Bob Ogle (click here) created the personality of the "Digger Mole" character for the series. "Digger Mole" was plastered on T-shirts, coffee mugs and the pack was made into a set of take-home figures. They were also featured on a line of Hallmark cards. The merchandising of these type of cartoon characters is a lucrative business.

The fundamental difference between "Digger Mole" and the NASCAR on Fox version of "Digger" is where and how the character appeared. The Shirt Tales was simply a cartoon that was presented as a complete TV program for kids.

The Fox version of "Digger" is an animation that is inserted over a sport that often does not lend itself to easy laughs and the giggles of small children.

Where and how the "Digger" animation is used has changed the TV viewing enjoyment of many NASCAR fans. After an incident that may have altered the entire complexion of a race, seeing "Digger" do his little act somehow trivializes the moment.

Even worse is hearing the NASCAR on Fox announcers trying to somehow come up with yet another funny line about "Digger." Often, they are forced to interrupt the commentary about the real action on the track to pay attention to this animated character. The bottom line is that "Digger" often detracts from the event and has in many ways become the show.

At Daytona, the Fox commentary team sometimes just ignored "Digger" due to the racing action. That made things even stranger. The animation would play, nothing would be said and the mole would go back in his hole as if nothing happened.

Hopefully, California will bring "Digger" in a limited role during caution flags and the lap prior to a restart. Even used once coming back from commercial break would limit the impact of this animation on the actual event.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Digger" is that the true level of annoyance is not revealed until Fox departs the NASCAR scene and TNT steps-in. The wide sweeping shots of veteran Director Mike Wells and the TNT production team show the racing in a very different way from the Fox gang. In an instant, "Digger" becomes a memory until the next season.

In a year where NASCAR and the TV partners need to be hyper-sensitive to the fans, perhaps a wiser use of "Digger" can return the focus to the racing and let the drivers provide the excitement for the TV viewers.

Just for the record, "Digger" appeared 20 times in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, 19 times in the race and once in the pre-race show. Thanks to Cheryl and the gang at

We invite you to share your thoughts about "Digger" appearing in the Sprint Cup Series races on Fox. Just click the comments button below. Your comment will appear after it is moderated. This is a family-friendly website and profanity or hateful speech will simply get your comment deleted.

Here are some links to other Internet posts that contained "Digger" comments:
Digger = Obnoxious (Speedway Media)
Worst Press Conference (Ryan McGee for ESPN the Magazine)
Talking TV (Frontstretch)
Time To Take Out "Digger" (Cup Stuff Blog)
"Digger" Goes For Dollars (USA Today)

Sirius Finds A Knight In Shining Armor

TDP spoke in early 2009 about the impending financial crisis of the Sirius Satellite Radio group. Click here for that column. Unable to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars currently owed, it appeared that Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

This week, one of the most savvy communications executives in the nation rode to the defense of Sirius and appears to have saved the day. John Malone is the Chairman of Liberty Media. Click here for the story as reported by The Washington Post.

NASCAR fans may remember it was Malone's Liberty Media that took over DirecTV from Fox's David Hill and this season cancelled the NASCAR Hot Pass Service. Malone is a shrewd investor who prefers to own, rather than operate, the companies in which he invests. Investing in Sirius, however, was a strategic move.

The other suitor for Sirius was the company that owns DISH Network. Echostar was interested in sliding in at the last minute and picking-up what was left of Sirius just before bankruptcy. It seems Malone has beaten them to the punch.

Click here for an update from that talks generally about the agreement and the ramifications down the road from both a management and financial perspective.

The NASCAR contract with Sirius is quoted at $107.5 million over five years. To many fans, it is a lot more valuable than that. Away from the racetrack, NASCAR's presence on national TV is lackluster. During the months of the off-season, it is non-existent.

As the current financial turmoil began to attack the sport, it was good old Sirius Channel 128's daily NASCAR content that kept fans in touch with what was going-on inside the teams and shops. ESPN and SPEED more than dropped the ball, they both went on vacation.

ESPNEWS and SportsCenter shunned the sport during the height of the stick-and-ball season, while SPEED hid behind endless reality show re-runs and made a lot of excuses. Radio and the Internet ruled the day.

A huge key issue for Sirius is to once again try to negotiate the rights to put NASCAR audio content online. Since Sirius is available to any laptop or PC user with a simple download, getting the Turner Interactive Group to allow Sirius Channel 128 to be available to NASCAR fans directly through the Internet would be a positive for all involved.

Turner operates and controls the online rights to all NASCAR content for many years to come. Turner's agenda, however, is to focus on the website and try to extend the reach of that content. Recently redesigned, the site has more of a "blog feel" and is easy to navigate.

Getting Turner to allow Sirius Channel 128 to be accessed online, even just on a Monday through Friday basis, would be a tremendous step for a sport clearly in crisis. While the PR spin on the upcoming California weekend is a good car count and great racing, veteran fans know this season is going to be a challenge like no other in recent memory.

The Sirius saga continues to be an important one for NASCAR fans who want live information, interviews and the opportunity to interact with personalities in the sport. Mr. Malone may have arrived just in the nick of time.

Please feel free to post your opinion about this topic. This is a family-friendly site, so profanity and hateful speech will result in a comment being deleted. Just click the comments button below.

Thanks again and happy posting.

I Surrender Just Don't Hurt Me!

Just to be very clear to those of you who emailed with angry words about last Sunday. I get it totally and understand your frustration. The events of Daytona have left a bad taste in your mouth and the Fox Television Network is somehow supposed to be in this angry mix.

So, I surrender and will post some columns for your comments about those issues.

I had no clue what it was like to be overwhelmed with email until now. My apologies to those who did not get a response, but I have pages and pages of messages from NASCAR fans who are not feeling especially good about the sport this week.

In terms of the Daytona 500 fiasco, some old school fans want start times to go back to 1PM across the board and blame the NASCAR TV partners for the change. Well, that is kind of true.

Click here and then scroll down for Fox executive David Hill's views on the later start times in an interview with reporter Dustin Long. The TV networks essentially encouraged NASCAR to move times back so Sunday races did not start at 10AM on the West Coast.

Lots of other folks emailed to address the quick ending of the race. Fans wanted the race coverage to resume on Fox or migrate over to SPEED after NASCAR gave the rain a chance to clear.

For those of us who have sat in the Daytona stands watching the July race running well after midnight, the decision to leave shortly after 7PM was curious even after the official NASCAR explanation.

Click here to read CNBC's Darren Rovell (Sport Business columnist) as he asks NASCAR's PR executive Ramsey Poston the questions fans also wanted to ask. Poston explains why the sanctioning body called the race and addresses the issue of a Monday completion of the event.

Unfortunately, Rovell never asked if Fox had a hand in "suggesting" that the timely ending of the event would work well for them. That might clear-up some fan perception that the decision was driven in part by TV.

Remember, over the last several years, Fox has certainly hung-in there where NASCAR and rain were concerned. The network has paid its dues in this sport over the last nineteen seasons. Like it or not, Fox has been a long-term strategic partner of NASCAR with outstanding results.

Finally, click here for USA Today's Michael Hiestand talking about Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. Hiestand credits both of them with spontaneous and outspoken comments about Dale Earnhart Jr. after the incident with Brian Vickers. To have Hiestand notice anything about NASCAR is almost as amazing.

So, there you have three topics that have dominated the email box. Start times, calling the race so quickly and the reactions of Waltrip and McReynolds during the big accident.

I will try to get a column about the Monday TV shows organized sooner or later. If I had a nickel for every email that mentioned the words "bad make-up" where TWIN was concerned, I would never have to work again.

Please feel free to add your comments on these topics to this post.

Click the comments button below and your opinion will appear after it is moderated for content. This is a family-friendly site and foul language or hateful comments will not be tolerated. Please address the topic being discussed and email me directly with any other issues at

Thank you and happy posting.