Thursday, March 19, 2009

Darrell Waltrip The Missing Piece Of Bristol Charity Race Pie

There were a lot of smiles on the Tuesday edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. Ray Evernham was standing alongside Rusty Wallace and both of them could not stop talking about the Saturday night charity race in Bristol, TN.

Minutes later in the show, it was Andy Petree standing in the same spot with Brad Daugherty. They were howling with laughter while explaining how Petree helped get the seven-foot tall Daugherty squeezed into a late model stock car to participate in the race.

Host Nicole Manske mentioned Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough as other drivers participating in the event. The field also includes SPEED's Jimmy Spencer, the "Ironman" Jack Ingram and Harry Gant.

Originally, the charity race also included the very high-profile NASCAR on Fox announcer Darrell Waltrip. While the gang from ESPN will make things fun and the old-timers will make things interesting, it was Waltrip who would have been the star of the show. Waltrip has 12 victories at Bristol.

Last week, Waltrip suddenly announced that he was not going to be able to participate. "It seems crazy, but I am busier now than I was when I was a driver," Waltrip said. "I have some commitments to Fox Sports that have come up since we began talking with the folks at Bristol about this race."

"I was looking forward to getting out there with some of those guys again and some of them for the first time. After years with Junior Johnson as my boss, I was excited about rubbing fenders with him. But, sometimes things are unavoidable."

So, Waltrip's stated reason for not attending is that an obligation had arisen for him since discussions first began about the Bristol charity race. As mentioned above, those obligations are for the very TV network that paid tens of millions of dollars to televise the Sunday Bristol race.

For those wondering if Waltrip is not arriving at the track until Sunday, he is scheduled to be active on both Friday and Saturday from Bristol on a wide variety of TV shows from Cup qualifying to Trackside. All those programs are on SPEED and the complete weekend TV schedule is on the right side of the TDP homepage.

For those of you who emailed wondering if DW was selling Digger merchandise on QVC, For Race Fans Only is on Friday night from Bristol. After Waltrip's recent giddy appearance on Trackside with a life-size Digger in tow, that question now always has to be addressed.

It certainly is a shame that the powers at Fox could not see their way clear to let Waltrip back on the track for thirty minutes at a time when the sport really needs a shot in the arm. This is the toughest season in recent memory and it certainly would have generated some good TV and some great publicity to have DW in the field.

ESPN2 will provide live coverage Saturday at 6PM ET, with the race starting at 6:20PM. As mentioned in a previous TDP story, Ned Jarrett is stepping out of retirement to work in the announce booth with his son Dale on this telecast. Add Dr. Jerry Punch, Allen Bestwick and the ESPN pit reporters to the mix and it should be fun to watch.

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Camping World Races Get 3PM Timeslot On SPEED

NASCAR's official announcement of the 2009 TV package for the Camping World regional series can be read by clicking here.

The good news is that 22 races will get tape-delayed coverage on national TV. The bad news is that 3PM on Thursdays is going to be the timeslot for all of them.

SPEED will once again be the network carrying the coverage. The TV package will actually be produced by The NASCAR Media Group.

SPEED and NASCAR are essentially submitting this to viewers as a "DVR Theater" presentation. 3PM on the East Coast and 12PM on the West Coast are traditionally times when most folks are at work. The message is clear, record it or miss it.

There has to be a better media platform for these regional series than SPEED at 3PM on Thursdays. Recently, SPEED announced it was going to carry tape-delayed AMA motorcycle racing on Saturday nights in primetime in two or three hour time blocks.

Whether the NASCAR product is offered online, syndicated to regional sports networks or moved to a better timeslot with a cash infusion from NASCAR, something should be done. The teams and tracks are looking for media exposure at a crucial time in the sport.

The 7PM timeslot Thursdays on SPEED is dedicated to what the network calls "lifestyle programming." In April, SPEED will feature re-runs of the former MTV Pimp My Ride series

The repercussions of another season of substantially meaningless TV for the Camping World regional series could be much more serious than last season. Just how many fans remember to set the DVR or VCR for 3PM on Thursdays is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure. No casual TV viewer at 7 or 8PM will be surfing through the channels and bump into NASCAR racing from these rich and diverse series. That is just a flat-out shame.

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