Monday, June 15, 2009

Manske Struggles With The "NASCAR Now" Roundtable

Everyone deserves a vacation and that is just what ESPN's Allen Bestwick got this week. Instead of hosting the Monday version of NASCAR Now on ESPN2, he was home in Rhode Island spending some time with the family.

In his place, the network chose Nicole Manske. This was not her first time hosting the big one-hour Monday show, but it might be her last for a while. Manske came over from SPEED and has proven herself in several TV settings.

Alone in the studio on a weekday, Manske has a strong ability to keep things focused and ask the tough questions of her guests via satellite or phone. On the Sunday morning hour-long preview show, Manske works with a single guest in the studio. They use reporters in the field and edited features to set-up that day's Sprint Cup Series race. Manske with Ricky Craven on Sundays is fun to watch.

Unfortunately, something happens when she is put in the situation of dealing with three panelists live in the studio. Her ability to rely on teleprompters and a controlled environment is gone. While she has the TV skills to succeed, she does not yet have the NASCAR background to make conversation or ask the important follow-up question.

A positive note was the program allowing Craven, Boris Said and Mike Wallace to all ask questions of liveshot guest Alan Gustafson. Moving Manske aside and letting the panel talk with the winning crew chief resulted in some good questions and a great interview.

All of the production pieces are in place for this TV series. Outstanding highlights, good soundbites from all the top drivers and a solid Monday interview with a weekend newsmaker. The only thing remaining is for someone to drive the bus.

"In terms of saving fuel, who was the most impressive driver yesterday?" asked Manske of her expert panel. The looks on their faces told the tale. Ricky Craven could not hide his grin as he spread his hands as if to say are you kidding me?

"Well, the most impressive was Mark Martin, right?" said Craven. Proving that he is one of the top TV pros he quickly changed the subject. Wallace gave Martin a quick compliment and Said admitted that he just hates all fuel mileage races.

Manske has come a long way this season and continues to be a solid field reporter and weekday studio host. Unfortunately, this one-hour show calls for someone with more actual NASCAR history and experience. It seems that she is almost there and gaining on it, but on this Monday it was still a struggle.

Finally, on-air decisions in a studio setting come down to the Producer and the Coordinating Producer. During this program, two video clips were shown of accidents.

The first involved NASCAR veteran Johnny Benson, who escaped serious injury while racing his Supermodified car at a regional track. Although there was a brief fire, it was known in advance that Benson was going to recover and his condition was updated. The same could not be said for the second clip.

In the final segment of the show, the video of the accident that claimed the life of driver Carlos Pardo in NASCAR's Mexican Series was shown right out of commercial. There was no warning, no disclaimer and the footage was graphic.

NASCAR Now then actually replayed his death in slow motion from a second angle. Pardo was clearly seen inside his car that was essentially impaled on the end of a Jersey barrier. The video then continued to show rescue workers extracting his body from the car while covered with a blue tarp.

How and why this was included in a classy show that has made a name for itself by presenting the best NASCAR news and information is unclear. TDP has been begging for years to have this program include regional series highlights and information. The door has always been firmly shut. But now, because of sensational video and a fatality the door was opened for all the wrong reasons.

TV networks have a policy in place where the video footage of violent death is concerned. Nothing could have been more graphic than seeing Pardo dead in his car after this horrible accident. Let's hope that NASCAR Now does not have to face this issue again in the future, but somewhere inside ESPN this issue has to be addressed. That was tasteless and embarrassing for NASCAR Now, the ESPN2 Network and ESPN Inc.

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TNT's "Ponytail Express" Grinds To A Halt

Kyle Petty broke the news on Twitter. The "ponytail express" has been parked for this week. Petty and Rutledge Wood had been traveling between the NASCAR on TNT races in Petty's motorcycle. It is equipped with a sidecar which has been the location of Wood and his video camera.

Petty provided this information on Monday night:

Not riding to California. SORRY! FIRST WEEK OF CAMP! I wanted to spend time tomorrow and Wed with the kids. Haven't missed 1st week yet...

Rut and I are borrowing a bike out there and riding around Thur and Fri. NOT the same but still FUN. Please don't be mad at us...

Certainly, the activity of the Victory Junction Gang Camp comes first and always will. Unfortunately, that does not square with the information originally offered by TNT about this project. The idea was that the long trip between North Carolina and California this week was going to be the most interesting.

Plenty of fans have been following the exploits of this duo and were looking forward to maybe saying hello, getting a picture or just seeing them go through town. For many people across the country, this might be as close as they ever come to the NASCAR personalities they see on TV. has been posting a weekly video of the trips and both Petty and Wood have been sending Twitter messages and pictures constantly. On the last trip, the first NASCAR fans tracked them down using Twitter and got a picture. Wood said it made the day for both of them.

Petty started his big charity ride over a decade ago and has built it into a powerhouse of public relations and fund raising for the VJG Camp. That is why this idea was so appealing. Finally, a couple of NASCAR TV types putting their money where their mouth is and getting out into the real world.

Late Monday night, Wood confirmed that he and Petty will pick back up and ride from North Carolina to New Hampshire for the Loudon race. It was fun watching NASCAR fans talk to each other about this project, wonder what route the duo would take and then get excited from the pictures and messages sent along the way. Imagine, a good idea that was getting fans fired-up.

TNT may have a winner here. Perhaps, some careful expansion for 2010 might lead more fans to take a summer vacation, join these two maniacs and ride...all the way to the racetrack. Wonder what a "ponytail express" infield parking area would look like?

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