Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Whatever Happened To Mr. Excitement?

One year ago at this time, Jimmy Spencer was busy. Two hours of RaceDay and one hour of Victory Lane put him front-and-center on SPEED each NASCAR weekend. When the Chase for the Championship rolled around, Spencer was added as a panelist on This Week in NASCAR.

These days he inhabits thirty minutes late on Monday night after an amateur talent show and a NASCAR cooking program. Spencer's outspoken style was once something that SPEED exploited to get the network recognition. Now, after line dancing and hamburgers, he is buried in obscurity.

What's the Deal? is the title of Spencer's new show at 10:30PM on Mondays. Ray Dunlap sits with Spencer in what is supposed to be a replica of the Spencer family auto salvage business in Berwick, PA. That's right, Spencer sits in a junkyard.

That irony is not lost when discussing a man who literally fought his way up through the Modified division and represented in NASCAR the hard-nosed competitor ready to mix it up on and off the track. Like it or not, you always knew what you were going to get when Jimmy Spencer opened his mouth.

There was a time when SPEED could not get enough of that. Spencer used the two hour RaceDay program to pontificate, debate and aggravate. Sometimes, it appeared that Spencer was on target and good for the sport. In other moments, his personal insults and poorly expressed opinions reflected a time gone by. In many ways, the network grew up and Spencer did not.

When SPEED had another option, it made the switch. After appearing in Daytona, Spencer has been absent from SPEED programs except his own. He does not even appear on Race Hub, the network's weekday news and interview show.

The last episode of What's the Deal? aired after the Atlanta weekend. Dunlap offered Spencer an opportunity to speak on the Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski issue.

"I'm going to explain this to you fans," said Spencer. "If he (Edwards) waits six weeks to do it, there is no benefit to it. Do it when it's fresh in his mind. You take him (Keselowski) out of a good run and you know what? The kid learned a valuable lesson. He will respect everybody in the garage area a whole lot more. Thanks, Carl."

"At the end of the day, this hit every national paper and the Internet," Spencer continued. "It's the story. It's what NASCAR needed. It's what Brian France intended the sport to do. At the end of the day, this is good for our sport."

That is the kind of frank talk TV viewers used to hear on RaceDay. Dunlap is clearly not a Spencer fan and appears to hate every moment of the programs. In the first show, Dunlap introduced Spencer as a curmudgeon. He then added that others call Spencer a windbag, sourpuss and blowhard. That set an interesting tone.

The television show itself is a mix of mockery and patience. Spencer is made to look the fool and allowed to fill thirty minutes with unstructured rants. Baited by Dunlap, Spencer "goes off" so frequently that it loses the effect. Dunlap sits patiently waiting for Spencer to finish before tossing the dog the next bone.

In the age of social media, the series falls far behind when trying to interact with fans. Reading a handful of emails is ridiculous. As we related in an earlier article, this program needs a Twitter account and a Facebook page yesterday. Spencer needs to chat live at the SPEED website and give the audience an online destination to call home.

The Bristol weekend should result in some interesting storylines. By Monday night, fans will have been offered The SPEED Report, Victory Lane, Wind Tunnel, NASCAR Now and Race Hub.

Spencer faces an uphill battle to capture even a slice of the NASCAR TV audience at an odd hour on a confusing night of programming. It should be interesting to see if SPEED makes changes to the series or continues to let Mr. Excitement slowly fade into the background.

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