The Frontstretch: So Close and Yet So Far: Simple TV Solutions NASCAR Coverage Keeps Ignoring by Amy Henderson -- Friday June 28, 2013

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So Close and Yet So Far: Simple TV Solutions NASCAR Coverage Keeps Ignoring

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday June 28, 2013

 

Last weekend’s race at Sonoma left race fans with plenty to talk about: an unexpected face in victory lane; crashes, some intentional, others just crazy (how often do you get mashed-up cares on pit road…before the field even rolls off?); strategy; road course ringers. It was, all in all, an enjoyable race. But perhaps of equal significance, it was an enjoyable race broadcast, something which, judging by recent ratings, is not something you see every week.

And here’s the kicker…it was a great broadcast, maybe the best of the year, simply because there were fewer gimmicks, fewer of the camera shots that fans have been forced to become accustomed to..and more of the race. That’s all. TNT didn’t alter the number of commercials (and sure, that area needs some work. They’re a smaller network than FOX and have to pay for the races somehow, so that’s just a tough call) or the voices in the booth (a category in which they already beat FOX by a country mile). But because road courses don’t lend themselves to tight angle cameras that follow one or two cars, the network had stationary cameras at many points.

And because of that, fans saw a race.

There was plenty of on-track action last weekend at Sonoma…and fans even saw it on television, a rarity today.

They didn’t see one car running by itself. They didn’t see Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Danica Patrick or any other driver all day long, no matter what they were doing (or not doing) on the track. Instead, fans were treated to battles for position among cars throughout the field. And there were some good ones. Fans also saw some drivers not always featured in race broadcasts, and they were racing—and sometimes beating—better known drivers. But they were also racing other drivers generally ignored by the cameras and the voices and therefore, by many fans.

And if NASCAR is to grow and gain popularity, fans need to see all the drivers, to know there are some good ones running midpack every week, sometimes due to equipment, sometimes due to their own limitations, or both. Either way, they’re marketable, likeable drivers that fans aren’t seeing, and that hurts the entire sport. Not to mention, it makes the fans those drivers already have discouraged and unhappy.

And it’s not just about the drivers, it’s about the racing. Even for fans who don’t have a favorite driver, the sport has to highlight the on-track product. A camera chasing a single car lap after lap doesn’t do the sport justice. So many weeks, the fans at home lament the lack of racing during an event when there was, in fact, lots of it. Unfortunately for the fans, they never got to see it because someone in a TV broadcast truck somewhere decided that they don’t need to.

Think about that for a second: the networks don’t think showing a huge piece of the action taking place on the race track is important.

That astounds me. Somewhere along the line, the networks (all of them, to some degree) have forgotten that the sport is made up of little battles throughout the field, throughout a race. Somewhere, someone decided that what was most important was to show the leader ad nauseum, or maybe a few particular drivers. Forget whether there is racing going on elsewhere during the event—they have decided what really matters are those few cars.

This weekend, without doing anything else special, TNT simply showed the race. Even in the closing laps, as Truex pulled away from the field headed towards his first victory in recent memory, the cameras showed what was going on behind him. And what was going on behind him was a race, in every sense of the word. There were Chase contenders mixing it up for every single point they could steal…and you saw it. There were small teams fighting the big ones for some of their best finishes of the year…and you saw it. There was side-by-side competition, beating and banging, door-to-door battling, drivers using their bumpers the old-fashioned way…and you saw it.

The really amazing part here is that that’s a surprise. It should be the norm, it should be what fans see every time they turn on their TV’s. But it’s not. No wonder casual fans are turning to other sports for their action fix. No wonder people who don’t like NASCAR think it’s just a bunch of guys driving in circles. No wonder the diehards lament the racing that took place in the good old days. If nobody bothers to show the action, the conclusion of many, and rightfully so, is that there was no action at all. And that’s such a shame.

The even bigger shame is that the fix is so glaringly simple: use the corner cameras more as the entire field races past and use the tight-angle cameras only rarely, such as when talking about that driver. And then move on and talk about some of the other drivers who are doing something noteworthy, whether that’s falling back on a track where they normally thrive, having the best finish of their season or their careers, or simply making daring passes…you know, those things race fans think don’t happen during races? Tell the fans what’s going on through the entire race…a NASCAR race isn’t just about the race for the win…there are storylines, and compelling ones, for nearly every car and driver in the race, each and every week.

In a sport where fans are already oversaturated with gimmicks and overdone “enhancements” to the racing, the last thing fans need or, for the most part, want to see is even more gimmicks, even more overdone blather. What fans have been craving is simply racing. So why not give that to them every week, not just twice a year?

And Another Thing

There’s been a lot of talk this week about Richard Childress bringing back the No. 3 for Austin Dillon in the Sprint Cup Series next year. Of course, fans are divided on the issue. The number was last used on the RCR Cup car of Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt, and was changed to the no. 29 following Earnhardt’s death in a racing accident. Many fans would like to see the number retired completely, the way all of Major League Baseball has retired Jackie Robinson’s number because of his contributions to the sport as a whole. Others don’t care one way or the other.

SPEED TV put a poll on Facebook about the issue, with the following three choices to vote on: The number should never be used in the Cup Series again, it’s Childress’ number and he can do what he wants with it, or the only driver who should use the number in Sprint Cup is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

To me, none of those covers the answer correctly. I think many old-school fans aren’t thinking of why Dillon really wants the number, and many new fans don’t understand the impact of Dale Earnhardt and his death on the sport.

I think the compromise would be to run the number, but a far different version of it, not the same style Earnhardt ran (and the one Childress one said he would not return to the Cup Series). I understand why Dillon wants the number; it was Childress’ number when he ran the car, and he is a hero to his grandson, who wants to run “Pop-pop’s” old car number. Fair enough. But I also think that Dillon doesn’t understand the depth of Earnhardt fans’ feelings toward the number and his comments have been a bit flippant.

In the end, Childress owns the rights to both the number and the design and can do what he wants. He’ll need to carefully weigh his feelings about his dear friend Earnhardt as well as his grandson’s wish to honor him and the weight of the fans’ memories. Personally, I hope if he does decide to run the number again, that it will look different than it did on Earnhardt’s famous black car. Somehow, Dillon just hasn’t proven himself worthy of all that that No. 3 was, at least not yet.

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sal
06/28/2013 06:27 AM
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The media keeps reminding fans that the ‘good old days’ of racing weren’t more exciting, citing the fact that many races were won by laps rather than seconds. Perhaps the reason fans have that perception is because in the ‘good old days’ TV decided to cover whatever action was happening on the track, no matter who the driver was. Fans actually got to see MORE of what took place on the track, thus giving fans the opportunity to become more involved. A race isn’t just about the winner, or the top 10 drivers, it’s about every driver and team out there, trying to get the best finish they can. When the networks actually do that, the race becomes more ‘exciting’ to watch because it’s more like actually being at the race instead of your living room. The quality of a race isn’t always determined by the winner.

Carl D.
06/28/2013 07:42 AM
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Not having attended a cup race in a few years, I’ll have to take your word for it that there is often competitive racing mid-pack. Based on what I’ve seen up front, it’s all aero and clear air, at least at the intermediate tracks which make up the bulk of the schedule. If you are right, Amy, then I’d like to see what I’m missing, and not at a road course or restrictor plate track.

Yeah, he stutters too much and sometimes gets a bit pissy, but I still like Kyle Petty. I think he and Wally Dallenbach are pretty good team. Of course, TNT’s part of the schedule follows Fox’s, so even a couple of sock puppets would be an improvement over Larry, Darrell, and his other brother Mikey.

Ken Smith
06/28/2013 09:35 AM
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The #3 belongs to Richard and he has the right to do whatever he wants with it! In fact, I recall seeing that he has an actual copyright on that style of 3 and no one else can use it in his form. Could never fault him for letting his grandson run that number – and if it was me, would bring back the black car!!

Sherri T
06/28/2013 10:18 AM
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Dear Amy,

Could you do us all a favor and send the 1st half of your article to Fox, TNT, ESPN AND NASCAR? I bet you could even get a large number of people to sign it before you send it too!!

Thanks for saying what many of us have been thinking for a while!

GinaV24
06/28/2013 11:25 AM
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Amy, very nice article. I second Sherri T’s comment – I wish the TV people would read it. However, much like NASCAR, I’m not sure they really care what the fans want.

Unlike Carl D, I have attended some races in the past couple of years. I do think there is still far too much “follow the leader” and boring racing – even midpack and I’ve been bored even at the track with the way things are these days. I did enjoy the Sonoma broadcast for all the reasons you mentioned. I tune in to SEE a race, not supertight shots or the same cars over and over — show me the race!!

And yes, if NASCAR would pull its thumb out and hire some decent engineers so that the RACING product would also improve, well that would be icing on the cake.

I have mixed emotions about the 3 car. I was not a big Earnhardt fan when he was racing – since you can see who I pull for – the young gun who was his nemesis back then. However, I cried along with many others when he was gone. Austin may not be aware of how his comments sound to some people – he’s very young. I can understand WHY Dillon wants that number, but man oh man, he may not really know what he is getting into with it. In the end, it will be up to Richard to decide.

Sal
06/28/2013 12:18 PM
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I enjoyed Sonama…but could have done without any FOX leftovers.

TNT DID show the 48…by himself…for a lap or two. I guess they felt they HAD to. LOL.

Sadly, we’re now going to be given another cookie-cutter this weekend. Frankly, I’m HOPING that we’ll see a debris caution every 10 laps. It’s the ONLY way to get excitement now. LOL.

Wayne V
06/28/2013 07:02 PM
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I know that it’s impossibe to please everyone as people have different likes and dislikes. As I see it, most of my friends and I have been around racing all their lives and although they are not perfect, prefer the TNT, ESPN style of race telecasts.We attended local short tracks and when ESPN started NASCAR and open wheel races in the late 80’s started following that as well.

Maybe fans who just started of late,in the last 20 years or so, prefer the FOX style. I mean I hate wrestling on TV but realize that many people like it.Those Waltrips and Larry drive me CRAZY, so off base as to what I expect to hear from them. I really think Wally’s good, he GETS IT!

Commercials are part of it and I accept that, if you don’t, get over it! To me it’s the PEOPLE in the booth that matters and FOX IS FAILING big time in that area! In my opinion, TNT is a breath of fresh air after being smothered by Waltrip verbal diarrhea!

The Great Waltripo
06/30/2013 11:15 PM
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You do realize the tight shots focusing on one car are paid advertisements, right?

Chris
07/01/2013 08:18 PM
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Amy,

As others have stated the first part of your article are spot-on.

Being one of those “old-time” fans I am often reminded by new fans that the old-times weren’t all that great. Usually the reason given is that the race leader would run away with the race. To those fans,(or any fans),I do urge them to take a moment to pull up a race from the 80’s or 90’s.

For example take a look at a race from the late 90’s when Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were winning all the Winston Cup races. If you watch a race from that period hopefully you’ll note that Benny and Ned, when covering the race would cover the whole race. This meant that if you were a Dave Marcus fan you could be assured that you would see Dave shown and talked about a few times during the race even though the chances of him winning or even breaking the top-35 were slim at best.

Guys like Ned and Benny were also pretty unbiased in their coverage, that is until NASCAR_really took off which at that point you could start counting how many times Benny would say “So-and-so is coming in for four fresh Good-Year tires and a fill-up of Sunoco racing fuel”.

Coverage was probably at its best about this period as long-time fans will recall that prior to the 90’s racing was a little harder to come by on TV so you can imagine how excited fans were when ESPN really started to cover NASCAR.

Of Course NASCAR, like many businesses forgot to take “Business 101” and instead of embracing the formula that suddenly made them so popular they instead started figuring out ways to screw it up at every turn. For business people out there we call this “thinking short-term verses long-term”

A good example of this is back in the late 90’s when NASCAR had to attach their name to_everything such as the official toilet paper of NASCAR! Really?! Did the world really need this? The money paid to NASCAR would’ve been much better off sponsoring a team but NASCAR took alot of sponsorship money that could’ve been used to fund teams, (granted this was the late 90’s/early 00’s when every compnay wanted to sponsor something, anything in NASCAR).

The greed got to NASCAR, (France & Co.),and they went for the short-term approach which brought us to where we are today. Hence why we have the tight shots of cars as the Great Waltripo points out. Who would every think that a sport that is so reliant on sponsorship would also be selective in its coverage of the sponsors to the point where they are showing the cars whose sponsors have paid them. Now there is something to get your head around.

It is bad enough that this happens in just about any show you watch now, for example watch just about any television show where a guitar is shown and note how the brand name is taped over. Back in the day, (what day I do not know), this wouldn’t have occured because honestly the guitar(s) were not the focal point of the show. At some point though some marketing guy thought “I know how we can get some extra revenue! We’ll contact Fender and ask them for money for using their guitars in our show, if they won’t pay we will tape over their logo”. To me networks look like idiots for covering up logos or blurring out logos of companies that do not pay for “advertising” during their shows. This is just one example but take a look at any of your favorite shows and you’ll see this quite a bit. Is this where NASCAR is heading?

Unfortunately, as Amy nicely points out, today NASCAR can’t figure out what the problem is, in fact I’m not sure they recognize that there is a problem.

As for the television coverage, while the networks have their own agenda,(revenue from commercials), they must adhere to the direction from NASCAR if they want to continue to cover the races which is why we end up with the poor coverage we have with people in the booth who parrot the views of NASCAR, (Waltrip for example).

As for the gimmicks…don’t get me started. sigh

If you really want to wind me up start talking about how NASCAR screwed up the once thriving Busch series! When guys like Randy Lajoie were running only in the Busch series even though he had many offers to move up to Winston Cup, even with Mark Martin and his Winn-Dixie entry winning damn near everything, it was a great series. Lots of single car owners with alot of drivers working their way up to the top series.

My apologies for the length of my response but Amy started it!;-)

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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