The Frontstretch: Changing Lanes: Well Worth Changing Channels to Watch by Danny Peters -- Thursday October 7, 2010

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Changing Lanes: Well Worth Changing Channels to Watch

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Thursday October 7, 2010

 

In the last decade and a half or so, inspired by the likes of “Big Brother” and “Survivor” (the grand daddies, if you will, of the genre) reality TV has exploded into the national conscience. As time has passed and different formats mined, a lot of what passes for reality TV now is about as inspiring as a bag of wet dog excrement, as nutritious as getting your food out of a garbage can. Take, for example, Jersey Shore – a show I’ll admit I watch from time to time, but then feel extraordinarily guilty after, for wasting my life. My point is most reality TV is schlock – with MTV’s smash hit show definitely one that plumbs the depths.

Young Ryan Gifford, a Richard Childress Racing development prospect, is just one of the many minorities and women featured on the show Changing Lanes and trying hard to forge a path that’ll take them to NASCAR’s top level.

BET’s Changing Lanes is, then, a refreshing change. The show is anything but schlock and is, in fact, an absolutely compelling look at the hard grind and immense struggle that it takes to become a top-level Sprint Cup driver. What makes this particular look so interesting is that it features minorities and women – both of whom are traditionally underrepresented in NASCAR. The prize, when all is said and done, is a spot on Max Siegel’s Revolution Racing Team.

Just in case you’re not aware who Max Siegel is (and I feel that if you’re reading this, you probably do), he’s the former music industry mogul who turned to stock car racing and for awhile sat as President of Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated before turning his attention, amongst other initiatives, to the diversity program. “I wanted to see more opportunities created in NASCAR for people of color, especially on the competition side,” said Siegel of the show. And that, on the early evidence, is something the man has done.

The first episode kicks things off at NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Combine with 30 drivers competing for ten spots on the “show” itself. Right from the start, Changing Lanes is a gritty, down home look into just exactly what it takes to pass those kinds of tests – a real eye-opener as to the multifarious issues and demands these young racers face just to take a single step up the greasy, treacherous ladder to Sprint Cup fame. As Siegel notes: “Every week, there’s a lot of competition, on-track performance, a lot of back story, and getting to know the participants. We want the audience to get to know what it takes to participate at this level.” Having watched the first four episodes that have aired already, those plotlines ring indisputably true. And in many ways, it’s what makes the show so hard to watch as well because you’re literally watching dreams, ten to fifteen years in the making, eviscerate and crumble in a matter of minutes (in some cases, mere seconds).

What the program is also intended to do is to open up the sport to a new demographic – a younger, hipper audience filled with minorities that hasn’t necessarily embraced NASCAR in the past. Said Jay Abraham, NASCAR Media Group’s chief operating officer: “This [Changing Lanes] is really about a major strategic industry initiative to expose our sport to a whole new group of fans, a diverse audience.’‘ And if a driver from the program does end up making it to the top echelon of NASCAR racing, it will be the sort of spark that might be exactly what this sport needs. One such prospect is the laconic 20-year-old, Ryan Gifford, who looks to have all the right stuff both on and off the track. As he rightly points out: “Once a few of us make it to (Cup), the next generation of kids are going to be able to look up to us and say, ‘Hey, we can do it.’” And that, folks, simply put is exactly what this show is about.

As someone who covers the sport on a week-to-week basis, I know firsthand just how much NASCAR-related broadcasting there is. The estimable SPEED Channel takes much of the burden, but truth is there is a lot of the “same kind of show” with the “same kind of features and stories,” a lot of rehashing of the issues everyone is already talking and writing about. Changing Lanes brings something different, refreshing, and a little bit out of the norm. The show’s strength is the brutal nature of how these young drivers rise and fall, fail, and succeed. So, if you’re not watching, you really should be; you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

One final point today, and I’m fully aware I should have mentioned this last week (for which, apologies) but as my dear old Gran used to say, “better late than never.” The moment I’m talking about came in the Formula One Grand Prix held on the road course under the lights in Singapore and featured Lotus Racing’s Heikki Kovalainen. The 28-year-old Finnish driver saw an oil valve break and his car become slowly engulfed in flames. Rather than heading to pit road, though, Kovalainen brought his car to a stop, calmly exited the vehicle like he was on a Sunday afternoon pleasure cruise, demanded and received a fire extinguisher through the fence and put out the fire himself. Now it’s fair to say that race car drivers are a rare breed — in some cases right on the boundary between fearless gladiators and the utterly insane – but this was a moment, I think, that proves how close these guys operate to the raggedy edge. Nice work Heikki – and check it out for yourself.

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Thursday on the Frontstretch:
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MPM2Nite: A Not So Fond Farewell To Fontana in the Fall
Dialing It In: Where Does ESPN Go From Here? Why Fans Are So Mad
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When Joking About NASCAR Stupidity Becomes Reality
Fantasy Insider: Johnson, Fontana Go Hand-In-Hand … But Who Else?

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Sadesworth
10/07/2010 03:44 AM
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I am pretty sure none of these characters will make it to the ‘Cup level. The current crop of drivers have it set that they hold on as long as they can and will never retire. 53 year old Mark Martin, Terry Labonte making starts still, Jeff Burton and Bill Elliott still running. Could you imagine a 50+ year old F1 driver? With the ‘Cup level drivers taking all the Nationwide wins and prize money they have the top two national touring series locked up as an ‘old boys club’.

Jacob
10/07/2010 08:05 AM
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Danny: Interesting, I didn’t even know this show was on. I actually have blocked BET out, just because I didn’t want to have to see another dating show or hip-hop video while channel surfing. Maybe I’ll unlock it, and check the show out.
Ultimately, though, I will have to agree with Sadesworth. What ever happened to the Wayans Brothers promised minority Cup team? The road to diversity in NA$CAR is littered with the corpses of promised teams that struggled, failed, or were simply abandonded along the way.
Is the lack of diversity actually a problem? Or might it just be smoke and mirrors designed to deflect attention away from the real problems? Will a minority ‘Reality TV’ driver be seen as a legitimate driver, or will it just alienate more die-hards as “affirmative action” comes to NA$CAR?
The MLB, NFL, and NBA seem more culturally relevant to most of America’s minorities. The NHL and NASCAR are more culturally aimed at those of European (let me TRY to be politically correct)descent. Should that be perceived as a problem? If so, why? I’m not sure if the NHL worries about how many minorities are on the ice, and i am POSITIVE that there are much larger issues needing to be addressed in NA$CAR right now. Priority one should be to turn NA$CAR back into NASCAR

Steve
10/07/2010 01:25 PM
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The “Drive for Diversity” is a Nascar PR creation and nothing more. It paints a great picture and you pull for each one of them to make it to the next level, but what they fail to tell you is when the money dries up, the kids are all kicked to the curb. With no development series other then the KN Pro Series (Nationwide is not a developmental series), these kids never get a legitimate shot at moving up the ladder. But it makes Nascar look like they are diverse to the casual observer

laxbro
10/08/2010 12:14 PM
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The show was taped way earlier than this year and the four picked already raced a season in the K&N Pro series East. One of them won two races and was the rookie of the year. I’m pretty sure these “reality tv stars” are racers and will be seen as such

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