The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Verizon Uses FOX To Work Around Sponsorship Ban by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday February 10, 2009

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Well, we’re through pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 and the Budweiser Shootout. As your TV critic, it is my duty to look everything over and pass some judgment on it; and starting this week and throughout all of 2009, I plan on doing just that. With the departure of the Daly Planet from the NASCAR scene last week (see Matt McLaughlin’s column for more), this column remains one of a select few that touches on television’s role with NASCAR — and I’ll do my best to meet that challenge head on. As I grow into this role, I hope to be what LeAnne Schreiber is for ESPN, someone that people can come to about their issues with TV coverage and get them addressed (although Schreiber is also on the verge of leaving her post). Of course, my duties are limited to covering just NASCAR TV programming … but I hope to have the same type of effect.

I’ll start with the race coverage of the ARCA Re/MAX Series’ Lucas Oil-Slick Mist 200 on Saturday. As most of you that actually watched the race know, the event was a total wreckfest. The commentators in the booth (Rick Allen, Ken Schrader, and Phil Parsons) generally did a good job working through it, but were likely none too pleased with the amount of crashes which decimated the field. To a point, they did become exasperated with what was happening and how the wrecks just kept on coming — but who wouldn’t be? In many ways, the event was an embarrassing throwback to the ARCA plate races of the 1990’s, where people would drive through spinouts too fast and get themselves caught up in a crash with startling regularity.

The guys in the booth kept their composure, though, and there was no calling out of drivers for not using their heads even when such talk would have been justified. The notable exception was when the driver of the No. 28, Chris Cockrum, seemingly took a little heat for attempting (seemingly) to push Bobby Gerhart through one of the wrecks before turning down the track and plowing into the back of the No. 15 of Ryan Fischer instead — a move which put Fischer up on two wheels. But often times, the criticism was muted in several situations where drivers made moves silly enough that even the casual fan at home was left scratching their heads.

Meanwhile, the telecast had sound issues with roughly 22 laps to go (the entire audio feed literally dropped out) — forcing SPEED to go to commercial at a critical moment in the action. Rick Allen handled it well, telling the audience when they returned that there was a slight technical issue cleared up during the break. However, that’s not the type of thing that’s going to win new fans over to a series that doesn’t always make it on TV.

Another issue that some fans probably didn’t like was that three of the crashes (including the one that occurred while SPEED was having technical issues) occurred during commercials. Obviously, these were scheduled commercial breaks, so it’s not like SPEED could do anything about it. Rick Allen even said at one point that taking a break was almost like the kiss of death. But no matter the circumstances, fans will never appreciate missing out on what actually caused the caution.

As the race wound down, a frightening crash occurred in the final laps involving Frank Kimmel, Patrick Sheltra, and Larry Hollenbeck. Sheltra received a frightening hit to the driver’s side door, and the damage from both cars suggested serious injury; in the end, the jaws of life were used to pry the drivers from their cars. As a result, there were no replays of the incident during the show, nor were there updates regarding the condition of Sheltra and Hollenbeck during the broadcast. The injury risk was probably why they never showed replays; it’s a decision which kind of reminded me of Darrell Waltrip’s practice crash at Daytona in July, 1990, where the seriousness of the incident kept it from being broadcast more than once. Luckily, Sheltra and Hollenbeck were both released from Halifax Memorial Hospital in Daytona Beach Monday. Sheltra sustained a compression fracture in his back, while Hollenbeck suffered minor injuries.

Since those wrecks caused the race to run long, there were minimal interviews after the checkered flag fell. Winner James Buescher was interviewed over his radio, and the broadcast ended roughly five minutes later. It was a prime example of how time constraints can really hurt the networks in certain situations.

A few hours later, FOX tackled the Budweiser Shootout for their first broadcast of 2009. That race was also plagued by wrecks, which caused it to run long as a result. Interviews afterward were limited to the Victory Lane one with Kevin Harvick, along with interviews with Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart before signing off. The short post-race shows in both cases were definitely frustrating for fans, but unavoidable in situations where so many cautions make it impossible for networks to push back additional programming for another 15-20 minutes.

Wrecks like this last lap fiasco led to a record eight cautions in the Bud Shootout, causing the broadcast to run long while leaving post-race cautions to an absolute minimum.

One notable thing that I caught during the Shootout was that Verizon Wireless can still have their name and logo associated with the No. 12 on TV broadcasts, even though they cannot have their logos on the car. Stremme’s No. 12 had an in-car camera and roof cam, referred to as the “Verizon Wireless in Car Cam” in what appeared to be a paid sponsor deal with FOX. But that was the only mention they got; anything else that might suggest to the uninformed that Verizon Wireless was involved with the team was strictly prohibited. In practice, this works kind of like when AT&T was forced to pull their logos from the No. 31 of Jeff Burton in 2007 for a couple of weeks because of an injunction against AT&T by NASCAR and Sprint Nextel. The car ran with no reference to AT&T on the car during that period — but the ESPN broadcasters still referred to it as the AT&T Chevrolet. Look for this process to continue until the end of the 2010 season, when the contract Alltel Wireless signed with now-Penske Championship Racing will end. After that point, the team will have to look for a new primary sponsor.

Now, if the Budweiser Shootout is like covering an Ice Hockey game — short periods with an intermission in between each one — Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying is like covering a baseball game. It is a lot slower in pace, and generally easier to complete. So, in what’s generally a run-of-the-mill broadcast, I had no realistic gripes with their coverage. Some fans might gripe about the fact that they couldn’t see every one of the 56 teams that did a qualifying attempt on Sunday’s run — but this is because the session was aired live. On the SPEED Channel and (to a lesser extent) ESPN last year, the sessions were slightly tape delayed to allow every car to be shown.

One thing I did notice with the coverage of both the Shootout and Pole Qualifying was a strange, slightly noticeable picture issue where these small little squares would show up on the screen and then fade as the camera panned. It was a little weird to look at… but ultimately did not affect my viewing. I wasn’t sure if this was actually on the broadcast itself, or if it was just on my end. Did anybody else see anything?

Personal Thoughts:

We all know about Darrell Waltrip’s now infamous “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!” chant he does at the beginning of races. This is with a rolling start, mind you. Makes me wonder what he would do with a standing start. Of course, this thought comes as a result of watching old Formula 1 races on YouTube with Murray Walker commentating. For those of you who do not know Walker, he has been described a being “…a man, that in his lighter times, sounds as if his pants were on fire.” A definite character…

During my preview last week, I mentioned about Tradin’ Paint being dumped for a trivia game show. The premiere for the show, now entitled NASCAR Smarts, aired on Friday. I haven’t caught a full episode yet, but my first impressions of the segments I’ve seen have been OK. I thought the questions in the first few rounds were relatively easy, personally; but maybe that’s because I’m still confident that if I were eligible to play, I’d clean up on there.

That’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll cover the season opening races for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series. In addition, I’ll mention anything else that tickles my fancy on here.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post below or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio.

And if you would like to contact FOX, ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the links or use the email addresses listed below.

FOX: feedback@support.foxsports.com
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the networks by e-mail, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to those emails than ones full of rants and vitriol.

Thanks, and have a great week!

Contact Phil Allaway

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Douglas
02/10/2009 07:29 AM
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RE: ARCA!

After trying to watch this fiasco, maybe ARCA is not ready for super-speedway racing!

I watched some, off and on, not sure I ever saw a green flag lap!

ARCA needs to do some soul searching before one or more drivers really gets hurt, or worse, clearly this series has it’s work to do on the fast tracks!

Don
02/10/2009 11:44 AM
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I was aghast at the rushed post race interview of Jimmy Johnson where our intrepid correspondent asked him not, “What happened out there?” to reduce his car to a smoking hulk in the closing laps, but, “What did you learn tonight?” And got the predictable non-answer instead of the passion of the moment.

Bob
02/10/2009 02:38 PM
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Maybe they should cut some of the fluff from the front side of the broadcast and not short space themselves so often. Fox has done Daytona for a few years now, They should have learned this by now. They should plan on the GWC finish for all prime time racing, that’s what the boss wants!

D Jones
02/10/2009 06:19 PM
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Phil,
I enjoyed your column. You have some big shoes to fill to take over for The Daly Planet. I’m glad someone is willing to write about NASCAR & TV.

It’s ironic that the ARCA race was sponsored by Lucas Oil Slick Mist. Seemed like the track was covered in it. What were the spotters doing? I put more blame on them.

After the Bud Shootout, FOX here in LV had paid programming scheduled. Smart move on their part in case the race ran really long. All race broadcasters should plan their schedules better. I agree though, with shorter pre race so we can see a longer post race.

Dave
02/11/2009 11:25 PM
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RE NASCAR Smarts:

I also caught the new show and am still trying to figure out the format. Starting off the SPEED guy and Kyle Petty were doing the answering FOR the players. That didn’t make sense? Then later on the players had to answer but could still consult their “teammate.” I think Kyle Petty played VERY dumb as he could easily have answered every one of those questions correctly. Hell I did, for both teams!