Phil Allaway · Tuesday September 15, 2009
Hello, race fans. The Richmond race weekend every September has always been an exciting weekend. Good racing is nearly guaranteed and, since it’s a short track, there is plenty of contact to go around. However, since 2004, this weekend has taken extra importance because it is the last race before the Chase for the Cup begins. Thus, it’s an all out free-for-all for a group of drivers trying to lock themselves into the 10-race playoff at the last minute.
However, this week started out on a much lighter note for some of stock car’s best. On Wednesday night, 19 full-time Sprint Cup drivers, two NHRA Funny Car drivers (Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon), Aric Almirola, and the driver of supposedly undetermined age (although it’s probably somewhere around 78 or 79) Red Farmer gathered at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Oh. for the “Prelude to the Dream.” The “Prelude to the Dream” was originally scheduled to be run on June 9th, but rain forced the card to be postponed. Due to the rescheduling, a couple of drivers originally scheduled to run had to back out: Jeff Gordon due to a conflict, and Bill Elliott and Carl Edwards due to injuries.
The “Prelude to the Dream” itself was a pay-per-view broadcast put together by the FOX production staff for HBO. The event cost $24.95 and those buys, along with other donations, went to help four separate charities. Those charities are the Wounded Warriors Fund, Fisher House, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and Operation Homefront. All of the TV personalities for FOX (Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, Darrell Waltrip, Matt Yocum, and Dick Berggren) donated their time and came to Western Ohio on their own dime.
The FOX crew considers the Prelude to be a laid back affair where they can have a bunch of fun, and it definitely shows. Everyone involved was definitely having a good time. With pay-per-view, it also meant that it was a marathon. The only breaks that the booth got during the broadcast were during the three 30-second breaks for plugs for companies that helped to sponsor the telecast.
The action was pretty fast and furious, with passing on the track, multiple grooves being used, and everything. Generally, races on dirt tracks don’t have all that many cameras. I’m not sure of the number of cameras that they had at the track on Wednesday, but it was much lower than anything we’ve been used to when it comes to Cup broadcasts. That was to be expected, though. There were a solid eight cars with in-car cameras at Eldora, and they all were pointed towards the drivers themselves. I didn’t notice any of those onboard cameras that were pointed forwards in any of the eight cars. Now, as far as I’m concerned, yes, this can be done. It’s been done for years with the CORR Series, and even with the Whelen Modified telecast a few weeks ago at Bristol.
There were also plenty of interviews during the telecast, far more than what we’ve been used to outside of rain delay coverage. I liked that. Oh yes, and since it was technically a FOX telecast, this must be said. By the way, there was no Digger. He had no place there at Eldora, and thus, he did not appear.
In conclusion, I liked watching the “Prelude to the Dream” and think that it’s a great way to benefit charities and just have some fun. The idea of why the Cup Series, or one of the other major NASCAR series doesn’t race on dirt, was brought up during the broadcast and I think it’s something worth looking at for the future (although the splitters would probably have to go to make it happen). The ARCA Re/MAX Series already has two 100-mile races on dirt each year. However, those dirt races are at the Illinois State Fairgrounds (the “Springfield Mile”) and the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, both flat one mile dirt ovals.
However, for divisions like Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series, I wonder if there is a dirt track that can: 1) Hold the necessary crowds and 2) Handle 43-car fields, both on the track and in the pits. The 43-car field rule, instituted in 1999, forced renovations to most of the short tracks in the Busch Grand National Series (at the time) and was a contributing factor to Hickory being forced off the schedule (along with the fact that the track couldn’t raise a $500,000 minimum purse). NASCAR is holding firm to the 43-car field, as far as I know. Dirt races in NASCAR outside of the Whelen All-American Series and the former O’Reilly All-Stars Series are incredibly rare. The Goody’s Dash Series (before NASCAR stopped sanctioning it) did a one-off at Oglethorpe Speedway Park in Savannah, Ga. a few years ago. Before that, it was 1979 that a NASCAR sanctioned pavement series actually raced on dirt (the then-Winston West Series at the former Ascot Park in Gardena, Ca.). I could potentially see the Camping World East and/or West Series sticking a dirt race on their schedule (I can see it now: The Lebanon Valley 200), to be honest. I don’t know if any dirt track is feasible for either of NASCAR’s top 3 series, though.
In addition to the racing at Richmond, the Truck Series also had its own race, the Copart 200, at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill. This race was essentially a standalone event for the trucks and run on Saturday afternoon.
The pre-race show, NCWTS Setup, was essentially a typical affair from SPEED. Fairly well put together, it started off with a recap of the Lucas Oil 200 from Iowa. One feature included a look at the relationship between Mike Skinner and his wife, Angie, including a look at him learning to dance. A second feature showed the changes that have occurred in Timothy Peters’ career this year, from running an underdog team (Premier Motorsports) out of a two car garage to driving for Red Horse Racing and how it’s helped his confidence. This was the first that I had seen of the “two-car garage” that the team used as it’s shop, reminding you about how what Peters has done already is amazing. It was no bigger than what some weekly racers use for their race cars.
The audio problems that hampered part of the Iowa broadcast were thankfully nowhere to be seen on Saturday. I don’t know what was up in Iowa to be honest, but the volume issues were definitely not evident in Illinois. As a result, Benson could be heard more clearly on the broadcast.
Speaking of Benson, I think he’s still trying to find his legs up there in the booth. Before I go on, I will admit that I’m a Benson fan and have been since way the heck back in 1992, when ASA had the Player’s Ltd. Cup, a series of races held in Canada at tracks like Mosport International Raceway, Cayuga Speedway and Race City Speedway (Calgary, Alberta). Right now, though, it seems to me that having Benson in the booth is like having two Phil Parsons up there. The only difference is that Parsons has never (to my knowledge) driven a Camping World Truck and has never raced in the series. Benson has that experience from having driven in the series for the last three plus years, and thus can relate to all kinds of issues from an inside perspective.
SPEED’s coverage late in the going made me confused. I have no clue why Crafton had to come to pit road in order to serve his penalty if all they were doing was sending him to the end of the line. I didn’t notice tires being changed or adjustments being made to the truck. Judging by the way Crafton came back through the field after the restart, he probably did take tires… but SPEED missed it. Perhaps NASCAR wanted to give Crafton a “talkins’ to.”
Because the race ran long, the post-race was extremely short. It featured interviews with only the winner (Mike Skinner), points leader Ron Hornaday, and Matt Crafton. It also featured two separate point checks, with different margins between Hornaday and Crafton. When SPEED was leaving the air, Rick Allen mentioned that NASCAR was considering docking Crafton a lap for illegal passing before the green came out on the final restart (evidently, this did not happen). Due to time constraints, no replay was shown to show where this could have come from. From the wide angle shot used on the restart, it looked like Crafton was passing on the right, which is legal.
What was SPEED trying to get to so quickly? NASCAR RaceDay from Richmond. Essentially, they left a live race so that they could hype another race (that, due to rain, did not start until after 8 p.m.). 24 minutes were cut out of NASCAR RaceDay because of the truck race running long. This really did not affect the RaceDay telecast at all (some of the ancillary stuff that probably was going to be included got washed out). Personally, I think that they could at least tie up some loose ends before they left air in Madison and got down to Richmond.
On Friday night, the Nationwide Series ran the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 (a very unwieldy name to say, honestly) at Richmond. ESPN2 broadcasted the race with the trio of Marty Reid, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the booth, along with the usual quartet of Spake, Welch, Little and Burns on pit road.
Personally, this broadcast was not the best I’d ever seen. It wasn’t horrible, but it was OK. There was a significant focus on the leaders (Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin before his contact with Edwards and subsequent green flag pit stop), but that has been typical of the Nationwide Series broadcasts this season. Even with the relatively long green flag runs, there was only one “Up to Speed” during the race. It only covered the top 10.
Marty Reid did his typical job in the booth, which is generally good and is what we’ve come to expect out of him this season. Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett did fine, but the trio can only do so much with what the production crew gives them to work with.
I was not a fan of ESPN’s choice to take a commercial right during an intense battle for the lead between Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards while they were negotiating lapped traffic. I think that ESPN has the power to hold off on these breaks until the action calms down a little, but this was just terrible placement.
The post-race coverage was slightly more extensive than normal since the race ended just a little bit quicker than ESPN thought it would. Eleven interviews were sandwiched into the post-race coverage, along with post-race analysis from the booth, and from Bestwick, Wallace and Daugherty in the Infield Studio. However, the Victory Lane interview that Jamie Little conducted with Carl Edwards was quite rough. Yes, we know that Edwards has a broken foot and won’t be backflipping any time soon. However, it seemed like half of Little’s interview with Edwards was about the lack of a backflip and the idea that some people would be unhappy not to see it. To his credit, Edwards answered all of Little’s questions, but I just did not like that interview. Usually, Jamie’s more solid than that. Oh, and before you ask, no, I did not formally introduce myself to her while I was in Watkins Glen. She did say hello to me at one point, though.
On Saturday night, the Cup Series held the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. This was the first Cup race of the year aired on ABC. The remaining races (“The Chase”) will be shown on network television. ESPN’s usual Cup crew of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree provided the call for ABC.
I guess us race viewers have gotten used to the races being exclusive to basic cable over the past few months, as Saturday night’s race was the first Sprint Cup race on network television since May 31st. As a result of the race airing on network television in prime time, more commercials than normal would be required to pay for the telecast. This was something that I honestly assumed would happen going into the race, but some fans were undoubtedly caught off guard.
I’ll admit right now that this telecast has become my least favorite of the year ever since the Chase was created for 2004. This is because all of the focus goes toward the Chasers and those that were trying to get in at the expense of everyone else in the field. On Saturday night, even some of the Chasers that weren’t locked in (like Ryan Newman) got the snub.
Essentially, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, who were in that dogfight for 12th, received the lion’s share of TV coverage Saturday night. Almost no one outside of the top 10 in the race, unless they were a Chase prospect, or in trouble (stalled, wrecked, etc.) got any airtime. Now, I’m pretty sure that the Mars Corporation and Red Bull were plenty happy with the coverage, since they got most of the exposure money (I’m not a hundred percent on how that works, but generally, companies earn more money the longer their cars are on screen), but everyone else was likely seething. Mind you that this was without either car having an in-car camera. If either one did have one, there probably would have been even more focus on them.
Unfortunately, this is what the Chase creates. The sad truth is, I don’t know how I would have covered this race had I been the director. Busch, Vickers, and Kenseth have to get their air time since they’re on the bubble. So do the other 11 Chasers. The other drivers need to get their time as well, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time to get everyone on the air.
I’m generally for a more inclusive broadcast and this was definitely more exclusive than inclusive. I was watching an old TNN race from New Hampshire (1998 Jiffy Lube 300) the other day where, during a green flag run, they took a few laps and went back through the entire field (that was on the track at the time) and focused in on every car and play-by-play man Eli Gold related where every single car was in the running order and a little about that car. Now, personally, I never liked TNN broadcasts back then because Gold’s voice grated on me (I would have been 13 at the time), but this wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw in during a green flag run. If you’re going to use tight shots all the time to show off your HD capabilities (that it’s debatable how many viewers really care about), you might as well use them to show everyone.
Also, ABC missed the restart from the fourth caution due to commercials. Normally, I’d really pound into them for that, but it was a local commercial break. These are required in most sporting event telecasts and cannot be cut, like the national broadcasts can.
I was not a fan of the way that the cameras panned for the races off pit road during the race. Typically, the camera is fixed at the line where the cars are exiting off pit road so that we could see the race off. However, on Saturday night, ESPN chose to pan up pit road during the exit, which was a little weird. Then again, Richmond is not a typical race track. Because pit road has a slight curve to the left before the end, there doesn’t appear to be a camera position that is straight across from the exit like at most tracks. This led ESPN to experiment.
The race off pit road with less than 20 laps to go was the worst of all. Since the focus was only on Busch and Vickers, ESPN did not really show the final race off pit road. All they said that was that Busch beat Vickers off pit road (which is true). The view of the cars exiting pit road was from behind the pit wall, apparently from the view of Busch’s crew. No order was given of the top 10 until right before the restart, unlike a normal rundown as the teams hit the pit out line. This should never be repeated under any circumstances.
Post-race coverage was, once again, completely centered on the Chasers. All 12 of them got interviewed in the post-race show. The only non-Chasers to get any on-air time were Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, who just happened to be the last two drivers to be eliminated from the Chase. This is very similar to what ESPN did last year.
That’s all for this week. Next week is the first week of the Chase. The venue: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (still seems weird saying that) for the Sylvania 300. Coverage will be on ABC and kicks off with a one hour edition of NASCAR Countdown at 1 PM EDT. Race coverage will start at 2 PM, with a green flag expected around 2:15 PM.
The Nationwide Series takes next weekend off. Their next race is at Dover on Sept. 26. However, the Truck Series is also in New Hampshire this weekend for the Heluva Good! 200. Coverage starts with NCWTS Setup with Krista Voda at 2:30 PM, with race coverage to follow at 3 PM on SPEED. Why so late a start? Because before that comes on the air, there is the New Hampshire 100, a Whelen Modified race. And SPEED is going to televise that as well. The modified coverage starts at 1 p.m. And even better, all signs point to the Modified race being a live telecast, unlike the Bristol race last month. This means that there won’t be any strange cuts. I will be critiquing all three of these races for your reading pleasure for next week.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact TNT, ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:
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Thanks for reading, and have a great week!
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