The Frontstretch: A Last Look At Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday January 26, 2010

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A Last Look At Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story

Talking NASCAR TV · Phil Allaway · Tuesday January 26, 2010

 

Hello, race fans. It’s been a long winter, but I’m back for another season of critiques, commentary, TV news, and other random musings. But, before we start, there are a couple of things that I need to discuss.

First off, some Frontstretch news. I am expanding my areas of critique for 2010. Non-stock car racing telecasts will now be included. That means that you’ll get my thoughts on race telecasts for series like the Rolex Sports Car Series (Grand-Am), the Izod IndyCar Series, and the American LeMans Series. The first of these races to be critiqued will be the Rolex 24 next week. Early on in the year, these will be included in the regular critique. However, later on in the season, they may be moved to a new Thursday critique that will be exclusive to the Frontstretch Newsletter. This is because the critiques will get way the heck too long (and let’s be honest, I have seen comments both here, and at The Daly Planet (when I did the ESPN Behind the Scenes article) that my articles are too long. Bill Simmons Syndrome, if you will.)

On the news front, SPEED has officially announced the cancellation of This Week in NASCAR after 14 years. ‘Tis a shame. Even with all the problems the show may have had, it was still a good watch. There have also been wholesale changes in SPEED’s programming from the track. Kyle Petty will have a much more visible presence on SPEED this year. In addition to NASCAR Smarts (which I still think I would whoop tail on, despite it being unprofessional to go on the show since I’m a critic and a member of NASCAR’s Media Corps), Petty will appear on NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane, in place of Jimmy Spencer.

In TWIN’s place in the 8:00 PM Eastern timeslot Mondays will now be two new shows. At 8:00, a new Monday edition of NASCAR in a Hurry will air. Knowing what the Sunday edition of the show is like, it may end up resembling the Sunday evening edition of Inside Winston Cup Racing (TNN days).

Then, at 8:30, Spencer has been given a brand new show entitled “What’s the Deal?” All we know about the show is that Spencer’s hosting, and that (according to SpeedTV.com) he will be “…sharing his opinions on racing and other matters.” My first thought when reading that is how he’s going to make it through an 8:30 timeslot, because when Jimmy gets going, the bleeps might have to be used. Sounds more like something that would work at 10 PM to me… but anyways, I’ll watch this with an open mind and give you a critique later in the year. I’m sure some of you might not be very high on 30 minutes straight of nothing but Jimmy, though.

Also, Inside NASCAR’s personality list on Showtime has been officially announced. Kyle Petty had been rumored to be on that show as well; however, Michael Waltrip from the recently canceled TWIN will be on the panel instead along with Randy Pemberton, Brad Daugherty, and host Chris Myers. The show premieres February 10th, and I’ll have a critique ready sometime in March (likely during that big off-week after Atlanta). Also of note, for those of you who do not have Showtime, the show will be available online through Showtime’s website.

Also in the past week, there have a couple of rants regarding the media, and particularly, TV coverage. Since I’m a critic and I must hit all the angles, I feel that I need to comment on them.

First off, back on January 17th, SceneDaily.com’s Jeff Owens posted in a blog about a brief conversation he had with ESPN’s Rusty Wallace. In that chat, Wallace mentioned his disdain for criticism of his work. Specifically, Wallace said, “I love doing TV. The thing I hate about TV is the comments about the job I do. I hate that part of it. I hate the Internet, I hate the blogs, I hate all that stuff.”

Wallace continued to say that other former racers that now work in TV also share this view.

I was going to originally concoct a quick response to this statement for the Newsletter last week because I viewed this as a personal attack on me (even though I was not mentioned by name), but decided to hold off (mainly because I kind of made himself sick from thinking too much). But, here it goes.

Rusty, I feel that race fans and members of the media (including myself) that are well informed of your tendencies on television have every right to compliment and/or criticize you for your performance in the booth.

However, it is my opinion that making comments (positive or negative) about someone has to have supporting evidence. You can’t just claim that someone bites, and then not give any evidence to back that up, or make any suggestions as to how to improve. For example, I personally don’t care that you sometimes refer to race cars as “hot rods.” This is something, like Darrell Waltrip’s infamous “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!” refrain at the beginning of races on FOX that nobody could force you to stop saying on air since you’ve been using the term for so long (at least 10-15 years, I think).

The main issue that many people have with you on air is a potential bias towards your own race team (Rusty Wallace Inc., RWI), and particularly, your son, Steven. I understand wanting Steven to do well; what parent doesn’t want that? I should qualify that by saying that I don’t have kids, but I understand the feeling of wanting the best for someone close to you. However, the issue here is that Steven may be getting a little more on air coverage than he really deserves as a result of you being involved in ESPN’s broadcasts.

This type of issue has created problems in sports telecasts before. When Ned Jarrett was still working for ESPN and CBS, he dealt with this for years with his son Dale racing. For the most part, he kept it professional, and apologized for the rare instances where he overstepped his bounds (Ned’s call of the end of the 1993 Daytona 500, albeit a classic, is an example of this). You need to find a happy balance here. I think you’re almost there now.

However, going the completely impersonal route is generally not a good idea either. Bob Griese did this when calling his son Brian’s games when Brian was playing Quarterback at Michigan (Griese would refer to his son as simply, “the quarterback”). Yes, it came off as OK on television, but it created some family strife.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and claim that your job is easy, Rusty. I know it’s not. I know the kind of preparation that goes into a race telecast, and just the prep on your part is not dissimilar to the kind of output that grad students have to do on a weekly basis. The difference is that you don’t have to write papers. Instead, the race telecasts are your tests. Having to do all that prep while having your own Nationwide Series team and other responsibilities on television is no easy feat.

The one thing that I’m generally unsure of here is the level of criticism that you receive from other media members (other than myself and John Daly) and fans. In my columns, I stress that fans be courteous when talking about media personalities and/or sending e-mail to TV partners. The general idea is that fans would be far more likely to get feedback by keeping their anger down, and being more constructive. Of course, I cannot speak for everyone.

Last week during the NASCAR Media Tour, NASCAR.com’s Joe Menzer did an interview with longtime car owner Jack Roush. During said interview (unprovoked by Menzer, by the way), Roush went off on a rant. During the rant to end all rants, Jack said this:

If you look at our sport and the way it’s reported, and the way the communications box and the television box works in relation to the rest of what’s going on, there is not a sports activity in the world that’s got better critics and more knowledgeable critics than NASCAR does as we go to competition in front of the fans. We have not had the level of support from the TV studio box that the other sports have.

I would hope that FOX and ESPN and everybody else really think about what they are doing. We had more passes last year than we’ve ever had; we had more passes for the lead than we’ve ever had; we had more different winners than we’ve ever had; we had more cars finishing on the lead lap than we’ve ever had. The competition is great. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t subject to criticism for every move that NASCAR made or every move that a team made. But sometimes it sounded that way, coming out of the communications [or television] box.

Effectively, what Jack is saying here is that members of the media, specifically those who work for NASCAR’s TV partners, are making NASCAR out to be worse off than it actually is. The AMP Energy 500 at Talladega November 1 is a likely prime example of Roush’s point. This is a race that had 58 lead changes, one of the highest number of changes in the entire decade, yet the race was derided almost universally during the event by ESPN commentators, and afterwards by almost anyone with a voice in the industry.

Jack continued on to state that some analysts seem to have axes to grind, perhaps dating back to their driving careers. Wallace’s aforementioned comments above could be considered along those lines.

Do I think Jack’s right here? To a point. It can be argued that ESPN’s commentators were up front in showing their disdain for the action during that race at Talladega. However, NASCAR’s TV partners have typically withheld from outright criticizing NASCAR’s actions – at least not on air. I don’t really recall a moment that they did.

Moving on, as you may remember from last October, NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, with the help of Pepsi, bought time on ABC to air Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story right before coverage of the Pepsi 500. I stated at the time that the version aired on ABC was cut to heck and back, and thus, I could not critique it until I got a copy of the full story.

I don’t have John Daly’s pull, so I can’t get freebies. As a result, $18 later (including shipping), I have a copy of Together on DVD, and it’s time to critique it.

If there’s one thing that I can tell you right off the bat about Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story, it is this. They talk about family a lot. It’s the overarching theme of the film, and you rarely go more than a few minutes without this being addressed. Even narrator Tom Cruise is part of this family, having had a 23-year friendship with Hendrick himself.

The story is generally in chronological order, with a couple of deviations. The start details Hendrick’s upbringing in rural Virginia and it ends in the present. All segments of the film feature interview footage with friends, family, drivers, etc.

It’s interesting to see Rick’s mother talk here. Apparently, when the team picked up its first victory at Martinsville in 1984, she joked with him at the time on the phone, claiming that Geoff Bodine (the team’s driver at the time) blew an engine, then coming back and telling him that Geoff won. It’s still pretty amazing that the team won after only 8 races in the series.

The film reveals some interesting facts that fans may or may not have known. For example, Hendrick co-owned a Budweiser Late Model with Robert Gee in 1983 that Dale Earnhardt took to Victory Lane at Charlotte. Another notable moment is when Jeff Gordon talked about moving into Rick’s house (and later, Ricky’s house). Gordon doesn’t directly mention why this was the case, but based upon the time period, its not too difficult to figure out that it pertained to Gordon’s divorce from his ex-wife, Brooke.

Unlike the version of the film shown on ABC, Tim Richmond is, in fact, in it. He wasn’t in much of it, but he was there.

The film is about 50 percent upbeat. A fairly significant chunk of the film is dedicated to the Plane Crash in 2004 and the fallout and sadness caused by it. You can easily tell that its still very hard for almost anyone to talk about it without breaking down.

However, there are some glaring omissions from the film that I wish were either covered at all or covered better. First off, at the end of 1996, Hendrick was diagnosed with Leukemia, and indicted for mail fraud for underhanded dealings through his Honda dealerships. The film decided to focus on the Leukemia, which I understand since it was far more serious of an issue, but they essentially glossed over the indictment, which led him to serve house arrest for the entire 1997 season. Hendrick’s only contact with the team during that time was a cell phone call after races. There was also no mention at all of the fact that Hendrick was pardoned by President Clinton in December, 2000 as part of a blitz of pardons in the last few weeks of Clinton’s presidency.

Another omission was Ricky Rudd’s entire tenure with the team. For those of you who are relatively new to the sport, Ricky Rudd drove the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports from 1990-1993, replacing original driver Geoff Bodine. 1990 was run with Levi Garrett sponsorship, and Rudd drove with the Tide colors the last three years there. In that time, Rudd won four times (and famously had a fifth taken away at Sears Point in 1991), had 35 top 5 finishes, 64 top 10s, and won four poles. He also finished second in points in 1991 – but he didn’t even get a mention. They essentially skipped ahead from Waltrip’s Daytona 500 win to Gordon’s entrance into Cup in 1993.

Ken Schrader also barely got a passing mention in the film. Schrader did get interviewed and briefly talked about not replacing Tim Richmond with the team (if anyone, he replaced Benny Parsons). In addition, he briefly mentioned his preference for driving for Papa Joe (who technically “owned” the No. 25). However, there was literally no mention of Schrader past that. Mind you that Schrader drove nine full years for the team. There was also no mention as to how Schrader’s tenure ended with the team either. According to Schrader in his book, Gotta Race!, he blames his departure from Hendrick Motorsports on his last crew chief there. Schrader simply wanted to have a car setup that he could be comfortable with. However, his crew chief would order changes to the car even after he had parked it for the day because “this is what Jeff Gordon is running.”

Also, there was no mention (other than one picture shown early in the film) of Hendrick’s sports car team. This is of lesser importance than the other omissions, but I’d like to have seen some kind of reference to it. For those of you completely in the dark here (which is probably quite a few of you), Hendrick Motorsports ran an Camel GT team in the mid-1980’s that ran “Corvette GTP’s” with GM Goodwrench backing. In reality, they were rear-engine Lolas designed to look similar to Corvettes. Drivers included Doc Bundy and South African Sarel van der Merwe (who subbed for an injured Darrell Waltrip in the Winston Cup race at Watkins Glen in 1990). Very fast cars.

In addition, Hendrick Motorsports had some involvement with GTO-class Camaros in the 1980’s, through the Peerless Racing team. This car, No. 76, carried Levi Garrett sponsorship at the time and was driven by Jack Baldwin.

As it stands, the film is 94 minutes long. It’s generally enjoyable, but I think it probably should have been longer, maybe 2 hours. Had the film included the aforementioned stuff, I think it could have easily reached the two-hour mark.

On the DVD are also some Special Features of note, including ten clips that talk about certain aspects of the team’s history. Some of these clips feature excerpts of interviews that were completely excised from the film. I noted that there was some censorship of logos in the short pieces about the Rainbow Warrior Checklist (most notably, the Valvoline logo on Ray Evernham’s uniform was blurred out). For the record, HMS has been using Quaker State products since 1996.

Personally, I wish that this film had been put out in a set for an inexpensive price, like what was done with Dale a couple of years ago. If you remember that, it was a six DVD set that I purchased at Wal-Mart for $19 early in 2008. It included the movie, interviews, bloopers, and deleted scenes. And that was just the first two discs. A photo gallery was also included, along with the 1998 Daytona 500 and 2000 Winston 500. I just saw copies there last weekend for $13. Dirt cheap for what you get.

I would have liked to have some classic races included in this theoretical set, too, like the 1989 and 1997 Daytona 500’s, and maybe a couple of Tim Richmond’s victories (like Richmond’s two victories in 1987 after returning from “double pneumonia”), along with additional interviews.

That’s it for this week. This weekend is the beginning of Speedweeks from Daytona! Yee-haw! I’m ready and raring to see some automotive action out on the track. Saturday afternoon sees the start of the Rolex 24 at 3:30 PM Eastern. However, unlike last year, the start will not be carried on FOX. Instead, race coverage is scheduled to start with a half-hour pre-race show on SPEED at 3:00 PM EST. The race is scheduled to start at 3:30 PM, with coverage scheduled to continue through 10 PM. SPEED will then return Sunday morning at 7:00 AM EST to show the last eight and a half hours of the race, as well as a half-hour post-race show. That’s pretty extensive, but not the most they’ve ever had (In 2001, the Rolex 24 was aired Start-to-Finish on Speedvision). I can also tell you that free timing and scoring will be available on Grand-Am’s website (grand-am.com) for the entire race (which they’ve done since at least 2003) and will definitely come in handy during the middle of the night.

Also next weekend, SPEED will televise live coverage of the Toyota All-Star Showdown from Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, California. On Friday night, SPEED will come on-air from Irwindale at 10 PM EST for a pre-race show that includes a recap of qualifying for the K&N Pro Series race. There will then be a 100 lap Super Late Model race, followed by a LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier) for the main show on Saturday.

On Saturday night, SPEED will once again come on air at 10 PM EST. During this slot will be a pre-race show, and then the 225-lap K&N Pro Series race, which is currently scheduled to go off at 10:25 PM EST. After the K&N Pro Series race is over, there will be a 75-lap late model race. Look for critiques to come next week…

In the meantime, 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:

SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the networks by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Mark
01/26/2010 07:38 AM
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I can’t say i’m surprised to learn that Hendrick left out many of the people who got him to where he is today . He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight . And even if he has to , he makes sure he gets credit over others in the organization . Geez , just watch him elbow his way into victory lane celebrations so he can have his face on tv and thereby be credited with having a hand in the victory .
The Hendrick success in NASCAR can be directly attributed to a handful of drivers and crewchiefs over the years . Other than writing checks , the influence of Hendrick on his teams is mostly hype perpetuated by Hendrick himself , along with his giant marketing department . He even goes so far as to finance his own television programs to show his involvment in the Haiti relief efforts . Bless him for helping , but did it rate a television show to pat himself on the back ? No .
As is always the case , Hendrick creates a fantasy history of his life , and leaves out the people and events that really are responsible for who and what he is .
I can’t get too excited about which SPEED show gets moved or dropped . They all pretty much run together , just the same talking heads in different time slots .
Sad that Rusty doesn’t like critics , i doubt many tv types do . But he might want to try paying attention to what the critics have to say . Maybe he could improve his on air performance . which is dismal at best . By the way , he stole the hot rod reference from John Force .

DansMom
01/26/2010 10:58 AM
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You could have limited your whole article to the Jack Roush section and it would have been an OUTSTANDING article.

Always appreciate your columns – maybe the addition of the Thursday portion can increase brevity – sometimes its too much info to handle!!!

mkrcr
01/27/2010 08:42 PM
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The only good I have ever had to say about Hendrick has come from his contributing two of his aircraft to the Haiti relief effort. His crews are all volunteer and Hendrick is absorbing all costs. One recent flight brought 46 orphans back.
Beyond that, he’s a liar, cheat, and a crook. He’s a big contributor to the downfall of the sport that has made him millions. At least some of that money is going for a good cause.