Hello, race fans, and welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where we look into the motorsports telecasts made available to the general public. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were in action at Martinsville Speedway. Meanwhile, after Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race, SPEED finally aired the speed trials that were held right after the Scotts EZ-Seed 300 at Bristol last month. We’ll start there…
Bristol Speed Trials
The “Bristol Speed Trials” were concocted somewhat last-minute as a way to replace the legends race on the schedule at Bristol Motor Speedway. Drivers would endeavor to break Sammy Swindell’s all-time track record of over 138 mph from 2000. However, the commentators neglected to tell viewers that the record was actually from when Bristol Motor Speedway was converted to dirt for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. Of course, with the event being held right after the Nationwide race, these trials would be done on the new concrete surface. As fun as the legends race was for the past two years, last year’s nasty crash involving Larry Pearson and Charlie Glotzbach made it unfeasible to continue holding it, likely due to insurance issues.
John Roberts and Larry McReynolds provided the commentary, while Bob Dillner served as a pit reporter for the half-hour special, but it is unclear when they recorded it. They were never on camera during the show, even though they both would have been in Bristol that weekend. It would not surprise me if the commentary was recorded a week or so after the trials back in Charlotte, not unlike what Rick Benjamin (aka Ron Williams) and Scott Sutherland did when they called ProCup races for SPEED a few years ago.
The format was relatively simple. First, there were some warm-up laps. These weren’t necessarily shown. Instead, pre-trial interviews with David Ragan and Scott Russell were aired.
Ragan and Russell, driving a street-legal (although heavily modified) Ford Mustang and a Yamaha 1000cc Superbike respectively, only took one run, while the supermodified and sprint car drivers (winged and non-winged) each took two.
The session was stated to be a one-hour session, but the show was condensed down to a half-hour. As a result, the warm-ups were cut out, and I think some of the second runs (if the driver failed to improve) were cut out as well.
I feel that viewers missed out on some content due to the way SPEED cut up the broadcast. Maybe it would have done better as a one-hour show. That way, we could have more interviews and not miss out on certain runs.
On Saturday, the wind was a serious issue, but only for those spotting on top of the grandstand, or those pitching a tent. Seriously, it was pretty brutal out there despite the sunny skies. However, since the Camping World Truck Series was at Martinsville, the wind didn’t really play a role for the trucks on track. Some of the high camera shots were a little shaky, though.
SPEED trotted out a new feature during NCWTS Setup where fans can send in questions for either Dunlap or Sadler to ask during The Corral segment. On paper, its similar to what ESPN does with their In-Race Reporters. The setup is different, though. Prospective questioners send their questions to SPEED via the coverage’s Twitter page, instead of e-mailing or using contact forms. I’m unclear as to how it worked because they didn’t actually tell viewers which questions had been sent in by fans. On the surface, there really wasn’t much difference, though.
The main feature of the Setup was a feature on Autism, typically a big issue in April since it is Autism Awareness Month. The feature focused on former driver (and current Red Horse Racing Competition Director) Terry Cook and his wife, Amy East Cook (remember her from ESPN’s truck coverage a decade ago?). Their son, Cody, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 18 months. Terry talked a little about his transition away from driving, while both Terry and Amy talked about dealing with their son’s Autism and how they teach him basic tasks. Amy is basically a stay-at-home mom who spends dozens of hours a week teaching Cody. The whole piece was more or less designed to bring attention to Autism Speaks, a charity that benefits Autism Research and Autism Awareness.
The race was full of good action and SPEED was able to bring viewers a lot of that action. However, I did have some gripes with a couple of aspects of SPEED’s presentation.
SPEED managed to miss at least two restarts due to still being in commercial. It could be argued that due to the short caution laps, such a thing is understandable at Martinsville. That doesn’t mean that its ok to do it. However, they did attempt what amounted to penance. Later on in the race, it appeared that SPEED was going to miss another restart after Chase Mattioli’s third spin of the day (earning the “Dart Without Feathers” award from Tom Bowles in the process). However, they chose to exit out of commercial early in order to show the restart live.
Also, the scroll was having significant issues early on in the race. I guess it could be considered GPS issues, or timing and scoring issues. This went on for nearly 50 laps before the fix was instituted (not that fix). My guess is that NASCAR had a somewhat similar issue with their scoring as they had back in Bristol during the Scotts EZ-Seed 300 (Note: Short tracks have given NASCAR problems so far this year, eh?). However, unlike at Bristol with ESPN, viewers were not notified of the issue on-air.
I definitely did like the usage of the split-screen replay a couple of laps into the race. It is something that I have been after FOX to re-institute use of for the past couple of years for their Sprint Cup coverage. It doesn’t break up the overall flow of coverage like a full screen replay under green flag conditions does.
Also, in a moment of self-deprecation, the “Call of the Race” award was given to Waltrip for his proclamation that Kevin Harvick was done after losing two laps. It’s good to see that SPEED is not full of themselves and can point out their own mistakes.
Since the race ran long due to multiple cautions and a red flag (13 in all), there was not all that much post-race coverage. There were interviews with the top-5 finishers (Johnny Sauter, Kyle Busch, Ron Hornaday, Kevin Harvick and Timothy Peters) and the winning crew chief (Joe Shear, Jr.). In addition, there was a check of the point standings before SPEED left the air.
Despite the miscues that I mentioned above, the race was a relative joy to watch. There was plenty of action to be had on track, throughout the field. SPEED did a good job to show that action.
Goody’s Fast Relief 500
FOX returned for their 11th appearance at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday with the usual crew. The new FOX Stage was situated right on the exit of Turn 4, allowing some fans to look in on Waltrip, Myers and Hammond’s discussion early on. That looked a little creepy at times, but I’m cool with it.
The one-on-one interview of the week had Waltrip talking with Harvick. A lot of the discussion was centered upon the idea of Harvick as “The Closer,” which was a bit of a recurring theme throughout the weekend. Of course, the race ended up driving that point home as well. However, for some reason, Waltrip asked Harvick to do the “Ickey Shuffle” with him. That really wasn’t necessary. Waltrip found a way to make a one-on-one interview about himself. That isn’t right.
Once again, there were almost no at-the-track interviews during FOX’s Pre-Race show. That is quite annoying, as not everyone has SPEED at home. In my case, its part of the Sports Digital Tier, meaning that you have to have digital cable, and pay extra (currently $5.95 a month) to get access to the channel. Of course, I subscribe. Otherwise, I would be unable to critique Truck races for you. The main idea is that I shouldn’t have to watch the pre-pre-race show to see more than one driver interview.
It seems like FOX’s pre-race show is so focused on normalcy that there are no real attempts to enlighten fans about the drivers anymore. Its as if there is a formula now for the entire show. Desk discussion, then the one-on-one interview, more desk discussion, one interview via headset with a driver, Gas n’ Go, Revved Up, and maybe a quick technical explanation (this week, on brakes) if there’s time before opening ceremonies.
Speaking of Waltrip, once the race got underway, Waltrip seemed to be a little screwier than normal. He was making constant references to the hot dogs that are served at the concession stands in Martinsville. We know that they’re apparently tasty (I cannot vouch, for I have never to Martinsville, but I hear that they’re truly scrumptious). However, Waltrip decided to work that into his Boogity refrain. On its own, its a little annoying these days (but not worth me whining about because I know he’s never going to stop unless FOX threatened to fire him, which isn’t happening). However, the referencing of all the drivers as hot dogs was kind of ridiculous. The people I was chatting with online while watching the race agreed with me on that point.
Later on in the race, Waltrip’s hot dog referencing continued under the red flag. The dogs were brought up to no less than two (and probably three) different drivers on their radios. He was just going on and on like a broken record, like those dogs had divine qualities or something. I’m pretty sure that they don’t.
Speaking of the red flag for Martin Truex, Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s huge crash in Turn 3, FOX spent much of the red flag talking to drivers via their radios. I thought that it was a nice way to pass the time, regardless of how annoying the constant hot dog references were. There were also interviews with the two principals in the crash.
FOX made extensive use of the “quad-pits” setup during pit stop sequences under caution. The setup is not necessarily ideal because viewers cannot see the rest of the cars on pit road, just whichever teams FOX selected for the display. Bites if you’re not a fan of whoever FOX picked (that also happened to still be on the lead lap).
Probably one of the things I liked best on Sunday was when FOX aired radio chatter from Michael McDowell pertaining to the incident with Marcos Ambrose early on. It was a rare look into a team that doesn’t get to run a full race all that often, and their drivers’ mindset. McDowell appeared to be angry at Ambrose, while seemingly the entire field was angry at him.
Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to the fact that the red flag caused the race to run long. However, FOX did still provide viewers with five post-race interviews, a check of the point standings, and some additional analysis from the broadcast booth. However, they felt the need to replay the bit where Waltrip got Harvick to do the “Ickey Shuffle” during the aforementioned one-on-one interview. Didn’t need to be there.
FOX has the potential to have really good broadcasts, but they tend to rely too much on standbys. Waltrip seems to have a lot of screen time, more than in the past. While that is not necessarily bad, it means that the stories down in the pits may not necessarily get as much airtime as they should. We should have seen reports showing the progression of tire wear as the track very slowly rubbered in. Didn’t see it. Now, the pit reporters do get some airtime, but not enough. And none during pre-race. That needs to change in future races.
That’s it for this week. Next week, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series travel to Justin, Texas to race at Texas Motor Speedway. However, there is a new wrinkle for both series since both races will be full night races, a first. Meanwhile, the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 and the Izod IndyCar Series will return to action at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. Here’s your listings for the week.
Thursday, April 7
Time Telecast Network
5:00pm-7:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
10:00-11:30pm Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice 1 SPEEDtv.com^
Friday, April 8
Time Telecast Network
2:00am-3:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice 2 SPEED
5:00pm-6:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
6:00-6:30pm NASCAR Now ESPN 2
6:30-8:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
8:00-8:30pm SPEED Center, Friday Edition SPEED
8:00-8:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
8:30-11:00pm Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 ESPN 2
Saturday, April 9
Time Telecast Network
1:00am-2:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Free Practice 3 SPEEDtv.com^
4:00-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia Qualifying SPEED
10:00-11:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
5:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:00-7:30pm FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 FOX
11:00-11:30pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
Sunday, April 10
Time Telecast Network
3:30am-6:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia SPEED
11:30am-12:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
12:00pm-2:30pm Rolex Sports Car Series Porsche 250 SPEED*
1:00-3:00pm Firestone Indy Lights: Barber Park Versus
3:00-6:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Versus
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-9:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED
^- Available only through online streaming (free)
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide broadcasts in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. In addition, I will also cover Versus’ telecast from Barber Park, since it will showcase some of their on-air changes for 2011. The Porsche 250 will also be covered in the Critic’s Annex.
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 any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:
As always, if you choose to contact the network 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.
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