The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: TNT's Enhanced Inside Trax Does Diddly by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 12, 2011

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Talking NASCAR TV: TNT's Enhanced Inside Trax Does Diddly

Phil Allaway · Tuesday July 12, 2011

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where unlike WINS 1010 in New York City, we do not do Traffic on the Ones. We’re all about race broadcasts here, mixed in with random stuff, if it’s relevant. But not today… we’re coming off a very busy week of racing with no less than seven major series in action. The Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all visited Kentucky Speedway, so let’s get right to it.

All eyes were on Kentucky Speedway last weekend…but were all ears? TNT’s Enhanced Inside Trax didn’t bring much to the table.

UNOH 225

A rare Thursday night show brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Kentucky Speedway for their 12th visit. Due to the quirkiness of the Camping World Truck Series schedule, Thursday night was nearly a full month since the series last raced at Texas. As a result, SPEED aired a full season recap to that point. I’ve talked about how ridiculous the Truck Series’ schedule is multiple times in the past, so I’ll spare you that annoyance.

A couple of small features aired during the Setup. One of them, in a sequel to an earlier feature, saw Austin Dillon take teammate Joey Coulter and SPEED’s Krista Voda out skeet shooting. Dillon appropriately whooped the both of them. Apparently, Voda found a way to cheat as well but fun was had by all, and the segment was well produced.

Another brief feature focused on Hermie and Elliott Sadler doing a small sponsor function for Hunt Brothers Pizza at a Kwik Stop in nearby Sparta (on the other side of Interstate 71 from the track). Here, the brothers raced each other on big wheels after chugging sodas. In another, ThorSport Racing drivers Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton toured around Fort Knox.

The number of pre-race interviews were down significantly from normal: only five instead of eight. The Corral segment, which is usually used for rapid-fire interviews, was reserved for news affecting the series in the 27 days since they last raced, which goes back to the previous point that I stopped myself from ranting about.

The race coverage saw the usual enthusiastic accompaniment from SPEED’s trio in the broadcast booth. I had no issues with the way that they presented their commentary.

However, one thing that I did notice was that after Cole Whitt and Ron Hornaday had their wreck on Lap 76, there was no mention of an altercation between the two drivers. Apparently, they had to be separated. I wouldn’t have known myself if fans didn’t post on Twitter making light of it thanks to PRN Radio. And no, I’m not sitting in my car to pick up a scratchy AM station to listen to it when I can watch the event on TV. Granted, SPEED interviewed both drivers after the incident, but neither made any reference to any incidents post-wreck.

Post-race coverage was fairly short due to the multiple wrecks slowing the race down significantly. SPEED provided viewers with five post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings before they left the air. There was no real post-race analysis before SPEED ended the program.

Overall, SPEED’s telecast was a little different than normal. Pre-race was a little strange because of the long hiatus, while post-race was compacted due to time. However, the race telecast was pretty good. It was an enjoyable race to watch with plenty of twists and turns. I don’t know why SPEED did not report on the possible altercation, though. Perhaps they didn’t know there was one.

Feed The Children 300

On Friday night, ESPN returned with coverage of the Nationwide Series from Kentucky Speedway. No special gimmicks here. Instead, we got the typical ESPN show.

NASCAR Countdown was the usual affair. Since the entire normal crew was on site, ESPN went with their normal pre-race setup. That includes effectively basing the show out of the Pit Studio and the pre-race analysis being the focus of the show. While that’s nice and all, most of these races today are over-analyzed. I’d prefer more interviews and features so that fans can get to know these drivers. Aside from the Cup drivers that permeate the Nationwide Series on a regular basis, fans don’t really know much about the Nationwide regulars (granted, there are a couple of exceptions and you know who they are). Just look at SPEED. They did a whole feature on Chris Lafferty once awhile back. The equivalent of that for ESPN would be doing a feature on Brett Rowe, or someone like that. ESPN should take the time to do some more driver features. Luckily, as you can see in the listings further down, NASCAR Countdown is a full hour this weekend, so maybe we’ll get something in Loudon.

ESPN did provide a decent number of pre-race interviews for viewers (seven) on Friday night — a few more than normal.

Race coverage was similar to quite a bit of the coverage that the Nationwide Series has received thus far in 2011. There was a lot of focus on the leaders and other frontrunners, which is consistent with how ESPN basically said they would cover the series before the season even started.

During the second yellow, ESPN played a piece where they interviewed fans about the facilities at Kentucky Speedway in advance of the track’s first Cup race. All of the fans shown in the feature were quite positive about the place and excited for the new venue. Sounded real nice. Of course, now we know just what was about to go down.

I noted during the race that there was a rare interview with Morgan Shepherd conducted by Dr. Jerry Punch after Shepherd was spun into the inside wall by Charles Lewandoski. As sad as this sounds, I could not recall a time in which Shepherd actually got interviewed by a broadcaster during a race in the recent past. Other than his interviews following the instance when he busted the shoplifter at Wal-Mart earlier this year, he’s gotten all but no on-camera time over the past few years.

Since the race ended relatively early, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. ESPN provided viewers with nine post-race interviews in addition to a check of the Point Standings. There was also some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air ten minutes early (likely because they ran out of people to interview).

The race was OK to watch, but there really wasn’t all that much to watch up front. With ESPN mainly focusing there, they missed quite a bit of stuff. The race was actually just as spread out as the Cup race was, so they would have had to do a little more work to get the good stuff to the viewers at home.

Quaker State 400

For the Sprint Cup Series, Saturday night was a night of firsts, and a night of nightmarish memories. It was the very first race for Cup at Kentucky Speedway, and based on fan sentiment, they’d rather it be the last, which is a shame. But, I’m not really here to harp on the Epic Fails by SMI and the Kentucky State Police. TNT didn’t help themselves all that much, either.

Countdown to Green started off OK. In addition to the normal pre-race analysis, TNT’s four pit reporters took what amounted to a walking tour of Kentucky Speedway. This did two things. One, it introduced the track to those who hadn’t seen it before (doubtful at this point, but you never know). Two, it introduced the Enhanced Inside Trax that TNT was heavily pimping for the broadcast. 40 additional microphones were added around the track to give viewers “better” sound. More on that later.

The Pride of NASCAR feature was focused on Terry Labonte, the 1984 and 1996 Winston Cup Champion who still cherry-picks races to run every now and then. The piece, narrated by Marty Snider, included interviews with Terry Labonte, his brother Bobby and father Bob, along with Rick Hendrick. It talked a little bit about Terry’s upbringing, his penchant for cutting school, his rise to the top, his slump, and then his second rise. It was an interesting feature where I learned some new stuff about the former champion.

There were five pre-race interviews, but with the exception of Tony Stewart joining Czarniak, Petty and McReynolds on the TNT stage, none of those interviews were in the first 45 minutes of the show. I don’t understand that. I’d also argue that TNT should do more interviews than they do now. At the very least, they could spread them out a little. As it stands, it’s like going to a school dance where they play nothing but R&B and fast Pop music for the first three hours, then play six slow songs in a row (I went to a dance like that once, not cool). Variety is always beneficial.

During the race, TNT was constantly harping on about their Enhanced Inside Trax. For me, the only thing that it did was shut the booth up for long stretches of the race. I didn’t notice any real difference in the audio quality. Maybe I heard the crowd a little bit more right before than otherwise. I guess you had to watch the race in HD to be able to notice.

It just came off like FOX’s Crank It Up segments. In which case, welcome back to 2001 (this is roughly the same crew that did the NBC and TNT races from 2001-2006. In 2001, they actually had an equivalent to Crank It Up). The only difference is that while FOX Cranked it Up once, maybe twice a race, TNT did this 14 times, and for much longer periods of time. Nearly 40 laps of Saturday’s race was spent doing this feature.

Regardless, the enhanced audio actually hurt the telecast in multiple ways. For example, TNT emphasized their audio goodies during all the rounds of pit stops. As a result, there was no pit reporter input during this time. As a result, there were plenty of stops where you didn’t really know what was going on change-wise until as many as seven or eight laps afterwards (in the case of the instances during green-flag stops).

Sometimes, the scroll would be on screen during the segments, other times it would not be. As a result, it was a little hard to actually figure out where everyone was at times. Not cool, especially when you have 50+ cameras covering the race.

Granted, TNT’s new gimmick effectively took a lot of the attention away from a fairly mundane race. When they weren’t pimping the gimmick, the coverage was actually halfway decent. However, the pimping just plain overwhelmed everything.

Also of note, TNT was using some new camera shots in addition to the Enhanced (almost called it Enchanted) Inside Trax audio. That was a nice touch, but it was basically the equivalent of putting glitter and perfume on a toad.

Post-race coverage was decent. TNT provided viewers with six post-race interviews, along with checks of the Unofficial Results and Point Standings before leaving the air. RaceBuddy viewers also got the standard additional interviews and post-race analysis.

Circling back to the introduction, there was a big story that came out of the race that was possibly more notable than Kyle Busch winning again. That was the traffic. Aside from some references to the issue by Czarniak during Countdown to Green, there were no mentions of the nasty traffic issues that plagued Saturday’s race (and to a lesser extent, Friday night’s as well). Considered potentially the worst traffic mess since the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, it was a massive black eye for the track, and to a lesser extent, NASCAR as well.

You know that it is pretty bad when Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway’s General Manager, took to the track’s Facebook page and released a statement about the traffic issues more than an hour before the race even ended. It would have been prudent for TNT to get Simendinger up in the booth at some point when they weren’t pimping their enhanced audio to explain just what in the deuce was going on. It’s not like they haven’t had suits in the booth to explain things before. Instead, they did nothing. Weak.

If, by chance, you had tickets and tried to go to Kentucky Saturday, please e-mail us at frontstretcheditors@googlegroups.com. Your comments may be used in Newsletters later on this week.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for their annual July visit. If you’ve been there before (I did once in 1998), you know that traffic is an issue there as well. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be at Iowa Speedway with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards on the undercard. Here’s your listings:

Friday, July 15

Time Telecast Network
11:30 AM -1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
1:30-3:00 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:00-5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
8:00-8:30 PM SPEED Center, Friday Edition SPEED

Saturday, July 16
Time Telecast Network
9:30-10:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice __SPEED_
10:30-11:30 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
11:30am-1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:00-3:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Races 13-14 Sucrogen Townsville 400k SPEED*
2:30-3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:30-6:00 PM Nationwide Series New England 200 ESPN
5:00-7:00 PM ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Prairie Meadows 200 SPEED
7:00-7:30 PM SPEED Center, Saturday Edition SPEED
7:30-8:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Coca-Cola presented by Hy-Vee 200 SPEED

Sunday, July 17
Time Telecast Network
9:30-10:00 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:00am-12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00-1:00 PM Countdown to Green Delivered by Pizza Hut TNT
1:00-3:00 PM Grand-Am Continental Tire Challenge Sports Car Series (Laguna Seca) SPEED
1:00-4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 301 TNT
7:00-8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00-10:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED *-Tape-Delayed

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. The ARCA race will be covered in the July 21st edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

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.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Roland
07/12/2011 10:30 AM
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There was no altercation between Cole and Ron, it was just a rumor. and MRN does all the truck races.

Joe
07/12/2011 11:43 AM
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I watched the race in HD. Inside Trax didn’t sound like anything great. It DID however remind me of being at the race live without the constant chatter from the booth. I think I liked it a lot. Then again, I’m just SO HAPPY not to hear Jaws during the broadcast that I didn’t even heave when smarny ass Kyle won the race!

DoninAjax
07/12/2011 09:59 PM
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What’s wrong with not hearing inane comments from the booth? Now if they could only get that to work with DW and Larry Mac at the start of a race and Tim McCarver. Nothin’ futher.