The Frontstretch: Broadcasting Brillance: My Picks For An All-Star NASCAR Commentating Crew by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday November 17, 2009

Go to site navigation Go to article

Broadcasting Brillance: My Picks For An All-Star NASCAR Commentating Crew

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday November 17, 2009


The 2009 Sprint Cup season is nearly over, with Jimmie Johnson simply responsible for his engine turning over next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the mercy killing of the 2009 season and Chase for The championship. Stat dorks have their calculators running overtime right now, trying to conjure up how and when Jimmie Johnson will actually clinch the title – assuming he does not pull a 2005 Homestead stunt and take himself out of the running, which would afford Mark Martin and the No. 5 team a shot at winning their first Sprint Cup in an improbable comeback.

Still, while the action on the track the last two weeks has caused the points battle to rubber band back and forth from a mere 73 points back to 108 markers between Johnson and Martin, what also has gotten the fans attention as of late has been the communication of the chaos that has transpired on the track.

Namely, the television coverage – or lack thereof.

Now, I am not going to pile on with criticism of the ESPN crew – though by prefacing my comments with that statement, I’ve just about opened the floor to any number of beratings and belittlings – but something has been lacking this year with the coverage. Not to fault anybody, but considering there is a championship at stake, there seems to be something missing.

Even NASCAR took the network to task a couple of weeks back, taking issue with the broadcast team deeming AMP Energy 500 at Talladega as “boring”; while at the same time, drivers including Tony Stewart were heard to be radioing into their crews, requesting something – anything – to keep them awake through the insufferable dross of a single-file cue of cars 30 deep, motoring around in a circle for half an hour. Ramsey Poston of NASCAR insisted that there was intense racing throughout the field during this stretch of the race – though these claims remain unsubstantiated and have as yet not been vetted.

Perhaps intense racing means different things to different people; but I digress.

That being said, with the final race upon us, history stands to be made with Jimmie Johnson poised to win his fourth consecutive tile next weekend. Spare the hate mail; I’m just reporting the facts. Even though the facts bear out that under the traditional points system, Johnson would have a mere 13-point lead over Tony Stewart, and be up 56 points on Jeff Gordon.

During the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 this Sunday at Phoenix, every effort was made to create excitement where there was little to be had, to help keep those at home from nodding off to the dulcet decelaration of tones entering the first turn. A puff of smoke here, a jackman getting taped up there, or something as innocuous as the track having shade on it (as if it would adversely affect only the one car in the process of lapping the field), was cause for alarm – though nothing actually happened.

While keeping things the way they were and worked for nearly 30 years could have potentially led to some intense racing , the scenario as it stands has Jimmie Johnson winning his fourth, or Martin breaking through to win an improbable first championship under the current circumstance. That being said, I started thinking about who would I want calling these final laps (besides me) to decide the 2009 Sprint Cup season finale. Like any great meal, it all boils down to presentation. After all, you don’t serve Fillet Mignon in a yellow paper wrapper, or lobster tails in a Styrofoam container with tartar sauce packets, right?

So to set the backdrop for a championship finish that needs a world-class crew to call it down to the wire, and to add some spark to what has become a bit predictable, I have assembled the following all-star broadcast crew below.

Who would you like to see call NASCAR’s finale Sunday night? Frontstretch’s Vito Pugliese reveals his dream list.

Ken Squier: To many who first started watching NASCAR about the same time Cale was mashing in Bobby’s fist with his face, this was the man who was recognized as the voice of what he deemed “big-time stockcar racing.” At 74 years of age, Squier still occasionally narrates NASCAR specials, and makes an appearance during Speedweeks in Daytona for SPEED for the Daytona 500 – the event he deemed “The Great American Race”. He gave legitimacy to a sport by convincing CBS to carry the 1979 Daytona 500, from green flag to checkered, and helped develop the in-car camera three years later. Sure in his later years of broadcasting he may have missed a name or two, (for some reason he would call Jimmy Spencer, “Jimmy Smith”) but he has had a decade to get rested and ready, and call the record setting fourth consecutive championship for Jimmie Johnson – or Mark Martin’s improbable title, coming out of self-imposed part-time exile, at 50 years of age.

Allen Bestwick: If there is a good reason that Alan Bestwick is being allowed to languish in the ESPN studios and not call the action during the race, I am all ears and would love to hear it. He was about as close as you can get to some fans long standing practice of muting the television and listening to MRN. He was one of the brightest additions to the “new” NASCAR network television package that debuted back in 2001, with NBC Sports. While many fans wring their hands over necks they’d like to do the same with, the same would never be said about Bestwick, as his race broadcasts were always insightful, informative, unbiased and remain the benchmark that all others today should be judged.

David Hobbs: For those of you like me who actually look forward to getting up at 7 AM to watch a live Formula One race, one of the things that you welcome is the deadpan British humor of David Hobbs. He, too, started his broadcasting career calling NASCAR races in the early 1980s, and appears as himself in perhaps the greatest racing recreation in the history of cinema, 1983’s “Stroker Ace”. I can only imagine the banter going back and forth between David Hobbs and Darrell Waltrip late in the race the next time Sam Hornish Jr. loops it around.

Kyle Petty: Think of all of the former drivers in recent years that have retired or pulled back to a part-time schedule that you would want to listen to call a race. Dale Jarrett does an admirable job, following in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one, and Darrell Waltrip has become as synonymous with NASCAR races as mysterious debris cautions, even when nobody has wrecked for the previous 45 minutes. While he was often chastised during his career because he had other interests and pursuits beyond just driving a racecar, television is clearly his calling. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who has a bad word to say about Kyle Petty, and he serves as the prefect link to NASCAR’s past, present and future.

Kyle would probably quip that makes him the “missing link,” and do so in a way that didn’t sound cheesy, corny, or self-aggrandizing as some might.

Dave Despain: Some may recognize Dave Despain as the baritone bald guy with his own call-in show on SPEED capping off their bevy of racing shows Sunday nights, but others may not know that he used to be one of the chief pit reporters for CBS Sports along with Mike Joy during the 1980s. Despain has no issue making his opinion known, and does so in a way that helps educate many fans who are just starting to watch NASCAR – as well as those who have thrown up their hands and have just about had it. It’s probably no surprise that he reminds me a little bit of the late George Carlin; though I don’t think we’d have to worry about him blurting out one of the seven forbidden words during race telecasts. Besides, what winning driver wouldn’t want to be presented with a Despain bobble head in Victory Lane?

Jeanne Zelasko: Hah! Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were still paying attention. I know I got Steve Park’s attention. Those of you who remember the Sonoma race from 2001 will know what I’m talking about…

Bill Weber: Bill Weber has always gotten a lot of grief from race fans, which I never could quite understand. Back when he was doing pit work for ESPN during their heyday of NASCAR coverage (i.e., not today), he was one of the best in the business at explaining to fans the nuts and bolts about nuts and bolts. His time in the booth this year with TNT was shortened after he got into it with a fan in a hotel, but he was the first guy to say “hello” to me in the press room at Michigan International Speedway last season while I was fumbling around for the days bulletins like the noob that I was. While his future status is unknown in the booth, he needs to be ground level, in the thick of the action again, and put that hurricane-proof hair to the test once again.

Matt Yocum: The guy knows the name of every catch can man on even the most obscure start and park team, and can set up a post-race question to Tony Stewart that will not illicit a terse response, even if he blew an engine while leading on the last lap of the Brickyard 400. With the championship to be decided among two drivers, there are sure to be some powerful emotions brewing, and the last thing that would be needed is a dumb question that pours salt into the wound.

Robin Meade: Host of CNN Headline News morning show, Morning Express with Robin Meade, her credentials will be well known to anybody who watches her in the morning for more than three seconds. Does she know anything about racing? She took a lap with Wally Dallenbach for TNT a few years ago, helped to promote a NASCAR ride along give away on her show, and made an appearance at Chicagoland in 2008.

That’s good enough for me. Sorry Rusty and Brad; Game Over.


With the final weekend upon us, hopefully the Ford 400 at Homestead affords a memorable call for a finish that will be either historical or hysterical. Whether it’s Bill Elliott racing towards a million dollars at Darlington or Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd spinning at North Wilkesboro, the crew calling the action is forever ingrained as part of that event. Some of that seems to have been lost in recent years; I think my team could bring it back.

Contact Vito Pugliese

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

The Turnip!
11/17/2009 07:57 AM

“Robin Meade”?


(maybe she is the token female)?

And I think your choice of Kyle Petty is suspect.

And I hope your talking about the “young” Dave Despain, cause he sure is a NA$CRAP shill these days. But overall, just not much to work with, EXCEPT of course, Ken Squier!

Speaks volumes about the quality, or lack thereof, of NA$CRAP broadcasters.

Nice try, but that’s as close as it gets.

My sentimental favorite, of course, it’s David Hobbs!

11/17/2009 09:14 AM

Ken Squire maybe , Bestwick maybe . Hobbs without a doubt .
Not just no , …. no !! to the following ,
McReynolds , Hammond , Waltrip ( both ) , Punch , Wallace ( two of the three .. Mike is okay ), in fact its easier to list the ones who should stay .
Wally Dallenbach , Dale Jarrett , Phil Parsons , Andy Petree , Kyle Petty , Mat Yocum . Thats about it . Also add in Bob Varsha , and Mike Dunn ( from the NHRA broadcasts , one of the best racing analysts on tv ) and you’ve got your tv crew .

11/17/2009 09:32 AM

my choice in the booth would be bestwick, kp, and ray evernham with robin meade hosting the pre race show in a bikini and clear heels.

Carl D.
11/17/2009 09:37 AM

I’m with you on Allen Bestwick and Kyle Petty. Ken Squire too, but the man deserves his well-earned retirement.

As for Robin Meade, no way am I letting her out of the house to take a second job.

M.B. Voelker
11/17/2009 09:57 AM

Yocum, Bestwich, and Kyle Petty, yes. Weber NO!

Get Dr. Dick Bergren — the pits are incomplete without him.

Instead of including a random female for the sake of having a woman, get Wemdy Venturini with her extensive knowledge of racing’s ins and out, her excellent relations with the drivers, and her ability to ask the questions that no one else can get an answer too.

One time a few years ago on Race Day the day dawned cool and misty. Wendy was talking to about engine tuners and how they’d have to adjust to the conditions. I’d have bet money that Jeanie Zelaski, who would be a pit reporter that day, didn’t know what an engine tuner did and certainly wouldn’t have been capable of explaining the effect of the weather change on the engines to fans.

The Turnip!
11/17/2009 10:08 AM

And I am so sorry I have to add this comment, (but I will gladly & willingly)!

They need to DITCH any female from race reporting at the track!

Your listening to the broadcast, mens voices, with kind of a “deep” tone, then your switched to this SHRILL HIGH PITCHED WHINY type voice of yep, the “female” pit reporter!


11/17/2009 10:18 AM

I’d add Wendy Venturini. She’s the only person on Speed’s RaceDay worth watching. What a waste of good talent. Get her away from that Bozo show and she’d be great.

Bill B
11/17/2009 10:23 AM

Can all the tv guys and just let MRN fill the void. There’s your allstar team.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
11/17/2009 10:27 AM

Ahhh! I left out Wendy. I feel like such a heal. She’s Italian too, and we all have to stick together. It’s mandatory. There are only a handful of us; Pugliese, Taliaferro, Massaro, Venturini….

11/17/2009 10:36 AM

Man you lost me at Bill Weber.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
11/17/2009 10:52 AM

Watch an old ESPN race…he was a great pit reporter.

Actually…watch an old ESPN race to see Jerry Punch and John Kernan in the pits. There was a team. The racing back then wasn’t half-bad either. Actually, the races from 2004-2005 that SPEED has been showing during the week are a throwback of the way things were just a few years back.

Bad Wolf
11/17/2009 12:30 PM

I’d put Chris Economackie in their somewhere. Yes, he’s more of an openwheel guy, but he calls the action and would not be a tool. He and Ken Squire have more first hand racing knowlege in their heads than any others out there.

I remember Despian in the day and he was good. Same with Dr Punch on pit road. I’ll never forget a story I heard Punch tell on the Bob and Tom show on raceday at Indy. He said he was not to be on the air for a while, but was miked up and went to use the faclities. While he was letting it all hang out they threw it to him and asked for an update. Without missing a beat he gave them the info, then when he was once again off air the guy next to him said “Man, you are really good.”

11/17/2009 12:35 PM

I think Mike Joy is as good a play-by-play guy as any. And I agree that Kyle would be the best former competitor in the booth.

And no B*3 from DW Vito?

11/17/2009 12:52 PM

i like wendy venturini also. she’s a little thick but she has some extreme curves…. just the way i like em.

plus she probably makes killer meatballs!

11/17/2009 01:10 PM

No mention of Bob Jenkins or Barney Hall? Eli Gold on TNN in the 90s was another guy with a great voice and knowledge of the racing.

Glad to see someone mention John Kernan, though. And of course, Kyle Petty is the best of today’s crew in the booth.

Any of those guys could narrate the drive out of the parking lot after the race and have everyone love it.

11/17/2009 01:35 PM

Dave Despain is best at what he does now , opinions and long interviews . He has the best racing talk show on the air .
As for Bob Jenkins , no question . Also Chris Economaki , and what about Buddy Baker ?
Mike Joy is way too full of himself .
Also , Dorsey Schrader , and the lead man in the booth for the truck races , i’ve forgotten his name .
I would have to go with Wendy as pit reporter . Dr. Dick is fine , but maybe some new blood in the pits would be nice . And i mean new , not an ex-weather person or a former football reporter . Bring in someone with personalality , who knows and loves racing , and who asks questions that the fans actually want to know the answers to . Not the old “ how does it feel to lose the race “ crap .

11/17/2009 03:03 PM

How could you make a list like that and leave off Bob Jenkins?? And Allen Bestwick is horrid.

I would however by plenty happy if Brad Daughterey was banned from all race tracks forever.

The Turnip!
11/17/2009 03:04 PM

Hey RamblinWreck, great choices, Barney Hall & Eli Gold!

Class! Simply Class!

Those guys could make you feel like your right at the track, and they ALWAYS talked about EVERY DRIVER on the track. Equal treatment!

11/17/2009 05:34 PM

Yeah I don’t know how you leave Bob Jenkins off the list. How about putting the team of Jenkins, Jarrett, and Parson’s back together. Dale and Phil that is! Would love that

The Turnip!
11/17/2009 07:17 PM

MMMM, on a second thought, is there a capable announcer from the WWE?

Now they can make things sound exciting!

After all, phony wrestling, phony racing!

11/17/2009 09:42 PM

I get as tired of listening to Squire’s drippy voice as I do hearing Punch’s “Well Folks”.
Best thing that happened to Weber was that meltdown. Put us out of his misery.
I’m hoping Bestwick is just being made to bide his time till ESPN cans Punch. Nobody at this time is better at managing the flow of a broadcast.
Of your list, Bestwick, Hobbs, Petty. That would be some race talk in the booth.
Despain needs to stay right where he is. At least there’s one “must watch” on Sunday.

Contact Vito Pugliese