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.
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.
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