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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Settling the Gopher Cam Debate & the NASCAR TV Weekend That Was

Starting this week, Frontstretch asked me if I’d like to try writing a TV column.

OK. My policy has always been to try anything once, and twice if it was fun the first time.

I’m not sure I’m the right guy to go criticizing TV coverage of racing, though. Why? Because I go back to the days when we didn’t get anything on the tube… even before the highlights on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Now, we even get practice on TV. Go figure.

However, since there’s more coverage now than we can wrap our hands around these days, I do have some thoughts to start what will become a roundup around the NASCAR TV circuit each Tuesday…

My main displeasure with FOX as of late isn’t with the talent, or even the barrage of sponsors; instead, it’s their personnel’s contention they brought us the new invention of “Gopher Cam” (with the cartoon mascot now being called “Digger.”)

Don’t they know that the Lingner Group – a production team based in Indianapolis – pioneered that concept in the ’90s when they were televising “Thursday Night Thunder” from what was Indianapolis Raceway Park? They have to; as a matter of fact, when a driver tried to mention that in an interview a week or so ago, the commentator cut him short.

Well, let’s state the truth. For the record, the in-track camera was the brainchild of a Lingner Group technician and cameraman named Jamie Fishman, and he’s got the Emmy to prove it.

The thing was, Fishman didn’t put the camera on the inside of the track. He put it square in the middle of the low groove, where the cars couldn’t miss it. In the beginning, that led to some fine tuning. During the Busch Series race at the track the first year it was used, Kenny Wallace got in a tangle on the front straightaway and dragged a wheel over it after the tire had blown. Ripped the camera right out… needless to say, that led to bigger and better improvements down the road.

But while FOX is struggling to give credit where credit is due, I like the way both networks are handling the technical stuff. Jeff Hammond’s explanation about Carl Edwards‘s oil-tank cover was extremely enlightening this weekend and gave fans a true glimpse into the advantages such a setup would pose.

I’ll tell you what, he certainly set me straight. When I first heard about the penalty, I had this vision of a cap off an oil reservoir with oil spraying all over the inside of the car. You have to realize, I go way back; last time I was actually on a pit crew, we had side windows all the way around – with hand cranks – as well as wing vents. And we communicated with blackboards, not radios. Boy, it’s a whole different racing world today…

A final note before I take off. One of the more interesting parts of the TV coverage is the way they’re trying to make the commercials more “viewable,” for want of a better word. Because of that push, there have been some outstanding spots over the past year, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.s bit with the camel, the radio-controlled Toyotas (lots of fun watching Tony Stewart run from his racecar), the Craftsman robot pit crewman, Kasey Kahne‘s new Allstate spots and so on.

But in particular, I have two favorites that stand out…

I really like the NAPA spot where the guy dumps his “replica” of Michael Waltrip‘s 1990 Bristol car on the table. Priceless; for those that remember what happened, it’s a humorous way to look back on one of the biggest wrecks in NASCAR history. But more recently, the one that’s caught my attention is Aflac’s spot where Carl has the duck in the car. The feathers all over the place get me every time…

Wonder why they didn’t show the nude duck at the end?

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