by Phil Allaway
Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. Like this upcoming weekend’s action, last weekend was very busy with five major series in action.
In addition, SPEED was scrambling for airtime for much of their racing action due to their commitment to coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction from Palm Beach, Florida. As you may remember, the coverage of the mostly no reserve (but sometimes with reserve) auction resulted in the excising of all practice coverage except for the session for Sprint Cup held late on Thursday afternoon. The Nationwide Series got no practice coverage at all. Now, the idea of on-track action outright being pre-empted in favor of an auction with no way to see the on-track action, even on a tape delayed basis is another rant for another day.
However, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were not the only series affected by the aforementioned auction. The Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 had their third race of the season Saturday afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama (near Birmingham). That race, which served as the main support event to Sunday’s Izod IndyCar Series event (which I covered on Tuesday), was tape-delayed to a Noon airing on Sunday due to the auction. There were other changes as well.
Normally, Mike Joy serves as a host of SPEED’s Barrett-Jackson auction coverage. However, due to his responsibilities in Texas, he couldn’t make the trip. SPEED drafted in Bob Varsha, their Formula One play-by-play man (who also hosts recap shows of Barrett-Jackson coverage) as Joy’s replacement. Just one issue with that. Formula One was in Malaysia last weekend and SPEED still needed someone to partner up with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett. Leigh Diffey, the excitable Australian who normally serves in the play-by-play role for Grand-Am races, was called up to do that race at the rip-roaring time of 4am Sunday morning. Diffey, who subbed in the role at least once last season as well, did fine.
The constant shifting left SPEED’s Grand-Am coverage without a play-by-play man to partner with Dorsey Schroeder and Calvin Fish. SPEED’s move here was to bring in Brian Till to sub for Diffey. I will admit that I am simply not a fan of Till in the booth. He simply doesn’t do it for me. I talked about why this is so a couple of weeks ago with ESPN’s coverage of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
Due to the tape-delayed broadcast, there was literally no pre-race. After the introduction to the broadcast, there was a brief recap of qualifying (essentially just telling viewers who was on pole for each class), the green came out. The whole grid wasn’t even shown before this happened. There were no pre-race interviews.
Till was not the only personality to come over from ESPN for this race. Jamie Howe, who served as a pit reporter in Sebring, worked pit road for SPEED as well (Howe did the American Le Mans Series races on pit road for SPEED last year).
Watching the race, there was one ever-present theme that the crew in the booth constantly talked about. That was the fact that the Telmex-sponsored No. 01 fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is nearly infallible and requires absolute perfection in order to defeat. So far, no one’s been able to do it this season.
As a result, this “you got to be perfect” became a refrain for whenever somebody screwed up on track in the Daytona Prototype. According to Till, this was apparently something that was discussed over and over again in production meetings at the track. A notable example was when the SunTrust Racing (No. 10 Chevrolet Dallara) team had a left rear tire come loose, forcing Max Angelelli to stop on-track under caution.
Truth is, drivers don’t have to be perfect to win the race. Memo Rojas is far from perfect behind the wheel. That is not meant as a dis to Rojas. He is a good driver in his own right. Unless some shenanigans go down, he’ll hand the No. 01 over to Pruett in a pretty good position. Its definitely not like a few years ago when Milka Duno would hand over to Andy Wallace at the earliest possible opportunity while running something like 13th and have Wallace charge through the pack (definitely not trying to dis Duno, but that really did seem to happen a lot when she was co-driving a Citgo-sponsored Crawford). However, it is Pruett that is the real threat. He brings 25+ years of butt kicking to the table.
To be honest, I find the constant mentioning of that fact to be very annoying. Till and the rest of the booth almost make it sound like the Ganassi team are invincible. That is definitely not true. While there is a good possibility that the team has more resources at their disposal than the other teams, the cars are relatively equal. There is only so much that the team (and their not-so-secret secret weapon) can do.
Another thing that confused and angered me was the way that SPEED handled the second caution. Joe Nonnamaker crashed his No. 43 Sahlen’s-sponsored Mazda RX-8 exiting Turn 4 (after sideswiping Rojas) to bring out the yellow. While the field was slowed, the No. 30 Racer’s Edge Mazda RX-8 drove off the road and beached itself in the trap. SPEED just showed the car, referenced it, then simply said something to the effect of “we’ll cover this after the commercial.”
I could understand a tactic like that only if the race was televised live on Saturday afternoon. However, the race was tape-delayed. The event described above occurred roughly 20 hours before it aired. The telecast could have been edited in order to actually show the replay of what happened the No. 30 before the break. Yes, it might have required the booth to do some post-commentary, but that wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Remember that back in 1987, ABC was forced to redo the commentary of the final few laps of the Pepsi Firecracker 400. Why was this? A timing and scoring error resulted in the scoreboards not showing that Bobby Allison had gotten back on the lead lap before the last caution of the race. As a result, “Jackson nearly called the wrong winner of the race before stopping himself with the field coming off Turn 4 on the last lap”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqmTuilCJA4. Whoops. However, at that time, the Pepsi Firecracker 400 aired only in highlighted form on tape-delay, so the whole screw-up wasn’t seen on TV (however, the only version of the finish currently on YouTube is the screwed-up version, taken from a satellite feed).
On the positive side, the commentary was very enthusiastic. Till is generally not as enthusiastic as Diffey in the play-by-play role, but he can do a passable job at times. I’m still not a fan, though.
Post-race coverage was typical for a Grand-Am sprint race. There were Victory Lane interviews with the Daytona Prototype winners (Pruett and Rojas again), along with the Grand Touring winners (Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana). In addition, there were checks of the point standings for both classes before SPEED left the air.
Like I said earlier, the telecast was focused way too much on the Ganassi team and beating them. It was just shoved down viewers’ throats from the introduction to the broadcast all the way to the end. Future broadcasts need to be more balanced than that. There need to be other stories (at least in the Daytona Prototype class) that can be covered.
I hope you enjoyed this look back on Sunday’s telecast of the Porsche 250. Check back next Thursday for another edition of the Critic’s Annex. Until then, enjoy the action this weekend from Talladega, Shanghai and Long Beach.