Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 54- Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 150

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at motorsports related programming available to the masses. The split last weekend led to a rather chaotic schedule. The somewhat unpredictable Illinois weather didn’t help things any.

The Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 150 for the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards was originally scheduled to run immediately after Nationwide Series Qualifying wrapped up at Chicagoland Speedway. The Nationwide Series STP 300 would have followed after a brief intermission. However, about 15 cars into the qualifying session, a thunderstorm descended onto Joliet, drenching the track with a heavy downpour, and some hail. It only rained for 15 minutes, much like the infamous rain shower during qualifying for the 2004 Tropicana Twister 300 (of course, what happened before the rains came was far more memorable). However, unlike 2004, that was more than enough to cancel the session. In addition, the ARCA race was delayed until after the Nationwide race so that the Nationwide race could be run on time.

The ARCA race was originally going to be televised hours after the fact at 11pm EDT. The rescheduling meant that instead of running six hours or more after it ran, the telecast was quasi-live.

Normally, ARCA races are done by SPEED’s Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth. However, since the Camping World Truck Series’ O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 was also on Saturday, a substitute team had to be called in. As a result, Bob Dillner was on play-by-play with Ken Schrader (a current ARCA team owner, remember) alongside. I found it interesting, if only because Dillner was once tabbed as the “Voice of the ARCA Re/Max Series on SPEED” about five years ago. Yeah, that didn’t last very long.

Pre-race coverage was relatively brief. There was an introduction to the race, which showed what happened to cause the race to be run in the dead of night (already mentioned above). There were also interviews with pole-sitter Josh Richards and Ty Dillon. After a brief commercial break, SPEED got right to the pace laps.

Having Dillner and Schrader in the booth means that you have two very knowledgeable individuals on the current state of short track racing and who is really a potential star of the future. Dillner owns and operates Speed51.com, a website that covers short track racing, and even owns his own late model team. As for Schrader, what he does in addition to owning Tom Hessert’s No. 52 Chevrolet is pretty much self-explanatory.

However, when you have two individuals very familiar with the short track scene in the booth, you have commentary that sounds like it came out of a local short track. There were constant references to drivers by their nicknames, as opposed to their real names. For example, Saturday night’s race might have been NASCAR fans’ initial introduction to Richards, Kyle Busch’s recent hire. For much of the race, Richards was referred as “Kid Rocket.” Frank Kimmel was “King” and Stefan Rzesnowiecky was reduced to simply “Bear.” I guess that nickname was created to prevent announcers from screwing up whilst pronouncing his name.

Regardless of the reasoning, its still a little weird. I can understand some readers claiming that its no different than Darrell Waltrip referring to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as “Junebug,” or simply “Junior.” That may be so, but it doesn’t make it right. Of course, there’s also one notable difference, especially in the case of Rznesnowiecky. I cannot recall ever seeing the 19-year old Rzesnowiecky race on television before (or period, for that matter). Instead of referring to people by their nicknames as if that were common knowledge to everyone watching, why not introduce viewers to some of the newer guys in the series, especially since the ARCA Racing Series today is seen as a development series for future stars

Since the race only lasted a little less than 90 minutes, there was still plenty of time for SPEED to “time-shift” the race coverage in order for the telecast to better fit into the two hour timeslot. As a result, viewers got to see a little bit more green flag racing than they would have had the event been 100 percent live. Its a tough question as to whether that is actually better in the long run. Yes, being able to see more action during the race is nice, but in some cases, you can have stuff being aired a rather substantial amount of time after it actually happens.

That is typically an issue with SPEED’s coverage of Sprint Cup qualifying, which has been time-shifted (Mike Joy’s words, not mine) for the last year and some change. The session starts pretty much live, but they hit the pause button during commercial breaks so that fans don’t miss anyone. However, in today’s era of Twitter bringing immediate satisfaction, that is just not a good way to go anymore. I know a lot of my readers could care less about Twitter, but it does play a role here, especially since most of the on-air personalities are on Twitter, along with the majority of the NASCAR Media Corps (including myself).

Post-race coverage was far more extensive than normal. Usually, you’ll get the unofficial results, a check of the point standings, the winner’s interview, and maybe the runner-up. On Saturday night, SPEED gave us that, plus five more interviews. Finally, Dillner and Schrader wrapped up the telecast with some analysis before they went off the air.

SPEED seemed to go with a bit of a low-budget broadcast for the ARCA race. There was only one in-car camera used during the race (in Benny Chastain’s car), and that was used very rarely. The scroll looked a little different as compared to the last time the series was on SPEED. Basically, it was a cheaper version of what we normally get. Also, there was at least one weird moment during post-race when Dillner and Schrader were talking about how Richards was referencing “jumping the cushion” during his interview. Meanwhile, Rob Knepper was standing there with Chad McCumbee waiting to be interviewed. It was a little weird.

Dillner and Schrader do work well together as a duo. As I mentioned earlier, both commentators brought a lot of knowledge of the short track scene to the broadcast. That’s great, even though this was a superspeedway race. I just wished that the two of them could help out fans out by maybe giving out some information about some of the newer drivers (not including Ty Dillon, since his story has been told multiple times already) in the series. Since ARCA is only on SPEED (and thus, nationwide television) ten times a year now, an increased amount of time needs to be used to introduce the audience to some of the new talent that seems to come into the series out of nowhere.

Thank you for reading this critique of the Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 150. Don’t forget to check out next Thursday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter for the next edition of the Critic’s Annex. Have a great weekend.

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