NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 87: Trackside

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. As most of my readers are well aware of, SPEED provided a substantial amount of programming live at the track every weekend. This is not limited to coverage of qualifying (often time-shifted), practice, studio shows and shows in front of a live audience.

Trackside is one of those shows. In the past, Trackside had been a fun, yet serious show. Not too many shenanigans on there (aside from “that time Elliott Sadler tried to crowd surf in Charlotte and failed”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0NpAbzemyE). However, in recent years, there have been some changes. Last year, SPEED added Marianela Pereyra, most recently of NBC’s Poker After Dark, as a Social Media Reporter for the show. 2011 appeared to be a learning process for Pereyra. I’ll be honest. It was a bit of a change to have Pereyra on the show, but she didn’t hurt it appreciably.

Next came a revolving door of hosts. Late in the season, SPEED gave the hosting gig to Rutledge Wood, likely based on the fact that he co-hosts the American version of Top Gear on History. Wood is a car nut, and there’s no disproving that, but he’s not a very good host. The shows basically lost their structure and became a free-for-all.

2012 brought all kinds of silliness to the show, including scripted segments shot ahead of time. I remember one particular piece earlier this season in which Wood, Pereyra, Krista Voda and others acted in a piece ripped off from The Real World. Definitely not what I watch Trackside for.

Also, we’ve seen Trackside split into two half-hour shows at certain races. Part 1 would be Friday night and have one guest, while Part 2 would be Saturday afternoon. This was not the case this past weekend in Charlotte, but it could be in the cards for other races during the season. I figured that this would be a good time to take a look at what the show has become.

After last season’s craziness with Wood at the helm, Krista Voda has been re-installed as Trackside host for this year. At Charlotte, she hosted the one-hour show with Kyle Petty, Wood and Pereyra on the panel as well. Pereyra has gotten an expanded role for 2012 and I’m fine with that. By now, I think she’s used to the NASCAR beat and deserved a bigger role.

After a brief introduction to the show by Voda, the first segment is something called “Grid Chatter.” This is a segment in which clips of different people (drivers, crewmembers, wives, etc.) talking to each other are dubbed over to create completely different conversations. The whole thing made me think of those really terrible voiceovers that Bob Saget did when he was hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos on ABC. Of course, nowadays, Tom Bergeron has hosted that show longer than Saget ever did, so a lot of people have forgotten about that stupidity. Yeah, this segment was annoying.

Pereyra’s Social Media Center segment asked the question of what theme song would you give your favorite driver. One fan’s response for Tony Stewart (Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, admittedly not a bad choice) was shown, then it was thrown to the panel for their own life themes. Voda went with Joey Scarbury’s “Believe It Or Not” (the theme to “The Greatest American Hero,” 1981) while Kyle Petty went with a song from his son-in-law, Randy Montana and Wood chose a song from New Found Glory.

Aric Almirola was the featured guest of the show. Since this was shot (and aired) after Saturday’s Nationwide race, he had already had two days to gloat about winning the pole for the Coca-Cola 600. Discussion during his interview ranged from his season up to date to his former ties with the Air Force (his father was in the Air Force). Almirola also detailed the role that Mike Ford has played with RPM since he came to the squad (basically, instilling a new, tougher mentality in the team).

Almirola also talked about his outdoor activities (biking, paddle boarding, etc.) to a great extent. Wood guessed that Bobby Labonte turned him on to riding a road bike (Labonte is well known for riding road bikes for training purposes). There was also discussion of Almirola’s wife being pregnant with their first child (a son). Almirola claims that he wanted a boy and his wife wanted a girl, so he “won.” Compared to when Labonte was on the show, Almirola definitely appeared to be much happier to be there. I don’t know what it was, but Labonte seemed almost bored.

Next up is the game, “Can You Draw,” which I guess is supposed to be some kind of knockoff of either Pictionary or Win, Lose or Draw. Apparently, the teams were supposed to be Wood-Petty vs. Voda-Almirola. However, Petty claimed fatigue and numbness in his arm and subbed himself out in favor of Janice Almirola, Aric’s wife. What followed was a series of pictures played for one point each with people randomly shouting out of turn. Apparently, its the same way when Aric and Janice play at home. Still, it was loose as heck.

Finally, we have the rapid fire questions. This was where I saw that Labonte was really bored on the show a few weeks ago (his responses were curt and short). However, it appeared that Almirola had some fun with it, so that’s good to see.

There was another taped feature where spotters Joey Meier (Brad Keselowski’s spotter), Chris Lambert (Denny Hamlin’s spotter) and Mike Calinoff (Matt Kenseth’s spotter) spent some time carpooling together. Calinoff was driving while Meier and Lambert were spotting for him with two-way radios all around (granted, since they were all in the same vehicle, that was unnecessary). It was…interesting. Pretty rare to see spotters get any time on TV shows, but this was just weird. Reminds me of that commercial with the little girl that was spitting out common statements from a spotter from the backseat of the car.

Next up was Trackside’s second guest, 20-year old Johanna Long, fresh off finishing 22nd in the History 300. Her interview started off with a small cake since it was her birthday. Afterwards, Long talked about the Nationwide race, how hot it was out there and so on. Discussion then moved to the Snowball Derby, which Long won back in 2010. Someone please televise that race this year. You would be competing against bupkis. Just do it, SPEED. With no more Toyota All-Star Showdown, why not? It could become a huge draw for the network, and become even more of a short track showcase. As long as the rates are reasonable, the dudes at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola would love it. We also discovered that Long has the Bieber Fever.

Well, the show was interesting, to say the least. Its good to see drivers like Long actually get some airtime for a change. It is telling that she doesn’t really care about whether she gets airtime on ESPN. She’s here to race and not get sidelined by random shenanigans. That says something. We will definitely keep an eye on Long in the future and see what becomes of her career. For now, she’s in a decent spot with ML Motorsports, an independent team based quite a ways from the NASCAR core. This is a great place for her to develop as a racer.

As for the rest of the show, it was disjointed at times (especially during the “Can You Draw” game), but it appeared that everyone was having a great time. No one had a scowl on their face. I suppose that’s all that really matters. The people watching the show live in Charlotte at the track? I don’t know. Didn’t hear much out of them during the show, except for during the Long interview. I guess they enjoyed themselves. Having Voda running things on the show does give it structure and a quasi-flow. Without her (or Steve Byrnes) around, this show is just complete randomness that cannot be controlled. Its far from a must watch, but its worth checking out from time to time, perhaps contingent on who the guests are (for next week’s show, its Denny Hamlin and Ryan Truex).

I hope you liked this look at the current incarnation of Trackside. We’ll be back in the near future with another edition of the Critic’s Annex. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action in Dover and Detroit.

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