NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 91- Continental Tire 150

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming that is made available to us race fans on a regular basis. While NASCAR’s “National” Series were each in action at Kentucky Speedway, Grand-Am’s two series (the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, or CTSCC) were at Watkins Glen International for the Sahlen’s Six Hours weekend.

While SPEED televised the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen flag-to-flag on Sunday afternoon, the CTSCC event was held Saturday afternoon, The telecast is currently scheduled to air on SPEED on July 14th at 12:00pm. Heck, the last race for the series from Road America (it was dubbed the Road America 200, but was actually a timed race) is scheduled to air this Sunday.

Thanks to SPEED’s website, SPEED2.com, I can watch these races live, flag-to-flag. Unfortunately, access to the site’s content is quite limited. You must subscribe to SPEED to be eligible to access the content. In addition, only certain providers have contracts with SPEED to allow access to the service. As much as Time Warner Cable makes me want to rip my hair out at times, they were one of the first companies to sign on to the service (and for that matter, ESPN’s WatchESPN service. Granted, they were one of the last holdouts to espn3.com access). In addition to Time Warner and its’ cousin, Bright House Networks, SPEED2 is only available for Cox Cable, Optimum Cable (Cablevision), Dish Network, DirecTV, and Verizon FiOS users. Somewhat limited scope right there.Since the race is run two weeks before it airs on television, no commercials are loaded into the telecast. However, promos that air coming out of breaks are done during the race. That made for a bit of a surreal experience because one of them was for the American Ethanol 200, the upcoming truck race at Iowa that will run the same day the telecast runs on SPEED.

Of course, having talked about the service, there were a few issues with the broadcast when I watched it.

The issues started almost from startup. Yes, I got in ok, but when the telecast started, SPEED had an audio issue with the microphones. You couldn’t hear anyone. You could see SPEED’s commentary team in the booth talking about the race about to start, but you couldn’t hear anything they were saying. Same for Jamie Howe and Brian Till on pit road. This was eventually fixed, but not until after the green flag flew. However, the problem returned briefly at about half-distance

Another thing that really annoyed me was the fact that on a couple of occasions, the site would close me out of the race telecast and revert me to the play page. I would then click on the play icon to get back in. I would be then be greeted with a two-second recording that said “This content is Unavailable.” In order to get back in, I would have to refresh the race’s play page, then click the play icon again. This happened a couple of times during the event and it never fails to tick me off. Just shows that SPEED2 is still a work in progress for now.

CTSCC events are typically 2:30 sprint races. However, the races air in two hour slots on SPEED. As a result, the commentary crew “lays out” during the race and doesn’t commentate on certain segments. Its as if they already know which sections of the event that they aren’t going to commentate on ahead of time. Generally, this doesn’t bite them too bad because a lot of these segments tend to be under full course cautions, but it covers some green segments as well. I’d like to know what goes into picking these sections to stay silent for. Also, I don’t really understand why they do it. They’re in the booth for the whole race. Might as well commentate on the whole thing (minus commercial breaks), then let post-production take care of it.

During the lay out periods (commercials and non-commentary sections), Leigh Diffey will welcome the viewers watching the event on SPEED2 to the telecast and tell them what’s going with their telecast. You also get to hear communication between the pit reporters and the broadcast booth via two-way radio, which is fairly interesting. I find that Dorsey Schroeder tends to be more opinionated during these segments than on what ultimately makes the race telecast on regular SPEED, while Calvin Fish is typically about the same.

SPEED does a good job showing viewers as much of the action on-track as they can, knowing that 60 something cars started the race (72 entered and 65 practiced, but a couple failed to start). There were plenty of battles on track and we got to see a number of them. I feel that the teams that had in-car cameras (Freedom Autosport’s Nos. 25 and 26 Mazda MX-5’s, Kinetic’s No. 10 Kia Forte Koup and Roush Engineering No. 61 Ford Mustang Boss 302R GT) got more than their share of coverage. However, they always seemed to be close to all the action (and in the case of Nic Jonsson in the No. 10, in the action (got involved in someone else’s wreck).

Diffey is a great play-by-play commentator to listen to. Possibly the most enthusiastic booth guy in racing here in the United States at the moment, and he works hard at it. For NASCAR fans, you may have heard him fill in for Mike Joy during SPEED’s practice coverage last year at Watkins Glen (he was there anyway for the Saturday evening Grand-Am race and Joy couldn’t make it). He’s solid, knowlegable and knows how to work Fish and Schroeder’s different personalities into the broadcast properly. Fish and Schroeder are both retired sports car drivers who have plenty of TV experience. In Schroeder’s case, he was doing races in the booth long before he retired, even pitching in for a couple of Winston Cup races at Watkins Glen for ESPN in the 1990’s as an analyst (one planned, one not-so-planned). Schroeder is very opinionated in the booth, and it shows at times. For example, one of the yellows was due to a big crash. After Chris Brown spun out his ST-class BMW in Turn 6, he turned right into the lone GS-class Nissan 370Z in the field, demolishing it in the process. Schroeder eviscerated Brown’s move, knowing that Brown could definitely see the Nissan before he attempted his move.

Post-race coverage was fairly typical. There were interviews with the winning GS (Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi) and ST pairings (Chad Gilsinger and Michael Valiente) in Victory Lane. There were also checks of the point standings in each class before the telecast came to an end.

SPEED2.com also has on-demand settings. Anything that airs on there is available for 3 months after the telecast for repeated viewings. This is much longer than the week that ESPN archives programming on ESPN3.com. Last night, I went back and took a second look at the broadcast for the heck of it. I found that the aforementioned audio issues that I mentioned above were gone. They just occurred for those (like myself) who watched the race live on Saturday. I’m happy that they were able to fix it up, but its still a shame that those who watched live had to deal with the issues. Having said that, I was very confident that SPEED would be able to work out the problems.

As Frontstretch.com’s resident road racing expert, I strongly suggest that you give the CTSCC a try sometime. The telecasts are generally pretty good to watch, and the racing is quite good. I always say not to sleep on the CTSCC, and I believe in that statement. There is a little too much wrecking for my liking (and the commentators’ liking as well), but a lot of that is due to the big fields. Then again, the series evolved out of the old IMSA Endurance Challenge/Motorola Cup, if you remember those races from the 1990’s, a few of which currently reside on YouTube.

That’s all for this week. Since I am currently in Florida covering the action in Daytona, I will not be in front of a TV this week, so there will likely not be an Annex next Thursday. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this weekend’s action in Daytona, Silverstone (for Formula One) and Toronto.

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