Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 99- F.W. Webb 100

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where criticism of motorsports-related programming and racing video games is the name of the game. As many of you are well aware of, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of the marquee tracks on the calendar of the Whelen Modified Tour. In all honesty, it basically replaced the races on the now-defunct three-quarter mile oval at Pocono Raceway as the main show for the series.

In the past, TNN would televise the series at then-New Hampshire International Speedway whenever they raced in support of the Cup Series. Since the beginning of the series-wide TV deals for NASCAR’s top-3 series, coverage has been quite a bit more sporadic. Generally speaking, SPEED usually covers these races either live or via tape delay. That wasn’t the case back in July. That race got “custody of my diddly-squat” of actual coverage. At the time, the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol appeared to be the only Modified race all season that would be televised at all. That’s like a kick in the nuts for the series, especially since the last two seasons have seen virtually every race televised in some form, either on SPEED or Versus (now the NBC Sports Network).

In the case of last week at New Hampshire, SPEED quietly made a last-minute announcement that they would televise the race live at Noon in between all of their coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Las Vegas. I was pretty pleased with the move, and I’m sure that SPEED’s on-air personalities were definitely in favor of that. However, SPEED’s auction coverage did led to some changes.

Since Mike Joy was in Las Vegas fulfilling his hosting duties, Bob Dillner took his place as the play-by-play man. Dillner may be knowledgeable in the broadcast booth, but I just don’t think that he was all that great up there. He would need quite a bit of practice. Dillner was joined by the semi-retired Dick Berggren, who was just fine.

There was a rather strange issue with some of the graphics early in Saturday’s telecast. Whenever SPEED would show a graphic with ten drivers on it (point standings, starting lineup, etc.), the person in seventh would always be listed as Ward Burton, regardless of who it actually was supposed to be. A quick check of Burton’s career results shows that he never set foot in a Modified. My best guess as to why this happened is that SPEED’s production crew uses Ward’s name as a placeholder on graphics when showing them off. Perhaps, there was an issue that prohibited the production crew from replacing Ward’s name with the correct one. That would be the only way that I could understand this happening four or five times.

Pre-race coverage was relatively brief. There was an interview with pole-sitter (and former Camping World Truck Series race winner) Donny Lia, a check of the point standings, and a look back at the July event for the Modifieds, specifically the finish. You know, the one that I mentioned earlier that wasn’t televised except in highlight packages on SPEED Center.

Dillner and Berggren definitely seemed to like the racing that we got in Saturday’s race. However, the action that we were shown was mainly up front for much of the race. Ryan Newman came up from the rear of the field (after a tire change that was against the rules) to finish fourth. There really wasn’t all that much coverage of him before he got up front. Its arguable that the reason for that was the rapid fire amount of lead changes.

The rapid-fire lead changes and constant battles at the very front of the field also resulted in some incidents not being replayed. On the third lap of the race, Rob Fuller spun out in Turn 2. This did not bring out a yellow. There was never any replay shown of this incident. I think that it would be have been at least somewhat important due to the fact that Fuller pulled out of the race shortly afterwards due to a “crash.” It would be impossible for viewers to tell if it was an S&P, or if Fuller somehow broke something that caused his brief spin and eventual retirement from the race. SPEED could have at least replayed this incident during the first yellow for Rowan Pennink’s spin, but they chose not to.

Its also worth noting that the lap counter didn’t show up on SPEED’s graphics until Lap 12. Maybe that’s not all that big a deal to many of you, but as part of my prep work for these critiques, I also take notes on the race itself. As a result, a normal race will see a couple of pages of notes. I’m not exactly Larry McReynolds with his weekly giant tomes of notes, or even Shannon Spake with her five-subject notebooks back in 2009 (Note: I don’t know how many pages of notes that Spake was writing up each weekend back then, but she definitely had a five subject notebook with notes in it when I interviewed her), but I need my notes in order to setup up thoughts. Not having a lap counter means that I have to guess when things happened, and that bites.

SPEED employed their time-shifting strategy often used on Sprint Cup Qualifying telecasts on Saturday. As a result, viewers didn’t really miss all that much when commercial breaks were taken. I suggest the fast and furious action at the front of the field required this. Otherwise, they’d spend a substantial amount of each segment reviewing what happened during the commercials. Obviously, that would take away from the “live” action (it should be noted that the telecast did start live, but drifted away from live throughout the race).

Post-race coverage was relatively thin. SPEED provided three post-race interviews (winner Doug Coby, Donny Lia, and Ted Christopher, who crashed at the white flag). There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED’s two-hour timeslot expired.

First off, if you would have told me that a 100 lap Modified race would fill a two hour slot, I probably would have laughed at you. Especially after how clean the first half of the race was. The action that we saw in the telecast was very good, although I also believe that it was focused too much on the front. Regardless, Modified races are exciting to watch, and Saturday’s F.W. Webb 100 was no exception to the rule.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the F.W. Webb 100. Next week, we’re going to take a look at Showtime’s Inside NASCAR, which has recently returned from a near seven month hiatus for the Chase. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action from Lime Rock Park, Las Vegas and Dover.

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