More than ever in NASCAR history are drivers delivered to the fans consistently on a daily basis. In these days, even the offseason spells constant updates on the season to come.
Since 2001, NASCAR on FOX has been known for placing highly successful – and strongly intelligent – personalities in the play-by-play booth. To call 43 Sprint Cup Series cars around the track for up to four hours takes a different set of skills and a level of dedication to bring the best information to the audience.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will miss the Daytona 500 for the first time since he first ran it in 1993, having retired from competition following the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the meantime, he’ll be about 100 yards up in the booth calling the action.
Instead of a helmet, he’ll have a headset. Instead of a firesuit, he’ll have a real suit. And most importantly, instead of living off the roar of horsepower… well, he’ll have Darrell Waltrip.
“It’s going to take time,” Gordon said during FOX’s media conference Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I don’t expect to just nail it right away.”
Something that Gordon did nail during his career was his brightness in front of a camera. In 23 seasons as one of the sport’s most visible — and certainly most articulate — characters, Gordon said he believes the experience of interviews will come of value in his new career, where talking into a live camera will be a rather important weekly task.
“I will say all my years of being in front of a camera or interacting with the production of a race being on TV has certainly given me some confidence in myself of what I’m saying, thinking about what’s going on, about the question and trying to answer it,” Gordon said. “But being on the other side of that, coming up with a thought with no question really being placed at you and then having to do it all within about 20 or 30 seconds. And then go to a break or go onto another subject or something just happened on the track and having someone talking in your ear.
“Those are the challenges that I see coming that are only going to happen through experience when you get used to it.”
Waltrip will do his best to excite fans for the 16th consecutive year alongside his well-respected colleague Mike Joy. Hall of Famer Waltrip has plenty of experience and said he believes simply asking questions can be a tough thing to learn.
“Jeff and I have talked about this, and the hardest thing for a driver is when someone asked you a question, you want to elaborate,” Waltrip said. “You don’t want to be one of those drivers who says, ‘Yep, car runs good. Yell back at the boys at the shop. I’d like to thank all the sponsors,’ and that kind of thing.
“That’s something that, as a driver, it’s one thing to answer a question, but as an analyst, it’s really hard to ask questions and get answers from other athletes. It was one of the hardest things I had to learn to do. If you ask me a question I can keep you entertained for the next hour.”
Even with Saturday Night Live and prank Pepsi commercials under his belt, Gordon will undoubtedly learn some of these things the hard way.
“It’s such a team effort,” Gordon said. “There are so many comparisons to what I’ve done as a driver in this sport to what I’m already seeing in the broadcast booth. It’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get to Daytona.”
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