For years, NASCAR has televised almost all of its practice sessions, giving fans access to the entire weekend of festivities. But is this really necessary, and could the television networks use their resources to provide better race coverage without airing practice? That leads to this week’s question: Should television networks continue to televise the practices?
One Hour of Nothing, Broadcasting Live
It’s true. There are fans that aren’t too happy any time the top three divisions of NASCAR are on track but not on television. Of all the reasons to be dissatisfied with the sport, missing out on practice rounds has to be pretty far down the list. Not airing it may have more upside than some people would like to admit.
First off, televising the most mundane of activities requires additional and unnecessary expense. Most of the time, a practice could be arranged in a manner that would permit each series to practice, qualify, and race over the course of one or two days. That means broadcast crews, media, officials and race teams could cut down on their lodging expenses.
Even triple header events could be condensed into a two-day affair for each tour. In some cases, even a single day show may be a possibility.
Secondly, there are some good stories and analysis that could be saved for the race. After all, that is the most watched part of the NASCAR weekend. Not practice.
For example, this past weekend at Kentucky Speedway, there was an interesting moment during the opening practice session. William Byron was on the speedway, and the booth commentators began talking about his transition to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The analysis provided by Jeff Burton was excellent. He spoke of Byron’s dominance in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the XFINITY Series. Burton proceeded to remind viewers that Byron is a rookie at an organization that has gone through a lot of transition over the past few years. While Byron isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, Burton preached patience allowing the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to develop into a winning Cup Series driver.
It was fantastic information and insight that was essentially wasted during the least viewed part of the race weekend. When it came to race day, the topic wasn’t brought up. So anyone who didn’t watch practice missed out on a great explanation of Byron’s season.
Rather than filling hours of on-air time with great material, the media could use that time to pound the pavement. People could be interviewed to provide personality and perspective for various stories of interest. These stories could be gathered, enhanced and produced for presentation during the actual race broadcast. Another benefit here is that should the race be delayed by weather, the presenting network has a stock of prepared features, rather than simply subjecting fans to rewatching last year’s event. When that happens, some fans who tune in after the scheduled start time may not even realize initially that they aren’t watching the live action.
Lastly, it serves no practical purpose other than to fill a time slot. Whether they want to admit it or not, race fans don’t need to watch practice. It isn’t a competition. There is no winner.
Even for the most avid fan or fantasy racing participant, there isn’t anything they can learn watching practice that can’t be learned via the bevy of information made available at its conclusion. Things like fastest speed, most laps turned and quickest average lap time can be useful or interesting. These stats aren’t exclusive to the broadcast either.
There is certainly some logical benefit to discontinuing the broadcasting of practice sessions. Just because a few fans want something doesn’t make it a good or necessary idea.
Less, in this case, really can be more. – Frank Velat
Practice Makes a Perfect Race Weekend
I love that NASCAR’s practices are televised, and I hope it continues for years to come.
Say what you want about NASCAR, but there is no denying that it gives fans more access than most sports. This holds true when it comes to televising practice. You don’t see football, baseball or basketball practices on TV. Fans of those sports hardly see a glimpse of their favorite athletes until game time.
Instead, other sports televise hours and hours of talking heads debating what will happen. NASCAR certainly has that aspect too, but to a lesser extent. If I wanted to listen to loud-mouthed people fight for the last word and say the same thing 50 different ways then I would go to a family reunion, not turn on the TV.
Instead of listening to analysts talk about their sport, NASCAR fans get to see their sport for a few additional hours leading up to a race. That provides better hype than any pre-game or pre-race shows could give. Fans can tune in to watch their favorite drivers and see how they race this week’s track. They can get a glimpse of how new paint schemes look on the track. They can learn about the track and get a feel for what the racing will be like later in the weekend.
When baseball fans go to a game, they try to get there early to see batting practice and warmups to build up the anticipation for the main event — the same applies to racing. When I was a kid going to races, I always wanted to get there early enough to see practice and qualifying — it didn’t feel like I got the full race experience if I didn’t. Why would it be any different for watching on TV?
More importantly, practice provides an opportunity for fans to get to know the drivers better. It is no secret that NASCAR has lost a lot of its stars over the past few seasons. Well, fans are not going to get attached to the new batch of drivers if they only see their faces briefly before and after the race. Televising the practices gives drivers more chances to show who they are to the fans.
Frank basically said that Burton’s words on Byron were wasted because they occurred during practice and not during the race. That insinuates that the analysts’ talking points for the practices would instead happen during the race coverage if practice was not on TV. That is not the case; if practice went unaired, then the race coverage wouldn’t change a bit and all of those practice talking points would never make it to the airwaves.
Taking practices off the air would be a slippery slope. The next step would be to take qualifying off of TV before cutting into the race coverage itself. Next thing you know, watching a race is like it was when ABC had NASCAR on its Wide World of Sports program and you only see the last 25 or so laps of it.
Taking practice off of TV would be a step in the wrong direction. Instead of nixing it, we should be trying to get even more at-track coverage on race weekends. –Michael Massie