Race Weekend Central

Dropping The Hammer: Why Fox Sports’ NASCAR Pre-Race Show Needs Fixing

Roughly 24 hours after Sunday’s (April 3) NASCAR Cup Series event at Richmond Raceway, there was one lasting image from the first short track race of the season.

It wasn’t Denny Hamlin celebrating atop his No. 11 Toyota after scoring his first win of 2022.

It wasn’t Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain trading bump-and-runs.

It was…..Clint Howard?

More specifically, it was Clint Howard (or someone who looks a lot like the younger brother of famous film director Ron Howard) dressed up as… a bean? A peanut? A morning vitamin?

Wait… a watermelon seed?

Oh, that’s right. When Chastain earned his first NASCAR Cup win last weekend at COTA and did his traditional celebration of smashing a watermelon, at one point a watermelon seed was stuck to the corner of his mouth.

Apparently, someone at Fox Sports noticed. They then wrote, cast and produced a skit about said watermelon seed as if that was one of the most talked about things in NASCAR in the last seven days.

But wait, there’s more!

Not long after that, it was time to trot out another “fun” bit that did nothing to educate or enlighten anyone who was waiting to watch a NASCAR race.

This time, it was a parody of the song Rich Girl by Hall & Oates.

All this came weeks after another pre-race skit before the Las Vegas Motor Speedway event. That one involved two people dressed in costumes representing Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson as they hashed out their beef from Auto Club Speedway.

How did we get here?

How did we arrive at the point where huge chunks of a 90-minute NASCAR pre-race show are devoted to attempts at comedy rather than substantial effort to get the audience hyped and properly informed for a sporting event?

More: Dropping the Hammer podcast excerpt: The Problem with FOX Sports’ pre-race coverge

For my money, it started early on in Fox’s 21-year tenure covering NASCAR. (Yes, it’s been longer than ESPN’s original timeline covering the sport (1981-2000)). Yet if Fox dropped its NASCAR coverage today, it would likely be met with the complete opposite reaction to ESPN’s departure.

When did opinions on Fox begin to sour?

“Digger,” back in 2008, may have been a turning point. What began as a cool camera placed in the corners of racetracks eventually morphed into a CGI-animated gopher character and the mascot of Fox’s coverage.

Then, there was the Darrell Waltrip of it all.

It’s easy to forget, but the three-time Cup champion was a really good analyst in the years after his NASCAR career came to an end. But eventually, as his knowledge became less relevant, the “boogity, boogity, boogity!” took over and Waltrip morphed into a caricature.

With each passing year, the inertia of Waltrip’s continued presence crept into the rest of Fox’s coverage as it tried to match his energy.

Waltrip’s been gone from the broadcast since 2019 (though his brother Michael and the unbearable “Grid Walk” remain) but Fox still seems to be chasing what Waltrip took with him.

The commonality between Digger and Waltrip is a basic part of Fox: It takes something cool and then beats you over the head with it to remind you it’s there. Once you see it for the 1,000th time, it’s no longer exciting or even innovative.

It’s irritating.

Humorous bits have been part of NASCAR race broadcasts for years. For example, there was the “Austin Powers”-themed intro to CBS’ broadcast of a Michigan race in 1999.  That same year, coverage of the Pepsi 400 at Daytona began with a Star Wars intro (The Phantom Menace was released two months before).

But those were just the just one-off intros. That tone wasn’t a defining feature week in and week out, from start to finish.

Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage isn’t an outlier. It’s the same network that has employed comedians Rob Riggle and Frank Caliendo for other sports broadcasts. And Fox isn’t the first network to lean into “entertainment” over sports in an effort to appeal to the mysterious “average viewer.”

Remember the Dennis Miller era on NFL’s Monday Night Football? It isn’t recalled fondly.

Look, I get it. When it comes to pre-race, 90 minutes is a lot of TV time to fill. Let’s start there.

Pre-race shows should be looked at like race lengths.

Outside major NASCAR races – the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500, Bristol’s Night Race and the championship event – there shouldn’t be a Cup race 500 miles/laps or longer. Outside those crown jewels, there shouldn’t be a pre-race show that lasts more than 30 minutes.

Ideally, the pre-race programming should be like a lit fuse.

Light it and get out of the way.

ESPN, CBS and TNT’s presentations of NASCAR at the height of its popularity had it down to a science.

To be fair, Fox is doing some good right now.

The decision to go with a rotating schedule of guest analysts has been the right one. With the insight of Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and now Chad Knaus, the Cup booth feels fresh and arguably its most informative since the mid-2000s.

If Fox can fix that, they should be able to work up a formula to a compelling pre-race format that leaves you hyped for the race and not cringing in embarrassment.

Fox Sports’ TV coverage of NASCAR needs to respect the sport and respect the fans that are watching.

Those goals really should be considered one and the same.

2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com and FanBuzz.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast, which is embedded below.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Sally Baker

Right on!!

Bill B

Amen!
A very timely article. I usually don’t watch the pre-race show because I have better things to do, but this week I was away and had nothing better to do. Man, I didn’t know something could suck and blow at the same time but FOX has found a way. What a load of useless crap and a total waste of time for the viewer. You know something is bad when the Michael Waltrip grid walk is the least annoying segment. I won’t watch another.

Johnny Cuda

Excellent article! Add Chris Myers to the list of insufferable buffoons.

Iceman202290

How about take some of that pre-race time and put it at the back end? Personally I would love much more post race coverage, driver interviews, etc etc.

Ron

Great idea!

Kevin in SoCal

You’re one of the few then, because ratings show that people tune out and turn off as soon as the checkered flag waves.

DoninAjax

The smart viewers tune in at the scheduled time for the green flag. The smartest viewers PVR the event and ignore most of the telecast.

Iceman202290

Yea I have been recording myself. It blows me away how much commercial time takes up the broadcast.

Iceman202290

Probably because currently their is no added value after the checker.

Bill B

It doesn’t help that on the east coast the race doesn’t often end until after 7PM. By that time the dog is waiting for his walk (usually taken at 6:00), I haven’t eaten dinner (usually at 5:00), and the usual end of the day chores still need to be done. Yeah, when that race ends I have to get moving on with life. So much easier when it ended at 5-ish. Then I could linger a few minutes without falling to far behind my usual schedule.

Steven

Danica has insight?

Melissa Mudge

LOL

cj

Great article. The race itself is supposed to be the show. I generally do not start watching the broadcast until the green flag waves. The rest of the broadcast is pure fluff. Also, I find race hub a waste of time for the same reasons. I really miss RPM tonight.

Melissa Mudge

How about bring the SPEED Channel back!

Charlie

What do you expect from Fox Entertainment. Remember, they gave us Bart Simpson. David Hill’s arrival and this bunch of goobers gave us changing schedules, no more showing the field and only those teams that pony-up to Fox, and I could go on.
Also on the pre race show they give us the Dumber (Michael Waltrip) of the Dumb (Darrell) and Dumber brothers.
Exactly what do you expect?

Jeremy

At least Bart Simpson is entertaining.

Bob-a-Lou

Michael Waltrip’s “grid walk” and the rest of his buffoonery is the reason I originally stopped watching the pre-race and I’m glad I did. Looks like the pre-race has nothing to do with the race any more. They held onto D. Waltrip about 19 years longer than they should have as he was so behind the curve when he began with them after years and years of having to rely on the past champions provisional revealed his lack of what would have been considered any current knowledge of the sport.
And like someone else mentioned, I, too, miss RPM tonight. John and Benny made a great team.

Kurt Smith

Fox’s broadcast of the actual races themselves has been an improvement over the early 2000s, when their broadcasts were utterly abominable. The constant sponsored breakaways during green flag racing for the Home Depot Cutaway Car or the Viagra Boner of the Race drove me nuts. That part of NASCAR has at least improved and it should be acknowledged.

That said, the pre-race show is unwatchable. I don’t even bother with it.

Bob

Certainly agree with u they might as well put some cartoons on they would be funnier

Melissa Mudge

They do have cartoon characters…Look at the pictures of the drivers…Terrible and disgraceful that they don’t give the drivers respect of putting up real pictures of them..

Jeremy

“Viagra Boner of the Race”! HA HA!!

KWey45

I legit laughed out loud at that line. Wife asked what was so funny. Disappointingly, she found it way less hilarious than I did.

Melissa Mudge

I am with you on this…You know what else is embarrassing…Is the cartoon characters they have for the drivers. NASCAR should have some respect for the Top Elite drivers. I could see maybe Trucks and Xfinity, but even they have respect for their drivers and have real pictures of them. NASCAR should follow suit. I am so embarrassed when I see the cartoon faces of the drivers. Come on NASCAR show the Top Elite the respect they deserve and use real pictures of the drivers!!

Melissa Mudge

I want my SPEED Channel back!!

Mike

I never watch the pre race show because there is nothing but commercials and stupid things the networks try to come up with to build hype and made up drama for the race. A total waste of air time that could be used to start the race a hour earlier. Networks are the reason people dont watch nascar anymore.

JKO75

I stopped watching the pre-race stuff YEARS ago. I just tune in when I know they’re going to wave the green flag.

Bob K

This is literally the first time I’ve ever heard there is a Nascar pre-race show. The race broadcasts alone already seem interminably long. But since Nascar has morphed from a sport to semi-scripted “entertainment” I guess a pre-event show geared to even more of the same makes perfect sense.

John

I agree completely. I have not watched pre-race for the last 4 races. I personally tune in to see a sporting event, not a variety show. Clint Bowyer is a cancer to the booth and should be zapped with radiation (my attempt at pointless entertainment). The announce crew is doing a terrible job of providing directors input as to what the cameras should be looking at (which is part of their jobs, and they have a separate channel to do that on). It took 7 laps to notice William Byron took the lead last week while I was being ‘entertained.’ Chad and Mike Joy would have been a great team…I like Clint Bowyer, but not in his role as a clown in a sporting event. NBC needs one knowledgable, enthusiastic side kick to go with Rick Allen…not 3 who all sound alike.

Brian Sutton

Need to get Clint Bowyer out of the broadcast booth. It doesn’t matter who else in the booth with him, he walks and talks right over anything someone is trying to say, it’s absolutely ridiculous. His humor is welcomed to the show but no one can finish a sentence without him going to left field talking over them. Get him out of the booth.

Ron

T-H-A-N-K- Y-O-U for what has needed to be said. I have sometimes wondered if I was the only one who viewed the pre-race “show” as a complete waste of time. Clint Boyer is certainly knowledgeable about racing but should tone down the “booth buffoon” schtick.

stubbscupseriesdotcom

Make NASCAR Pre-Race a College Gameday type show, with fans holding signs and Chris Myers, Jamie Mac, Shannon Spake, and Mikey as the hosts.

KU

I could not agree more! Been watching since ESPN days (and before) the Fox antics have driven me nut. Digger, DW, Rutlage Wood (who is doing better on the other network) — it is fun or funny. It is moronic.
Being on the Fan council I was always saying get rid of DW and still MW.
Yes the booth is much better but I do tend to watch on TV and listen on MRN/PRN (I sync them).
I just don’t watch the pre-race – period. Race Day use to be interesting but morphed.
30 minutes max, invocation, anthem, start them up and drop the rag.

Tom Laf

I can barely watch the races, much less the endless pre shows or Daily race Hub, or whatever it is called .I turn the sound down for most of the race. The preplanned, rehearsed, pit road reports are usually useless and we miss the racing while they try to act like they have some useful insight. .Listening to MRN is best, but the “live” broadcast on TV is way behind by 10 seconds or so.

Logan

Can we talk about FS1 Race Hub Game Night? The biggest waste of electron’s in race sport history.

Fed Up

We forget that the TV network’s job is to sell advertising. Our sport is nothing more than a platform to do that. This can be proven by looking at the in-car camera. Everyone has some sponsor’s logo to show and I’m sure they pay for it. Why else would the director show the in-car for someone who is running in 20th place? The in-car shows very little racing, especially after seeing it for the 50th time during a race. The pre-race show is also for advertising sales. The ability of the network to balance advertising with showing the sport is way out of balance and is getting worse.

Bradford Sweeney

What I would like to see is something like Trackside Live on Speed Channel with experts talking ln a stage on the concourse, while there are fans with signs and people going nuts in the backround.
The gridwalk is a clown show starring Bozo Wallhit. I want to see and here the fan excitement and enthusiasm about being at the race!

KWey45

Sky Sports’ F1 pre-race is fantastic. I liked ESPN, Speed’s, and NBCSN’s F1 coverage, but Sky’s is top notch. It treats F1 as the prestigious event it is. I don’t know why Fox thinks everyone loves schticks. We’re all rubes with double-digit IQ’s? I’m about to watch a 3.5-hour race… Do you think I’m here for a race and the story about to unfold or a 10-minute demo derby? No one pulls this with IndyCar fans and races.

What Fox’s broadcasts reveal is what they actually think of their viewers. NASCAR exploded under ESPN for a reason… ESPN today wouldn’t be the answer, though. NBC does a decent job carrying the ESPN torch of respecting the sport, fans, and viewer.

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