Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Watkins Glen Brings Radio Style Broadcasting In More Ways Than One

Watkins Glen International is the longest-tenured road course on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, having had a date on the schedule every year since 1986 (the track was scheduled to have one in 2020, but the race was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions and NASCAR refusing to institute COVID-19 testing). This doesn’t even include the three pre-modern era races held on an older version of the track.

Sunday was a very different affair, as rain intruded on the pomp and circumstance. With rain tires, this wouldn’t have been so bad. However, it was accompanied by lightning. Hence, the race started 100 minutes late at 5 p.m. ET.

For the past couple of years, NBC Sports has used an alternate format for broadcasting this race. In the past, it has been referred to as “MVP” coverage, short for “Multiple Vantage Point” coverage. Now, it is known as “radio-style” coverage.

Whatever NBC Sports wants to call it, the result is the same. Rick Allen and Steve Letarte held down the fort in the broadcast booth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton were dispatched around the track. Also, Mike Bagley was back with the broadcast from MRN Radio.

The result of a radio-style broadcast is two-fold. One, you’re going to have a more frantic style of commentary. This can be for a number of reasons. The easiest of those reasons being that it’s quite loud.

Burton, Earnhardt Jr. and Bagley were broadcasting outdoors on Sunday. NASCAR Cup Series cars are loud, and they were really close to the track (Bagley in the Esses, especially). It’s hard to make yourself heard. From what I saw on Twitter, that fact may have rankled some viewers. However, that is something that comes with the game. It is NASCAR, after all. Noise is part of the experience.

Now, the three remote broadcasters didn’t really have a chance to move around during the race Sunday. They were more or less tethered to their towers. I wouldn’t have expected them to move anywhere during the race. Back in the early 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon for Benny Parsons to move around while reporting. In 1990, he “got tired” of the view in turn 1 and wandered up the frontstretch to what is now turn 11 for another vantage point. Right around the time he got he got there, Hut Stricklin and Sarel van der Merwe crashed right in front of him.

Being in position, Parsons was able to go and get quotes from van der Merwe and Stricklin. Obviously, this is not possible today for multiple reasons, one of them being the fact that there is a tall catchfence there.

The second major difference with a Radio Style broadcast is that it’s like having multiple play-by-play guys. Instead of just Allen doing play-by-play, you effectively have four play-by-play commentators. So long as you take turns, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you don’t, then it’s trouble. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue Sunday.

My main gripes with MRN Radio broadcasts is that with all the commentary, things can get lost. I think USA had that problem Sunday as well. For instance, I was somewhat confused how a number of drivers ended up multiple laps down during the race. Apparently, Chase Briscoe had some kind of mechanical issue that we never really found out about. That’s why he was never able to come back through the field after he won stage one.

Bubba Wallace apparently had some kind of suspension issue. Not sure what happened there, but he ended up stuck a lap down, got a lucky dog during the final yellow, then never took it before he retired.

At the same time, having Burton stationed in turn 10 (minus the flamingoes and palm trees on his scissor lift) meant that viewers got a quicker response from the broadcasters in regards to Loris Hezemans’ spin into the trap that caused the final yellow.

Outside of the layout of the broadcast itself, the biggest story of the day was Kimi Raikkonen coming in to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut as part of Trackhouse Racing Team’s PROJECT91. This was something that I wanted to watch in order to see whether the broadcast would be overwhelmed with Raikkonen talk.

This was not the case. I am surprised that there wasn’t an in-car camera in Raikkonen’s No. 91. Raikkonen ultimately acquitted himself quite well. Yes, Watkins Glen is a road course, but Raikkonen appeared to be more competitive Sunday before he crashed out than he was in either of the races he ran in Charlotte back in 2011.

The coverage Raikkonen got was decent, but not overwhelming. It was fair. I think there would have been some viewers, especially those who are primarily Formula 1 viewers, that would have complained that there wasn’t enough coverage of him. Maybe it would have increased in the second half of the race had he not crashed out. I was fine with what we got.

For what it’s worth, it appears that Raikkonen enjoyed himself and would be willing to come back for more. Other drivers appear to want in on it as well, like Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.

Justin Marks likely came out of Watkins Glen looking pretty good. Despite the result, it appears that PROJECT91 is a success so far.

Prior to the race, there were a good amount of pre-race interviews to help promote the race. Then, the lightning came in. Swell. As a result, there was a time spent showing the conclusion of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco GO Rewards 200 at the Glen. There were also interviews that were done in NASCAR’s Club 1948  (this space is also known as the Great Room and is where NASCAR has traditionally held the drivers’ meetings). Club 1948 is also where they did the pre-race ceremonies.

Prior to the lightning, USA aired a feature on Brett Sanchelli, a tire carrier on Michael McDowell’s pit crew. Away from the track, Sanchelli spends his time taking care of his sister Courtney, who was paralyzed in a car accident in New Jersey back in 2000.

As you can imagine, this would have been a terrible situation for the Sanchelli family to go through (and still has to go through given Courtney’s medical needs). There are a lot of interesting stories in NASCAR, and NBC Sports (via Dustin Long, who narrated the piece) found one here.

Since the rain caused the race to run extremely long, there was not much post-race coverage. Viewers only got a couple of post-race interviews and a little bit of analysis before USA left to air Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The problem is, most of that post-race coverage was based around the move on the final restart that ultimately gave Kyle Larson the win.

Larson was basically sorry for what he did afterwards. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott was so ticked off that he basically went out of his way to say nothing. As a result, post-race coverage was rather thin.

I think the wet track conditions early in the race did cause some unusual issues in drivers getting trapped a lap down and the broadcast didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I believe that’s how Denny Hamlin ended up a lap down and spent much of the race trying to get it back.

Racing-wise, Sunday’s race was quite competitive. Even without all that many interruptions due to cautions, there was a lot of passing to be had. Even during the wet portions of the race, there were battles throughout the field. The earliest laps of the race were quite exciting. This was a great race to watch, but I think that the focus narrowed as the event continued on. Apparently, there were nearly 40 passes per green flag lap on Sunday. That’s a bunch and way more than last year (23.5). You didn’t really all that much later in the race because the broadcast was focusing on the Hendrick Motorsports teammates (Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson).

At road courses, you do get different drivers at the front. McDowell is somewhat expected, given his background. Todd Gilliland? Not so much. It was great to see him taking the fight to the top guys and getting his due on the broadcast until his car turned traitor on him. I would have liked to see what he could have done had the car been able to last 90 laps.

Overall, Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen is probably the best Cup race there since the stages were instituted. Still not a fan of them due to how they affect the races.

USA did a pretty good job bringing viewers the action Sunday, especially early on in the race. The tightening focus never really benefits a broadcast because you miss so many things. They need to be cognizant of that.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to an end in Daytona. Some stupid stuff will likely happen. Meanwhile, Formula 1 returns from their summer break to travel to Spa … where it might rain again. IMSA is at VIR for a GT-only weekend as well. TV listings can be found here.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Daytona next week in Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter has two editions this week. Today’s newsletter has a look at the Xfinity race from Richmond. Last weekend’s Sunoco GO Rewards 200 at the Glen will be covered later this week.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

FOX Sports
NBC Sports

As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

12 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John

I could not have written a race report any better.

Bill B

Agree with John, a very good synopsis of the race and broadcast.

WJW Motorsports

Another great racing weekend at the Glen – even the ARCA race managed to be a little bit interesting. Too bad they are replacing it next year with the NY Bail Reform 25 (to life) run on the streets of NASCAR crazy Manhattan. .

Joe D.

Great write-up as always. Pretty much how I recall the race playing out as well, except that Mike Bagley was 3rd member on the broadcast stationed in the esses, not Alex Hayden.

James Chetner

Could’ve sworn that was Mike “Bagman” Bagley from MRN!

Charlie

Excellent recap, and not being a smart … but I believe it was Mike Bagley in the Ss and not Alex Hayden. They do sound alike.
They do net to get Burton away from a microphone as well as Dale for this style broadcast and import several other radio pros. It is a timing thing.
Thanks and you’ll need a big note pad for next week.
THANK YOU for this column. It is the best read on the site!

Bill B

I don’t disagree with you regarding Burton and Jr, but to my ears they sound like that every week. Constantly yelling into the microphone even when nothing worth getting excited about is happening. It’s almost like they think that by talking louder they can make it more exciting. Lowering the volume helps a little but that’s got it’s own issues.

Mike

It was a really cool broadcast except for Burton. My god he is annoying to listen to. Junior already has the high screechy twangy thing covered but he keeps it dialed down imho. Burton is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Kevin in SoCal

I feel Jr is worse than Burton.

johndawgchapman

You should never mention Benny Parsons in relation to his broadcast career. Immediately when I think of him with the mic. I contrast him with the current broadcast crew, & it isn’t in their favor.

As for the interviews, I’m sorry not to have been able to see the one W/ the Dinger, he’s always one of the best interviews in the sport. If he were in a Hendrick car, barring an accident or other issue, the race would be mostly for second place. It’s hard to overstate what he was able to accomplish in both races, even W/the help on Sat.

Kevin in SoCal

Alex Hayden? I thought it was Mike “Bagman” Bagley as the 4th play-caller???

DoninAjax

A lap under caution at WGI on the short course takes 3:20 (200 seconds)and the long course would be 4:40 (280 seconds). The first TV time outs on Saturday and Sunday took 3 laps and 10 minutes each and would have been 14 minutes on the long course. The second TV time outs on Saturday and Sunday took 4 laps and !4 minutes and would have been almost 19 minutes on the long course. On the long course the event distance would have been shortened to 64 laps.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com