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Winston Cup Awards Show

Iíd heard that NASCAR hired a comedy writer for this show, as well as recruiting actor, James Woods, as host. Flashbacks to him hosting that horrible NASCARís Night in Hollywood from a few years ago came into my mind. While this was enough to make me shutter, when I heard we would get treated to more Sheryl Crow and "musical group" Third Eye Blind, I knew we were really in trouble. The only highlight of the show was that many of the drivers chose to forego reading from the teleprompter this year.

While most of my friends said they would skip the Awards Show this year or relegate it to Tivo, I still chose to watch it live. Although, after hearing the planned format, I decided not to tape it (for posterity) for the first time in ten years. For me, this was a significant decision, partially decided because I didnít have a bank video tape handy and it wasnít worth the effort to go digging for one.

The show started off with an introduction by Bill Weber, then quickly deteriorated into Sheryl Crowís first number, her already overplayed Steve McQueen. Hadnít the fans been subjected to it enough during race broadcasts this year? I guess not.

Next began the "comedy" part of the show with James Woods and Benny Parsons pulling up in the alley in the TNT race car. From the moment he appeared, Woods seemed decidedly uncomfortable with his role. Heís a talented actor, whom I admire, but he did a horrible job hosting the show. When he got to the stage, the viewers were treated to a clip from one of his worst movies, Against All Odds. Obviously, the producers were desperate to find some tie-in with racing and this was the only thing in his repertoire that involved a car-chase scene. Really bad choice.

The presentation of the Rookie of the Year award to Ryan Newman was marred by Woods continually mispronouncing the sponsor of the award, Raybestos. Even after the company spokensman pronounced it correctly, Woods didnít seem to pick up the hint. After this award, the first of many commercials began (we were on TNT you know).

We returned to see Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett get their awards. Each member of the top ten in points was profiled by a video montage of the highlights of their year, accompanied by some really bad music. I have to give Rudd credit as starting off the show with a very natural sounding acceptance speech. This gave me hope that the horrible reading from the teleprompters which has plagued this show the last few years would not be present this year. Dale Jarrett proved my hopes to misplaced with his wooden speech with sponsor plugs integrated into it. Dale it was cute the first time you did it, but after a couple of years, itís getting real old. I have to count Dale as having one of the few really bad acceptance speeches of the night. Also included was Rusty Wallace who sounded as fake and insincere as possible. This year, Winston added a tacky trophy for each of the drivers in the top ten in points. None of the drivers seemed real interested in adding the trophy to their collections and constantly had to be reminded to carry it away with them. Besides Rudd, the drivers that I thought came across as the most natural in their speeches were [surprisingly] Jeff Gordon and second-place Mark Martin. Tony Stewartís crew chief seemed extremely uncomfortable behind a microphone and was barely able to contain his emotions. He was truly painful to watch. Stewart himself, had a lot to say, but hurried through his scripted remarks quickly as it was clear he also was not comfortable with the obligation to give a speech. I actually laughed out loud when rookie, Jimmie Johnson, flubbed reading from the teleprompter when attempting to say "there are an awful lot of people here..." It turned into "there are a lot of awful people here." Perhaps a freudian slip about the "entertainment" recruited for the show? As each driver finished his remarks, Woods grabbed them and asked some feeble and clearly scripted questions. Each driver appeared to feel very uncomfortable during this fake attempt at humor and camaraderie.

All night long, TNT averaged about two drivers between their commercials. No surprise here. Although each break contained a commercial where Allen Bestwick hawked the Winston Cup Yearbook. This became annoying by the second break.

TNT inserted some silly Fans Award where they encouraged you to log onto Nascar.com and vote on the "most dramatic story of the year" from five stories they chose in advance. This was a silly and barely concealed attempt to get more traffic on that web site and to cater to the short-attention span crowd who might not be able to stay focused on the awards show. They also constantly inserted reminders of the poll at the bottom of the screen, each time with a little chime to get your attention.

I was extremely disappointed to see that they did not announce the Most Popular Driver on the Awards Show. This has always been an integral part of the show in the past and an award that truly belongs to the fans. Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a spirited battle this year and many fans were anxiously awaiting an announcement of the outcome. To me, the fact this was left out of the show illustrates that the fans really aren't as important to NASCAR as they keep telling us. Thankfully, Jayski announced the winner on his web site, so the fans would know that Bill Elliott again won the Most Popular Driver Award.

The height of absurdity occurred at the mid-point of the show when the viewers at home as well as the race teams in the live audience were forced to sit through an acrobatic show. Who on earth came up with this idea? And what exactly did it have to do with racing? In their attempts to get as far away from their southern blue-collar roots as possible, it appears the powers that be at NASCAR decided to try and impart some culture on us. Just when I thought things couldnít get any worse, we were next treated to "rock" group Third Eye Blind. I guess I am just too old to understand how off-key music and mumbled words can pass for music. Their so-called performance only brought memories of Weird Al Yankovicís parody of a Nivana song with Smells Like Nivana where the only clear words he sang were "I canít sing with these marbles in my mouth." As the camera panned through some of the younger drivers, I couldnít help but wonder what reactions were on the faces of the more "veteran" drivers. To cap this off, Woods made a failed attempt at humor afterwards, saying "I wonder what Lee Petty must be thinking." Uh, James, in case no one clued you or the "comedy" writer in, Leeís been dead a couple of years now. How about piling tasteless humor on top of bad music.

As the end of the show approached, I noticed that a lot of seats in the driversí section of the auditorium were now vacant. I guess they couldnít take much more of this mixture of "entertainment" than I could. I also noticed that Woods disappeared when the presentations to the Championship team and driver began. At this time, it was a relief to have Bestwick take over. Although he can appear pompous at times, at least he is a trained broadcaster who is knowledgeable of the sport. Unfortunately, Woods returned near the end of the show, still appearing as uncomfortable as he had all night long.

Throughout the presentation to Stewart, the hosts kept alluding to how the crew members from his team would get their chance on stage. This sounded like a great idea, instead of keeping them up in the balconies as has been done in the past. Unfortunately, as the show drew to a close, Sheryl Crow was brought out on stage to sing again. During her first song, the 20 crew was called to the stage, but between Crowís show and an avalanche of confetti, they could barely be seen. So much for their fifteen minutes of fame. As Crow started her second number, her facial expressions looked like she just wanted to be gone. I doubt anyone in the audience was interested in hearing her by this point. Since the show had run a half hour over itís scheduled timeslot by this point, TNT thankfully pulled the plug and went on to their next scheduled program. Obviously, someone at TNT has a sense of humor or else they really donít buy all the mainstream music and culture that NASCAR was trying to portray. The upcoming movie was Smokey and the Bandit. Darn! It really is too bad Crow was dumped for Jerry Reedís familiar song East Bound and Down. At least I was able to retire for the night smiling.

You can send me email at cheryl@speedcouch.com.

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