The view from my couch

The Charlotte Rain Delay Show: The Tap Dance
October 15, 2002

This isn't a review of the actual race broadcast this week as I was actually at Charlotte for the races, and still haven't had a chance to watch the race tape yet. But I did get an interesting insight into the production challenges presented by the rain delay for over 3 ½ hours on Sunday and I'd like to share my observations with you.

We are fortunate to have a reserved camping spot just off of turn 4 of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sunday morning, I was awakened around 3:00 a.m. and about five minutes later I heard the “pat-pat” of rain on the trailer roof. Not a good sound at a racetrack. But I thought, “Get it out of the way now,” and went back to sleep. When we got up later, the rain appeared to be gone. Little did I know. As we were eating breakfast outside around 8:30, a huge thunderstorm moved in. I retreated to the trailer to clean up the dishes and tune into NASCAR This Morning on Fox Sports Net. I always enjoy this show, especially when I'm at the track. As soon as John Roberts and the gang came on the air, they made it clear the forecast for the race was doubtful. Winston Kelly was live at the track and the first thing he said was “You've seen the yellow and green on the weather radar. Well we're in the middle of a lot of red right now.” I couldn't help but agree with Winston. Next thing I knew, the rain for so heavy, the satellite signal on the TV faded away.

But soon, the rain abated and my husband and I started getting dressed and ready for the race. Things were looking pretty good, so we planned to leave for the track around 11:00. Just as we'd loaded up our cooler, tote bag and fanny packs, and were about to step out the door, we again heard the “pat-pat” of rain on the awning outside. Oh great! As we sat down our stuff, we watched the rain moving in again. I couldn't but feel for the folks who drove in for the day. There's nothing more depressing than rain that close to race time, but at least we had a dry place to wait out the rain. I saw many folks up on the top row of the grandstands, waiting out the rain in their own way.

Around 11:30, I asked my husband how hard it would be to switch the TV input from the satellite to the antenna to pick up NBC off the air. As he winced, I had an idea: “Wait! Let's get the scanner and see if we can see what NASCAR race control says.” Luckily we were close enough to the track that we only needed to add the antenna to his scanner to pick up both race control and the NBC audio feed. Not surprisingly, NASCAR was not saying much. The NBC production team, on the other hand, was already chattering away and planning for the day.

The first thing I heard was someone saying “Okay, the rain is suppose to stop by 2:00 and then it will be about two hours to dry the track, and they expect to throw the green flag around 4:00, so we have about four hours of time to fill” I quickly went and informed our neighbors about what I had heard. After this bit of information, I stayed glued to the scanner for the next couple of hours. I heard Bill Weber and others rehearsing their opening remarks for the pre-race show. In the meantime, my husband switched over to the antenna and tried to tune in the weak NBC station from Charlotte. When the pre-race show actually came on the air at noon, we chose to mute the TV, and continue listening to the behind the scenes action at NBC on the scanner. What I heard kept me entertained during a boring rain delay and impressed me with the contingency plans worked out by producer, Sam Flood and director, Mike Wells.

I was particularly amused by one pit reporter (who shall remain nameless) who ended his rehearsal with “Matt sucks and the rain does too.” I knew the jibe at Matt was in jest, but I certainly echoed his sentiments about the rain.

When NBC came on the air, Bill Weber quickly told the viewers the situation with the rain in Charlotte. I continue to be impressed that NBC does not try to sugarcoat things for the viewers as Fox did earlier this season. Fox seemed to want to string the viewers along, so they would stay tuned to their show. NBC maintains my interest by the fact they are honest about the weather immediately.

Bill Weber had some truly outstanding features this day and I knew when watching them that I wanted to mention them in a review this week. I really enjoyed the interviews with several drivers concerning the trend of NASCAR building the “cookie cutter” tracks in the last few years. As many may know, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. The feature had comments from both Jeff and Ward Burton, Ricky Rudd and others. Rudd's comments I remember in particular. He said, as a racer, he'd be just as happy to go to a hole in the wall somewhere if that type of track would provide a good race for the drivers and the fans. Several of the drivers stated they'd love to see a new short track built along lines Richmond because of the multiple racing grooves. They also said they knew this was the kind of track the fans wanted to see as well. One driver said the glamorous new 1.5 mile tracks were built more for wining and dining the corporate types, rather than putting on a good race for the drivers and fans. I loved these comments and just hope someone at NASCAR is actually listening to this stuff. I applaud NBC for having such a frank feature.

There were other features and interviews concerning the safety issues brought about by Eric Martin's fatal crash in ARCA practice at Charlotte last week. This was another excellent and timely story, where NBC covered the issue of spotters not being required to be in the spotters areas during practice in either the ARCA or NASCAR series. They reported the change in this policy that NASCAR announced after the tragedy in ARCA.

I was extremely impressed with the pit reporters' ability to stay focused during their live interviews with drivers during the rain delay. I've owned a scanner for the last ten years and have listened in on the TV feed during races from time to time. This is the first time I really “saw” and heard what was going on while the reporters were conducting interviews. The example that impressed me was Dave Burns, who I believe was interviewing Tony Stewart. At the same time, Tony was answering his questions, the producer was feeding Dave another long question into his headphones. As I said, I've heard this type of thing on the scanner before, even in the old ESPN days, where the producer would prompt the booth personal on what to say from time to time. But seeing the interview, which comes across seamlessly on TV and hearing what is really going on in the background at the same is simply fascinating. It gave me that much more respect for how dynamic everything is during a race broadcast, and particularly during a rain delay show. I admire the on-air people their ability to pull this off so professionally week after week.

After a while, I worried about running down the battery in my husband's scanner and tired of sitting indoors. The rain had come and gone twice during this time, so things were looking pretty dismal outside. Our neighbors had also turned on their TV outside and the volume on it was making it hard to focus on what was coming out of my scanner at the same time. Unlike those talented TV people, I have a hard time focusing on two things at the same time. ;-) So I decided to turn off our TV and give up the scanner chatter for a while. It seemed like a good time to grab a cold beer and trudge through the mud to visit some friends a couple of rows over. I told them what I'd been listening to on the scanner and somehow the conversation led to a comparison of the Fox broadcasts to NBC. Not surprisingly, my friend and her parents agreed that they had no use for Darrell Waltrip on Fox and that they really liked Allen Bestwick and the NBC crew.

About 2:30, my husband came to look for me to tell me NBC said that NASCAR was finishing up drying the track and that they planned to start the race soon. I hightailed it back to the trailer, so we could load up again and trudge through to mud to our seats at the track. We always like to get there early to check out things and “claim our space.” Trust me, at Charlotte that is an important thing. As much as it is the favorite track of both my husband and I, it has some of the tightest seating around. But we're like Ricky Rudd, we'd rather be a little uncomfortable if it means seeing a good race. And we certainly saw that during the late afternoon to evening race on Sunday night. And in the end, NBC was not that far off in their pre-broadcast predictions. The green flag flew around 3:45 Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, NBC seemed to be having a power problem during the actual race, and their signal was breaking up all race long. I thought I heard someone mention “amp” problems. You could get their signal if you held you scanner in the exact right position, but that was kind of difficult to do all race long, so I switched around a lot, listening to PRN and driver frequencies. It was kind of like the problem we always seem to experience at Richmond in reverse. There, NBC's power level was so high they were jamming all the team frequencies in the stands. You could only hear the drivers if you held the scanner in a certain position. At Charlotte, I told my husband that maybe this was bad karma visiting NBC or else they shouldn't have used up all their power at Richmond. ;-)

I will be at Martinsville this weekend, one of those little “hole in the wall” short tracks that Rudd spoke of in his interview. And exactly my kind of place as well. I'll return with a review of the broadcast from Atlanta in two weeks.

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

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