The view from my couch
Broadcast Odds and Ends
July 27, 2003
The weekend of July 25-27 was packed with racing across America from Colorado to Michigan to Pennsylvania. This articles includes my thoughts on the Craftsman Truck Series Race from Brooklyn, MI, the Busch Race from Pikes Peak, CO, and the doubleheader ARCA races from Pocono, PA.
Speed Channel Coverage of he Craftsman 200 from Michigan
This weekend marks the halfway point in the truck season, and frankly, I see very little improvement from the broadcast team on Speed Channel. Rick Allen, as anchor, is still failing miserably and Dorsey Schroeder and Barry Dotson do little to enhance the broadcast. After five months, Rick still seems to not have grasped what is going on in the races. He continues to assure the viewers how "exciting" and "great" the racing is every week, when honestly, I've fallen asleep during the last three truck broadcasts and was in danger of falling asleep again on Saturday. I kept thinking that maybe it was because the last three weeks were night races at the cookie cutter tracks of Kansas, Kentucky and St. Louis, which produced very little side-by-side racing. NASCAR and TV keep telling us that fans love night racing. Yes, we do when they are a rare occurrence and at exciting short tracks like Bristol, Richmond or IRP. Not when they are three races in a row at 1 1/2 half mile tracks that lack any unique characteristics to distinguish between them, and provide no exciting racing.
I've always considered myself a diehard fan, yet the quality of the broadcasts of the truck races on Speed this season, make me question every week why I even bother to tune in. Throughout the season, Ray Dunlap and Phil Parsons in the pits seem to be the only ones on this crew who have genuine enthusiasm and display any real knowledge as to what is going on during the races. The people in the booth have turned the race coverage into a joke most weeks, making the races sound like a cross between WWF wrestling or a cartoon. The announcers keep alternating between what they think are cute cliches or colorful nicknames. If I hear "Buckle up buttercup" from Barry Dotson one more time or "Droopy Dog" or "the Hulk" from the rest of the crew, I think I'm going to scream.
Okay, enough venting in general. Let's get to this week's race. When the broadcast came on, the trucks were already on the pace lap and we were told because there was a chance of rain that they would get right to the racing. I couldn't help but yell an enthusiastic "yeah," as I think having pre-race shows for the sake of pre-race shows is getting really old.
Barry, Phil and Ray each provided a quick rundown on the differences in the kick-outs on the Chevy trucks from the other makes and how they felt the Chevy teams would be at a distinct disadvantage at the high-speed, aerodynamic sensitive Michigan track. (Note to NASCAR: Why run the trucks at a place like this in the first place and why on earth team them up with open-wheel cars for the weekend? Did you notice there appeared to be no one in the stands to watch the truck race?) As the race began, thankfully, we were saved from Barry's "buttercup" phrase. I'm assuming that he uttered this once spontaneously and someone at the Speed (aka Fox) networks thought it would be just as cute as they think Darrell Waltrip's annoying phrase is.
It seemed like Speed stayed with the race for a long time before the first commercial. Unfortunately, they made up for it from that point on, with breaks that seemed to come every five laps or so. Let me tell you, NBC and TNT have nothing on the Speed Channel for having too many breaks during what is supposed to be race coverage. Also, why oh why are ALL the commercials on Speed Channel so damn LOUD??
As the race went on, Speed missed two passes for the lead. Hey, when there are so few passes in a race, it might be nice if the viewers actually got to see them live. Although they were in replay, we did get to see Jon Wood bump drafting Brendan Gaughan before passing him for the lead. The second time Speed missed a pass up front, someone in the control room must've been as bored as the viewers because they initially queued up something besides the guys up front. Eventually, they did get it figured out and showed us the replay of the pass for the lead.
During the day, the production truck tried to let the viewers listen to many radio conversations between drivers and their crews, but the folks in the booth managed to talk over most of them so viewers couldn't hear what was being said. The producer needs to tell the announcers to be quiet when they are playing radio communications. At one point, Barry said "you just heard Dave Fuge...." well no, Barry, we didn't because someone was talking, but thank you for repeating it for us. As usual, Ray and Phil had excellent coverage in the pits and this remains the lone strength of the broadcasts. Unfortunately, Phil still seems a little uncomfortable in his role as pit reporter and halting in his speech at times. As every week, there seemed to little coverage of battles throughout the field. Most times, we saw single trucks running alone on the track. The commercial breaks reached the absurd level between 2:15 and 2:30, with Speed coming back from one commercial at 2:19 and going away again at 2:21. Also, it's just not natural to see ads for Saabs during a truck race!
The highlight of this broadcast was some great shots of the 15 and 14 trucks battling side by side and the 88 trying to come up between them, but Speed seems to stay with the in-car camera shots too long for my taste at times. Early in the race, Rick told us Ted Musgrave had a "giant" lead. Thankfully later in the broadcast, he figured out where the timing and scoring information was located and told us the actual interval between the leaders and other trucks. Of course one of his comments talked about how the largest winning interval this year was 3+ seconds and how the truck series had "the closest racing in the world." I don't think he understands that "close racing" actually means side-by-side racing for more than one lap and someone blowing by another truck is not the definition of "a great side-by-side battle."
There seemed to be a real lack of continuity in this broadcast as I was surprised to see Musgrave climbed back to second spot. I guess the frequent commercial breaks interfered with the flow of the race. The most disappointing thing about this broadcast was that the Speed team seemed almost as bored by the race as the viewers were at home. At four laps to go, they didn't even seem to notice that the race was almost over. Finally, someone in the production truck got a clue and showed the flagman waving the white flag. But then the announcers blew it again by talking over most of Gaughan's radio comments after winning the race. Next, Rick was telling us "there is Musgrave just crossing the line" when the camera was showing the 62 team celebrating. Finally someone switched to a shot of Musgrave on the track. Phil got a good interview with the winning crew chief, Shane Wilson, and someone told us that the 62 team had won four out of the last seven races. This is the kind of stuff the viewers find interesting. Dorsey commented that Gaughan was "a good diplomat for the sport and a good clean young man." Does he think Brenden is campaigning for political office and does he use ivory soap? Dorsey would have to eat those words when the first thing out of Brendan's mouth was "Don't piss the Orleans Team off."
After about 10 minutes of post-race interviews, Ray finally told us that Brendan was now tied for the points lead with Travis Kvapil. Speed went to commercial, came back and showed us the top ten in points and told us that Kapvil staying out to lead one lap is what kept him at the top of the points to tie with Gaughan, then they broke for another commercial. I understand that the race went very quickly and Speed had a lot of time to kill, but one interview and one commercial started getting on my nerves, so I turned it off at this point. I can't figure out if the people on this broadcast team are really this bad or they are being jerked around a lot by the powers that be at the Fox networks. Whether it's the poor TV coverage or the lack of interesting venues that NASCAR has the trucks running on these days, I'm rapidly loosing interest in the truck series this season. And that's a shame.
NBC's Coverage of the TrimSpa Dream Body 250 from Pikes Peak
When I realized this race was on NBC, it had me wondering why the Busch race was on NBC this week and the Winston Cup race is being relegated to cable and TNT. Beyond that question, I found little to complain about during this broadcast. After the fiasco with the truck race on the Speed Channel, it was a relief to hear the knowledgeable and professional voices of Allen Bestwick and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. They were joined by Mark Garrow and Ralph Sheheen on pit road. When the team came on the air, they didn't waste time on a pre-race show either and got right to the racing. They also told the viewers that it was 102 degrees in Pikes Peak and the track temperature was even higher. Jeesh! And I think it's hot here in Maryland! Allen told us that Jason Keller lost an engine on Friday and had to start at the back of the pack. NBC didn't go to their first commercial until 14 laps into the race and this was very good.
All day long, NBC seemed to show a lot of side-by-side battles, particularly the one between Brian Vickers and Stacy Compton. There were excellent and numerous replays of incidents, such as the one where Jeremy Clemmons wrecked and Larry Gunselman and Vickers got collected in the aftermath. Allen and the rest of the crew kept the viewers informed of intervals between the leaders and others in the field, tire strategies on pit stops, who stayed out to lead a lap, etc. The producer did a Through the Field, and newcomers to this feature, Garrow and Sheheen, did a good job covering the 19 cars on the lead lap. This was particularly impressive since there were only two pit reporters, rather than the four that NBC has on WC broadcasts.
Ralph had a good interview with Vickers after he dropped out and took the opportunity to ask him about the track condition. My biggest complaint was there was a little too much coverage from the in-car cameras during side-by-side battles, particularly when Compton was trying to pass Ron Hornaday in the 2 car. I also noticed there seemed to be a lot of problems with the information on the ticker, such as saying a different lap than the announcers, once having no names next to the car numbers, and once showing everyone as running at exactly 123 miles per hour. At 5:18, the network broke away from the race to show us an NBC Sports Update, which I felt was unnecessary. Lastly, I was initially very disappointed that no one addressed why David Green had fallen so far back, but eventually, Ralph gave a report that he had not really said anything to his crew chief. Ralph had an interesting story about Scott Wimmer being a downhill skier when he was younger and how this taught him some good skills to transfer to the race car.
At the end of the race, I was disappointed that NBC did not really show what contributed to Green's spin just before taking the checkers. A brief replay was only shown as they went off the air. Also, NBC made the winner stay in his car while they broke for another commercial. This really bugs me. It was really obvious that the race had exceeded NBC's alloted time slot as Ralph told Wimmer he only had "one minute" to talk to him. But other than these few minor things, I felt it was a very good broadcast for a pared down broadcast team, showing again that you don't need overkill in the booth or on pit road.
Speed Channel Coverage of the ARCA Pocono Doubleheader sponsored by Giant Foods
First off, I really like Bob Dilner as a reporter. I really do, but he seemed to be trying just a little too hard to interject the fake Fox excitement into these two broadcasts from Pocono. It was really obvious during the broadcast of the race on Friday. Dilner was joined by former ARCA champion, Bill Venturi, and Winston Cup regular, Ken Schrader in the booth. I really like Schrader and Venturini is a competent announcer, although he seemed to talk over the other two at times. Pit road was covered by the lone presence of Don Radebaugh, but he did a very good job both days. I felt that the camera coverage during both races lacked, as there was little coverage throughout the pack and we generally saw one car running by itself most of the time. On the race from Saturday, we got an inordinate amount of in-car shots of nothing in front of the camera cars.
On Saturday, it was interesting to see ARCA champion, Frank Kimmel, working his way through the pack and I was glad to see that Speed did not concentrate soley on the big money teams cherrypicking this race. On this topic, I found it annoying that Speed seemed to want a cute nickname for these drivers, with Radebaugh dubbing them the ARCA Agitators. Do the Fox networks ever give us a rest from the hype and cliches? I also noticed that from the beginning of Saturday's race, the broadcast team kept saying the "Winston Cup guys" when referring to Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, and David Reutiman. Excuse me, but while these teams may have Winston Cup resources and equipment, Kyle Busch isn't even a full-time driver in the Busch Series yet and Reutiman has only made a few starts in that series as well. Have the broadcast teams been told that everything must relate to Winston Cup or viewers won't be interested?
Don pointed out that Kyle Busch's pole speed in the Saturday race was faster than Ryan Newman's speed for the Winston Cup race. Now, I found this bit of information relating to WC very interesting. I was happy to see that Dilner and the crew ran down the entire starting grid for the race, including listing the team sponsors and where the drivers were from. Providing this kind of information helps viewers become more familiar with the drivers in the ARCA Series. But somebody forgot to tell them that they are required to say "Ron Cox from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee" every time they mention Ron's name. I always find this amusing and I don't know why. Don told the viewers that 13 cars were going to the back at the start of the race and Speed had a graphic listing them. On the pace laps, I noticed that there was a logo of "SPEED" overlapping another logo for the channel. Did someone think we'd forget what channel we were watching? If anyone forgot, the transition from the volume of the race broadcast to those blaring commercials would leave us with no doubt!
At the start of Friday's race, Dilner said "Hold onto your lugnuts" and I found it quite humorous at thge time. Unfortunately, he said it again at the start of Saturday's race and it was clear that someone at the Fox networks thought he was coining his own cutesy phrase with which to start races. Why is it when someone on Fox says something mildly amusing once, they have to go overboard with it afterwards? The commercials in the race on Saturday were absolutely ridiculous! We only got to see 3 laps before the first break. When they returned, they were showing Kimmel on pit road, but didn't even tell us the field was under caution right away. Finally, they showed replays of the 63 car taking a frightening hit into the wall. Speed showed 2 laps of racing after the restart and then went to another commercial. There was a good replay of the contact between Billy Venturi and Joe Cooksey. At lap 29, Schrader pointed out that Busch was 7/10's of a second faster than Mears and was catching him quickly. Unfortunately, the producer cut away from this battle and didn't come back to it until Busch was already passing Mears. This was really poor coverage. Viewers want to see what led up to a pass, especially for the lead. They did show a replay of how Mears got loose and how it allowed Busch to get past him. Don mentioned that Jason Jarrett's crew came over and changed tires for Kimmel's team after Jarrett feel out of the race on Friday. Again, I like this kind of human interest information.
At the end of the race, Schrader told us there were 5 laps to go, then Dilner said 3 to go as they took the green flag for the last restart, yet the ticker showed 4 to go. Get it straight guys! At the end of the race, Radebaugh interviewed the top 4 finishers. Overall, these were just average broadcasts. I understand that the ARCA series is not as widely known as the NASCAR series, but if Speed is going to cover the races, they need to try and do a little better job. Also, Dilner needs to kick it down a notch or two and I think he'd be a fine anchor for the booth.
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