The view from my couch

Texas IROC
by Cheryl Lauer
April 4, 2004

As a slight departure from my normal format, this review is partially about the IROC race itself and also about the TV broadcast of it. I was somewhat excited to hear that the SPEED Channel would be broadcasting the IROC Series races live this year. Part of my dwindling interest in the series was because they were almost always tape-delayed by ABC or ESPN in the past. Most times, it was impossible to avoiding hearing the results of the races before you could see them on TV. By the time they were shown, they had pretty much become old news.

It was also exciting to have the Crown Royal whiskey company step up to become the series sponsor for IROC this year. In fact, the series was pretty much in limbo until the 11th hour because a series sponsor didn't appear to be on the horizon when True Value relinquished their sponsorship.

After Crown Royal was announced as the new sponsor, we were also told that there would be some changes from the traditional "pastel" colors to the IROC cars; that they would now carry the colors and numbers that each driver used in his own series. The explanation for this change was supposedly so that fans could help identify the drivers. In reality, what it has turned out to be is an unmitigated disaster in my opinion. I understand that the series sponsor wants their color and logo on the hood of the cars. This is no different from what past sponsors have done. The problem is that the cars are primarily white now, with just small patches of color on the sides and a small number for the drivers. I'm not sure what the cars look like in person, but I'm sure I will see for myself when they run at Richmond in September. But on TV, the cars are almost completely indistinguishable.

IROC and Crown Royal seriously need to re-evaluate their decisions concerning the car colors and numbers. Added to this problem for the race at Texas this weekend, was the fact that the SPEED Broadcast team did nothing to assist the viewers at home in identifying the cars. Anyone who reads my columns knows that I am not a fan of pointers, bubbles, or excessive graphics during race broadcasts. Yet, in the case of Friday night's IROC race, it seemed like the booth announcers, Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond didn't seem to be able to identify the cars anymore than the folks at home. If that is the case, this would have been the perfect opportunity for the graphics wiz kids at Fox to use those toys they innundate us with during NASCAR broadcasts. Since the colors on the cars were so washed out looking on TV and the numbers too small to see, the SPEED production team could've made great use of their pointers or simply a graphic over the car, identifying which drivers were in what position. I understand that IROC probably does not make use of the GPS technology used in NASCAR. Perhaps, the Fox networks don't want to spend the money equipping the cars with the transmitting devices needed to generate the "pointers." All I know is from a viewers' standpoint from my place on the Speedcouch, I really couldn't follow much of what was going on during the entire IROC race. I do think that the announcers could've worked a little bit harder in trying to identify the cars for the viewers at home as well.

And speaking of my view of the IROC race from my couch, I have to admit that the quality of racing during this race was so boring that I actually found myself almost dozing off near the end of the 100 miles. There were no passes for the lead at all during the race. The only so-called excitement was when Kurt Busch bounced off the wall in the early laps and collected Matt Kenseth and slightly involved another car (Newman, I think it was). After that, the race was no different than most NASCAR races we see these days, with cars being unable to pass each other for the most part. These are supposed to be some of the best drivers in the world, yet the aero-dependence of even the small IROC cars, makes it near impossible for them to run near each other, let alone pass.

Also, I have another comment about the TV crew which concerns the cars used in the IROC series. Unless I missed it, at no time did the SPEED announcers even mention that make of car being used in IROC. The cars appear to be the Pontiac Firebirds used in the series for the last several years. But I noticed that the trademark Pontiac "arrowhead" had been painted over and was nearly invisible. Is this because Pontiac isn't paying anything to have advertising from the series or the SPEED channel these days? I understand that the car maker has withdrawn from NASCAR (much to my sorrow since I'm a big fan on Pontiacs), but I found it quite bothersome that TV didn't appear to even mention anything about the cars other than the fact they were "identically prepared cars." It just seems to me like sometimes the TV networks are going through the motions of showing races for some series, with IROC being one of them. It's like SPEED in this case just threw together the broadcast as a last minute deal, with very little funding and very little preparation.

All in all, the quality of racing these days in the IROC series and the quality of broadcast just makes me wonder why I was so happy to hear that a series sponsor was found rather than just having the series disappear completely in 2004. I just hope that in the 5 months between now and the next race in September that the series looks at making the cars more distinguishable from each other and the TV broadcast team steps up and puts a little more effort into the quality of their broadcasts. Thankfully, I'll be at Richmond and watching the next event live. Hopefully, the racing at a short track will be more exciting because it sure would be sad to fall asleep in the grandstands.

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