The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the MBNA Bass Pro Shops 500 from Atlanta

There was some improvement in the Fox broadcast over last week, although I still feel the pointers (or Fox Trax as they like to call them), were used too frequently. The highlight of the broadcast was the long commercial-free segment at the end of the race. This was excellent and Fox even stayed through the final caution to give the viewers about 50 laps of uninterrupted racing at the end.

The Pre-Race Show

I don't know about other fans, but I'm starting to get real bored with the extended time used up for pre-race shows. Fox spends half the show on highlights from the previous week's race or things that we've already seen. During this show, Chris Meyers, Jeff Hammond, and Darrell Waltrip started talking in cliches almost immediately, describing racing with movie titles such as "the Fast and Furious" or "Leaving Las Vegas." Can't the writers come up with something original? DW also started trying to create controversy, where none really existed, concerning the last lap incident at Las Vegas between Jimmy Johnson and Sterling Marlin. On pit road, Dick Berggren stopped Johnson to interview him before, as Berggren said, "he gets into his weapon." What an absurd comment! For me, the highlight of the pre-race show was that Fox lost the audio when Jeff and DW were talking.

The Race

When Mike Joy came on the air, the first words out of his mouth concerned the fact that the Atlanta track was not sold out. This bothered me because it seems like TV keeps drawing attention to the fact tracks on NASCAR's so-called "hit list" are not sold out. Also after the command to start engines where one of the people representing the Bass Pro Shops made a bird call, Joy said "Now we know how turkeys say 'boogity, boogity, boogity'." Don't the fans get enough of this silly phrase already? When will Fox understand that not everyone loves this and the folks who put it on signs or shirts at the track are only doing it in order to get featured on TV. People did stuff like this when ESPN was broadcasting races as well. It doesn't necessarily mean they love the network; they will just do anything to get on TV.

As the race began, the fans got to see the pointers after only a couple laps of racing. This was quickly followed by in-car commercials from the cameras in the 15 and 88 cars. Fox needs to realize that the fans might like a chance to simply watch the cars on the track at least through the first few laps of the race, without being bombarded with pointers and in-car shots right from the start. But, obviously, Fox has another agenda for our viewing pleasure. The good news is the producer stayed with the broadcast through 16 laps before taking the first commercial break. The bad news is a pass for the lead happened while Fox was away. I know the folks in the booth can't control when passes or accidents happen. Thankfully, they quickly showed us a replay of the lead change.

In the first 30 laps of the race, I wrote a note "good coverage back in the field." The problem was this was about the only time we saw such coverage all day long. Top drivers like Marlin, Jarrett, and all three Childress drivers, were never shown all day long. We didn't even get an update when Marlin and Jarrett went a lap down early in the race, and it's ridiculous that Fox didn't bother to mention when two of the series top drivers were lapped. But this was the tone throughout the day. Mark Martin was only shown when he blew up later in the race. I guess that's one way to get some camera time on a Fox broadcast. We did get to see the Fox graphic of "Biggest Movers" and "Dropping Back." I guess this is suppose to take the place of coverage of the rest of the field. The commentators didn't tell us when Larry Foyt fell out of the race at all. What we did get were more of the tabloid comments on the "update" line on the ticker. This week it was things like "Foyt's Lights Go Out", "Newman Feels Chipper," and "Bobby is Bulldog." Also, they kept showing us some sort of baseball news on the ticker, something about the "Grapefruit League" and "the Braves." So now, not only do fans have to put up with the ticker, tabloid-like comments about the race, and constant graphics covering up the racing action, but other sports news is not so subtly being inserted into a race broadcast. Around 100 laps into the race, Fox sort of gave a "through the field" type update on several of the drivers, but didn't go beyond the top ten. I can't understand why Fox refuses to adopt the NBC feature of providing updates well into the field. Fox also needs to find a way to color-code the ticker to show which cars have made green-flag stops, as NBC did. These are two areas where NBC is head and shoulders above, but I guess if Fox can't come up with something themselves, they refuse to use it.

On the upside, there was a great replay showing Mike Skinner's loose tire and problems during an early pit stop for Jeff Burton's team. Matt Yocum followed up with an explanation of what went wrong on Burton's pit stop. Dick Berggren showed us a windshield tear-off that had been stuck in the grill of Ryan Newman's car and contributed to his early problems. After Bobby Labonte attempted to slow down to let some cars back on the lead lap, Matt reported that Tony Stewart questioned what Bobby had been thinking in doing this. Berggren had a good interview with Kurt Busch's crew chief, Jimmy Fenning, after the 6 and 97 cars blew engines. This was quickly followed up by Jeff Hammond using the Cutaway Car to illustrate how a piston can be damaged and oil seep through the crack and cause a lot of smoke as happened with the Roush cars. This was excellent. There was a good replay when Rusty Wallace scraped the wall, and then the producer used the picture-in-picture to show his crew making repairs to his car, while still showing the rest of the action on the track. Late in the race, there were a couple of excellent replays of a very close race off pit road between the 24 and 17 cars. I also really enjoyed McReynolds explaining that Gordon's team had taped up his grill similar to the way the other Chevys did at Las Vegas and how it seemed to be improving his handling.

Throughout the day, in my area, Fox seemed to be suffering from a lot of technical problems, usually audio drop out. But also a couple of times during the day, a graphic came up (thankfully only during commercials) which said "Fox Los Angeles, if you have problems, call TOC." Now this only appeared to be happening on the Fox affiliate out of Washington, DC, and not the Baltimore affiliate. We get an excellent high definition picture on the Washington station, so we chose to stay with it. And it did go away when Fox returned from commercials, so maybe it was a affiliate problem.

When the first caution came out, Joy said "So we get to catch our breaths for the first time today." Perhaps if the commentators in the booth did not talk like they got paid by the word, they wouldn't need to catch their breath. I did have to laugh at Larry McReynolds comments when Fox did their first "Crank it Up" segment. He said, "How about we make millions of people happy and shut up." I don't know if he was really mocking the Fox crew or didn't realize how true his words really were. I really enjoyed the camera shot at the Start/Finish line during these segments. The cars were flying by so fast, they were just a blur, and this really gave the viewers at home a sense of the speed at the Atlanta track.

Many times coming back from commercials, Fox used the pointers to show the lead cars in a distant or aerial shot. When will they ever understand that having three pointers creating a triangular pattern and distant shots significantly detracts from the race? I understand that they are trying to give us speeds or intervals with these gimmicks, but couldn't they just use a small graphic instead? There was a missed restart on lap 109. Another time, when they returned from commercial and the field was under caution, Fox didn't tell the viewers who got out of the pits first for a very long time. Viewers like to know this stuff as soon as possible.

There were quite a few attempts to let the viewers listen in on crew communications during this broadcast. Unfortunately, the commentators talked over most of them. The producer needs to find a way to coordinate these inserts better since the people in the booth obviously aren't getting the message quickly enough to be quiet. Perhaps, delaying the crew chatter just a few seconds would allow the producer time to let the announcers know they are coming. NBC did this last year and the slight delay did not detract from the crew audio in the least. One time, the fans at home got to hear some good crew communications between Johnson and his crew. Larry did an excellent follow up, explaining the importance of the driver keeping the crew chief informed of how the car is doing at the beginning, middle and the end of runs. Another time, the booth crew obviously didn't get the word that they were going to a Crank it Up segment because they talked over that as well.

The Fox crew has come up with yet another cutesy thing for DW to talk about. This time they've named the dog on Jimmy Spencer's hood. Now we have to hear all kinds of jokes about that all day long. As with the ARCA race on Saturday, Joy and DW seemed to go off on a tangent. This time is was discussing windshields. Yes, the fans might like to know about the evolution of windshields in the sport; however, they kept going on and on about this subject while the action was heating up on the track. You don't have to talk every single minute of the broadcast! And if they feel they must, could they try to at least talk about what is actually happening on the track instead of going of on these tangents all the time?

Throughout the day the producer did a good job of commercial spacing and I particularly appreciated that he stayed with the last 40-50 laps of the race, without interruptions, including staying with it during the late race caution.

Fox has assembled a talented group of people for their broadcast team, in the booth, the production truck, cameramen, and on pit road. They have the potential to do a much better job with the race broadcasts than they do. If they could just take a step back once and a while and focus more on the race at hand, that would be a plus - spend more of their time telling the viewers about the entire field, not spending so much time trying to be funny and entertaining. I also think the viewers would be better served if Fox would just tone down the graphics a bit. Sometimes more information is not always a good thing.

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