The view from my couch
Speed Coverage of the Lucas Oil 250 from Mesa Marin
This was the third broadcast of the Craftsman Truck Series with the new Speed broadcast team. After three races under their belts, I still don't have lot of positive things to say about the new team. I really wish I did. During this broadcast, the commentators in the booth kept throwing it to Ray Dunlap in the pits. My conclusion after watching the entire broadcast was that Ray seemed to be the only one who knew what was going on during the race on Sunday.
The Pre-Race Show
There was some silly Fox-type lead-in linking the race to the Academy Awards. There was also a highlight sequence from all of the the previous races at Mesa Marin (for those of you new to truck racing). Phil Parsons gave the viewers a great background piece on Brandon Miller, who was driving the truck owned by Kevin Harvick. He told us Miller was making his first truck start, but had run many races at the past at Mesa Marin. There was a nice feature on Rick Crawford's team, with some comments from each of his team members. The pre-race show also included a nice overhead shot of the track, to give you a feeling of how it was shaped.
When I was making notes about this broadcast, my husband said "Your notes should be short. You could sum this broadcast up in one word: Pathetic!" I won't go quite that far, but based on their three broadcasts so far, Speed appears to have assembled a dysfunctional group of people. Ray Dunlap truly was the only person who seemed comfortable with what he was doing and doing a professional job during the broadcast. Phil Parsons is a good announcer, but is wasted in the pits. He should be put back the booth where he can excel. I'm sure anchor, Rick Allen, is honestly trying to do a good job, but he comes off sounding like a radio newsman, just reading from a script and coming across as very bored with the whole thing. He's obviously been given some sort of marching orders from Fox and Speed telling him to make sure and let the viewers know how "exciting" the race is. But, I swear if I heard him use the word "excitement" once more last night, I think I would've screamed! Rick needs to avoid repeatedly telling the viewers how exciting the races are. Other overused phrases were things like "the adrenaline is pumping!" Excitement is not someone telling us how exciting something is in a bored voice; no matter what the powers that be at Fox might believe. Excitement can 't be faked. And, so far, Rick comes across as very wooden and not really interested in what he is watching. I'm sure this is not true, but that is the way he appears to the viewing audience.
As I mentioned in my review of the ASA broadcast this week, I was certainly impressed by the ASA broadcast team's knowledge of their series and the genuine enthusiasm they conveyed about the race they were covering. I understand that Rick was chosen for this assignment because he displayed a sense of humor in an audition. Perhaps he needs to simply relax and let his sense of humor come out more often - put the script down and really get into the race more. Plus, I truly believe he needs to learn a lot more about the truck series. He should get out of the booth and meet the drivers, the teams, and maybe even the fans, to really know what makes up the truck series. There are plenty of fans who appear more knowledgeable about the trucks than Rick appears to be. I'm sorry to be so tough on him, but maybe he should take a week off from the booth and trade places with Phil Parsons in the pits. Let Phil get the other guys in the booth back on track and Rick could loosen up a little by accompanying Ray on pit road.
I was frankly surprised that Speed hired Dorsey Shroeder as a play-by-play man since he doesn't really have much history in broadcasting or with the truck series. I'll give him credit that he at least seems to know about the series and is trying to provide a good play by play of the race. Dorsey just needs to back off on the hip talk, such as "check this out." As does, Barry Dodson. I have a great amount of respect for Barry as a crew chief and he has the most broadcast experience of the three in the booth. Barry falls into saying "check this out" or "here we go" too often. As with Rick, both men need to stop trying to make the race more exciting for the viewers. Let the race speak for itself. Also, during this broadcast, Dorsey and Barry had a habit of saying "he didn't do that on purpose" when one truck got into another one. The viewers don't need the broadcast crew making alibis for the drivers. Just like I don't like Darrell Waltrip assessing blame, I don't need the commentators telling me whether a driver did something on purpose or not. It comes across as TV thinking race fans are too stupid to make up their own minds about what is happening on the track. Also, the entire team needs to stop trying to copy the "young guns vs. veterans" battle that Fox uses in Winston Cup.
Many times Rick didn't even know who was leading the race, like when he said the leader was Bobby Hamilton when Setzer had just passed Hamilton for the lead. Another time, he described Robert Pressley coming in for a pit stop as "in second place" when he'd dropped back to about fifth position prior to pitting. It made me wonder if Rick was actually watching the race or simply listening to someone prompting him to give a segue into commercial in his earphones. Believe me, I've listened to all the technical chatter going on between the producer and the people in the booth on a scanner during races, and I have a lot of respect for the people trying to juggle everything that is happening. I know I couldn't do it as seamlessly as it comes across on TV. So, I'll give Rick the benefit of the doubt on these mistakes and blame the producer or director for possibly confusing him.
It wasn't just the on-air talent that bordered on pathetic last night, there were numerous technical glitches throughout the broadcast. There were many shots where the cameraman did not stay with a pass, but went on to cover a single car or many times show an empty track. The picture was very blurry and jittery at times and there were many missed incidents on the track, with very few replays. There was no field rundown most of the race. Now I'm not a fan of the 'ticker', but it only appeared on the screen about three times during the rain, so they were obviously having problems with it. Fine, if they were having technical problems, what prevented the producer from at least putting up a graphic from time to time showing the viewers a field summary? We know they had the ability to do quick graphics since there were "pit summary" graphics at times during the race. Or what about one of the commentators actually telling the fans what lap they were on or giving us a field rundown from time to time, as is done on MRN radio? This was truly pathetic! I'm not sure if this was a new production team or what, but they really dropped the ball all day long. Once the viewers heard "Caution" in the background, as they were going to commercial. There were also several missed restarts. It was actually funny when Dorsey was talking to Bobby Hamilton on the radio during the rain delay and Bobby asked him what the weather radar looked like. Dorsey had to admit they had no clue and didn't have access to weather data. At this point, I started doubting whether the booth personnel were even live at the track. I'm sure they were, but they came across as so ill-prepared and uninformed about things at times, that it made you wonder.
As I said earlier, frequently the booth said "And let's go to Ray in the pits..." and it quickly become clear that Ray was about the only one who seemed to actually know what was going on during the race. He provided interesting information on pit stops and things like the team who borrowed their pit crew from a Winston West team for this race. He also told us when Matt Crafton appeared to be having a cylinder going down and smoothly transitioned to alerting us to a "spin on the track." Ray also covered when Jon Wood came in early to fix a flat tire and Phil provided a follow-up on this as well. Other things Ray covered included reporting on Andy Petree's team having a problem with their catch can. Phil seemed to be doing good job in the pits, but Ray was again the only one of the broadcast team who appeared comfortable with the job he was doing.
At the end of the race, as with Darlington last week, Rick kept assuring the viewers how "exciting" and "phenomenal" the finish was. Please give it a rest! Not every race is going to provide an outstanding finish. Race fans know this and feel insulted when the broadcasters try to convince them otherwise. Darlington's finish was far from phenomenal and although Mesa Marin had a closer finish, the winner had no close pursuers as he took the checkered flag.
When Rick told us the next truck race would be on April 12th at Martinsville, I could only be thankful that I would be attending that race in person and not have to suffer through the next broadcast on the Speed Channel. I apologize if I was a little too frank in this review, but I believe everyone on the team wants to do a good job, so I hope they'll appreciate some honest feedback and suggestions for improvement in the way it was intended. I'd really like to see this crew succeed and improve to the point that they are favorably compared with their predecessors at ESPN.
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