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2003 Bud Shootout and Daytona Qualifying Coverage

I was fortunate to be off from work on Friday. This way, I got to watch the beginning of the “77 hours of live coverage of Speedweeks.” The coverage began with the surprise addition of Ken Squire to the Speed Studio show on the Speed Channel. He joined John Roberts in what I can assume to be a “filler” show, but actually turned out to be some of the more low key and interesting coverage this weekend.

Squire's long history of broadcasting made him the perfect choice to provide excellent insight and historical knowledge for the beginning of Speed Weeks. John Roberts, better known as the host of Fox Sport Net's NASCAR This Morning also provided a frank and low-key introduction to the season. Unfortunately Speed Studio only lasted a half hour, and then the Speed Channel cranked it up.

Next, Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry McReynolds came on the air for the first session of Bud Shootout practice. Man, did those guys overdose on caffeine or what? Or was it the Fox producer's order to “show a lot of enthusiasm?” Waltrip and crew took off running full throttle and never let off for the next hour and half. As Kevin Harvick said on Sunday, DW “can talk longer about nothing than anybody I've ever seen.”

Here I had been anxiously awaiting the first appearance of the Winston Cup cars on the track and, during the first practice session, we saw more tinkering in the garage than cars on the track. This was quite a disappointment to me.

Fox sports reporter, Jeanne Zelasko, returned to racing coverage and seemed to be sitting in for Chris Meyers in reading from a script. She and Jeff Hammond provided an alternative to the boys in the booth. I wouldn't mind a female reporter if Fox could just find one who actually sounds like she knows something about the sport. Hint: I hear Amy East is available.

After the first hour of practice, Speed gave us a respite from Mike, DW and Larry, by returning to Speed Studio with Roberts and Squire. They were joined by Bob Dilner in garage area and Ralph Sheheen in the booth. Since this show included almost all the on-track action from the first practice in highlights, I could've just saved my time and watched it instead. Oh yeah, during the first several hours of coverage, everyone was sure to tell us about the “77 hours of coverage” of Speed Weeks. At least 77 times, I think. There were also many reminders that the Bud Shootout would be run for the ”first time in primetime”. The Fox attitude sure is back....

The second segment of Bud Shootout practice was shown at 6:30 and this time, thankfully, the viewers got a lot more coverage of the actual cars on the track. Again, I probably should have just waited to tune in for this practice segment Unfortunately, this show started out with everyone wearing sunglasses and some sort of Fox style gag that was totally lost on me. Viewers also got a lot of the same stories from the crew as we'd heard during the first segment of practice. Like Jeff Hammond showing us the difference in the fuel cells for the Daytona races. This was shown no less than 3-4 times this weekend. This is the kind of redundancy that turns me off of racing coverage these days, and the reason that Saturday I chose to forgo watching the Bud Shootout Happy Hour entirely.

On Saturday afternoon came the ARCA race coverage, which thankfully, was a little more low-key with Steve Byrnes and Jeff Hammond sharing the booth for commentary on the race. I guess Mike, DW and Larry were taking a nap so they would be filled with more high energy for the Bud Shootout later that night.

The Bud Shootout

This was the first racing coverage on the Fox “flagship” network this weekend. One excellent thing that I noted right away was that Fox chose to go with a widescreen broadcast and those of us with High Definition TVs really enjoyed that. It's good to know that Fox is giving NASCAR the same consideration that we saw for the NFL playoff games earlier this year.

Unfortunately, the content of the pre-race show was not as high quality as the TV picture. Silly comparisons of the race to the Fox Show American Idol and Saturday Night Live were made during the introduction. Then we got a montage of drivers comparing them to modern cowboys. Pit reporter Dick Berggren even said the Shootout was a “gunfight with cars.” Unfortunately, this broadcast brought Chris Meyers' return to continue reading from his notes this season. He led off telling us that DW was eligible for this race, and DW was quick to confirm that fact for the viewers. In case we were in doubt, the entire crew kept reminding us that we were watching Fox. How could we forget? Meyers also made sure to mention how many over-40 drivers were taking part in this race.

As the race was about to begin, there was a good shot of the American flag backed by Lake Lloyd and DW pointed out that it showed a head wind on the backstretch, and mentioned how this would affect the cars.

As the green flag fell, Mike Joy made the statement “Now we're about to hear the second most famous words in racing.” Great! DW and his silly “Boogity, boogity, boogity” are back. Something I surely did not miss in the last seven months.

Right after the start of the race, the viewers got to see a nice camera shot of the some safety vehicles in the in-field. That head wind must have been affecting the camera operators as well, I guess.

The biggest improvement I saw with the Fox broadcast, so far, is that they did not use the Sportsvision gimmicks of pointers or bubbles over the cars. I can only hope that this positive trend continues through the rest of the races this year.

On the negative side, though, the viewers were treated to a spinning car denoting Pizza Hut which was superimposed onto the racing action as a segue to the Fox scoring ticker.. I also noticed that various sponsors of the ticker stayed on the screen all the time it was on the screen. The good thing was the ticker did not appear on the screen for the entire race. Instead, Fox chose to give us quick graphics showing the top 10 drivers as they went to commercial. Another good improvement that I sincerely hope will remain in the future. Of course, the viewers still got to hear the annoying “blup, blup, blup” to announce the presence of the ticker and swishy noises when the data displayed changed.

The commercial spacing on this broadcast was pretty good, although the first commercial during the actual race came only eight laps into it. But each time there was a break during the actual racing, there were only three 30 second commercials. The producer also seemed to save a lot of commercials for the 10-minute mandatory caution between the segments of the race which was excellent.

Jeanne Zelasko returned to join the Fox pit reporters of Matt Yocum, Steve Byrnes, and Dick Berggren. Unfortunately, I don't know where she was reporting from, but the public address system was about drowning out her reporting each time she spoke. Someone on the production team should have tried to reposition her after the first time it occurred, but that never happened.

Fox continued their use of the pretend driver/crew chief by-play between DW and Larry, something that gets very old to me.

The pit reporters kept the viewers up-to-date on the changes to the cars throughout the race and had several interviews with a variety of drivers and crew chiefs during the scheduled 10-minute break during the race. Jeff Hammond also used the Cutaway Car to illustrate shock changes and use of tape on the grills that the teams might make during the break.

During the final segment of the race, Larry McReynolds pointed out how Earnhardt, Jr. pulled away from the outside line of traffic to help adjust the drag on his car. There were some crew communications during this part of the race; however, the Fox crew did not tell the viewers from which team they came. The upside was that the commentators did not talk over the crew chatter, which is a definite improvement over last season.

At the conclusion of the race, the pit reporters had interviews with the winner and most of the top ten finishers before going off the air. I particularly enjoyed Matt Yocum's interview with Ward Burton, where Burton made some excellent points about how tightly bunched up the cars were during the Shootout because of the aero changes made by NASCAR this season. I was disappointed, though, that as a conclusion to the show Chris Meyers and Jeff Hammond talked about how the winner, Earnhardt, Jr., “did it on his own without the use of teammates.” While this was true, they neglected to mention that he received close drafting help from Ryan Newman in the pivotal push to take the lead of the race for the final time. I guess this wasn't part of the Fox script.

With a few exceptions, I'd say this was a pretty good broadcast for the Fox crew.

Sunday Rain Delay Shows

Just before 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, I tuned in to watch the Goodys' Dash Race on the Speed Channel. I caught the end of another live show from the track, featuring John Roberts. As they went off the air, someone pointed out that because of the rain it was highly unlikely that Daytona 500 qualifying would get in today. This frankness was quite interesting in light of the story that Mike Joy and his crew gave when they came on the air a few moments later. This group implied that not only would they be likely to get in qualifying, but the Goodys' Dash Race as well. As the half hour show progressed, others made it clear that the Dash Race would likely be postponed.

Joy did give the viewers an excellent explanation of the restructuring NASCAR was doing in its lower divisions with the creation of the Elite and Grand National Divisions and how they hoped to have some sort of play-off between the two at the end of the season. Unfortunately, he also explained that the Goodys' Dash Series would be losing their NASCAR sanctioning after this season.

Joy went on to say that they would fill the rain delay with a lot of interviews with the Dash drivers and crews in the garage area. There were a couple of interesting interviews with 2002 champion, Jake Hobgood, and his brother, Justin, and father, Will. Berggren also interviewed female drivers, Angie Wilson and Kelly Sutton. I particularly enjoyed seeing Sutton interviewed since she lives just a few miles from me in Maryland. Unfortunately, these were the only interviews in the half-hour show, which was quite disappointing. Just a few years ago, when ESPN pioneered the extended Speed Weeks coverage from Daytona, they spent a lot of time introducing the Dash and ARCA drivers to the viewers. Fox chose to return to Speed Studio with John Roberts and Ken Squire. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this show which included Ken Schrader and John Andretti joining them, but I would've liked have seen more interviews from the Goodys' Dash garage.

During this show, Roberts made one frank and humorous statement. He was asking Schrader, I believe, a question about NASCAR's changes to the cars this year. He mentioned them making the cars “aero equal,” then quickly said “I know we don't want to say 'common templates' cause we get in trouble.” As a fan, I find Roberts' honestly very refreshing. Squire followed this up with ”Is this a good thing for racing?” Schrader hemmed and hawed and really didn't answer that question as they went to break.

After just another half hour, Speed channel chose to go to a taped 2002 highlight show. As Roberts signed off the air, he pointed out that it would take about two hours to dry the Daytona track and another two and a half hours for WC qualifying. Knowing that Fox would probably not let NASCAR interfere with their Sunday night primetime line-up, I did not get a good feeling about the prospects of seeing qualifying today. Even though the Daytona track has lights, I felt this could be another case of the TV networks materially affecting the sport.

For the most part, I enjoyed watching the qualifying rain delay show on Fox. The good news was this show was also in widescreen. The bad news was the Fox crew seemed to be stringing the viewers along and not being very frank about the chances of the rain stopping in time to get qualifying in before the Fox primetime line-up. I was hoping that while some folks were watching the Simpsons, Fox would switch the qualifying show to the Speed Channel or FX. Sometime before 3:00, I read an item on the Speed Channel webpage that NASCAR probably would reschedule qualifying for 1:00 on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, the crew on Fox did not inform the viewers until just before the qualifying show went off the air at 3:30. And then they implied this decision was not made until that time. As usual, Fox kept stringing the viewers along till the last minute.

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

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