The view from my couch
Speed Broadcast of the Hardee's 200 from Charlotte
This is the fifth truck series race from the new broadcast team, and I'm sorry to say I haven't seen much improvement and this is really disappointing. Lead commentator, Rick Allen, continues to make frequent mistakes and the entire team in the booth continues to come across as simply working too hard to convince us how "excited" they are about the series, rather than letting the viewers judge for themselves. I can't help but think that the Fox attitude that fans aren't as interested in the truck or BGN series has had a strong influence on the producers at the Speed Channel (since they are now owned by Fox). When I mentioned to my husband that I was trying to find some positive things to say about the broadcast, he quipped "Well, it is live, as opposed to having to wait for two weeks to see the most recent USAR race." Yes, it was live...
I enjoyed the lead-in to the pre-race show, mostly because it involved series regulars, Jon Wood, David Starr and Dennis Setzer in a little skit and utilized a popular country song by Montgomery Gentry, My Town. There was a little fallacy to the theme since Wood is from Virginia and Starr is from Texas; however, the producers got it a little closer since Setzer is from Hickory, North Carolina. I guess that's close enough to Charlotte for TV work.
After this good introduction involving some series regulars, I was immediately disappointed to see that the producer chose to have the first interview involve Winston Cup driver, Kevin Harvick. This continues to make me feel like the TV people feel viewers only watch the Busch and Truck Series to see Winston Cup stars. This is such an injustice to the great drivers in both of these series.
I did get a good chuckle out of the fact that as soon as Rick came on the air, he flubbed up the name of the track, first calling it Charlotte, then after a long pause, switching it to Lowes Motor Speedway. But then the next sentence out of his mouth contained his favorite phrase "excitement." From that point on, I was tempted to count how many times he used this word during the broadcast, but decided I wanted to watch the race more. Rick, please tone it down just bit on the "excitement" thing.
Dorsey Schroeder's first comment was that the Charlotte track was "a lot like Darlington." I'm not really sure where Dorsey's frame of reference is coming from, but I've never heard anybody find similarities between those two particular tracks, other than the fact they're both located in the Carolinas. And then one of them is in North Carolina and one is in South Carolina.
Abruptly, Speed switched from the booth to showing the pre-race activities on the track. Unfortunately, the director and sound folks appeared to be asleep, as you could barely hear the invocation, National Anthem, and command to start engines. In fact, the sound was so poor during this time that you could hear comments and laughter from the crowd over the person singing the Anthem. This was extremely poor in my opinion and showed that the folks in the production truck dropped the ball bigtime.
During the rundown of the starting grid, the booth team started out doing a really good job covering the drivers, but then all of a sudden when they got down to Harvick, Rick seemed to go off on a tangent about him and they never got back to the the rest of the grid. Again, it's like TV just doesn't care about anyone after the top ten starters or the WC stars. I found this particularly disconcerting as there were a whole lot of new faces in the truck field, whom I would've really liked to have heard more about. It's like NASCAR and the TV networks have already decided the truck series is a losing proposition, so they have no interest in promoting the drivers to the fans. How sad. Instead of showing us the same highlights over and over again, perhaps the networks ought to spend some time introducing the viewers to the new drivers trying to make it in the truck series.
Right before the race started, Ray Dunlap from pit road, told us that NASCAR would be calling a mandatory caution at lap 28 to check tires since the trucks had not had 'happy hour' practice the night before due to weather.
The director definitely dropped the ball when the first accident of the race occurred just a couple of laps into the race. A camera was right on the first driver to spin, Randy Briggs, yet the director cut away from his car and, therefore, missed catching the other cars pile into the wreck. Then we got a brief shot of the aftermath of the wreck, before the camera stayed on Lance Norick's truck just sitting down near pit road. The director stayed on this shot way too long. Eventually, there were four to five replays, but Speed cut to commercial before ever identifying all the drivers involved in the incident or assuring us they were all okay. Throughout the broadcast, it seemed clear that the announcers in the booth were really not up to speed on all the drivers entered in the race as they often seemed clueless as who was in various trucks. Not surprisingly, these were drivers in the back of the field. It just seems to me that Rick and the others in the booth could do a little more preparation before a broadcast, familiarised themselves with the drivers who are entered. At the very least they need to have this information readily available so they don't appear so uninformed when a driver is involved in an incident. There have only been four truck races spaced out over a three-month period, so it's not like the people in the booth don't have sufficient time to prepare for each broadcast. In addition, if the producer was on his toes, he'd have someone with a rundown sheet to at least prompt the people in the booth with the correct information to identify drivers.
There was good coverage of Dennis Setzer's unscheduled pit stop because he was smelling oil, with good follow-up by Phil Parsons in the pits. Later he showed us the oil fitting that had come loose on his truck. Next was a nice graphic showing drivers who had won three truck races in a row over the years. There was just a brief shot when Robert Pressley slowed on the track and went behind the wall, but Ray followed up telling the viewers that his engine had blown up. Ray also explained that because of the early caution, NASCAR had moved the mandatory caution back to lap 38. Dorsey's comments that Bill Lester had "square tires" after his spin was interesting. I've never heard that description for flat-spotted tires, but it was kind of funny. There were some different and interesting camera shots from the backstretch. There were numerous replays of Lester's spin through the grass, including shots which showed Matt Crafton and Ken Schrader's contribution to the spin.
The producer needs to work on better coordination when playing team radio communications. All night long, there seemed to be a competition between the guys in the booth talking and these communications.
After Jerry Hill's accident, the boys in the booth took a really long time to identify the truck. Then Rick assured us he "had his helmet off" and then said "we'll let you know how he is," when you could clearly see Hill standing outside the truck. Granted he had on a sponsorless driver's suit and it was difficult to tell him from the safety workers, but perhaps someone needs to clue Rick in that not all drivers have bright colored and sponsor-emblazoned driver's suits.
From the start of the broadcast, the Speed commentators had to keep mentioning Darrell Waltrip. It seems like the viewers can't escape from DW even when he's not affiliated with a broadcast. Is it written into his contract that Fox and Speed must have an obligatory mention of DW every hour during any broadcast?
At about 50 laps to go in the race, Speed did make an effort to cover some of the racing action besides the leaders. At this time, we got to see Eric Jones, who was running around 10th and Tina Gordon, who was running 15th. They also talked about truck veteran, Rick Bickle, who had recently returned to his ride with the Ballew team and replacing Andy Houston in the 15 truck.
Personally, I really enjoy the return of the Goodyear Blimp to NASCAR telecasts. I'd read that the Fox networks would not utilize the Goodyear blimps until they broke down and bought advertising time for the broadcasts. I guess Goodyear gave in to the blackmail. Anyway, I enjoyed some of the shots from the blimp during this broadcast; however, sometimes returning from commercial, the director stayed with the overhead shots way too long. You can't really follow the race from that high above the track. Those shots are good for a few seconds, but at least two times, the director just stayed overhead and the viewers missed action on the track. One of these times, (around 37 to go), the music from a video montage stayed playing in the background as well as staying with the overhead shots. I had to wonder what was really going on in the production truck during this broadcast. Was anyone in charge in there?
On one of the last restarts, several trucks who were caught in the pits during a caution, started in front of the leaders. Since this included the designated "star" of the Speed broadcast, Kevin Harvick, as usual. emphasis was on him instead of the truck series regulars who were actually fighting for the race lead. Rick was rambling on so much about Harvick that he never even mentioned when Rick Crawford passed Ted Musgrave for the lead of the race. While this is inexcusable in itself, the commentators next comments showed they were clueless as to what was going on in the race. First Rick says Ted was still leading the race, then Barry jumps in and tries to correct that error, but he compounds things by saying that Rick got the lead "by virtue of the pit stops." Perhaps if the folks in charge at Speed would stop insisting on focusing on the Winston Cup drivers in the race, the guys announcing the race might actually be following the race for the lead and not make such blatant errors. Frankly, I can understand if Rick has a lot of trouble dealing with the dynamics of a live TV broadcast. As far as I know he had no TV experience prior to being selected to head the truck broadcast team. He is probably overwhelmed by the producer and directors yelling in his headset and trying to follow the action on the track. But sometimes it comes across as if he's not even watching what's going on in the race out the window of the TV booth.
After missing when Crawford passed to take the lead of the race, Rick said "We had some great side-by-side racing there between Gaughan and Crawford". Unfortunately, the viewers didn't get to see much of it as the director switched away from the action to show something else.
After the race was restarted with just 20 laps to go, the producer leaves for commercial with 15 laps to go. Then Speed came back from this break with another shot from the blimp while some "billboard" type promotions were shown. Next comes promos for the Winston Happy Hour Show following the truck race, with empty track showing behind them. Eventually, Speed gets back to the green flag racing with only 9 laps to go. So, between the actual commercials and the on-screen billboards and promos, the viewers missed 8 of the last 15 laps of the race. This was ridiculous!
Some time after they returned to the race, Dorsey said, "We had a great pass for second a while ago," describing Gaughan getting the position. Since we never saw this, I can only assume the pass occurred while Speed was away at the extended commercials.
Speed did follow an unscheduled pit stop on the 75 truck and Phil reported that it was because Starr was feeling a vibration. Ray reported on an unscheduled pit stop for Terry Cook's team.
On the last restart, the announcers got caught in their typical hype, with Barry Dodson stating "We're going to see an exciting finish." Are these guys reading from a script or what? Not every race, even in the Truck Series, is always going to have an "exciting" or "great" finish.
Prior to the green/white/checker finish, Ray and Phil had good interviews with crew chiefs of the drivers running first, second, and third. Unfortunately, after these, the announcers in the booth proceeded to tell us that "Harvick always gets great restarts." He wasn't even among the top five in the race at this time, so why mention him? Then Rick says, "Barry, explain what a green/white/checker finish means." I guess this was more of "Truck Racing for Dummies" that we've gotten from the Speed Channel all season. Barry ends his explanation with "...the Craftsman Truck Series guarantees you a great finish." Give me break! Don't get me wrong, I love green/white/checker finishes, but not every one of them results in an exciting finish. Is this a money-back guarantee from NASCAR? Do the fans in attendance get their money back if it's boring finish?
When the last lap wreck occurred in turn 4, Speed barely covered it, even though some of the drivers involved obviously took hard hits. Again, Rick gave us more Racing for Dummies by asking Barry "What is putting the window net down a sign of?" After the obligatory commercials and Victory Lane celebration and interviews with the top three finishers, the producer finally went back and showed some replays of the last lap incident. As much as a I like to see the post race interviews, I think the producer made a bad decision in not at least showing one replay of the incident first. This was part of the race and would've shown more continuity to the whole broadcast. Also, I don't think anyone ever assured us all the drivers were okay.
As Speed went oft the air, there was a really nice overhead shot of Musgrave and his team celebrating in Victory Lane. Also, the Speed team made sure to remind us their next broadcast would be in two weeks from Dover Downs. Thankfully, I'll be attending that race live instead of enduring another telecast on Speed Channel.
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