The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Daytona 272.5

"Fox is Back!" In case you didn't notice already. I think the TV crew told us about 200 times this weekend. The bad news is the fans at the track and the viewers at home only got to see just over half the race because of the rain. The good news is at least those of us at home did not have to hear Darrell Waltrip say "Boogity boogity boogity" three times in the same day.

I'm sorry I'm so late with this review. It was just hard to get motivated to write a review after such a poor excuse for a race to start oft the 2003 season. I'm not blaming Fox for the rain in Daytona, but with all the hype that surrounded the Daytona 500, it was a real letdown to have it called at 5:26 Sunday night. I want to focus on the positive aspects of the Fox broadcast. I really do. Unfortunately, as usual with Fox, the negative aspects far outweigh the positive ones. Or maybe I've just overdosed on the 77 hours of Fox hype in the last ten days.

The Pre-Race Show

Fox had a great lead-in to the show, focusing on the history of the Daytona track and some memorable moments from past races there. I missed who was doing the voiceover, but he was very good and low-key. I was happy to see that Fox chose to show the race in widescreen. This is a bonus for those of us which 16 X 9 TVs and one that I hope NBC will continue for their part of the season. When Chris Meyers came on the air from the Hollywood Hotel, he immediately informed the viewers about the threat of rain in the Daytona area. He also told us the start of the race was being moved "up" to 1:00 p.m. I really find it annoying that the TV folks act like they are doing us a favor by having the race start on the hour, rather than dragging it on another twenty minutes in additional to an hour-long pre-race show.

Jeff Hammond provided a very informative overview of all the changes made among the race teams in the off-season. Next Teresa Earnhardt was interviewed by Meyers. This was an interesting interview, but Meyers cut her off in order to get to a commercial. Mrs. Earnhardt appears to have a speech impediment and takes a few extra seconds to get her point across and it was rather tacky that Meyers so obviously cut her off.

I really enjoyed the use of the song Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple for a video montage prior to the actual start of the race, unfortunately, the words "NASCAR on Fox" were liberally interspersed with the shots of drivers and teams. I also noticed that during the introduction of the starting grid they only briefly showed a tiny car and then quickly switched to a picture of the driver. Everyone remembers the grief Fox got two years ago when they refused to show cars with sponsor logo. Now it seems, they make a token effort to quickly show the logo. I found it interesting that they managed to get the Ford/Chevy/Pontiac/Dodge symbol in the corner of the driver's picture. But then each make of car spends plenty of money to advertise during the broadcast.

One disturbing trend I noticed as soon as the race began, and throughout the entire day, was that Fox concentrated solely on the leaders. Ah, but Fox has a new feature, a "status" bar adding another line of information to that wonderful Fox ticker. This is just in case the fans of drivers outside the top ten would like to know why their driver has fallen out of the race. It just reminded me too much of a highlight show. If I have this new bit of info, why do I even need to watch the rest of the race? Also, only a few laps into the race, the viewers were treated to the annoying Fox jingle and an internet poll question covering up the bottom third of the screen. Phil Mushnick of TV Guide wrote in a recent article, "Networks spend billions on sports rights, then do anything in their power to prevent us from watching." What an excellent point! But what a sad statement on the state of sports on TV today. To me, it pretty much sums up the philosophy I have seen Fox apply to their broadcasts of Winston Cup races for the last two seasons. And one that obviously is not about to change. During the Daytona race, we even got a silly graphic taking up the left side of the screen and many times covering up the cars entirely to show us a pretend gas gauge for the top three drivers. Is this a race broadcast or a video game?

Okay, on to some positives: Fox did have some awesome camera angles during the race and they provided some truly great highlights of Ryan Newman's accident. There was even one high quality, slow motion shot that was truly amazing! In fact, the viewers got wonderful and numerous replays of all the incidents on Sunday. Too bad there wasn't some wonderful racing mixed in there somewhere as well. Of course, you wouldn't have known that to hear DW, Larry McReynolds and Mike Joy. Those guys have obviously been given the "show extreme excitement no matter what" marching orders from the Fox executives. To me, it quickley became tedious to hear so much hype for a race that contained only about two on-track passes for the lead. There were obviously more folks passing for position back in the pack, but the viewers rarely saw them.

Another positive was the work of the pit reporters, led as usual by the excellent Matt Yocum. Steve Byrnes and Dick Berggren were very good as well, but Jeanne Zelasko has got to go! The woman clearly has no knowledge or interest in stock car racing and shows it almost every time she opens her mouth. She actually made a snide remark to Ryan Newman for keeping her waiting in the rain to interview him after his frightening accident. I couldn't help but laugh when Newman sarcastically replied "You don't look too wet to me."

The pit reporters also made a real effort to keep the viewers interested and entertained during the two long rain delays. They mixed in interviews with lots of drivers and crew chiefs, with some good discussion between the guys in the booth and Meyers and Jeff Hammond in the Hollywood Hotel. Hammond was also always quick to illustrate things on the Cutaway Car. This included safety devices after Newman's wreck and how the fuel cells and overflow valves work. There was also a very timely use of a a computer graphic to show us how Earnhardt's team could so quickly change his battery.

I also really enjoyed the numerous Crank it Up segments yesterday. I got a new home theater receiver just in time for Daytona and the sounds that audio wizard Denis Ryan provided during these segments sounded awesome in my living room! You almost felt like you were at the track. And as usual, these segments were a welcome relief from the constant babbling by Darrell Waltrip. We also got to hear them without the usual ridiculous graphic.

One of the few passes for the lead on the track was the one after the final restart when Jimmy Johnson was leading and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was laps down and lined up on the inside of him. But Fox had to show us a splashly display of the flag man waving the green flag, so the viewers missed Michael Waltrip falling in line behind his teammate and drafting past Johnson to take the lead. This was in fact the pass for the win, but the viewers got to enjoy the waving of the green flag instead.

The rest of the broadcast consisted of way too much of the typical Fox hype and constant use of cliches by DW and others for my tastes. I really can't figure out if DW is laughing at himself and Fox at times or not. When John Travolta visited the booth during one of the rain delays and talked about an upcoming movie, DW said "Oh we're all about shameless self-promotion here." Maybe I've misjudged the guy; maybe he realizes how annoying his phrase to start the races is to most fans and the exaggerated "excitement" he and the others in the booth always display. If so, I think that is even more sad that a once great driver and three time champion is willing to act like this at the bidding of the Fox executives and to pick up few extra million dollars.

As I mentioned in my review of the Bud Shootout, Fox now has a sponsor name for each running of their scoring ticker. What I noticed on Sunday was that whenever they interviewed a driver, if that driver's sponsor bought advertising time on Fox, the ticker appeared over the interview with the sponsor logo in place. If Tony Stewart was being interviewed, the Home Depot logo was on the ticker at the top of the screen, as was UPS during a Dale Jarrett interview and Lowes during a Jimmy Johnson interview. Talk about overkill! Race fans couldn't help but notice the feature that Fox showed where Japanese auto manufacturer announced their entry into the Craftsman Truck Series next year. I won't even begin to go into why that move offends me, but obviously all NASCAR traditions have gone out the window now. My point here is that even though Toyota won't even be entered in a NASCAR series for over a year, Fox advertising people have already persuaded the company to buy advertising time on this year's broadcasts. Immediately after this feature, we saw Toyota sponsoring the ticker and commercials for their vehicles. Believe me, I understand that NASCAR is all about advertising and TV is all about advertising. What bothers me is the fact that the sanctioning body is stretching the rules in a series that is suppose to be about "American-made" vehicles competing against each other to include a foreign-owned manufacturer next year. The fact that the TV folks have already sold advertising to this company, to me, shows that TV had a lot to do with NASCAR's decision to let a foreign car manufacturer enter their sport. Everyone knows that both Fox and NBC have had a hard time selling enough advertising to recoup the money they paid out to get the NASCAR contract. So again, we have the TV "partners" materially affecting the sport and, this time, in a way that will forever change the face of NASCAR. Sorry, for the tangent, but I couldn't help but notice the addition to Toyota ads to this week's broadcast.

Lastly, I have to climb back up on my soapbox to talk about how the viewers and attendees at Daytona got shortchanged this week. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how TV is materially affecting NASCAR. To me, it appeared this disturbing trend continued Sunday evening at Daytona. I understand that a huge storm front was predicted for the area all day on Sunday. I also understand that the drivers can't race in the rain. But don't they have an elaborate lighting system recently installed at Daytona? Like Dale Jarrett, what I don't understand is how something as big as the Daytona 500 cannot be continued the next day. Mike Joy told the viewers the "rule" was that if a race went past halfway, they couldn't run it the next day. I find this very interesting. I guess I'd never heard that rule, though many of my friends assured me that such a rule exists. But what really bothers me is the clear glee that Mike Joy displayed when he yelled "That's halfway" during yesterday's race. And, believe me, I normally love Jeff Hammond, but I was really disappointed that a technical glitch allowed the viewers to hear him telling us that he had a plane to catch last night. His and Joy's comments just accentuated the fact the TV folks are more concerned about getting away from the track than seeing the race to it's normal conclusion. If their jobs are so terrible and they are so anxious to leave early, why are they in this business? At least, several drivers commented that they felt bad for the fans who came to the track and sat through the two rain delays and still didn't get to see an entire race. I don't believe I heard anyone on Fox saying that or worrying about the viewers at home. The Fox attitude appears to be "we put on a show in a timeslot and now we move on to the next show." To me, it seemed like the powers to be at Fox, NASCAR's new "partners" just wanted to make sure the race was ended early so that nothing would interfere with their highly advertised 300th Simpsons' episode and their other primetime drivel later that night. And this is really sad.

Yep, Fox is back....And we have their "attitude" to look forward to over the next four months. Oh boy....

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

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