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SPEED Channel's Coverage of the Daytona Truck Race

This was the SPEED Channel's first broadcast for the Craftsman Truck Series and they've assembled a diverse group for their on-air broadcast team. Leading the team is Rick Allen, making his debut as a TV announcer. He is joined in the booth by road course racer, Dorsey Schroeder and former crew chief, Barry Dodson. ESPN veteran pit reporter, Ray Dunlap is joined on pit road by former driver and recent ESPN announcer, Phil Parsons. This new team worked several of the truck and Busch Series practice sessions earlier in the week on SPEED Channel, so the Daytona truck race was not their first broadcast as a team. Overall, they did a good job for their first race, although there are still a few bugs to be worked out and also some chemistry developed between the team members.

The fact that Fox now owns the SPEED Channel was quite obvious from the time the pre-race show came on the air. There was a good lead-in with highlights of past truck series races. Unfortunately the tendency for the Fox networks to sensationalize was too obvious by the inclusion of Geoffrey Bodine's horrendous wreck at Daytona 2000. Next Allen, Dodson, and Schroeder came on exclaiming how "full of excitement" they were. I don't think Allen missed telling us how excited they were every time they returned from a commercial. I'm sure he was coached by Fox and SPEED Channel to tell us so, but it just sounded a little forced to me.

The rest of the pre-race show was very good, with Dunlap and Parsons interviewing several drivers on pit road and showing some highlights from last year's truck season. There was also a very good profile on former Winston Cup driver, Bobby Hamilton, who will be running the truck series this year. Unfortunately, a lot of the other background material provided throughout the broadcast tended to "dumb down" the series for the new fans. It bothered me that SPEED's approach was to assume that none of the viewers had ever heard of the truck series before, let alone watched a race before "the inaugural race on SPEED." This brings me to the constant self-promotion of the SPEED Channel throughout the broadcast, even so far as having the chairman of Craftsman Tools do a testimonial of how thrilled he was to have the series on SPEED. At the end of the broadcast, viewers must have been reminded 10 times that the next truck race would be from Darlington in a month. Again, this seemed too tailored to the "new fan" who might just forget about the truck series in a month's time.

At the start of the race, Schroeder was quick to catch that the truck of Bill Lester slowed down dramatically and the producer quickly showed the truck on the track. He also provided in-car communications between Lester and his team, so the viewers were able to hear that he was having a problem with his ignition system. The cameramen also caught the tail end of David Starr's spin and we were shown several replays. I was disappointed that the pit reporters did not talk to Starr afterwards, but perhaps he was too upset to talk to them at the time.

All day long, there was excellent coverage of pit stop action, including replays when team's had miscues on pit road, such as the team owned by Kevin Harvick. SPEED was also quick to catch heated discussions between Harvick and pit road officials when his team was penalized. Dunlap also provided an update that Travis Kvapil had pitted too close to the wall.

There were excellent replays of all the on-track incidents, including several when Ted Musgrave cut a tire and the resulting pile-up which collected his teammate as well. The producer also included numerous replays from in-car cameras which provided the viewers with a lot of different angles of the incidents. There were also good replays and a discussion about Ed Berrier getting sideways and the yellow line rule. Dodson told the fans that the Kodak crew from Winston Cup was pitting the truck for Bobby Hamilton. I really appreciate this kind of information.

Besides telling us how excited they were, Allen Schroeder, and Dodson tended to yell "they're four-wide" and "here it comes" a little too often for me. It just seems like the folks at Fox and SPEED want their announcers to interject excitement into the races all the time. The Craftsmen Truck Series is an exciting series and can speak for itself. It doesn't need any extra hype. I also really don't like it that all the announcers at Daytona (in all three series) seemed to be drooling in anticipation of "the Big One," referring to spectacular multi-car accidents.

Unfortunately, the race seemed to have a lot of commercials, again something that I have noticed on SPEED Channel since they were taken over by the Fox family.

Near the end of the race, Dunlap pointed out that leader, Rick Crawford, had been having some problems on restarts because of the gear his team chose. He also told us that Kvapil had newer tires than some of the other leaders. Phil Parsons talked to the Goodyear engineers, questioning them about the number of flat tires they had seen during the race. Again, this kind of information and insight is the kind of stuff I really like knowing and its implications near the end of the race.

I really liked Barry Dodson as a crew chief and he's done very well on NASCAR This Morning over the last year, but he fell into trying to be too cute near the end of the race, saying things like "buckle up buttercup." Schroeder also seem to rely on cliches too often near the end of the race. Allen did a pretty good job for a first broadcast, but needs to loosen up a little. Parsons also came across a little nervous and unsure in his new role as pit reporter, which I'm sure takes a little getting used to after being co-anchor on ESPN broadcasts over the last few years. Dunlap impressed me as the most experienced member of the team and seemed very confident in his role. Allen went off the air declaring "This had to be the best finish in truck history!" Granted the race had a very exciting finish, but Allen needs to try and avoid falling into the trap of excessive hype and self-promotion that accompany all Fox broadcasts. Trust me, the fans don't need another Darrell Waltrip or Chris Meyers to help them enjoy the truck series. I think this team can do a good job if they tone things down just a bit, relax, and let their natural personalities come through. This wasn't a perfect first effort, but a good start.

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

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