The view from my couch
NBC Coverage of the MBNA America 400
by Ken Solheim
September 7, 2003
First, I would like to thank my good friend Cheryl for sharing the couch with me this week. I hope that she and the webmaster had a good time at Dover. Since moving west it has been rare to watch the races live, since they usually are on while I'm at church. As a result, I tape them and watch later. This has spared me from the advertisements as I use the fast forward button. Sunday's race was not an exception. This review is based on viewing the tape, fast-forwarded through the advertisements.
Let me start by saying that I appreciate NBC's approach to race coverage. It is more mature with less hype than Fox. This tone is set as soon as the broadcast begins with Bill Weber and his "5x7" note cards on the “war wagon” rather than an over-done “Hollywood Hotel”.
Today's pre-race show began with the acknowledgement of the rule changes but first they did driver interviews. When they got to the rule changes, the videos demonstrated the issues clearly. The piece explained the changes and the reasons for them.
Bill Weber then interviewed Brian France. He spoke of the possibility of nepotism but went on to review France's wide range of experience in NASCAR (apologetically?). Weber did ask him the hard question about his relationship with Mike Helton and the potential of difficulty as Helton was passed over for CEO. Again, there was good timing and little hype to the videos that were the background to some the topics.
I liked Benny Parsons' interviews with Jimmie Johnson's crewmembers that were hit last week as they watched the video footage together. It was good to see the people that jump over the wall week after week and their approach to what could have been a disaster.
The banking piece was humorous. It was fun to see the Cub Scouts racing their cars down the banking. This was followed by Wally Dallenbach's drive around the track. He demonstrated the difficulty the drivers might face in slowing down on the turn in preparation for the entrance to pit road and the new speed limit line.
The race coverage then began and only because Cheryl picks on it every week, I noticed that none of the driver's names were called until they got to the 16th row. Instead of calling out the drivers, Wally interviewed Ricky Rudd during the pace laps. I have always wondered what a driver is supposed to say when asked the question, “So, what do you think of your chances today?” I have never heard a driver say, “Our car is lousy and we will be lucky to finish the race with the piece of junk car I have.” They all say they have a good car and chance to win. Ricky did qualify that a bit by saying, “if we are not freed up too much.”
My overall impression of the coverage is that NBC did a fine job. From my seat on the couch, NBC treated the viewer with respect. They did this by keeping us posted on what was going on the track and by some fine interplay between the announcing crew.
Audio was well mixed with the action on the track. For example, after Mike Skinner's crash we heard the audio of his crew chief calling for the Sawsall. This was an example of a great job by the production team to provide good, timely sound bites.
Wally Dallenbach also treated us to some informative commentary. There was some discussion about teammates sharing setup notes and Wally was asked if he worked with his teammates. He related a story of he and Mark Martin teaming up on Jimmy Spencer on a restart in a race at Watkins Glen. This was an honest glimpse of how teammates can work. I applaud him for this as sometimes this honesty is overlooked for political correctness. He also gave us a description of how Ryan Newman could tell he had a flat tire. Wally has good insights into the racing world and week after week does a fine job explaining the nuances of racing.
Multiple “through the field” segments took us through the lead lap drivers and the first couple of lap down cars for the “lucky dog” lap.
The production crew broke out of commercials on two occasions. Once to report the lead change when Ryan Newman pitted and gave up the lead due to a flat tire. The second was when Bobby Labonte hit the wall.
The pit road crew was on top of things as well. Bobby Labonte's problem on the start was explained. Newman's tire and the puncture were shown. Wally explained how Ryan was able to discern the flat. Again, good follow up from the pit road team noticing that Joe Nemechek was to pit just one lap later than his crash. There was good camera work showing the amount of damage on the left side of the car. It was good to see Joe getting out and his frustration but I also wanted to see what was going on with the car once Joe got out. Perhaps the camera could have pulled back a bit to show us both.
For those of us that are always suspicious of “debris cautions” they had several shots of Kenny Schrader loosing his back bumper cover and being driven over by multiple drivers. I always find it interesting to see just what caused these cautions and there was at least one caution where we were not shown the debris.
After the race they had time for plenty of interviews and the drivers were particularly honest – especially Jeremy Mayfield (no sound editing by NBC here…) and Tony Stewart. We also were kept up to date on the Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s medical condition. His in car view was frightening, so it was good to hear that he was conscious and talking.
NBC did not overwhelm us with gimmickry or technology, kept the “bubbles” to a minimum, only to show us where the lead cars were pitting. Perhaps to learn from football, the Restart Line, Pit Entrance and Exit lines could just be yellow lines. For some reason the words across the track are distracting.
Dover appeared to be a race broadcast for race fans. Of the races I have seen on TV this year, this Dover broadcast was one of the best.
Thank you again Cheryl for sharing your couch with me. Here's hoping all the drivers make it home safely after Talladega next weekend.
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