The view from my couch
Fox Broadcasts the Las Vegas Video Game
Without a doubt, this was the worst broadcast by Fox this season, and possibly the worst race broadcast in the last two years! Someone went crazy using the pointers on the cars throughout almost the entire race. This, coupled with all of the other graphics and information superimposed on the screen, turned the broadcast into something that more resembled a video game than a race broadcast. But then Fox is constantly promoting how much they've changed racing broadcasts, and try to make it come across as a good thing.
In fact this past week on the Fox Sports web site, Darrell Waltrip made the following statements: "People say, 'Well, the TV people are ruining the sport'." To me this says Waltrip and Fox are quite aware of how negatively fans feel about the excessive graphics and changes that Fox has introduced. Yet Waltrip goes on to defend these moves by saying: " We're not ruining the sport. We're enhancing it. We're making it better." My question to Fox is do they really believe this nonsense they are spouting? Speaking for myself and all of my readers and most of the people I talk to at races, the fans do not like the excessive use of graphics, such as the pointers or bubbles. I honestly had a horrible time focusing on today's race and certainly found little enjoyment in the Fox broadcast.
The Pre-Race Show
The lead-in to the show featured some racing highlights mixed in with shots of Las Vegas. It was set to the tune Paradise City by Guns and Roses, and really set the scene for the glamor of the town. This was followed up by the same old tired cliches of young guns against veterans, but, thankfully, with a new twist. This was a feature on the veteran crew chiefs, such as Jimmy Fennig and Donnie Wingo, being teamed up with young drivers such as Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. The show also had a nice feature with Las Vegas native, Busch, showing off his favorite spots in town. This included the race shop at his parent's home and some of his personal memorabilia, such as trophies and pictures of his races while growing up.
When the booth announcers came on the air, Mike Joy made a couple of statements that bothered me a bit. He said "This is the type of track that predominates this circuit," when referring to a 1.5 mile, moderately-banked tri-oval. This statement bothered me because it is like Joy is already accepting and actually promoting the loss of tracks with unique characteristics. He then went on to point out how competitive the Busch race was on Saturday and how this proves Las Vegas is a two-groove track. Well, I hate to tell Mike, but many times we see excellent racing on Saturday and a boring race on Sunday, with few passes. Yes, the Busch race was great, but don't generalize and assure us the Winston Cup race will be the same.
When the race started, it was extremely hard to focus on the racing because of the almost constant use of the GPS devices pointing at one or more cars at the same time. I think this may have been an attempt by Fox to show the racing throughout the pack. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that is why the pointers were on the screen most of the day. I can only think that since Fox and NBC spend so much time focusing on only the leaders or the drivers they perceive to be most popular, that they think the "new" fans don't know the rest of the drivers on the track. Perhaps, this is why we constantly had to have a pointer, with information telling us the driver's number, name, and seconds behind the leader. To those of us who are NOT new to the sport, this information was not only annoying clutter but downright insulting in it's frequency and redundancy. Fox would not only use the ticker across the top of the screen, the pointers showing cars and positions, but many times, we'd get other graphics, at the same time, providing information such as his hometown, favorite food and hobbies. Then at times, there was also a graphic with a picture of the driver, a template of the track and a bubble showing us where he was running in regards to the leader. And each time, this wonderful piece of information was shown, it took up 1/4 of the TV screen. Save me from the computer graphic people who are thinking up this stuff! The ultimate in insults to the race fan came sometime in the early part of the race when a squealing and spinning car came across the race track. I hate to sound stupid, but for a brief second I actually thought the 12 car was wrecking, until I figured out this monstrosity was another Fox graphic. Late in the race, I finally got a clue that this was something to do with a "secret number" for a Fox promotion. This has got to be the height of absurdity to insert into what is suppose to be racing action. At this point, I was wishing I could turn of the TV entirely and listen to the race on the radio. Unfortunately, though there is a PRN station in Maryland, it was too far away for me to pick up at home. So if I really wanted to know about the race, I was forced to watch the rest of the Fox broadcast.
Okay, on to some good things in the race. To tell the truth, with all the graphics flying around on the screen, I was able to block out the Larry and Darrell Comedy Show, for once. But seriously, the pit reporters were excellent in covering both green and yellow flag pitstops. Matt Yocum gave an excellent update on problems Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s spotter, Ty Norris, had when he accidentally knocked his radio off the proper channel. Dick Berggren had interviews with many of the drivers who dropped out of the race or were involved in accidents, such as Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, and Rusty Wallace. And speaking of Jarrett, Fox caught his displeasure with Steve Park on camera after his accident. On the other hand, I sure hope this doesn't result in another fine by NASCAR. Producer, Neil Goldberg, was on top of things all day long and quickly queued up replays of all the accidents and incidents, such as cars brushing the wall or showing us smoke from tire rubs. Larry McReynolds explained to viewers that Rusty Wallace had dropped back to 42nd at one point because his team had not gotten all the fuel in his car and he'd been forced to pit early the next stop. Jeff Hammond used the Ford Cutaway Car to show the viewers many informative illustrations during the day, such as changing spring rubbers and the repairs Busch's team were making to his radiator. Near the end of the race, the pit reporters checked in with the crew chiefs of each of the top running cars to find out their pit strategy and when they expected to make their last pit stop.
Like last week at Rockingham, DW tried to tell the viewers at home about near misses or when the racing was exciting. Unfortunately, most of the times, the viewers didn't see the action he was describing. Generally, because we were watching the in-car camera from the 15, 8, or 48 cars, even if those drivers weren't running up front or there was nothing to see in front or in back of them but empty track. More NAPA, Budweiser, and Lowes commercials. We also got at least two VISA Race Breaks, which were just commercials masquerading as race recaps. I mean, why did we need a recap after every hour of the race? Oh yes, that would be for "those of you who just tuned in."
There was a long caution after the major incident of the day involving Mike Skinner, Wallace, Gordon, Busch and others. Unfortunately, Fox completely missed the restart after this caution. With a caution this long, I find TV missing the restart to be unexcusable. They had plenty of time to load commercials during the yellow, yet had to do "just one more" and the fans missed a critical restart.
Every week, Mike Joy points out the "update" line that has been added to the ticker this season. Another concession to "those of you who just tuned in", I guess, but this week the line of information hit another low in absurdity. Many of the updates consisted of supermarket tabloid lines, such as "Jarrett and Park bump and grind" or "Waltrip waltzes past Earnhardt." And DW can say that Fox is enhancing the race coverage with a straight face? Oh yes, we also got the Virtual Crew Chief poll questions several times during this broadcast, with really insightful questions like "Can Marlin catch the brat pack?"
Someone at Fox decided that the fans want that artsy shot of the flag waving from the starter's stand, and again, viewers got to see that instead of the battles among the lead cars on restarts. At the end of the race, we also got a shot of the white flag waving and someone in the booth yelling "It's the white flag!" Unfortunately, about one second later, we see the leader, Matt Kenseth crossing the start/finish line to win the race. Not a very timely insertion of the white flag.
Lastly, I want to again return to the video game aspect I saw in the race today. During the broadcast, one of the numerous commercials was for NASCAR On-Line. After showing all those neat graphics of bubble cars going around a track that you can get at NOL, the voiceover concluded with "You'll never watch a race the same way again." Unfortunately, for the fans attempting to watch the race on TV, this is sadly true. What Fox needs to realize is that the people who want all these graphics and the game-like interpretion of the race can choose to go to NOL and purchase that package. For the rest of us who want to watch TV to see a race and have some insightful play-by-plays by the TV people seem destined to have the race turned into video game whether we want it to be or not. I can only think that if the Fox announcers didn't have the benefit of watching the race out the window from their booth and they actually had to sit through what the folks at home see, they might not think all these "enhancements" are such a good thing.
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