The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the GFS Marketplace 400
by Cheryl Lauer
August 17, 2003

This was an outstanding broadcast for the NBC/TNT team, probably their best of the 2003 season! The producer did an excellent job of commercial placement throughout the broadcast and the viewers got to see the last 30 laps of the race and post-race coverage commercial-free. This was fantastic! Frankly, I could not have asked for a whole lot more from a race broadcast. I will admit that I recorded the race and watched it when I got home from an office picnic, but it still seemed to me like the number of commercials was really down to a tolerable level this week. This was very refreshing, particularly for a TNT broadcast. Since I was not home, I skipped this week's pre-race show on my recording and jumped right into the racing action.

The Race

I thought the broadcast team of Allen Bestwick, Wally Dallenbach, Benny Parsons, Bill Weber, Matt Yocum, Marty Snider, and Dave Burns outdid themselves this week. As did producer, Sam Flood and Director, Mike Wells as well. This team just seems to get stronger and strong every week. There were really very few negative things about the broadcast. Again this week, Allen really excelled in keeping up with the varying pit strategies during the race. After the numerous pit stops during yellow, he made a concerted effort to tell the viewers which cars took two or four tires or fuel only. In the waning laps of the race, he reported on which teams topped off on fuel before the last restart. This included pointing out that Johnny Benson and Joe Nemechek had come in every lap during the caution to top off their fuel. I though this was really great information. Near the end of the race, TNT covered when all of the top running cars came in for fuel because they could not make it any further.

TNT quickly switched to the frightening wreck between Todd Bodine and Kenny Wallace and the viewers got to most of it in real time. Then there were numerous replays of the spectacular crash after we saw both drivers were out of their cars and alright. I particularly liked two replays that we got to see from the Speedy cam on the track wall. There were also replays of McMurray's wreck, the frightening hit Casey Mears took after he ran into Ricky Craven's wreck, and the collision between Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at the entrance of pit road. In addition to this, TNT covered a lot of hot and heavy racing among the cars in the top ten, including when various cars got loose or slid high on the track, such as action involving Robby Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Jimmy Spencer. There was the usual excellent coverage of pit road action by the pit reporters, including the kind of timely and interesting information that we come to expect from this top notch group.

TNT had two Through the Field segments, the first at lap 33 and included the top 10 cars. The second segment occurred near the end of the race and as Allen said would "set the field" for the ending. This was great! The pit reporters gave us the usual tidbits of information on how many cars were running plus whether they thought they could make it the rest of the way on fuel. This information was provided for the top 20 cars and then they went back and showed us where the rest of the cars on the lead lap were running. This was the kind of thing I've been asking for every week and I was so glad to see the producer showed all the way back to 28th place this week. Please keep up the good work! I know this feature requires a lot of work in gathering information about the teams by the pit reporters and their teams on pit road, but the viewers really do appreciate the hard work that goes into this feature.

All day long, we got to hear great snippets of radio communications between many drivers and their teams and the TNT announcers actually stay quiet so the viewers can hear them. This is such an improvement over the announcers on Fox. Particularly interesting conversations were heard between Kurt Busch and his crew and Jeff Gordon when he hit the killswitch on his car early in the race.

Dave Burns was on top of things and had timely interviews with many of the drivers who were involved in accidents or fell out of the race because of mechanical problems. This included Bodine and Kenny Wallace after their big wreck and Rusty Wallace after his engine blew up and engulfed his car in flames. Dave was also standing by to interview pole sitter, Bobby Labonte, after his car blew up and took him out of the race.

Wally and Benny continue to provide timely and valuable insight when speculating on the causes of mechanical or handling problems on cars. Their experience driving race cars serves them well and they continue to impress me that they focus on things happening today and not reminiscing about the "old days." This week, Benny used a cutaway engine to show what most likely happened to Rusty Wallace's car. I always find this kind of visual aid really interesting in understanding how mechanical problems actually occur.

The only negative things I could find in this broadcast were very minor indeed. The one that bothered me the most was that no one told us for many laps whether Mears was injured after he took a very hard hit into the wall. Dave did finally tell us that he was okay after he interviewed Rusty Wallace. I'd just like to know about a driver's condition as soon as possible after hard wrecks like this, even if it's just the announcers telling us that they don't have any information. At least I know that they are working on getting the viewer information when it is available. Other minor things were that the producer still used silly video highlights on the way to commercials during green flag racing. This week they included showing us the fans in the grandstands doing "the wave" before the race and sexy girls in the stands. I don't object to these videos in the least, but please save them for caution laps, not green flag racing. Lastly, I would've liked to see the complete finishing order right after the checkered flag. We did get a "pilon" of the top few drivers and this was great. But with so many drivers dropping out of the top ten to make pit stops for fuel at the end, it would have been nice to know right away how far back people like Marlin, Jarrett and Busch fell in the final order. This would have provided a nice closing to the whole picture of the race. The entire finishing order was not shown until after Ryan Newman did his obligatory doughnuts and Victory Lane Interview. As I said these are only minor complaints and in light of the outstanding job the TNT crew did with the rest of the broadcast, they really are minor.

Please keep up the great work, NBC/TNT! At this point, I can't wait for your broadcast of the Bristol Night Race next week!

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