The view from my couch

Fox Coverage of the Dodge/Savemart 350

by Cheryl Lauer
June 23, 2003

Overall, Fox did a good job on their last Winston Cup broadcast of the year. I noticed they put a lot of effort into showing or at least telling us about all the incidents during the day (and there sure were a lot of them to cover). I did notice a lot of commercials in the middle until near the end of the race, but we did get to see the last 12 laps of the race commercial-free, so I guess that was the trade-off. There seemed to be a lot of useless pointers during this broadcast, but I guess that army of graphics folks at Fox had to get one last chance to use all their toys.

Pre-Race Show

I didn't catch the first minute of the pre-race show, so when I tuned in Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were in control of the Hollywood Hotel. I'm not sure how that all was introduced, but their comments and mocking of the Fox crew was the highlight of the pre-race show.

The next segment looked like the Fox crew was having a picnic on the grass. I'm not sure what kind of effect they were going for here, but it seemed kind of silly to me. Each of the announcers got a chair and the pit reporters were relegated to a blanket on the ground. Each made some comments about the season so far and the best comments came from Mike Joy who spoke of the increased safety in the cars that helped save Jerry Nadeau and prevent serious injuries to Jeff Green and Brett Bodine. Darrell Waltrip's comments struck me as lame and too politically correct, saying he was a "traditionist, but you can't let that get in your way." Obviously the TV networks are driving things like the dropping of races from the Carolinas, so I think DW might have just saved his breath. To me, his comments smacked of talking out of both sides of his mouth, claiming he's loyal to traditions and then supporting the networks on the other hand. He probably would have come across better if he'd simply chosen another subject on which to comment.

Other highlights of the pre-race show were Chris Meyers' faux pas when he welcomed us to the Hollywood "Hell" instead of "Hotel." This was hilarious and probably not too far from non-racing enthusiast, Meyers' view of his duties on the Winston Cup broadcasts. Next Fox showed the same stupid graphic of "Famous Borises" that they had on their Happy Hour Show. Where do these people think of this stuff?

During the pre-race, Fox seemed to be suffering from some severe sound problems. When they went to the tape of the Nextel announcement, the sound got real loud, then it went real low afterwards, with a loss of most of the stereo signals. When they went to a montage tape on the way to commercial, the full sound finally returned. I checked this on both my OTA Fox channel and one off the satellite, so the problems seemed to originate at the network or at Sears Point itself.

As the race was going to green, Fox had to get one last chance at self-promotion by featuring all the fans with BBB signs in the stands. When will they realize that people will put anything on a sign to get on TV? Thank goodness, I will no longer have to mute my TV at the start of the race after this week.

The Race

From the drop of the green flag, it was obvious that the Fox production team had worked hard to set up some great camera angles on the challenging road course. I saw many cameras on cranes and in strategic places like the one of the styrofoam blocks sticking out off turn 6 or 7. A lot of the shots also really provided the viewers a feel for the drastic elevation changes on the track. The camera views were great all day long!

Fox missed the first pass for the lead in the race. Yes, I want to see more racing in the back, but somebody had to notice Robby Gordon catching up to Boris Said. I just find it hard to believe that with all those cameras, Fox couldn't show us how Gordon setup the pass. Instead we got a replay of the pass.

Mike Joy explained that the wall coming out of turn 6 or 7 might look like concrete, but that it was, in fact, styrofoam. This was good to know since drivers cut really close to it all day, and Robby Gordon actually hit it late in the race.

Next, we got to see a replay of Bobby Labonte's first spin of the day and Larry McReynolds followed up by telling the viewers that he'd dropped from 17th to 30th position because of it. Larry appeared to be suffering from laryngitis, but was able to hang in there throughout the entire broadcast. Fox was also able to catch Ron Fellows passing Said to take second position.

I noticed early in the race and occasionally during the day, that the production truck played team communications while the announcers were still talking. This happened with communications from Said in the 01 when DW was still talking and Larry with radio clips from Elliott Salder's team. As the race progressed, this got a little better. Late in the race when we heard some communications from Matt Kenseth to his team, I had to wonder why the production truck did not mute the external noises, because the track announcer was so loud, it was hard to hear what Matt was saying.

The pit reporters were on top of a lot of stories as usual. One included Matt Yocum explaining that Ricky Rudd had broken his shifter knob. Unfortunately, there was so much going on later in the race, we never heard what his team did to remedy Rudd's situation. During a "race break," Jeff Hammond explained that Tony Raines had cut a tire and Fox went back and showed us a replay of when he spun off course and caused the tire problem. It would've been nice to see this in real time, but I guess nothing gets in the way of of showing a sponsored recap of the race after only 23 laps. Fox has to cater to those who only tune into the race for a few minutes and then go on to something else. Larry followed up on Raines' problem, by explaining that the tires don't have an inner liner at this track. Next Steve Byrnes reported that Scott Pruett had complained to his crew that he couldn't see out of his rearview mirror. Matt also told us that Fellows was having a problem getting his transmission in and out of gear.

There were good replays from some of the in-car cameras when drivers spun out, such as Dale Jarrett. DW followed this up by pointing out that his car had wheel-hopped and that caused the spin. There was a good view from the suspension cam on one car and Larry pointed out the soft springs that the teams use on a road course.

During the first round of pit stops, Darrell and someone else went on and on about how everything was backward on this track, including the side the crews pitted the cars. This is true at Watkins Glen, but not at Sear Point. Eventually, Mike corrected this mistake and pointed out that the teams were still approaching the cars from the left side here as they do on a normal track. Larry brought up some news that I had not heard before; that there would be a rule change starting at Chicago in a few weeks, where the teams could no longer throw the empty gas cans over the wall during pit stops.

During pit stops, Fox was showing Jeff Gordon and Boris Said racing off of pit road, and abrupty the shot changed to an in-car view from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and then back to the other shot. I guess Budweiser wasn't getting enough camera time.

A camera caught Kenseth losing the tread of his tire as he entered pit road and Dick Breggren explained that he'd just heard him telling his crew that he thought he had a tire going down. During the ensuing caution, Fox showed where the pavement was coming up in one corner of the track. At this time, the viewers at home got to be treated to a silly montage from last season of the Fox crew supposedly indulging in the local pleasures of Sonoma Valley, including them toasting with wine and Jeff Hammond in a stupid make-up mask. Wasn't this bad enough last season? Did we have to see it again during Happy Hour on Saturday and again on Sunday?

There was an outstanding Crank It Up on the restart at lap 39. Fox used a variety of views and sounds this time, rather than the usual stationary shots. Great improvement! And great sound from around the track all day long too. Right after the restart, Dick reported on a problem with the fuel pick-up on Ward Burton's car and Larry pointed out that this was a real challenge because of the right and left turns on a road course.

It was around this time that I noticed an increase in the commercials during the broadcast. When Fox returned from one, we got to see a replay of some contact between Kurt Busch and Rusty Wallace. When Hideo Fukyama ran off the track, Fox used the computer graphic of the track and Mike circled turn 7 to show where he ran off. This was very good. Larry told us that he'd broken a driveshaft, but this must have been wrong, because he returned to the track soon afterward to spin out a few more times during the day. When Fox returned from commercial, Mike updated us on who chose to pit during this caution.

We got to hear some crew communications between Rusty Wallace and his crew where he said he smelled brake fluid. Next, there was a replay of a driver being spun by Kenny Wallace on lap 55 and Joe Nemechek going off course.

When the most exciting move of the race occurred, Fox was right there and the viewers got to see Kevin Harvick trying to pass Robby Gordon for the lead, only to have them both passed by Fellows. There were also a lot of great replays from different angles of the pass. Next we got to see several good replays of the wreck involving Sadler, Petty, Sprague and Park. I was disappointed that DW felt the need to jump in and start making alibis for Kyle Petty. He really needs to let go of his bias towards certain drivers. There were also good replays of the incident where Kyle hit Jamie McMurray and pushed him into Mark Martin. After this, there was an in-car camera shot from a car and Fox never identified which car. Next there were several cars spinning and the initial comments from Fox seemed to only involve how this affected the 8 car. Eventually, there were a lot of good replays showing how the incident occurred between Rusty Wallace and Jeff Burton. Why does Fox only seem to worry about the 8 car when something like this happens? Next we got to see Earnhardt's pit stop and Fox told us the other cars that pitted at the same time.

There was good coverage of the big wreck caused by Busch, R. Wallace, and J. Burton trying to go three-wide into a turn. Fox covered the pit stops of Harvick and Robby Gordon at 44 laps to go, and then Jeff Gordon's pit stop not too long afterwards. As Fox went to commercial, Mike told us that Fellows had a 5 second lead on the field. Unfortunately, when they returned from break, there was a caution on the track. Fox had a graphic on the screen of the top five drivers, but it was obviously wrong since Mike told us that the first two had pitted and Johnny Benson was now leading the race. Why put a graphic up if the information was already outdated?

During the race, Jeff and Chris make a trek around the course and the viewers got to see some different views of the track from on a hillside and elsewhere, courtesy of a mobile camera. During this caution, they took the camera into the production trailer. This was a nice touch for the last race on Fox. The viewers got to see Producer, Neil Goldberg; Director, Artie Kempner; and Pit Producer, Pam Miller; as well as a lot of the other folks behind the scenes who bring the broadcast to life. This was great!

Before the restart, Dick reported that Ward Burton had been suffering from vapor lock and had an interview with his crew chief, Frank Stoddard, who said that they'd changed the carburetor on the 22 car. Larry told us that Nemechek was on the tail end of the lead lap on the resart. At lap 75, Mike pointed out that Fellows was 8.6 seconds behind the leader. Matt told us that Benson was a few laps short of making it the rest of the way on fuel.

A few laps after the restart, Fox covered Scott Pruett's unscheduled pit stop to correct his transmission being stuck in gear. Next, we saw a replay of Havick bashing his way past Elliott for position. Then a graphic showing the interval between Benson and Robby Gordon, who was moving back up through the field. The announcers pointed out that the cars slowed down as low as 35 mph going into turn 11 and then got as fast as 120 on one of the straightaways. At this time, it seemed like the guys in the production truck seem to go into tech overload as we were next treated to Mark Martin's footcam for a few laps. All the while, we missed Rusty getting past Nemechek and Robby Gordon passing them both to take second position. Next thing we saw, he was up to the back of Bensen challenging for the lead. This is the kind of stuff I want to see, how all that happened not the same old "foot cam on a road course" that we see every year.

The commercial breaks seemed to really accelerate around 6:30 p.m. We came back from one to show the Pepsi Fan Cam, which is really just another commercial. Oh boy! Just what I wanted to see when the action was heating up and there were only 28 laps left in the race.

Fox provided some good scanner chatter from Richard Childress to Robby Gordon, where he told him not to tear up his race car. Next we got the obligatory "Michael sure is running well" comment from you know who.

Finally, the production truck seemed to get back on track and provided some good coverage of spins by Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton, Casey Mears spinning Tony Raines, and Jeremy Mayfield hitting Fellows. Maybe these drivers were were just trying for a little TV time.

Fox showed the pit stops during the last caution, but then didn't get back from commercial in time to get the restart with 20 to go. As usual, I find this inexcusable. Plus, the fact, we were assured they'd "just gone back to green" when the leaders were already approaching turn 11. Does Fox really believe the viewers are this blind or do they just think we are this stupid? Fox broke away again for a commercial with 15 laps left and returned with 12 laps to go, with Mike telling us that they'd be commercial-free until the end of the race. At this point, I was happy for whatever Fox gave us.

There were numerous spins and off-track excursions during the waning laps and Fox did a very good job giving us replays of most of them, however, I was very disappointed that no one ever told us exactly what happened to Dale Jarrett. They showed him off the track, but no one ever followed up on that. I guess a Winston Cup Champion from just a couple of years ago just isn't important to Fox.

At the end of the race, Fox stayed with the coverage to show us Gordon's victory celebration and his interview, as well as interviews with the 2nd and 4th place drivers before going to commercial. When they returned, Mike went through the annual "passing of the baton" to Allen Bestwick of NBC. Then we got what were obviously pre-planned closing remarks from the Fox folks about Kenseth and Earnhardt in the heat of the championship chase. I guess they hadn't noticed that after his second-place finish, Jeff Gordon had moved to second in the points. I also really didn't appreciate Fox using footage of all of Ryan Newman's wrecks this year as their version of highlights from the first part of the season. But I guess the Executive Producers at Fox can't miss an opportunity to sensationize something, even on their way out. Thankfully, they signed off to an appropriate song, The Load Out by Bob Seger, as they gave ran the credits for all the technical folks behind the scenes.

Well, we're on to NBC in a couple of weeks. Let's hope they've lost such gems like The Golden Benny and those bubbleheads they used last year. I'm sure I'll eventually find something to complain about with NBC, but right now, I'm just looking forward to a little respite from all the hype and sensationalizm associated with Fox, as well as the constant chatter from their booth crew. Some fans say the NBC folks are boring, but right now, I can use a nice dose of sanity after four months of Fox.

One last question that I pondered during the numerous and annoying Cingular Virtual Crew Chief questions during this broadcast: Will Nextel forbid Fox to air any of those stupid questions from Cingular next season, or will they substitute their own commercials disguised as questions?

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