The view from my couch

Speed Coverage of the Easycare 200 Truck Race
by Cheryl Lauer
March 14, 2004

The Speed broadcast team did a very good job on this broadcast. Unfortunately, the number of commercials detracted from the good job done by the announcers and pit reporters. The network executives require so many commercials in order to bring us racing on the Speed Channel that it creates a real injustice to their broadcast team's efforts, not to mention the lack of continuity and frustration it brings to their viewers.

Pre-Race Show

The producers at the Speed Channel came up with a really cute lead-in to the broadcast. This involved an actor pretending to be the flagman for the truck series. He had a humorous discussion of the drivers and the action in the race at Daytona and included highlights of that race. This was a great lead-in feature similar to some we saw for the truck series broadcasts last year.

I understand that the Toyota trucks swept the pole and lot of the top positions in qualifying, but there seemed to be just a little too much hoopla about them all day long, beginning with the pre-race show. But I will admit to not being objective to the introduction of foreign manufacturers into NASCAR.

Speed made several changes in their broadcast crew during the off-season and so far, I feel they are all positive moves. Wendy Norris has joined Ray Dunlap in covering pit road this season. She seems to be a wonderful addition to the Speed team. While she seems just a bit tentative in her delivery, it is clear that she is knowledgeable about the sport and, to me, this makes up for any lack of experience in reporting. I'm sure she will grow more comfortable in her role and improve with more races under her belt. As to the booth announcers, Speed made the choice to stay with Phil Parsons, which is a vast improvement over last year's Barry Dodson. They added Cup driver, Michael Waltrip, in place of Dorsey Shroeder. Now, I'm not a big fan of having Cup connections in the Busch or Truck Series; however, Waltrip has stepped in and done a wonderful job so far. He and Parsons seem to have developed an immediate chemistry and have done an excellent job of creating an informative and relevant dialog between them. The weak link on the Speed broadcast team remains, Rick Allen, the anchor of the booth team. Despite having a year under his belt, he still seems overwhelmed by his task and the amount of information he's receiving in the booth. As in 2003, there are times when he doesn't seem to know what is actually occurring on the track.

The pre-race show included a very nice feature on Daytona winner, Carl Edwards, with taped footage describing his early racing career and family support. Speed followed this up with a live interview of Edwards with Ray. Speed included the usual "Race Analysis" graphic including a description of the track, length of the race, and expected pit window for the teams. To this, Phil added that he'd heard there was a real disparity on projected pit windows between teams, because of expected differences in fuel mileage. This was an excellent point that we saw during the race. The pre-race show ended with a complete rundown of the starting grid by the announcers. Something I feel is critical to the new as well as veteran viewer's background and enjoyment of the race (and something that is now missing from the Fox broadcasts).

The Race

My only real complaint about Michael Waltrip all day long involved the start of the race. I found it quite disturbing that I've only heard him mock his brother's silly "boogity" phrase at the start of Cup races, yet he spouted off something like "She-bang, she-bang, she-bang" at the start of the truck race. I can only speculate that someone at the Fox networks (who own the Speed Channel) instructed him to come up with his own "cute" phrase to start the race. Why do they continue to try and turn every race into a kid's show with things like this?

Thankfully, after this Michael settled down and provided mature and professional insights into the racing we were seeing. His first observation was how difficult it is to complete a pass on the inside when the vehicle you are trying to pass is running up high. He explained that the Atlanta track has more grip up top, so that the driver running up there has the advantage, unlike most other tracks.

The Speed team did an excellent job of covering a lot of trucks throughout the field. On lap 4, they showed Steve Park and pointed out how many positions he had gained. The producer quickly cut away from this so that we could see the first pass for the lead of the day.

Unfortunately, Speed cut away at lap 9 for their first (of many) commercial of the day. When they returned at lap 15, we saw David Starr on pit road and Ray told us that his truck had broken. The producer then used picture-in-picture to also show us the leader, Bobby Hamilton, while showing Star's pit stop. Rick told us that NASCAR was looking at Jack Sprague's window net because it appeared to be loose, and that there was a possibility of the driver being blackflagged so that he could come in and repair it. Michael initiated a discussion about whether Sprague's team would take the opportunity to change tires as well. Phil jumped in and explained that they couldn't afford to since the trucks were given only four sets of tires this weekend to last them through practice, qualifying, and the entire race. Michael also pointed out that the trucks had already slowed down close to a second during the first few laps of the race. This is the kind of timely and relevant information the viewers were treated to all day long.

Unfortunately, there seemed to be a total lack of coordination between the production truck and the announcers when Speed played radio communications between the drivers and their crews. Almost every time this happened throughout the day, the announcers or pit reporters talked over the radio clips. The producer needs to alert the team that he's going to play the communications, so they know to be quiet.

At lap 20, Rick pointed out that Ted Musgrave had moved up to 7th position from 25th. The camera showed Rick Crawford and Phil told us that he had moved into the top 20 after having to start at the back of the field. Michael mentioned that Cup driver, Ken Schrader, seemed to be falling back all of the sudden.

After only showing the viewers about 8 laps, Speed broke for their second commercial at lap 23. When they returned, they did show us a replay of Joey Clanton sliding into Hamilton, as he was trying to lap Clanton. Since Hamilton seemed to be setting a very fast pace, I kept wondering beginning at lap 30 what the interval was between him and the 2nd place truck. Instead Rick spent time telling us that Hamilton bought his crew lunch after the Daytona race. This is the kind of silly human-interest stuff that should not take the place of information relevant to the race we are watching. After continuing to point out that Hamilton was "running away from the field," finally at lap 36, Rick told us that the interval back to 2nd was 2 1/2 seconds.

Speed did a good job of covering the early green-flag pit stops beginning with Jon Wood. When he returned to the track, Phil pointed out that his truck didn't seem to be up to speed because he should have been able to blow past the trucks he was running with because of new tires.

At lap 37, Speed broke again for commercial and returned to show the leader, Hamilton, making his pit stop. The announcers pointed out the debris on the air intake on Hamilton's truck and Ray said that he had been reporting high water temperatures because of it. Michael pointed out that the leader pitting would force the hand of the trucks remaining on the track, because he would gain so much on new tires. Rick just kept right on talking about Hamilton's pit stop even though the camera was showing a terrible wreck taking place on the track. Now I know the guys in the booth have to have monitors, so even if Rick wasn't looking out the window at the track, he surely should have seen the wreck on a monitor. I find it inexcusable that he kept on talking about Hamilton's pit stop, as did Michael for a moment or so. I also understand that it was a violent wreck and maybe the producers didn't want to show replays immediately, but I found them using this opportunity to go to [yet another] commercial in very poor taste. I think it should have been more important to stick around and give us updates on the drivers involved.

Thankfully when Speed returned, they began to provide some information. Unfortunately, Rick seemed tongue-tied and said the safety workers "were attesting to Hank Parker..." Michael jumped in and corrected him, saying they were "attending" to him. Finally, we got to see some replays as to how things transpired. Phil immediately pointed out that it appeared Crawford had peeked out from behind Dennis Setzer to pass and didn't see Tina Gordon sliding up the track after spinning. Phil also said it looked like Crawford's throttle stuck after he hit the outside wall. These were excellent observations that served to give some good insight into what appeared to have caused the accident.

The announcers told us that NASCAR was throwing the red flag and then Speed went to commercial again, as Rick said they'd give us an update on the condition of "the participants in the caution" when they returned. Huh? I realize racing is not Rick's background, but again, I'd think after a year of covering it, he'd understand the terminology a bit better by now.

After they returned from commercial, Speed showed a lot of good replays of the accident, including one that was in slow-motion and was excellent. They also told us that Gordon and Crawford were out of their cars and seemed to be okay. They showed pit stops, including a replay of Travis Kvapil clipping Setzer as he exited his pit box. Phil pointed out that the caution came out 2 laps after Hamilton pitted. Ray followed up by speaking to Hamilton's crew chief who thought that his driver would probably be placed on the tailend of the lead lap.

Right before the race restarted, the Speed team pointed out that in fact this was the case as Hamilton was lined up in front of new leader, Mike Skinner. After the restart, Speed stayed with the action up front, showing Hamilton first staying ahead of Skinner, then getting lapped, and finally getting back past him and driving away from Skinner. Rick told us that, including Hamilton, there were now only 12 trucks on the lead lap.

After returning from commercial at lap 69, Rick told us that David Reutimann in 2nd place was catching Skinner. Michael drew our attention to the fact that Reutimann gained so much in corners and Phil pointed out that Skinner pulled away on the straightaway. This is an excellent example of how well Phil and Michael interact as a team.

Wendy Norris had an interview with NASCAR's Director of Communications, who told us that all three drivers injured in the wreck had been transported to the Atlanta Medical Center, Parker by helicopter and Crawford and Gordon by ambulance. He assured us that all three were awake and alert though.

Speed continued to update us on drivers throughout the field, by updating us on an equalized tire on Terry Cook's truck and showing Frank Kimmel pulling his truck to the garage. They also showed a replay of Hamilton getting sideways while trying to stay in front of Skinner.

In between the announcers talking over it, we were actually able to hear Skinner's radio when his spotter told him there was debris on the track. Speed quickly showed Joey Clanton's truck up against the wall. Unfortunately, there was never a replay of how his accident actually happened. Michael told us that Schrader would be the recipient of the free pass during this caution. This time, Speed covered pit stops before going to commercial and this was excellent. Phil told us that Musgrave was now being shown on the lead lap and he wondered that NASCAR had been showing him a lap down earlier.

My frustration level on the frequency of commercials rose to a boiling point during this caution when Speed came back from one break only to show a graphic for their Martinsville broadcast next month and remind us that Darrell Waltrip would be in that race. Why even pretend to return to the telecast when all you showed was more commercials for your next broadcast and promoting a run by a Fox announcer?

When they next returned, I was just asking out loud why the caution was so lengthy when Michael must of read my mind and explained that NASCAR was blowing the debris off the track in turns 1 and 2. Wendy told us that Steve Park's team was assessed a penalty because their jack man fell over the pit wall before the truck came into their stall. This was a bit confusing, but I eventually understood what she was trying to explain. Ray reported that Hamilton asked his team to fill his gas tank as he liked the feel a full load of fuel gave his truck; whereas Carl Edwards liked the feel the minimum amount of gas gave his truck. This was an excellent comparison.

After the restart, Rick was talking about how Skinner and Hamilton might lead the same amount of laps and asking who would be awarded most laps in that case. Thankfully, Michael stepped in and said "let's worry about that when it happens" since the racing was becoming intense. I have to applaud Michael for returning the focus to the race. This is the type of thing we need to see more on the Fox Cup broadcasts.

Unfortunately, the producer was required to fit even more commercials into the broadcast and with only 23 laps left in the race and a lot of action going on, Speed broke for commercial again. When they returned, there were billboards covering the track including a stupid spinning Toyota truck going across the screen. This kind of thing is particularly annoying to a viewer in the waning laps of a good race. Speed only stayed with the race for less than a lap and then went away for another 4 laps for more commercials. My frustration level was overflowing by this time, with only 18 laps to go in the race! Ah yes, they also managed to show DW talking on a Nextel walkie-talkie as they went away to a [surprise, surprise} Nextel commercial.

When Speed returned, the race was under caution and we saw Wayne Edwards spinning via replay. Speed did redeem themselves a bit by showing a lot of good replays including one from Schrader's in-car camera. Michael also took the opportunity to speak with Schrader via his radio concerning his view of the wreck and this proved amusing. Speed conveniently did not show the viewers how many laps they had lost to commercials until lap 12. They did show Musgrave and Setzer taking this opportunity to pit though.

Just before the restart, Phil pointed out that it would be a single-file restart because there were less than 10 laps to go. When the last caution came out, there were good replays of Robert Huffman hitting Park to bring out the yellow. They also showed Huffman getting out of his truck and appearing to be okay. Wendy talked to Skinner's crew chief and Ray talked to Hamilton's crew chief about their views on who was going to win.

Speed caught Skinner trying to pass Hamilton and cutting it so close he almost wrecked. There were also some good replays of this incident as well. Ray pointed out that Skinner had won a lot of truck series events in the past, but had yet to win on a 1 1/2 mile track. Speed appropriately kept the cameras focused on Hamilton and Skinner after the green/white/checker restart. They caught every moment of their battle to the line and Skinner spinning at the end of the race.

After they interviewed the winner, Hamilton, and second-place, Skinner, I found it quite odd that they would do a "Toyota Spotlight" since that make of truck did not win the race. But then, I remembered that the car company has obviously bought a lot of advertising time on the Speed Channel. Before they went off the air, Speed showed the finishing order and the Truck Series Points.

Other than Rick Allen, it seemed obvious that the Speed team did a ton of homework before and during the race. The production team made sure the announcers had timely and relevant facts at their fingertips at all times and the racing background of Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip brought unique and excellent insights to the broadcast. If the Speed Channel could just manage to show us the exciting racing in the Craftsman Truck Series without such a ridiculous amount of commercials in the future, that would be nice.

If you are interested in rating this race or just discussing the coverage of it by the Speed Channel, please check out the new Speedcouch Fan Forum at www.SpeedCouch.com/forum! Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the Easy Care 200 coverage.

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