The view from my couch
SPEED Coverage of the California Truck Race
by Cheryl Lauer
February 26, 2006
The last couple of years, I have pretty much given up on hoping that the truck broadcasts would improve and so I haven't bothered to review them at all. Unfortunately, this past Friday's broadcast was so bad, I felt compelled to speak out. To begin with, why did the powers that be at SPEED feel they needed to add a third person back to the booth, either Michael Waltrip or Kenny Wallace? While both are talented drivers and can be entertaining, they have become a distraction to the viewers who enjoy watching the Truck Series. I'm assuming someone in the Fox hierarchy felt the truck broadcasts needed some "energy" injected into the broadcasts. I certainly don't agree. While Waltrip started out very serious and informative in his first few truck broadcasts last season, he's now become so frantic in his approach to the broadcast, he's become extremely nerve-wracking. In addition, whenever Wallace or Waltrip are on-board, the normally level-headed, Phil Parsons, rachets up his commentary in order to keep up with these guys. It has also become quite obvious that SPEED is not really serious in covering the Truck Series, by the ridiculous amount of commercial breaks they take during every broadcast! But what really frustrated me during this broadcast was that at least three times the director missed a pass for the lead! I mean, it wasn't a very eventful or competitive race to begin with, but when there actually was a pass for the lead, SPEED was either showing one of their favorites elsewhere in the pack or were away at commercial.
Another thing that is annoying is that the truck broadcasts on SPEED have pretty much become nothing but a commercial for Toyota ever since they entered the series a couple years ago. Not only do they sponsor many of the commercials that inundate us during the broadcasts, but the announcers spend an inordinate amount of time telling us where the drivers in that brand of truck are running. Now we have a driver whose family is closely linked with Toyota blatantly hawking the brand from the booth. After Waltrip's brother's driver, David Reutiman, lost the lead, Michael continued to gush about him throughout most of the broadcast. I understand that the Fox networks see nothing wrong with nepotism from their commentators; but it really does get tiring to sit through a two-hour commercial including personal testimonials by announcers when we expect the broadcast team to be more objective. Oh yes, that's right, Fox doesn't really seem to care about objectivity. Michael Waltrip is a very intelligent and articulate guy, and does provide some great insights from time to time. It's just hard to get past his constant shilling for sponsors and partisan commentary much of the time.
Not to be entirely negative, I really do want to compliment, Rick Allen, for the improvements I've seen from him in the booth so far this season. I know I've been hard on him in the past. I really applaud him for attempting to keep Michael focused on the actual race during the last two weeks. At times, Allen's frustration with Waltrip seems apparent and I admire him for trying to keep the booth focused on the race rather than the free pass now being brought to us by one of Waltrip's personal race sponsors.
I also really like the addition of Krista Voda as one of the pit reporters for Truck Series broadcasts. She is knowledgeable about the series and drivers and very poised and professional in her coverage. Her transition from feature reporter with SPEED to the demanding job as pit reporter has been seemless. She also always projects a genuine enthusiasm for the sport without going over the top. Ray Dunlap continues doing his usual excellent job as pit reporter as well. I understand it's probably a condition of employment, but I cringe every time I see him do one of those Craftsman Tool Tips for the series sponsor. Thankfully, at least this week, the product he was demonstrating was racing related.
Now let's talk about commercials. I don't have a count of how much of the actual race SPEED showed, but based on previous years, I'm sure it was probably just over half, which is just absurd! In addition, it seemed like SPEED only showed commercials for 4-5 different products. Each and every break included one of those stupid Darrell Waltrip commercials, so the feeling that you are just watching an infomercial for Toyota really begins to set in after a while. In addition, SPEED broke away from the race, even in the waning laps, for more commercials. I guess I'm glad that I got so bored with the commercials that I just went to bed and set my Tivo to record. That way, I could watch the remainder of the race in about 30 minutes Saturday morning by fast-forwarding through all the breaks. Thanks SPEED! You've now succeeded in making me not even care if I watch your broadcasts live anymore. What passes for coverage is so frustrating for this viewer that I don't even care to stay up to see the finish anymore. Something I'd never have believed I could do just a few years ago. That's doing a real service for your advertisers, isn't it? But thank God for Tivo!
In general, the SPEED production team showed good replays of all the incidents or near-misses on the track or in the pits, but as I said before the director didn't seem to be quick enough to switch the shot if a lead change occurred. This is really an unforgiveable weakness in my opinion. But the worst thing that happened all night was when there was a caution when SPEED came back from one of their many commercials. The viewers could immediately see the field was slow and under caution around lap 72. But instead of even mentioning this, the producer showed a recap of an earlier incident where Todd Bodine jumped the restart. This was actually just another sponsored bit (the "Out of the Blue Moment"), so served as yet another commercial for an advertiser that we'd also seen repeatedly all night long. Next, we saw pit stops under caution and then Rick told us they'd get another break in before the race got back underway. In this instance, the SPEED team NEVER even explained why the field was under caution at all! Pretty much, it seemed as if they felt like the viewers knowing wasn't important. Obviously not as important as getting in more commercials. It's things like this that make race fans wonder if "TV timeouts" have really now arrived in racing. If not, the SPEED production team certainly gave the impression in this instance.
Overall, I thought this was a really poor excuse for a race broadcast. SPEED needs to look critically at what they are trying to achieve, because sometimes it just seems like these broadcasts are nothing more than a highlight show sandwiched between lots of commercials. And, I think that is a disservice to the folks on the broadcast team who are obviously trying to do a better job than the final product shows. An more importantly, it's a real disservice to the viewers!
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