Yes, I have promised to start writing again in the past, and I am going to do it again. Maybe I will actually keep my promise this time. Life for me has gone through many changes since I was getting 10-20 articles a month here, some for the better and some not so much for the better.
Ideas for articles are always floating around in my head. Some of the ideas are the best ever written, but they never seem to get flushed out of the cerebral spheres to the digital media. That is a pattern that has to change for the better. There is too much pent up frustration in keeping good articles about racing in my head.
Tonight, my favorite racing news show, Wind Tunnel had a special episode for the week of the NASCAR All-Star race. The Jarretts, Ned and Dale, were special guests. They had the usual questions about their careers, and Dale’s impending last race of his career. But the thing that got my attention was the comment about Ned’s broadcasting with ESPN. Dave Despain said that the years of Ned, Benny Parsons, and Bob Jenkins were thought by most of the hardcore racing fans to be the best broadcasts ever done for a race.
This comment made me start thinking. I had always felt that way, but why? In prior years there had been teams that were usually made up of an “expert” and a couple of professional broadcasters. What was better about Ned, Benny, and Bob? The thing I liked about it was the fact that they realized this was a “series”. Prior to the ESPN years of the ’80’s and ’90’s racing was occasionally covered on mixed in with figure skating on ABC’s Wide World or Sports. The sport had to be “sold” to fans of stick and ball sports. That meant that every race had to have a presentation of the art of drafting, the examination of pit crew members jobs, and more crashes in the tape delay post production than laps of good racing. Saying it simply, we were being treated as 5 year olds every race.
With the growth of cable TV in the early days, the creation of 24 hour sports networks, and dedicated sports fans all came together to make the most of a special opportunity. Racing was an easy fit in that many of the races could be cheaply covered, and sponsor opportunities were everywhere. The influx of money gave the production team the opportunities to develop new ideas with moving scoring, in-car cameras at all angles, and reporters that were participants in the race.
Soon rather than coverage of 3-5 races a year, we had coverage of every race, live flag to flag. Instead of targeting a baseball fan, that only knew how to put gas in his/her daily commuter, now the broadcast was aimed at people who watched from week to week. The fans now knew all of drivers, they knew how drafting worked at Daytona and Talladega, and they were tired of being treated like 5 year olds. The broadcast team now could target a true fan for a change. They could discuss one car being stronger in the middle of a turn, and another being better at corner entry. They could handle discussions of camber and caster angles at Charlotte being different than Pocono. The fans could be treated like RACING fans.
The other big factor was the fact that the costs involved with the coverage were still fairly low. There were relatively few commercials. We got to watch racing… not graphics shows, constant repeats of the “best parts”. It was just good simple racing coverage. Just what the doctor ordered.
Today, the broadcast seems to be aimed more at entertainment, which honestly the racing has been geared more in that direction as well. The graphics and cyber replays are nice, but the true fan would probably rather see the battle going on for 14th place than an analysis of if Dale Jr. moved down or Kyle Bush moved up. The true racing fan appreciates what the sponsors had given then free of charge (at least directly) but there are as many commercials in a hundred laps now as there were in the whole race back then.
Thanks for what you gave us Ned, Benny, and Bob. It was something we will never see again.