MICHAEL KNIGHT - A NEW SHERIFF IN TV TOWN
For the first time in 10 years there’s a different boss calling the shots on ESPN’s NHRA Mello Yello series telecasts.
His name is Steve Reintjes. He’s replaced Eric Swaringen as the on-site event producer.
First off, Reintjes, 40, wants you to know he’s a race fan. And I thought you’d want to know more about this new and hugely important presence within the straight-line sport. His ideas and decisions will shape how the races are presented to you. So I sat down with him at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park before last month’s Carquest Auto Parts Nationals.
The questions and answers have been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Question: What is your TV production background that led you to the NHRA race assignment?
Answer: I started in 2000 for ESPN and worked on a variety of sports, including the NHRA in 2006 and beginning of 2007 as a graphics producer. So 15 years of television production experience. I’ve been producing events for about eight or nine years with some bigger shows mixed in that I’ve had other roles on, like Sunday Night Baseball. I’ve been producing college football for the past 4-5 years after I left the NHRA (telecasts.)
Q: Do you consider yourself a race fan?
A: Oh, yes. I grew up in racing. My dad grew up in Indiana and was a big fan of Indy. He was, as a teenager and in his 20s in the ‘60s, a big-time Muscle Car guy so I grew up with cars. I grew up in Southern California so Pomona was a normal staple for us. I remember the first event I went to was in 1984-85 at Pomona, and we actually got to go through the hauler with John Force when he was driving a Chevrolet Corvette and we saw the old Blue Max car with (Raymond) Beadle, so I’m very familiar with NHRA in general and motorsports. In a way it’s almost like home for me to come back to racing.
Q: What will fans see different on the shows this year?
A: The big thing from my perspective, being outside the sport for a few years, is the access is unbelievable. The access that the fans get is unprecedented, especially among any professional-type sport. So I think it’s fair to say we’re going to push the access and the environment as much as we can. Push a little more the things that occur off-track as well. More of the fan experience, the live atmosphere, there’s so many things going on around the event. I think the more we can intermix that it’s going to help bridge some of the racing.
Q: There are five “live” TV races scheduled this season. Are you in favor of more? Can you produce a better show live or delayed and edited?
A: I think the more you can have a live aspect the better. That’s the environment I’m used to and feel comfortable doing. You’re reacting to the moment. If you have material you can use in instances where there are oil-downs, I don’t think that’s different from anything we would do on any live show. But to say it would be better or worse (than delayed), I don’t think that would play into it.
Q: The sore point with fans the last few seasons has been qualifying shows scheduled late at night and then getting bumped-back because of other live sports events. Is there the same potential for that to happen this season?
A: It’s hard to say. That’s more a question for programming (department).
Q: What’s the situation with ESPN3 this season?
A: I think it’s just the finals on Sunday (live Internet streaming.) You’re constantly re-evaluating the business model and, in certain instances, concessions have to be made. I don’t have much information on that.
Q: Since you are bringing fresh eyes to these events, when you look at the competition format, do you see anything that you’d say to NHRA, “Hey, could you tweak this?”
A: I think my sense, right now, is to get a couple of events in and a gauge on how the flow and the process is working. I think the more we can have interactions in the pits with the drivers during qualifying, even bridging runs, to give another perspective to some of the lesser runs in qualifying, we may try some stuff with that. It’s really me getting used to the structure and format and then bringing up ideas from there.
Q: A personal complaint of mine is I like to see racing right away. There’s plenty of time between runs for features and interviews. When I turn-on TV I want to see racing ASAP. In recent years, on U.S. Nationals race day, we saw an hour-long pre-race with features that were on the previous day’s qualifying. What’s your theory about putting racing on right away as opposed to taking time to set up the story?
A: I think the quicker you can get to the track the better. I think the viewers are tuning in to see racing. My guess is it’s going to be dependent show-to-show but I enjoy seeing racing as much as possible and the atmosphere around it as much as possible.
Q: The last few seasons there was an attempt to differentiate the qualifying shows by having the pit reporters stay in the production trailer. I hated that. Pit reporters, I believe, should be out in the pits or on the track doing reporting. Will there be any production gimmick like that to make qualifying shows different from the race shows?
A: It’s going to be a case-by-case basis. To me, the stories around the track are the most important. If there are certain races where we can be a little more creative, we will be. I enjoy the cut-and-dry aspect of racing and the fan environment and it’s important for us to translate that as much as possible.
Q: Do we have to see a “reaction shot” of Graham Rahal after every Courtney Force run? Especially since he often seems to have his back turned to the camera or is looking down into his phone screen?
A: I think we need to see anyone who can bring added perspective, whether it be Graham, or other celebrities. I think the more we can see those types and graphically identify them, so people can actually understand who they are, the better. Hopefully, we’re putting their face to the camera. I think we’ll make a concerted effort to do that. There’s going to be plenty of other celebrities around the track. It’s important for us and it adds great perspective for the fans.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like the fans to know?
A: The first thing that’s hit me about our production team is the dedication of every person. Not only as being dedicated race fans, but super-passionate about their job function, and doing things accurately and putting on the best show we can. There’s no doubt I fit into that same category. I think I’m a much bigger race fan than anyone who doesn’t know me would ever know, with my history, and my family. Our goal is to put 100 percent effort into the shows and be as accurate as we can in everything we do. We’re very passionate about this and I don’t think that can ever be understated.
Follow Michael Knight on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500