MICHAEL KNIGHT - LOOKING BACK ON THE FIRST RACE WITH FOXSPORTS1
I could see this one coming a quarter-mile away.
NHRA’s Brave New World of self-produced TV coverage on Fox Sports is exactly one race old. And, sure enough, some “Go Back to ESPN” deep thinkers have already taken to social media to share their insights.
During NHRA’s Spring Training at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, I told Ken Adelson, NHRA’s new broadcasting and digital content vice president, and TV boothmates Dave Rieff and Tony Pedregon that I thought most fans would give them plenty of running room to develop the national event shows. After all, I reasoned, they start with a lot of goodwill considering the unhappiness with ESPN’s middle-of-the-night qualifying and SportsCenter ignoring the series.
Maybe I’ve read bossman Bobby Bennett’s “I Choose to be Optimistic” column one too many times, but I believe traditional All-American fairness demands that fans sit back and let the professionals do what must be done. I saw nothing from Pomona that makes me believe a wrecking ball is required. Some adjusting and fine-tuning, yes, absolutely.
With that firmly in mind, and as a (hard) card carrying (wearing) member of the motorsports’ punditocracy, here are my quick hit of the throttle observations:
I’m glad Dave Rieff is back. I really enjoyed Mike Dunn but I think Tony Pedregon will be fine. No, better than fine. I think Rieff could tone it down one notch and Pedregon turn it up 1 ½ clicks.
I asked both Adelson and Pedregon if Tony is free to speak his mind. I was assured he’s good to go. I sure hope so or there’s no credibility.
The duo will have a different broadcast location at every venue with eyes on the track. ESPN put Paul Page, Rieff and Dunn in a small space in a trackside production trailer, so they could only see what was on their monitors.
I’m glad a place was found for my old friend John Kernan. He knows how to report a story and it’s essential at least one of the pit people possess that journalistic skill. I don’t know Bruno Massel but I see why he was hired. Regular readers of mine know I’m not a Jamie Howe fan and it’s unfathomable to me how someone who doesn’t know how to ask a meaningful question (“What does this mean to you?” doesn’t cut it) got chosen for this assignment.
Probably the most noticeable differences were not all qualifying runs were shown and there were far fewer driver interviews. That’s what’s going to happen with a tighter, more condensed, faster-paced presentation. I’m one who thinks not every run needs replay in triple slow motion. I’m one who doesn’t think there needs to be an interview after every routine pass.
Giving the final-round winners a few minutes of cool-off time so they can be transported back to the winner’s circle threatens a loss of spontaneous emotion and honest talk. Meanwhile, we only need to hear one “congratulations from XYZ widgets” from the event sponsor’s trophy presenter.
Adelson, who serves as executive producer, invited me into the main production truck during Saturday testing at Wild Horse, which served as a rehearsal for the TV team. I had been tipped that improved graphics would be a big part of the new production philosophy and I liked what I saw then. However, as NHRA has admitted, there were some graphic glitches at Pomona. Reaction times are a flat-out MUST. The “winner” graphic sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. That’s another must have.
The virtual graphics, putting sponsor logos like Chevy and Harley-Davidson on the lanes and finish line, didn’t bother me as much as I expected. It’s the price to pay for NHRA to take on the production itself. Frankly, the angle was such that these logos weren’t the easiest to read. I expect that to change.
I think the bolder and improved “real” graphics have a big upside and the potential to be one of the best improvements over what was done in the past.
I noticed while in the truck at Wild Horse that some of the camera shots, mostly cars in the staging lanes, were tighter than I remembered on ESPN. To me, it made what was going on feel more dramatic. I actually saw a crewman’s arm muscles bulge while cleaning off the rear tires. That’s the kind of thing we want to see more often.
We gotta see more burnouts, to many, one of the most exciting elements of the show. It wouldn’t be difficult to put together a list of those who do them well, and then have Pedregon explain why it’s important and why some drivers do them more spectacularly than others.
Pedregon mentioned “data” a lot. He needs to explain to new viewers what data is being collected and how it is used to adjust performance to track conditions.
I heard “EFI” and “KB” and a few other terms used frequently without any or enough explanation. If, in fact, there are new viewers for drag racing, that's an area for improvement.
I’d love to see a Pro Stock feature with a 2015 car side-by-side with one built to this year’s rules. We are often told how difficult a PS car is to drive. OK, show us.
(One more thing, and this isn’t under NHRA’s control: How is it possible -- how does it make good business sense -- for Traxxas’ new commercial to not include Courtney Force??? !!!)
If the production isn’t operating as a finely-tuned machine come Indy, we should all be screaming. I guarantee you, I will. For now, though, I suggest we all relax.
And stay tuned.
Follow Michael Knight on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500