A For F O X
June 23, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Ratings have been up more than 20 percent across the board, and even some fans have been warm to the coverage.
It hasn't been perfect, of course, but the network has built a great foundation from which to build on in future years.
It was the same strategy FOX used when it began airing the NFL. Take the core telecasts, tweak them a bit, but don't go crazy and alienate those fans used to watching the sport on another channel. Instead, wait a season or two before making any drastic changes.
Overall, the network did fairly well.
In the booth, FOX may have assembled a near perfect team. Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds, fresh from their own racing careers in the car and out, brought believable insights to the coverage.
The two were able to jump in at any point - often offering differing sides of a situation - resulting in a mental image that hit home. Waltrip and McReynolds took the fans into the action, specifically because viewers knew the two men were experts on exactly what they were talking about.
In the past, many announcers had been out of the sport for years; meaning that in most cases, their experiences with the cars were somewhat skewed from reality.
Waltrip's interview and interaction with Dale Earnhardt during a practice session at Daytona in February still stands as one of the best during a racing telecast.
His handling of the Daytona 500, though bordering on silly at times near the end, was emotionally charged and moving.
That said, Waltrip could certainly tone down the goofiness in the booth. During one race, when a car lost a wheel, Waltrip chimed in, "You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel." If that were the only example, or even just one of a few, it wouldn’t be so bad.
He also occasionally likes to rely on misconstrued, or abominations, of words, which, sometimes work and other times fall flat.
"I like to think there's an audience out there that has a good sense of humor like I do," Waltrip said earlier this week. "Hopefully the people will realize it's all in fun, it's all in jest."
McReynolds, like Waltrip, often delivered keen insights, from a crew chief's perspective. At times, he seemed to be one-step ahead of the others, able to project pit schedules, strategies and offer his own opinion on what a crew chief might be thinking.
On the downside, McReynolds, as noted by some critics, has a, well, unique use of the language. Sure, at times such usage can be jarring, but coming from McReynolds it was fun, and part of his personality.
"After the first few broadcasts, it was certainly brought to my attention. It was probably something I needed to work on," McReynolds admitted. "Do I want to lose every bit of it? Unless (FOX Sports Chairman) David Hill tells me I need to do it, no.”
Both men, however, improved their performances as the season wore on.
And Mike Joy, as always, served as the anchor of the broadcast, a centerline, if you will, to keep both Waltrip and McReynolds moving in the right direction.
Joy characteristically knew when to turn to either McReynolds or Waltrip for insight into a situation, often serving up perfect pitches for them to hit out of the park.
"From the booth's perspective, obviously we have the chemistry it takes to be a good broadcast," Waltrip said. "If we were good this year, I know we'll be better next year. We never want to be slick. I hate slick."
Not so strong, however, was FOX's infield studio booth, which didn't work all that well. Chris Meyer never really seems at home on the track, and the chemistry between he and Jeff Hammond, wasn't solid.
Likewise, keeping the infield studio going during the telecast didn't help. Occasionally, Hammond would jump in during a race telecast and the extra voice was confusing.
That said, there should be a place on the telecast for Hammond. Face it, he was Waltrip's crew chief and friend for years. Several times throughout the season, the two men spoke on air, explaining a situation from both the driver and crew chief experience. And differing from the Waltrip-McReynolds relationship, Waltrip and Hammond actually worked together.
There's no denying the look and feel of the FOX and FX telecasts was light-years ahead of what fans were used to seeing in the past.
FOX' scroll across the top of the screen with running positions, laps down, speeds, and time behind the leader was a useful tool and easily blended into the screen.
The FOX Trax system of identifying cars in the field was OK, though at times the graphic bars criss-crossed creating a mishmash of lines on the screen.
Show producers clearly elevated the use of microphones and camera positions, increasing the audio and visual dynamics of the telecasts.
Still, the "Crank it Up" feature could be easily lost. Really, how many goofballs turn up the volume? Instead, let's just have the announcers go silent for a lap or two, rather than create a graphic, with a faux audio meter, giving us the impression the sound at that moment was dramatically better. The bit felt more like a gimmick, which was unnecessary.
If it were being graded, FOX would earn an A- for its performance this season, with room to grow. More importantly, FOX has made the standard from which to compare others much higher, meaning NBC has its work cut out starting on July 7.