NBC Ready To Rock. Literally

If you’re curious about the difference between FOX and NBC and how they do NASCAR races, look no further than the introduction to the telecast of the Pepsi 400, NBC’s first race July 7.

It’s the song “Fuel” by the heavy-metal band Metallica.

When I burn
Fuel is pumping engines
Burning hard
Loose and clean
And then I burn
Turning my direction
Quench my thirst with gasoline
So gimme fuel, Gimme fire, Gimme that which I desire

Metallica and NASCAR. What next? Ozzy Osborne signing the national anthem?

“There’s going to be a diverse feel for the show,” race producer Sam Flood said. “We’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll feel in terms of musically setting a tone for our telecast.

“That’s the music that kinda carries an opening theme. We thought we wanted to go a different direction and set the table where we go from there.”

But don’t expect too much MTV once the race starts. NBC is one of the oldest news organizations in the world, and the network doesn’t want to be all bells and whistles.

“In covering the race, our belief is the race is the thing,” Flood said. “We’re there to cover an event, and we’re not going to go away from that race coverage. We’re going to tell great stories. We’re going to take you inside what’s going on.”

Flood promised a “total access” broadcast, and his team includes some heavy hitters in NASCAR coverage: anchor Allen Bestwick has plenty of experience with MRN Radio, analyst Benny Parsons spent several years with ESPN/ABC, and pit reporters Bill Weber, Marty Snider, Dave Burns and Matt Yocum have worked enough garage areas to ask the right questions and find the right people.

But beyond the nuts-and-bolts coverage, NBC is following a tough act. FOX brought a level of entertainment not seen in NASCAR coverage. FOX’s Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds had a good time doing Winston Cup races, and viewers noticed.

“The bar has been elevated at the entertainment level,” Parsons said. “We haven’t seen a race telecast where the guys in the booth have had more fun than Darrell, Larry and Mike. We have to be conscious of that. Tell the story, but we have to have fun, as well.”

Parsons described himself as an “excitable kind of guy” and said he’ll bring that excitement to the booth.

“I can promise you one thing though, folks: I’m not going to sing,” Parsons said in reference to Waltrip’s on-air crooning.

Wally Dallenbach probably won’t be singing, either. The rookie on NBC’s broadcast team will, however, try to bring honesty to the booth.

“I’m not a good faker,” Dallenbach said. “I was told by Sam after we did (an audition), ‘Can you keep doing it the way you’re doing it?’ I said, ‘As long as you’re going to back me up, I’ll keep doing it this way.’

“That’s what I’m bringing to the table, hopefully: My personality and the way I see things and the way I call things. I’m going to be as honest as I can about what I see and what my opinion is. Hopefully, at the end of the day, the audience is going to like what the three of us in the booth are putting out there.”

Flood hopes the audience likes NBC’s prerace show, which he said was one of the main differences between NBC and FOX. Prerace host Weber will be stationed on a “war wagon” prerace set near the front of the starting grid.

“We’re right smack in the middle of the action,” Flood said. “We think that’s the way we can take every NASCAR fan where they want to be, which is right down among the cars and among the drivers.

“That tone of total access is something we plan to carry through the whole telecast.”

Once the race starts, Weber will take his place as lead pit reporter, and the war wagon will be wheeled to the garage area. NBC hopes to use it to talk to drivers who have dropped out of the race, perhaps showing them a crash they were involved in and let them assess blame.

One thing fans won’t see is the “No Breaks” coverage pioneered by TBS last year that showed the race in a smaller box while commercials were played. Advertisers wanted the full screen, so NBC relented.

Fans will see a lot of the same technology FOX used, but instead of the lines and arrows of FoxTrax, NBC will use a bubble around certain cars.

Many of the same people who worked for FOX broadcasts will be employed by NBC, most notably Yocum. But Flood said several engineers, cameramen, tape operators and graphics people will do both networks, hoping to keep the transition as seamless as possible.

FOX’s broadcasts were generally critically acclaimed, and the network received huge ratings. NBC would love to get the same kind of reception.

“We’re thrilled we’re getting such a big audience handed off from FOX,” Flood said. “Obviously, NASCAR’s gone to new levels this year. One of the things we want to take advantage of is the spectacle that is NASCAR.”

Cue Metallica.

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