Ceremony Still Cornball

Every year, the annual Winston Cup banquet gets a little bit better than the one before.

The 2001 version, in keeping with the trend, was better than last year’s. But, it still needs work.

Having people sit in theater-like seats made the show look, appropriately, like any other awards ceremony. The pace appeared better. And, overall the show was fine.

However, like anything, it can use improvement.

Why in the world if the drivers are going to be forced to use teleprompters can’t the producers synch up awards speakers and commercial breaks?

Often, viewers are left feeling that some of the speakers were still talking when commercials came on, and the folks with Roush Racing even sent out Jeff Burton’s speech because parts of it didn’t air.

Surely, it’s a technical issue. They know when the commercials are going to air, so schedule the drivers and presenters around them.

Heck, if the Academy Awards, Emmys, even the Billboard Music Awards can do this, why can’t the people doing the Winston Cup banquet do the same?

That said, commercial breaks squashing the drivers is the least of the issues hampering the awards ceremony. It’s the commercial breaks within the driver speeches that bring this classy affair down.Okay, I can hear the chorus of naysayers. “Hey, you idiot, sponsors make the world go round.”

Anyone who has been around racing for five nanoseconds is aware that sponsors, and mentions of their products, is what makes it possible for guys like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to drive each weekend.

But, NASCAR, team owners and the sponsors have to find ways to make the sponsor mentions during the speeches appear less forced, less in-your-face, less intrusive during the awards ceremony.
Dale Jarrett did it well a few years ago with his humorous and effect speech working in mentions of his sponsors in clever way. Jarrett’s speech attacked the issue head on, by disguising it as a talk about what he’d been doing recently. For instance, I distinctly recall him mentioning something about sitting around eating Planter’s Peanuts.

Rather than simply saying he’d like to thank them, he along with his marketing folks, I suspect, worked references into a very funny bit.

None of those speeches this year were funny. Instead, the sponsor mentions were gratuitous and cringe inducing for a sport that is trying mightily to hold itself up to the world as the cream of the crop.

Certainly, if we’re going to hold up the Winston Cup banquet telecasts to the Academy Awards, its worth noting that the winners at the Oscars also deliver acceptance speeches – spontaneously – that often include mentions of friends, family, agents and other assorted folks who helped along the way. And it’s possible one could equate those mentions to the sponsor mentions.

However, Julia Roberts thanking her agent is not as cheesy as a driver mentioning a third-tier sponsor in a list of a dozen during an appearance on stage.

Granted, it’s much easier to sit here and offer criticism than to supply real solutions, but I do have some suggestions.

Since nearly every word uttered on the stage is carefully scripted, perhaps the producers could put together some sort of graphic package that would air while the speech was being delivered, giving each some on-air exposure without the driver having to say the name.

There was some of this during last week’s telecast, when an animated image of the driver’s car appeared on-screen during the speeches.

But they could do more. Perhaps, they could rotate sponsor graphics next to the driver’s name on the screen for the duration of the speech.

The networks, dare I say, could, gulp, sell the sponsorships as part of a yearly package. Or, since the awards take place around the holidays, throw them in for nothing.

The point of all this, of course, is to get the mentions out of the mouths of the drivers and onto a screen in a way that is unobtrusive and tasteful.

If that’s not possible then the speechwriters must work harder to make the mentions slide smoothly into the talk.

Otherwise, without some work in this area, a classy show will continue to have twinges of a cornball affair.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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