High Emotions

Anger management was once again on display at Bristol Saturday night. Decrepit old has-beens and young guns all managed to show their anger quite well, thank you very much.

In these days of corporate political correctness, drinking sponsor beverages on cue, and thanking God, family, and the “boys back at the shop,” it was refreshing to see the robo-drivers show genuine human emotion and rediscover use of one of the ten digits on their hands, the middle one, to be exact. It made for good TV too.

But even in anger, we see signs of the gentler, kinder driver. Dale Jarrett used to throw his helmet. Ward Burton has switched to heel pads, hardly something that can do meaningful damage, even to a window net. To his credit though, Burton stated publicly that he wished he had a bazooka or M-16.

After a race, Michael Waltrip would roundhouse one on Lake Speed, or Tony Stewart would perform a variation of borderline misdemeanor battery on Gary Nelson, Mike Mulhern, or Mr. Zook. Now, instead it’s grab a Coke, give a smile, and get to the trailer with your anger management counselor, stat!

Publicly, NASCAR summons the offenders to the big red and white truck, where the imposing powerful man with the mustache gives a sometimes serious scolding. Then, a few days later an innocuous press release comes out from Daytona Beach describing actions detrimental to sporting people everywhere. This is often accompanied by a nominal fine and a driver may be placed on double secret probation for a spell.

In the meantime, the NASCAR marketing gurus and TV executives are high fiving each other and celebrating. All of this lack of conflict resolution means more exposure, higher ratings, and more money.

NASCAR’s perfectly executed formula for success is really so simple. Have parity on the track at all costs and as safely as possible, wrap it in the American flag and family, then go market the heck out of the drivers, their personalities, their skills, and their conflicts.

Sometimes the NASCAR family will feud, and so will the Coca-Cola family of drivers. In the meantime, media outlets salivate at the opportunities for compelling stories and highlights.

The longest feature on the TNT pre-race show was on anger, bumpin’ and bangin’ at Bristol. Tony Stewart has been a big media story because of his issues. Speed Channel has even made a funny promo out of the Kurt Busch comments on Jimmy Spencer.

The racing action on the track can be compelling at times, but when the SportsCenter highlights roll on show 24,993, most of the videotape is of accidents and feuding. NASCAR honcho Brian France has been stating his case for years that NASCAR deserves more time and a higher profile on SportsCenter. A plethora of ticked off drivers is probably the best way to make that happen.

SCHEDULING ISSUES: This weekend once again had to make you wonder about the strategy, or lack thereof, behind the open wheel TV scheduling. The CART race on Speed Channel and the IRL race on ESPN had 90 minutes of overlapping coverage. One of the races could have run earlier and had the racing audience all to itself, a rarity brought about by a non-NASCAR Sunday. But no one took advantage of it. The schedules at ESPN and Speed Channel were open for a move. Even better, the IRL race to ABC was a perfect fit. The Disney network had no sports all day, and the race would have competed solidly with volleyball on NBC and a kids’ tennis show on CBS.

There’s a report that Darlington may move to a Saturday night race with (financial) help from TNT. A race later in the schedule would be a better fit. The Southern 500 is often the last race before the NFL regular season; the last one to take advantage of no competition from Sunday afternoon football. Kansas Speedway has already said it wants lights, and that would be a better move because it would switch a race away from direct NFL competition early in the football season.

NBC Entertainment is probably scared silly about adding a third Saturday night race to prime time in the fall of 2003. But how long can NASCAR and NBC afford to minimize a marketing tool like the Bristol night race? That race needs to find its way to over-the-air prime time.

The move of the Charlotte Winston Cup fall race to Saturday night on NBC is somewhat of a surprise. That’s in the first few weeks of the new prime-time schedule, and networks are usually very reluctant to change their schedule during that critical period.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: The CART race from Elkhart Lake was watched by only 157,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s a .30 rating on Speed Channel. Competing directly with NASCAR and Tiger Woods didn’t help. The American LeMans Series race on NBC the same weekend had a 0.7 rating on NBC.

Live CART qualifying from Road America did better than the race. It got a .41 rating.

NASCAR’s rain-delayed qualifying from Michigan turned in an impressive .84 rating. A rain-fill re-air of the 2001 August Michigan race got a .51.

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