November 9, 2002 | 11:37 A.M. EST
In less than a year, the revised SPEED Channel network has grown into a race fans' television dream. WHile its predecessor SpeedVision provided a tantalizing dose of racing coverage and programming, the new incarnation is nirvana.
The network has evolved just from the beginning of this year. A heavy dose of NASCAR programming, thanks to FOX purchasing the channel, has grown to include Winston Cup qualifying and practice, a live "Trackside" show and "NASCAR Victory Lane," formerly part of Fox Sports Net's line-up, in its weekend.
But next season SPEED Channel will become the most comprehensive motorsports network anywhere with a line-up that will include:
o Winston Cup qualifying and practice
o Busch Grand National qualifying
o All Craftsman Truck Series races live
o Formula One
o NASCAR Touring Series
o Hooters Pro Cup
o Grand American Road Racing
o American LeMans Series
o UDTRA Dirt Racing
o World of Outlaws
And that list doesn't include the magazine shows (including the probability of a daily program to take up the slack left by the demise of "RPM 2Nite") and anthology programs.
FOX used the NASCAR connection to help build the network, much the way FX and TNT have grown their subscriber bases since becoming prt of the NASCAR television package. SPEED executives believe 80 million households are in the short term future, which is not bad for a network that was less than half that a year ago.
But while fans will flock to SPEED Channel for their racing fix, there are concerns that the migration of so much programming to one network is bad for the sport. As our RacingOne motorsports television guru Mike McCarthy pointed out in his "Around the Dial" column this week, racing is beginning to lose exposure opportunities to general audiences.
With ESPN dropping pretty much out of the picture and TNN dead, there aren't as many chances to introduce racing to non-race fans on an all motorsports network. In order to keep the audience on the upswing, new fans have to be added. Just catering to the existing audience base isn't going to reach that goal.
Sponsors want their products and services exposed to as many people as possible. But as the racing television audience begins to narrow, sponsors may take a hard look at their investment. Will they find other ways to reach a broader base of people than motorsports? It's possible and something the powers that be need to keep a close eye on. Taking the short term money now could turn tragic down the road if the audience base begins to erode.
But those folks who are already part of the giant racing fandom should drop a letter to SPEED Channel and a thank you for giving them a slice of motorsports heaven on their television.