Snore Of The Engines

Saturday night’s running of The Winston and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 shared a common bond over the weekend. Unfortunately for TV viewers, the mutual traits were boring on-track action and the only excitement focusing on wondering if there would be enough cars to fill either field.

The TV talent on each broadcast took different turns. FOX tried and tried and tried to convince you that what you were watching was exciting (running the term “Survival of the Fastest” right into the ground), even though you were better off using the clicker to move to “The Price Is Right Spectacular” and hearing Bob Barker’s prime time pitch to help control the pet population. The ABC/ESPN crew, on the other hand, used the occasion to flambee the detractors of the IRL and Indy 500.

The best news in NASCAR’s search for a new title sponsor might be a fresh look at The Winston. Like most other All-Star games, the contest has turned into a real snoozer that not even Humpy Wheeler Promotions Inc. can sell as compelling television. Even Tony Stewart and Chip Ganassi are half-heartedly threatening to skip next year’s event with Smoke calling the race a “hack fest.”

Granted, there are fannies in the seats and the TV ratings will probably be decent, but let’s not forget that NASCAR usually gets a 3.5 for rain delay coverage. In fact, there is far more drama in pit reporter rain delay hijinx than in what we had to endure on Saturday night. Forget the cameras covering Jimmie Johnson checking out to win a million bucks and Ryan Newman standing there hopelessly alone on the frontstretch looking for anyone to blame but himself. A good Super Soaker fight in the Hollywood Hotel would have warranted our full attention.

At the two hour and 13 minute mark of the broadcast, only 7 percent of that time had been devoted to green flag racing. Also, while it might be courteous to give the crew members their props on national TV, over 21 minutes devoted to driver intros and learning about crew members named “Pop Tart” is needless overkill. Classic moments in sports history like Lou Gehrig’s speech at Yankee Stadium and Ted Williams’ introduction at the All-Star Game didn’t last as long.

After a few years of boring racing, it’s time to take a fresh look at the format for The Winston. Simply, it needs an overhaul. Simple things would go a long way.

For one, get rid of the idea of inverting the field. It holds no drama anymore and only leads to sandbagging. Two, if you get passed three times by any other cars during the night, you’re out. Three, if anyone gets more than a one second lead, it automatically brings out a caution for debris even if there is no debris. That would make it just like a regular NASCAR race. Finally, on the final lap, make it so the winner has to cross the finish line rear wheels first.

OK, some of these are extreme and with tongue firmly in cheek, but times change and so must The Winston. NASCAR doesn’t do anything like it’s the late 1980’s anymore, but for some reason this race stays pretty much the same year after year. If this race is to stay in Charlotte, it’s got to be a true All-Star event with a format that gets viewers excited. This present incarnation has turned into a snoozefest. Bristol, anyone?

If you really wanted to hear some fighting words over the weekend, all you needed to do was tune into the ABC/ESPN coverage of Indianapolis 500 qualifying. There must have been some big meeting over the past week with Tony George and the TV people, because they were swinging out of the gate.

From the beginning of the broadcast, the TV team decided to promote the heck out of the close racing in the IRL and the tradition of the Indianapolis 500. That was a smart move and a strategy that could really register with the viewers.

But it was amazing how spunky the normally calm Bob Jenkins was, with Jack Arute playing a supporting ole. On at least a few occasions, both of them strongly chastised the “naysayers” in the media in both Indianapolis and across the country who had the audacity to question whether there would be a full 33-car field.

At one point Jenkins defiantly proclaimed, paraphrasing, “This is the Indy 500 today, it was the Indianapolis 500 50 years ago, and it will be in the future.”

The funniest part of the broadcast was Jack Arute deciding to invoke a quote from former NFL head coach Jim Mora. Maybe Arute couldn’t remember a quote from Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant, coaches who actually won a few playoff games in their lifetimes. Chastising “the misguided media” as Mora liked to do, Arute quoted the coach by saying, “You think you know, but you just don’t know.” This, of course, implies that Arute does know and that all those less informed scribes and members of the fourth estate who disagreed with him are just part of a posse of windbags.

Actually, a quote I like better from Mora is, “We couldn't do diddley-poo offensively. We couldn't make a first down. We didn't run the ball. We didn't try to run the ball. We couldn't complete a pass. We sucked.”

Arute had all weekend to prepare his diatribe, and the best he could come up with was a line from an unemployed coach who never won a playoff game?

Nevertheless, as the IRL broadcast team and Robin Miller have emphasized all week, this is the strongest Indy 500 field in many years and it will probably make for some good TV and exciting racing.

While these were the big stories last week, the big TV story this coming week won’t be in Indy or Charlotte. Instead, it will be in Fort Worth, where Annika Sorrenstam will try to make the cut in The Colonial. Give credit to Mr. Sider, Mark Twain, Clark Kent, or whatever his name is over at Valvoline.com for predicting this big story’s effect on TV months ago.

CBS has already committed to extra coverage of the PGA tournament. If Sorrenstam makes the cut, the racing ratings , especially NASCAR, should take a solid hit. So, there’s a good bet that the only people rooting against Annika with more vigor than Vijay Singh are Paul Brooks at NASCAR and Ed Goren at FOX Sports.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: Sunday’s Indy 500 “No Bumping Bump Day” ratings earned a more respectable 2.0 rating on ABC. Much of the improved number can be attributed to a lead-in from a 4.8 NBA playoff game and a 4:15 start time, meaning more people are at home watching TV. Nevertheless, it’s a solid number compared to last year’s 1.0 final number on Bump Day . . . Just for the heck of it, here’s a prediction for the Memorial Day weekend ratings. If Annika doesn’t make the cut, a 5.1 rating for the Indy 500 and an identical 5.1 for the Coca-Cola 600. If Annika makes the cut, a 4.9 for both the Indy 500 and NASCAR . . . Robert Wussler, the Chairman of the Board for TRAC, has been named vice-chairman of the Ice Channel . . . Look for probable appearances by IRL driver Sarah Fisher on MSNBC, The Golf Channel, and other outlets to give her insight on Annika Sorenstam’s PGA appearance this week.


Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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