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I was watching a MAV-TV broadcast of Lucas Oil drag boats recently which I’m happy to report was an innovative, entertaining and informative half-hour broadcast.
Watching that show got me to thinking about the steadily declining Nielsen TV numbers for drag racing. It’s time to face the unpleasant and, to borrow from TV provocateur Bill O’Reilly, the “No Spin” truth: drag racing just doesn’t translate very well to television.
To be frank, unless you are a hardcore and knowledgeable fan of drag racing, most of what is broadcast by ESPN just can’t begin to deliver to the viewer the essence and sensory excess that watching drag racing live and in person does.
Usually a single experience of watching a Top Fuel or Funny Car race where your senses are assaulted by the scents of nitro fumes, burnt rubber and the almost indefinable level of noise a 10,000-hp nitro motor generates is enough to convert anyone to being a fan of nitro racing. Sadly though, none of those visceral experiences translates to TV viewers of NHRA broadcasts and the steadily declining Nielsen ratings over the years reflect that.
On the ESPN2 NHRA broadcast drag cars look and sound small and unimpressive for the most part. The producers keep the sound of the cars doing a burnout or a pass low so that viewers at home can hear the announcers’ chatter. Viewers can’t smell the nitro or the burned rubber, nor feel the ground shake when the driver steps on the throttle. Only the Dean Papadeaus produced and directed DVD’s have come close to the real deal in my opinion.
Why, in the course of a two- or three-hour broadcast, can’t the ESPN producers find a couple of minutes to put the cars on the screen as large as possible, turn the volume up for the home or bar viewer (or tell the viewer to), and at least try to introduce those viewers to some of the visceral drag racing experience?
Drag racing as it is televised today is BORING. The cars are small and they seem to buzz rather than bellow! A round in any professional drag racing class shown on TV has about 4 to 7 seconds of actual racing. How do you capture an audience or develop drama with a race that lasts less than 7 seconds? So no one should surprised by the miniscule Nielsen ratings for NHRA drag racing.
NASCAR fans get at least a couple of hours of continuous racing with crashes and pit stops to develop a dramatic story and to keep them watching. What the drag racing fan gets is a lot of talking and damn little actual racing. They see interviews (lots of interviews) and some of them are just too cute, know what I mean? If I’m tuned in to a race what I want to see is drag racing, dammit! Why do we need to see interviews with drivers and tuners after every round when generally the only interviews that are of importance to the average fan and media are those with the winners and losers of the last round.
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