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TV or Not TV


here is still nothing compelling about our current version of the NHRA/ESPN television broadcast. According to the latest listing in the Los Angeles Times, ratings are still down and I’ve got to blame NHRA management, the show’s director and the announcers. They are all at fault.

Let’s look at it this way. NHRA pays ESPN handsomely for the coverage of 23 events; NHRA pays for the video trucks, cameras, cables, crews and the announcers. ESPN pays a licensing fee to NHRA, but this is effectively a bought and paid-for infomercial to support the NHRA major sponsors and sell the NHRA brand of drag racing entertainment to you, the rabid fan, and Joe Six-Pack who happened to stumble across the broadcast after the sixth inning of the Little League World Series.

An infomercial may seem harsh, but how is this broadcast different from an infomercial for sales wizard Ron Popiel’s Showtime Rotisserie Oven, except for the product? A salesman like Popiel builds excitement about every aspect of his product from the patented flavor injector to the four easy payments, and he makes you feel good about it!

When a new viewer finds an NHRA national event on ESPN he should find every positive aspect of drag racing. I’m not talking about a Fantasyland version, but recent broadcasts have focused on lawsuits, team orders and how potentially unsafe the Top Fuel cars are. This puts NHRA POWERade Drag Racing into a perpetual bad light, fostered by the announcers. The show has devolved into a sloppy, haphazard version of 60 Minutes instead of the greatest show in motorsports we all know.

It’s apparent that some of the announcers have been influenced by Internet bulletin board gossip and DRO, but this kind of investigative reporting is better off being handled by independent journalists rather than paid announcers from the sanctioning body. If you watch NASCAR broadcasts, as I do, you will seldom find anything coming from an announcer’s mouth that could be considered detrimental to the image of NASCAR and NASCAR will impose a fine for being unfavorable.

Take a look at a current copy of National Dragster or to read the positive aspects of our sport, not an ongoing exposé on drag racing. You won’t find the gossip of who ran over Bob Glidden’s pit bike, the latest sponsor scuttlebutt, lawsuits, who’s screwing whom or multicar “team orders”.

A proclamation like “here come team orders” before the national television audience makes NHRA POWERade Drag Racing sound like a scripted WWE wrestling show to the casual viewer, yet it continues to be brought it up. We take you to Memphis, July 22, 2004, Funny Car eliminations round two: team owner John Force vs. employee Gary Densham. In a somber Bill Stephens’ voice, “We’ve talked about this a lot over the season; team orders - John Force always says they race each other until they get to Indy. They look at the points and then if they need some help they make decisions based on that. We are a week ahead of Indy, what’s going to happen here?”

Force runs a low e.t. of eliminations with his 4.906 308.78 and Densham smokes the tires while Marty asserts, “You are going to have to draw your own conclusions folks.” Stephens then says to Force, “The armchair second guessers will have their way.” Aren’t you one of those armchair second guessers? You have let us in on one of the big insider secrets of modern drag racing, throwing the game, the fix and the choke. Did it happen or didn’t it? Leave this subject the hell alone!

None of this negativity is contributing to any possible rise in the ratings. Sorry to spill the beans here, but when a viewer watches the WWE Show, there is an assumption that it’s a scripted show, now just like drag racing.

Here’s another Bill-ism:

While Brady Kalivoda and Joe Hartley staged after their burnouts on the Memphis ESPN TV qualifying show our insider, Bill Stephens, made an interesting observation. He said, “Mike (Dunn) just to add to what you say about the performance kinda comin’ back to these, ya know B-list teams, we also have had a lot more clean racing. We have not had big boomers and a lot of equipment getting blown up, so the 85 percent rule has actually been a benefit on both ends.”

In the short term 85 percent nitro does seem to have made a big difference on equipment carnage, but I’ve got to ask which drivers are on your top fuel B-list? Is the B-list agreed upon between NHRA, ESPN and their announcers? Is being relegated to the B-list performance-based or influenced by a driver’s sponsor and if that sponsor is also a major NHRA sponsor? If we didn’t have B-list Top Fuelers the fields would be pretty thin; NASCAR calls them field-fillers.

How does a driver or team make a move onto this A-list? Is the A-list why Brandon Bernstein gets a top-end interview and special pit reports with the ESPN crew, even when he loses? Since Larry Dixon is not a player for the POWERade Championship this year did he move to the B-list or did he make it back onto the A-list with his team’s Memphis win? Is there a similar B-list for Funny Cars and pro stock?

Since the ESPN announcer/actors are the insiders on this show, rather than inserting themselves into a real or imagined controversy, please shut up and give us the racing. Please, let us hear the cars and please, turn up the volume!

Previous Stories
View from the Left Coast with Darr Hawthorne - 7/9/04
The Time Has Come for Sport Compact Racing

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