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The O'Reilly Nationals at Houston Raceway Park


Picture still needs adjusting, though

Except for this year’s NHRA Winternationals, I have not been to a drag race this season. Budgetary constraints and all that rot. So, like a lot of you, I depend on TV to get the message. DRO’s twin Jeff ’s, Burk and Leonard, and our one-issue TV critic Dean Papadeas have all made observations, comments, and criticisms on the TV coverage of the first two IHRA races and five NHRA races, and now it’s my turn.

The O’Reilly Nationals at Houston Raceway Park is the subject and right off, I want to say that TNN Sports’ coverage of the race was better than the other production company’s, good ole Diamond P. With the exception of Eli Gold making an honest stumble in calling Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel crew chief Dan Olson, “Diane Olson,” (it’ll be just my luck, Dan’s wife is Diane and she was the one actually being talked about) the information from the booth was pretty much right on. Gold, Frank Hawley, and Steve Evans obviously did their homework and kept the viewer informed with on-the-money information.

The trio was not trying to entertain, as with the going-nowhere interviews and witty repartee that the Diamond P gang does and, as a result, we got reliable information and a genuine feel for what was happening at the race.

While the gab was good, I line up with my aforementioned DRO colleagues on the visuals. Drag racing television, as constituted by TNN and Diamond P, doesn’t come close to actually being at the race. Something has got to be done to improve the sound (as in make it louder and more representative) and capture the fiery experience of being at the drags. It’ll have to be done if NHRA and IHRA want to improve themselves with the board room denizens that are currently looking at NASCAR to move their stuff.

Below are some of my observations and ad-libs on what we all saw from Houston on Sunday, April 16.

TNN over Diamond P: As some might remember, DRO was highly critical of the D-P Gainesville coverage. In particular, we were irked at the generally contentless 36-minutes that started the show. The only action came from the commercials and possibly less than six 10-second retro action clips. By contrast, TNN’s first 36 minutes was loaded with look-back action from qualifying and the first round. In the first 10 minutes, we saw what happened to Cory McClenathan, Doug Herbert, Gary Scelzi, Joe Amato, Jerry Toliver, and John Force, plus all qualifying numbers replete with active backgrounds.

“Takin’ It To the House:” Looks like brother Gold has soul and game. “Takin’ It to the House,” is ‘hood slang for a guy breaking away on a long touchdown run or dribbling the length of the court for two or, in the case here, Doug Kalitta’s second-round 4.63 kayoing of Joe Hartley. “Takin’ It to the House,” of course, was first used by rappers EPMD during their 1996 “Death to the Pigs” tour. So it only took four years to get to the hunters, flycasters, banjo-pluckers, and car racers. Small world.

Info Inserts That Fit: I did enjoy the homework of the announcing crew. Yes, the filming of the race has to be dramatically improved to catch NASCAR or the WWF, but the following types of info, not revolutionary or groundbreaking by any means, enhanced the show for me.

Tony Schumacher: “Hasn’t lost in round 1 since the 1999 Columbus race.” “His 12th time in an NHRA final round ....”
Don Schumacher: (Zoomed in on father Don backing up Tony) and noted that he was a past Funny Car great.
Don Lampus: “Dropped out of the [NHRA] Top 10 after the Las Vegas race.”
Dick LaHaie Announcers noted that he tuned last year’s Houston Top Fuel winner, the volatile Doug Herbert, and this year’s Larry Dixon, Jr.
Jeg Coughlin “Jeg’s first Pro Stock title came here at Houston in 1997,” and “His Houston final-round appearance was the 19th of his career.”

Again, the above is not the end all and be all of existence, but I don’t get the Winston press guide anymore, and information like this enhanced the race for me.



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