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Plenty of racing on television

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Just to show you what a die-hard race fan I am, I took about four hours out of my vacation in Hawaii last Sunday to watch the Las Vegas Nextel Cup race.

It’s a good thing the TV in the hotel didn’t have SPEED TV available, or I’d have probably been killed by my wife for watching qualifying too!

While watching the race I got to thinking about how much racing is available to us on TV these days. Twenty years ago the Nashville Network and ESPN were just about the only outlets for any sort of racing except the Indy 500, which ABC showed on a same-day delay in those days.

I never thought I’d say this, but we get almost too much of a good thing now; not only the race and qualifying, but practice sessions, too. I’m OK with that, but all the racing talk shows tend to get a bit tedious. The only good thing about it is that a lot of racing announcers and unemployed former drivers are getting work.

Speaking of racing announcers, I have my own favorites as I’m sure all race fans do. And there are a few that I find less bearable. I recently mentioned the race car gimmick that NBC started with “Wally’s World” a couple of seasons back, that has now been picked up and modified by the FOX duo of Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond.

Wally Dallenbach takes celebrities and athletes on a thrill ride, while the FOX guys use the car to demonstrate race tactics and various driving scenarios. I’m still getting used to that, but I have to say I like the cutaway car that Jeff Hammond uses to explain various mechanical details.

In the booth, both NBC and FOX have solid teams. Mike Joy is one of the best play by play race callers in the business, while Darrell Waltrip’s humor and enthusiasm add a lot of color. Larry McReynolds’ crew chief perspective is good, but I really wish FOX would get him some grammar lessons.

Over on the NBC side Bill Weber has paid his dues, working his way up from pit reporter/interviewer to the anchor spot. He got one of those rare lucky breaks when Alan Bestwick broke his leg, promoting Weber to the position where he performed well enough to keep the job. Benny Parsons, while not ebullient as Waltrip, is a solid color man, and Wally Dallenbach provides a counterpoint without being overly argumentative.

It’s kind of odd with all the spots to be filled on various broadcast teams covering NASCAR that Rusty Wallace will be doing Indy Car races in the booth. Admittedly Rusty is glib and opinionated, something the open wheel broadcast guys need.

Since Tommy Kendall was dropped from the CART coverage crew a couple of years back, there has really been no spark. Scott Goodyear, while knowledgeable and a former driver, comes across on the dull side. On the other hand, Formula One coverage has one of my favorite threesomes with the eloquent Bob Varsha covering the play by play, former F1 mechanic Steve Matchett providing techno-bits, and the irrepressible David Hobbs’ dry British wit giving us some comic relief.

I’ve been fortunate to run into a number of these guys and several other microphone jockeys over the years in various race track press rooms and announce booths. For the most part they are dedicated race fans, doing a job they love. However, I remember one instance a number of years back when one of them didn’t love his job as much as usual.

It was at a Cup race at the Sears Point road course, and the producer thought it would be fun to put the anchor (I believe it was Bob Jenkins at the time) in the booth and the color guys (Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett) out on the course on turns.

Having been a PA turn announcer at the track for a number of years, I approached Mr. Parsons to see what he thought about the new way of doing things. Suffice it to say that he most emphatically did NOT like it, mumbling something about him “having no business being out here.” I did not pursue the conversation.