Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: The Day Darrell Waltrip Took Off the Tie

That was fun.

After Carl Edwards climbed from his steaming car, executed the obligatory backflip and ran into the stands for some good old-fashioned back thumping courtesy of a couple inebriated fans, I sat back in my couch and grinned. The All-Star Race left me laughing.

It wasn’t the Now Hiring sign on the No. 99, its demolished radiator or a favorite driver taking home that really big pile of cash that had me giggling, it was the TV coverage.

Now, after all these years — these very, very long years — of FOX attempting to turn NASCAR nation into something we’d rather not be, I was struggling to put a finger on just what had turned Saturday night’s seemingly familiar broadcast into something pleasurable. What did SPEED do that the channel with the big budget doesn’t? The camera work wasn’t any better… it might have been worse.

I admit to burst out laughing when the shot showed a billowing white cloud while DW yelled, “The No. 78’s spun out!” It was a really good thing he was paying attention, cause there wasn’t a single car amidst the smoke.

It had nothing to do with new commercials. I zoned out on this year’s selection of NASCAR spots somewhere near the end of March. I don’t expect to see a new crop of them until the Chase, so until then I’ll look the other way when NAPA comes on screen or a masked driver starts to buy the world a Coke.

Split screens? Tickers? No. Really, SPEED polished up the usual bits and added a few bells and whistles so we’ll remember them fondly come Friday for another round of qualifying.

And then I saw the final shot of the wrecker in victory lane covered in confetti, meanwhile the Waltrip brothers and Mike Joy chuckled over the ending of the race. That right there was the magic.

I have yet to determine if the spontaneous outbursts from the trio in the booth that colored the evening were a result of serendipity, or at the direction of a genius production staff. I know who will take credit for it in a boardroom. Still…

Not once through the whole race was I annoyed by some planned hokey comment from DW, or his usual partner in crime Larry Mac. However, that did not mean that Darrell had left his good ole boy slang behind. Somehow, he and Mikey were set free to do what most any racing enthusiast will do — react to a sideways or smoking car with verve and excitement. Gone were ‘splanations of made up words.

They hooted, hollered, cheered — oh, yes, they do that from time to time — and genuinely let their enjoyment of the night show. And I joined in.

Yes, the All-Star Race is contrived. The whole night is a study in how to celebrate our sport and ignore as many of the usual procedures as possible. It’s supposed to be fun — a mix of all the stuff we like about NASCAR. We get retro paint jobs. New faces and old make singular appearances to gather a few more cheers. The Fan Favorite has guaranteed a spot (don’t get all uppity about the Junior landslide… there was a time when Bill Elliott couldn’t lose that vote no matter what he did on the track).

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There are fireworks, short-race segments, a built-in 10-lap shootout. For me, there is very little to dislike about this non-points event. But I did worry when the curtain went up on the booth and I was faced with a night of commentary featuring two of the three usual weekly irritants.

I worried for naught.

It’s clear to me now that what I liked about DW way back when he was bowing out as a driver, I enjoy now: his vivacity, honesty and pure adoration of motorsports. You can’t discount the massive ego, either. Mike Joy has always been a sentimental favorite, with his vocal support of the Northeast racers. And Michael Waltrip has always managed to bring a smile to my face, even when he wasn’t paying attention to anything around him.

Saturday’s unscripted and loosely directed broadcast just highlighted what I’ve been struggling against all these years. When corporate finds something they like, they want you to do it all the time. Somewhere, in a glassed in office, I can hear the pre-production meetings where they encourage one to write down whimsical ideas as they come to you, polish the thought and then present it with a few ism’s to the viewing public.

Polished ain’t what NASCAR is. Ain’t what NASCAR was. Ain’t what I want NASCAR to be.

When the crowd sees a stock car slide up the track, they gasp as one, stand up, and proceed to dump beer, chips and greasy burgers on one another in their eagerness to share their responses. Nobody means to do that. It just happens. Happy memories are built this way.

When the man in the suit stands up at the front of the class, clears his throat and reads from a prepared statement, we all groan, slide down in our seats and try to find something interesting to watch on the ceiling.

Many years ago, FOX stuffed DW in a coat and tie. I hope they will follow SPEED’s example and let him out of the cage. NASCAR would be a happier place for everyone involved.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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