Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 76- 2011 Lowes Foods World Finals

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we provide our loyal readers with an additional look into the telecasts we have at our disposal during the week. Last weekend, the Dirt Track at Charlotte hosted the second annual Lowes Foods World Finals, a marathon of racing that closed out the 2011 season for World Racing Group three biggest series. Those series are the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, the World of Outlaws Late Models, and the Super DirtCar Series for Big Block Modifieds.

Since we covered this event here in the Critic’s Annex last year, we’re going to do a little compare and contrast between last year and this year’s telecasts on SPEED in order to see how they measured up.

Many of the same personalities were in play as last year. Brad Doty and Shane Andrews were back, along with Bobby Gerould in the pits. Dave DeSpain was back at his However, Ralph Sheheen, who did play-on-play on the action from Syracuse, was in the booth. Also, Dick Berggren was out and Roger Slack was brought in to replace him. Slack is the new promoter at Eldora Speedway (under Tony Stewart ownership), however, he spent Super Dirt Week as the grandmaster of track operations (he was in charge of preparing the one mile track’s surface). Slack was a little too willing to plug Eldora throughout the broadcast, though. I’m sure Stewart didn’t mind, though.

Unlike last year, they were able to (just barely) get Friday’s card in, so they showed highlights of Friday night’s action. Last year, Friday night was a complete and total washout, requiring two full days of racing to be done in one long, ten plus hour day. If you remember, the first half or so of last year’s telecast was chopped to heck and back so that they could cover most of the action. Even then, they were skipping multiple heat races and B-Mains.

Now, it should be noted that this telecast was not live. The telecast started at 8pm EDT and the sun was still out. There is simply no way that would be possible in a live telecast this time of year. Of course, I say this having never been to Charlotte this time of year, but knowing that it’s November, I seriously doubt that the sun is still up at 8pm down there.

SPEED still did not show all of the preliminary competition. They managed to cut out one of the Super DirtCar Series Heat races (the one that Jimmy Phelps won). In addition, at least one Sprint Car heat race was cut out so that SPEED could air an interview with Matt Sheppard and Billy Decker. Viewers could see cars coming off the track from a heat race behind the two racers and DeSpain. Finally, very brief highlights were shown of the fourth Late Model heat (basically just to highlight Tim McCreadie’s adventures). They also talked about the sixth and final Late Model heat, only to go to commercial (following an interview with Jason Meyers) and skip it entirely.

Like last year, Jimmy Owens’ heat race was cut out of the broadcast. That stuff is just irritating. C’mon now. Also, SPEED only aired the B-Main that Rick Eckert was in and skipped the other two. The Sprint Cars had D, C, and B-Mains prior to their feature, but only the B-Main was shown.

It looks like the preliminary coverage was focused on star power. If you weren’t in a heat race with notable drivers, your race wasn’t televised. It’s bush league. In order to prevent this stupidity, SPEED should expand this show to six hours or so and push SPEED Center into the overnight hours. It’s the only way to do this event justice. Also, it is being held during a time of year where there is little else on SPEED. Even if they started coverage at 6pm EDT or even 5pm EDT, it would not have gotten in the way of the Nationwide race on ESPN 2 since that was over by 3:30. Perhaps it’s just not possible to provide legitimate live coverage of an event like this. Last year’s race day must have been a horrifically tiring experience for everyone involved.

Finally, we get to the A-Mains. We’ll start with the Super DirtCar Series and their 40-lap feature. This had to be an outright sprint for these competitors after two straight 200 lap races (Syracuse and Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, NY). The main focus was the point battle between Sheppard and Decker, who were separated by ten points entering the feature (Note: I don’t understand their point system at all. The earning of points for winning features, I can understand, but not getting 1000 bonus points. I guess there’s a bonus for winning a track championship?).

I expected the race to be completely focused on those two drivers, and it was. That is until McCreadie came up from behind and stole the show. Found it interesting that Victory Lane was on the other side of the catchfence in front of the grandstands (and also took note of the music from “Days of Thunder” blaring on the loudspeakers). Never seen a setup like that before. After the race, SPEED provided interviews with McCreadie, Sheppard and Decker. Of note, Decker came off as cordial during his interview, but according to our own Mike Neff (who just happened to be at the track Saturday night), he was a very angry man.

Then, we had the Sprint Car feature. No championship battle to worry about here since Jason Meyers clinched the title basically by showing up. Most of the action was focused on the Madsen brothers (Kerry and Ian) and Donny Schatz. There were a number of notable drivers, full and part-time, that basically didn’t even get a mention all night. Jessica Zemken wouldn’t have gotten a mention at all had she not blown an engine with nine laps to go in the A-main. Tim Shaffer, last year’s winner of the Knoxville Nationals, broke and got nary a mention (yes, SPEED showed his No. 83 being shoved by a push truck in the infield, but there was no mention of what happened to him). After the race, SPEED brought viewers interviews with Schatz, Steve Kinser and Craig Dollansky.

Also, a random note. Justin Barger, who was in the first Sprint Car heat, was thrown out of the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints for the season after a ludicrous incident at Lebanon Valley Speedway on June 18. To make a long story short, Barger and his team tried to intentionally run the rest of the field out of fuel by intentionally prolonging cautions, then refusing to leave the track after Barger was disqualified. Then, the team was involved in an incident where the track’s pit steward was hit by their race car.

Finally, the Late Models came out for a 50-lap feature. The main story here was the battle between Rick Eckert and Josh Richards for the championship. Since neither driver had an exquisite time in the preliminaries (Eckert had to win the Last Chance Qualifier just to get into the A-Main, while Richards finished third in Heat No. 5 and started 17th).

In the feature, there were two groups of people that got coverage. One was Richards and Eckert in their championship battle. That was nothing short of a street fight for 50 laps. The other group was whoever happened to be up front at the time (Jonathan Davenport, Scott Bloomquist, etc.). SPEED would zoom in their cameras on the duel between Richards and Eckert at times. If you’ve read my regular critiques at Frontstretch, you probably know where this is going.

That’s right, with 13 laps to go, there was a big wreck right in front of the championship duo that we couldn’t even see because SPEED was zoomed in so much. That is wrong. I know you want to showcase that battle, but good lord. It would have looked real bad if one of the two got taken out in what amounted to a “mystery crash” because your cameras were zoomed in like that. As it stands, Richards did get a piece, while a few other cars (Darrell Lanigan, McCreadie, Chub Frank, Dale McDowell, etc.) were also involved. Post-race coverage included a check of the unofficial results and interviews with winner Jimmy Owens and Eckert.

There was a fair amount of discussion based around tire compounds. Based on what was said on the telecast, the Sprint Car teams were running on some of the softest tire compounds available (at least based on Goodyear’s website). Meanwhile, the Super DirtCar Series teams were racing on some of the hardest Hoosier tires available. The Late Model teams typically ran medium compound tires. There was a left rear blowout on Ian Madsen’s car during the Sprint Car feature, while some of the Super DirtCar Series teams had to deal with chunking from the tires being too hard for the track. The only major tire issue in the Late Models was Richards’ flat on the last lap of the feature that gave Eckert the title. That wasn’t due to anything other than contact, though.

After the Late Model race, Sheheen, Doty and Andrews recapped the three features and wrapped up the evening.

Last year, I closed out my critique of the Lowes Foods World Finals with this statement: “In the future, SPEED needs to figure out what they want to do with this event. Do they want it to be a event that they simply show highlighted coverage of, or are they going to do it justice and just show the whole thing “live live,” regardless of how long it actually takes to do it? There is an audience out there for these series.”

My thoughts on this years’ telecast basically mirrors last year’s. The cuts are irritating to put up and hurt the overall quality of SPEED’s production. DeSpain’s interviews should not be taking away actual racing from the telecast, but they did. Having said that, they did announce during the telecast that World Racing Group has reached a multi-year deal with Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to continue to hold the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte, and a deal for SPEED to continue to televise it. Perhaps the event will get a much longer timeslot next year.

I hope you liked this critique of SPEED’s telecast of the Lowes Foods World Finals. Check back next week for more critiquing. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s racing from Phoenix and Abu Dhabi.

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