Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 107- UNOH Battle at the Beach

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming that we just plain cannot fit in the regular critiques. A welcomed addition to Speedweeks for 2013 was the UNOH Battle at the Beach, a trio of 150 lap races (plus heats and practice sessions) for the Whelen All-American Series (late model competitors at NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks), the K&N Pro Series (East and West) and the Whelen Modifieds (North and South). SPEED provided coverage of all three events. How did the two days of coverage go? Let’s take a look.

It took a number of entities working together to actually bring viewers the coverage Monday and Tuesday from Daytona. SPEED obviously shot the events, but there were four different commentary crews at work. All the heat races were done by the crew at Bob Dillner’s Speed51.com. The practice sessions were done with “natural sounds,” along with only the camera in Turn 1 in operation. Dillner was joined by Hermie Sadler for the late model race with Ray Dunlap in the pits. For Tuesday’s Modified race, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds were in the booth, while the trio of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Joey Logano worked the K&N Pro Series race. I know that some of the commentators do specialize in certain types of racing (Joy with the Modifieds, Dillner with late models, Allen and Parsons with the K&N Pro Series since they call the regular races in a studio for the tape delay telecasts). However, it seems unnecessary to have seven booth commentators for three races.

Monday’s race telecast started off with a recap of the two heat races, which seemed to have a fair amount of action. There was also an informative piece that described the differences between “Perimeter” and “Straight Rail” late models. I’ll admit to having not watched many late model races in the last few years, especially since NASCAR killed the Elite Series. However, from what I could tell, the Straight Rail cars are the “traditional” late models. Probably the cheaper ones as well. Meanwhile, the Perimeter cars were more like K&N cars with late model bodies.

Once the race got started, SPEED showed a fair amount of the action on track. They were a bit limited in that they only had about six cameras at their disposal (one speed shot, the cameras in Turns 1 and 4, the blimp, one at the start-finish line and one in the pits). As a result, they missed a few things. They did the best that they could with the available footage. Ultimately, it wasn’t so bad here, but it would be a little worse on Tuesday. I wish they would have done better with notifying viewers who was on the lead lap (I only recall them doing it a couple of times per race), and who was out. The second one is a little more important for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of the cars look similar (lots of black cars). Two, the scroll never really displayed who was out. It just showed those cars constantly losing more and more laps. The fact that the transporters were parked behind the main grandstand might have had something to do with that.

Dillner is very knowledgeable about the late model scene (he owns the aforementioned Speed51.com, and owns a late model team as well), so even though he might not be the best guy to have in the booth most of the time, he’s perfect for late model races. Sadler is a former late model racer in Virginia and the Carolinas prior to his time in the Nationwide Series, so he was able to bring in his past knowledge as well.

Post-race coverage was terrible. I know that the race went nearly a half-hour long because of the nine yellows. However, knowing what went down at the end of the race, SPEED needed to stay and square everything up. Heck, they didn’t stay long enough for a winner’s interview. I guess Kyle Larson got his taste of “the JWT treatment that I ranted about on Tuesday”:https://frontstretch.com/pallaway/42350/. Let’s just be honest. I know SPEED wanted to show their sweet special, but it could have waited ten more minutes. Live events are more important than taped shows.

Tuesday brought a bunch of wrecking. Simple as that. Joy and McReynolds talked a little about the controversial late model finish and showed post-race interviews with Larson and C.E. Falk. If you had been watching SPEED prior to the telecast, those interviews would have premiered during NASCAR RaceHub one hour earlier. From there, there were the opening ceremonies, then straight to the wrecking.

Here, the sheer amount of wrecking made it very difficult for Joy and McReynolds to be able to talk about anything else. There were never more than 11 consecutive laps under green. The average speed was something more akin to West International Speedway Boulevard than a race (although it should be noted that there have been Nationwide races run at nearly that slow a pace in the past). The wrecking also led to frustration in the booth (as in Joy and McReynolds just wanted to talk about racing for position and the drivers just wouldn’t give it to them).

The constant crashing made it very difficult for viewers to keep up with where everyone was running. We never really saw Steve Park up until the last few laps of the race. Much of the telecast was basically to show the very front of the field until someone wrecked. To their credit, Joy and McReynolds gave a couple of updates on where Park and other drivers that weren’t at the very front of the field were running. Regardless, it still looked like Park came out of nowhere to be in contention late.

Despite going over a half-hour long, SPEED still gave the race a decent amount of post-race coverage. There were five post-race interviews and a check of the unofficial results. Ray Dunlap’s interview with Mike Stefanik (complete with Stefanik’s epic scowl) was posted at “Deadspin”:http://deadspin.com/5985610/adult-race-car-driver-turns-into-pouty-baby-during-post+race-interview on Wednesday morning, which is a first for the Whelen Modifieds. Unfortunately, Deadspin is about the most uninformed bunch in sports when it comes to racing, so the whole thing just looks terrible. If someone wrote that here at Frontstretch, I think the column would get pulled.

After a short break, it was time for the slightly less wreck-strewn K&N Pro Series race. As mentioned earlier, Allen and Parsons are regulars with the series. However, they are rarely call the races live. Instead, the broadcasts are put together similarly to how SPEED used to do Hooters Pro Cup races.

Back then, Rick Benjamin and Scott Sutherland would call the races in a studio after having already watched the race multiple times in order to take notes. This was interesting because Sutherland started partnering Benjamin when he was still driving in the series, so there were meta moments when Sutherland would have to talk about himself in the third person. There would be one pit reporter live at the track. For the Pro Cup races, it would usually be someone like Stephen Cox. In the case of the current K&N races, those people are Derek Pernesiglio for the East races and Bernadette Sanicola for the West races.

With the compressed schedule, there was no pre-race coverage. Instead, there was an introduction from the trio in the booth, then the green came out. Yeah, there were still a bunch of yellows, but it was possible to at least see a little action on the track for position.

I still believe that I missed quite a few moments of interest due to the minimal number of cameras on hand. We would never quite see what caused a number of the wrecks.

Logano was interesting in the booth. His commentary was somewhat interesting since he had raced with a fair number of the drivers in the field previously. For example, he talked at length about his duel with Sergio Pena during the Toyota All-Star Showdown while driving the “Toyorolet” (it was a Chevrolet with a Toyota engine). Yet, with Gray Gaulding getting into Turn 1 so deep on the final lap that he spun out Michael Self, Logano failed to mention something pertinent. Remember when “Logano took out Peyton Sellers on the last lap of the Toyota All-Star Showdown and got DQ’d for his trouble?”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4ALjiJzcGc#t=3m22s I do. Apparently, he didn’t.

Post-race coverage was ok with three interviews and a results rundown. By this point, the telecast was an hour over it’s timeslot, so getting anything at all is good.

The UNOH Battle at the Beach was an interesting two days of action, but I do believe that changes may need to be made for 2014. At the very least, make it clear that wrecking dudes on the last lap isn’t going to be tolerated. NASCAR and SPEED provided viewers unprecedented coverage, including the first ever practice and qualifying sessions streaming on YouTube. That went ok. I can’t really complain. I wouldn’t be surprised if Daytona builds a permanent short track on their property as part of their grandmaster plan for renovations.

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll have a nice write-up of Richard Petty: A Racer’s Life, a new special that debuted on SPEED Monday night. I just really wish SPEED could have pushed back it’s debut ten more minutes Monday so that we could have gotten a proper conclusion to the broadcast. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action in Daytona.

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