Welcome back to another year of critiquing of motorsports on TV. This will be my 14th year here at Frontstretch, giving you nuggets to think about in regards to race broadcasts. Crazy when you think about it.
This past weekend, NASCAR ventured west out to Los Angeles to enter uncharted territory. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, likely the largest stadium in the country, was converted into a quarter-mile oval for 150 laps of action. Admittedly, the sim racing events on iRacing that I saw leading up to Sunday made me think that it would be a wreckfest. Aside from the second half of the second Last Chance Qualifier, that wasn’t really the case. It was far more competitive than I thought it would be.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, I must provide this disclaimer: My experience watching Sunday’s action will be quite different than most readers of this column. This is not FOX’s fault.
At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, I discovered that my local FOX affiliate, WXXA FOX23, was not going to air the first 3.5 hours of coverage from Los Angeles. This is because FOX23 was airing the #518Gives fundraiser for the Center for Disability Services from 2-5:30 p.m. ET. That would mean that all of the first edition of NASCAR RaceDay, the heats, the LCQs and half of the second NASCAR RaceDay would not air on FOX locally.
Such a situation stinks, but it’s not the first time that something like this has happened in Albany. Back in 1997, CBS’ broadcast of the inaugural Interstate Batteries 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was pre-empted in Albany so that WRGB could air an Arthritis Telethon. They did eventually air the race, but at 12:15 a.m. that night. Given that there was some pre-race and post-race coverage back then and four hours of racing, the broadcast would have wrapped up around 4:45 a.m. I was 12 at the time and didn’t have a TV in my room, so I couldn’t watch.
Back then, over-the-air subchannels as we know them today didn’t exist. Today, your over-the-air channels could have half a dozen sub feeds. What’s on those sub feeds? Likely one of a number of general entertainment digital channels. There are nearly 30 of them available over-the-air in the Albany area, but only a small percentage are available in cable systems locally.
The first 3.5 hours of FOX’s coverage was shifted to Channel 23.3 in Albany, space normally occupied by Laff, a digital network dedicated to sitcoms, comedy TV shows and sometimes movies. I admit to watching from time to time. They air Night Court on there and I’m always up for that.
Unfortunately, putting a race broadcast on a station normally used for Laff is not a good idea. Why? Well, there was no announcer audio for the entire 3.5 hours that they aired from Los Angeles. This was exasperating and I was admittedly clueless as to what was going on. I asked around and determined quickly that this wasn’t a national issue. It was just in Albany.
I sent a tweet to FOX23’s Twitter page as to what was causing the issue, but received no response. Nearly two hours in, I got a Facebook message from a man who (like myself) covers the local dirt racing scene here in the Albany area. He had talked to someone with technical knowledge and apparently announcer audio is put through a third channel for sound and he didn’t think Laff was set up for that. As a result, we got ambient sounds from Los Angeles, but no announcers. Based on the comments I’ve read here over the years, some of you might like that. However, you need the voices to put things into context.
Obviously, with Tony Stewart making his booth debut for FOX and everyone getting back to work, I can’t critique a race broadcast without announcer audio. So I had to watch those 3.5 hours on first the FOX Sports app, then FOXSports.com. The app was approximately one to two laps behind the broadcast, while the website was four laps behind. This was far from an ideal setup, and I’ll be happy that it doesn’t happen for the rest of the season. Luckily, once 5:30 p.m. came along, the coverage moved to FOX23 and I didn’t have to worry about this ridiculousness.
Unfortunately, the pre-race setup meant that I had to deal with feed freezes from time to time. As a result, I cannot give full breakdowns of a couple of the pre-race features because I effectively was unable to see them through no fault of my own. For example, one piece saw Kurt Busch and Larry McReynolds on a tour bus going to one of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants (I know, it sounds really strange). It froze 15 seconds in, then unfroze after it ended, so I couldn’t really tell you what it was like other than to tell you that the premise was weird.
Another piece had Daniel Suarez join Joel McHale (Community, The Soup, Card Sharks, etc.) for a meal. Here, Suarez basically describes the basics of his career to McHale. This piece came off as a little weird as well.
Similar to NASCAR RaceHub last week, NASCAR RaceDay was based on a set in the west end grandstands. This resulted in a wacky instance in which a random dude walked in front of the camera while they were live. ESPN’s Ryan McGee clipped the weird circumstance.
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) February 6, 2022
Wow. I don’t even know what to say. How did that guy get in front of the cameras? Jeepers. Chris Myers kept his cool, but I have no doubt that he was rather ticked off.
Sunday saw the debut of Tony Stewart for FOX in the broadcast booth alongside Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer. Stewart will be in the booth through Daytona, but beyond that is a mystery. Stewart does bring some previous experience in the booth when he did a couple of Busch races in the booth for TNT back in the mid-2000s. He had a rather giggly time back then.
In 2003, Stewart was just in the booth to have some fun on a Friday night. This time is a little more serious. Sunday saw Stewart bring a lot of focused commentary to the broadcast. I found Stewart to be quite knowledgeable and filled in quite a few gaps. Yes, Stewart had never raced at the Coliseum. Then again, no one else had. Despite that, Stewart brings a different feel to the broadcast, something that Clint Bowyer cannot inject into telecasts. 2022 is going to be up and down for FOX based on whoever the third person is in the booth. As of this writing, I don’t know who the third person will be other than at Daytona.
Broadcasting from a football stadium is usually not too difficult of an endeavor for TV networks. However, this is a completely different circumstance since you have to cover the circumference of the facility as opposed to simply end to end.
FOX employed a lot of quick cuts in their production both Saturday and Sunday and it made things a little difficult to follow at times. I’m not alone in saying that since a lot of people made their opinions known on Twitter when it came to that issue. Given the space constraints, there were a lot of robotic camera usage as well. There were some establishing shots that showed the cars all the way around the quarter-mile track, like one through the arches on the east side of the stadium. That was nice.
Possibly the most explosive moment of the race was when Ryan Blaney threw his HANS Device at Erik Jones’ car after Jones put him in the wall. Unfortunately, FOX failed to catch that. We just had Mike Joy react to the HANS Device being thrown. There was a multiple second gap, then a cut to the HANS Device sitting on the track. As of this writing, no video of the actual HANS throw has surfaced.
Post-race coverage was pretty decent. Viewers got interviews with the top four finishers (Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Jones) along with post-race analysis before the coverage from Los Angeles came to an end.
Looking back, Stewart was likely the high point of this broadcast. He showed this past weekend that he’s got the chops to really do some good on FOX. Unfortunately, he’ll only be there through the Daytona 500. You have to have a good mix in the booth to have a good broadcast and that’s going to be a mixed bag for the entire season, literally dependent on who the third person will be that week. Having a revolving door pretty much cannot benefit FOX in any way.
The on-track action was pretty good. Nowhere near as many shenanigans. Apparently, a lot of the people at the Coliseum Sunday were at their first race. If they came into it with the knowledge that this isn’t the norm for NASCAR, maybe they’ll come back for more. Had I considered going, I would have ditched my car somewhere and used the Metro E Line (a light rail station is located across the street from the stadium on Exposition Boulevard. Some of the parking lots were charging $100 a car to park like they do for USC Football games (note: USC is literally across Exposition Boulevard from the stadium).
I do admit that due to the ongoing part shortages, I didn’t think this race should have been held this year. The fear was that a lot of teams were going to end up with thrashed cars. Ultimately, only three or four of the 36 that made the trip got trashed (Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Justin Haley, most notably). Still, it was a legitimate worry.
The atmosphere at the race was very different than any race I’ve ever been to. Based on what I could see on FOX, it was a much younger crowd than normal. Perhaps some of the USC students crossed the street to check it out. That said, it seemed like FOX was focusing on a certain group of young women during the broadcast. That was a little weird. We’re not getting to the level of what ABC did with Jenn Sterger since the booth never acknowledged this on-air, but it was noticeable.
Having Pitbull perform doesn’t seem that strange knowing that he co-owns Trackhouse Racing with Justin Marks. Ice Cube performing was something else. It seemed so weird when it was happening. I know a lot of longtime fans didn’t like that, but I didn’t mind so much. Maybe doing the performance in the middle of the race is what made it seem so weird.
That’s all for this week. For this weekend, NASCAR teams will be finishing up their preparations for Daytona. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be racing to watch.
The DIRTcar Nationals are now underway at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida. The Short Track Super Series will be at All-Tech Raceway for four nights of Modified racing. The World Series of Asphalt starts off nine nights of racing at New Smyrna Speedway Friday night, while Monster Energy AMA Supercross returns to Angel Stadium for their third visit of the season. That’s just some of the action available to watch. TV listings can be found in the Television drop-down menu above.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, we’re going to preview FOX’s season. As of this writing, there are still a number of roles that haven’t been announced. Perhaps by next week, a lot of the guest analyst roles will be filled.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.