NBC tries to follow Fox's lead

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

ATLANTA -- Two television networks will be covering Sunday's Kmart 400. Two sets of announcers will watch the same race and, most likely, will tell the story from two points of view.

Racing fans will see only what Fox has to offer once the green flag waves, but the work being done behind the scenes by NBC might be more intriguing.

The television audience already knows what Fox has to offer on race day, and as the season speeds closer to the handoff between networks the Pepsi 400 on July 7 NBC knows it has a tough act to follow.

Sunday's dry rehearsal for the broadcast team that will work the second half of the racing season will allow NBC and its partner, TNT, to work out the kinks under real race conditions. The crew, which includes Allen Bestwick and Benny Parsons, have only a month to refine their on-air personality before Fox's team of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds trades in its microphones for remote controls.

 

Comedian Jay Leno poses in front of the 2001 NASCAR Brickyard 400 Chevrolet Monte Carlo pace car Wednesday, May 30, 2001 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Ind. Leno visited the track to take practice laps in the vehicle, which he will drive to start the NASCAR Brickyard 400 on August 5, 2001.

AP Photo/General Motors, Blake J. Discher

Bestwick and Parsons have watched their counterparts at Fox for the past five months. They agree with critics and fans that Fox has revolutionized the way the world watches stock car racing. Much like it changed the NFL, Fox has made NASCAR more fan-friendly, especially to those who don't know the difference between a roll bar and a Clark bar.

Fox has enjoyed record ratings at every event this year. The network promised to show the sport from the inside-out, and it has delivered. New camera angles and an insight that only Waltrip and McReynolds could offer put a new spin on an old story.

Now NBC faces a haunting question: What's left?

''We've got our own version of bells and whistles, too,'' Bestwick said. ''We've been working day and night, banging and banging and banging on this stuff.

''I think in general, Fox has raised the bar. What they've done has been impressive. But it doesn't change the way we've been planning to do our job. From Day 1, our goal has been to knock everybody's socks off, and we still plan to do that.''

NBC is expected to hire a third commentator in the next couple of weeks. Most likely, it will be driver Wal ly Dallenbach, who already has auditioned for the job and will be in the booth Sunday for NBC's dry run.

Before Fox, NBC and Turner paid $2.6 million for the television rights to NASCAR for the next six years, ESPN, CBS, ABC and TNN were responsible for broadcasting races.

All four networks, especially ESPN and CBS, were hailed as being most responsible for elevating the sport's presence from its backwoods image to a national sport. Fox, NBC and Turner were to take it to another level because most of their work would be shown on network television.

The deal gave Fox and its partners at FX and Fox Sports Net the rights to all Winston Cup and Busch series races in the first half of the season. When the second half starts at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, the deal moves over to NBC and Turner, which will use its partner at TNT.

Fox had the advantage of going first in the new six-year television deal that is second only to the NFL.

Now NBC has the advantage of knowing what it takes to maintain, or beat, the standard already established by Fox. And just to make sure, NBC will spend the next month practicing to make perfect.



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