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Woody: Commentators Must Be Able To Comment

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 15 2009
When things got boring at Talladega last month, TV commentators told it like it was and like they should have. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When things got boring at Talladega last month, TV commentators told it like it was and like they should have. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

I once wrote a story in which a prominent NASCAR TV commentator was critical of his network – specifically of some racy ads that it ran during race telecasts.

I called a network executive to get his response to the criticism. Shortly afterwards the commentator called me back and pleaded: please don’t run the story about his critical comments. The network executive had called him and chewed him out.

As a favor to the commentator – an old friend – I killed the story and instead wrote a personal commentary criticizing the racy ads that were being run during family-time race telecasts.

I recalled the heat my commentator buddy caught when I recently read about the continued fallout from comments made by the broadcast crew during the fall Talladega race.

They had the audacity to call a boring race boring.

Their comments were partly in response to Tony Stewart’s radio communication to his pit boss in which he said he was having trouble staying awake because the race was so dull.

That’s newsworthy.

I thought the boys in the booth were simply doing their jobs by stating the obvious: It was a boring race, at least by Talladega standards. Part of the problem was caused by NASCAR’s last-minute edict warning drivers not to bump into each other.

To its credit NASCAR was trying to make the race safer, but the commentators were right; it made for a boring race. Drivers tip-toed around the track as the audience yawned.

That was a big story, but NASCAR didn’t want to hear any criticism – certainly not over the airwaves. The commentators got called on the carpet for their remarks.

That raises the question about how open and honest TV commentators are permitted to be.

I always thought the whole idea of having an “expert analyst” in the booth was to give his personal analysis, not just recite the running order.

If he’s not allowed to honestly analyze what he sees – a boring race, for example – then why have him on the air? Just have some guy read the numbers of the cars as they come around the track.

Another concern in the area of objectively is raised by the presence of commentators who own race teams. How objective can they be when reporting/commenting on the performance of their own drivers?

Even if they try to be impartial, there’s always the perception …

NASCAR is one big (and at time dysfunctional) family and I realize it’s impossible to have a commentator who has no close track ties – witness Ned Jarrett’s emotional call of his son Dale’s Daytona 500 victory, and Darrell Waltrip’s similar call of little brother Michael’s win in the tragedy-marred 2001 race. Likewise, Rusty Wallace has a son on the track and Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham have ownership stakes in some of the teams on which they comment.

I believe they try to be impartial. I also think they try to put a positive spin on most everything that goes on. The guys tend to be too sugary and management-friendly.

That’s why their critical Talladega remarks were so unusual – and refreshing. For once they told it like it was. Howard Cosell would be proud.

NASCAR should have a thicker skin. It shouldn’t insist that its commentators paint a happy face on everything that goes on. When they do, they lose all credibility and become cheerleaders instead of commentators.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 15 2009


  • Ed Smith says:

    I agree with Woody: Analysts in the booth are (hopefully) there because they are experts in their field of racing. Society relys on expert opinion daily (for example, your doctor visit is just an expert opinion, as is your visit by your plumber). Unfortunately, our racing experts do get in trouble for expressing their expert opinion. Mike Dunn, drag racing analyst for ESPN, gave us his expert opinion of John Force’s performance at the US Nationals (“I think he threw the race” or something like that). His comments helped fuel the debate over Force’s actions – what expert opinion should do, among other things. But I think Mike Dunn got in trouble for critisizing the most popular driver in the NHRA, either by the NHRA or ESPN. Nothing (that I know of) was publicized about this, but Dunn hasn’t said another thing bad about John Force Racing since then.
    TV networks and sanctioning bodies need to let analysts give their opinion (as long as its professional, not personal), and if it creates controversy…what’s wrong with that?

  • Gina says:

    I prefer to listen to the PXP on the radio these days. Yeah MRN is owned by NASCAR too but at least they call the race. The Talladega race was boring, plate races for the most part are boring until the last 20 laps when the drivers finally race. Actually I think most of the races were boring, at least what the fans were shown on TV and I don’t like the fact that most of the commentators have either a personal or owner interest in the races. The lack of professionalism in the booth these days is terrible. I don’t tune in for favoritism or cheerleading.

    That said, NASCAR needs to stop trying to control the media and insisting that they only say “positive” things to the fans. I much prefer FACTS, not the fiction that everything is wonderful when it has become obvious to the fans that it isn’t. Not everything is bad, but you can’t address an issue until you actually face it, even when it isn’t pleasant.

  • lydia says:

    For me…while watching the Talladega race, if the commentators hadn’t of pointed out the obvious..and ran with the drivers in car comments…I would have been insulted and befuddled. I WANT to know the commentators are watching the “same race” I am! I don’t want to hear “NASCAR commercials” spewed by the commentators … I want their comments to match what is “actually” happening on the track..good or bad..boring or exciting. We are not dumb out here in “fan land”. As far as commentators having a past or existing connection with NASCAR…it normally doesn’t bother me. Most of the time it is a “plus” hearing “insider” info….it gives the viewer alittle more insight into what is actually going on…and makes it alittle more human and cozy. I have found with owners such as Rusty Wallace or Brad Daughtery..they tend to shy away from commenting on their teams and let the other commentators report on their progress. I must admit when Jarrett and Waltrip were calling the races won by family (and the loss of Dale Senior) the highs and lows of their emotions brought tears to my eyes and made the experience alittle more personal…more compelling..it gave me a connection with the sport I so love.

  • RAEckart says:

    As long as we get Jerry Punch to talk, I’ll be happy. He’s the quietest play-by-play man in the history of sports. Hopefully he finds his place at ESPN.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    I do believe NASCAR has as much right to express their opinion as members of the media do – except that the media seems to believe it is above being called to account. It never ceases to amaze me that anyone who defends NASCAR is kissing up, but anyone who criticizes NASCAR is supposed to be honest – hogwash. There is a substantial portion of the media who are either too lazy or too biased to ever write anything except criticism of NASCAR, and never lets the facts interfere with their so-called opinions.

  • shawn says:

    Couldn’t agree more. When commentators are just spewing Nascar propaganda I have no interest in watching them & all credibility is shot to heck. Nascar needs to wake up & give it’s fan’s some respect. Either that or Nascar just called me (fan) stupid & I don’t need them to treat me that way. Open mike policy is whats required. Also please stop MW on all shows as he has become Nascars positive lap dog no matter what. I used to support MW & his personality & now as a kiss up I wouldn’t take anything he say’s as worth anything.

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    It is the World of Inlaws!

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