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Woody: Some Simple Fixes To Get Fans To Watch Racing Again

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 19 2009
It can be tough to accurately determine just when the green flag is going to drop in NASCAR. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It can be tough to accurately determine just when the green flag is going to drop in NASCAR. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

I see that NASCAR on FOX TV ratings are down. They’re trying to figure out why, and how they can be improved.

Here’s some suggestions from one Frustrated Viewer:

For starters, shoot the gopher.

There may have been more annoying animations in the long history of TV-dom but I can’t recall one off-hand.

Having a goofy gopher dancing around on the screen during live action – when men in machines are risking life and limb – just doesn’t seem, well, cricket. It’s like splicing Daffy Duck cartoons into WWII combat footage.

The ground-level camera was a good idea – it provides some dramatic race footage. So let it go at that. Why take a perfectly good idea and ruin it with a rodent?

Here’s another idea for improving ratings: Let viewers know WHEN THE DARN RACE STARTS!

What could be a more simple premise: Tell viewers what time the race begins.

But just try to figure it out sometime. I’ve tried, and I can’t.

I subscribe to a weekly racing publication that lists one starting time. My TV Guide lists another. My local newspaper lists yet another (when it bothers to list one at all). Usually they’re all different. And usually they’re all wrong.

And what’s their definition of “starting time” anyway? I always thought it meant what time the race started. Apparently not.

It’s not that hard. The NFL does it dozens of time every Sunday during its season. If it says a game starts at noon and your click on your remote at noon, chances are you’ll see a football twirling through the air on the opening kickoff.

If the NFL can do it, why can’t NASCAR?

But on a NASCAR telecast if you turn on your TV at the stated “starting time” you’re liable to see a dancing gopher or a pre-race special on “Our Friend, the Lug Nut.”

Some of the pre-race shows are longer and more drawn-out than a Michener novel: “Gradually the earth’s crust began to cool …”

Look, I have nothing against pre-race shows. They’re often interesting and informative. But I’d like the option of choosing to arrange my schedule to watch one, rather than being lured in by a fake “starting time” for the race itself.

Just tell me what time the race starts. Not the pre-race show. Or the pre pre-race show. Or the Digger pre-race cartoon.

I want to be able to plop down in my easy chair, click on the TV and hear the final stains of “…and the home of the brave!”

To me, “starting time” means the time that the green flag waves and the cars start running in circles.

What time is that? That’s all I want to know. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Another problem with TV that races are bounced from coast-to-cost through a variety of time zones that make it a challenge to keep up with the shifting telecasts. In the old days, races generally started around noon, except for night races which started around 6:30. Now you have to figure out if they mean PCT, EST, CST, CDT … suddenly you’re getting dizzy. One weekend the race is early afternoon, the next its mid-afternoon, the next its late afternoon and the next it’s at night. And is the race Saturday or Sunday this week?

They don’t make it easy; if you want to watch racing on TV, you’ve gotta work to do it.

Once you figure out when the race starts and they actually get around to putting it on, I think FOX does a great job. The announcers are informative and entertaining and the camera-work is superb.

And here lately, the product has been excellent – the races have been dramatic and action-packed.

So why are ratings down?

I’ve offered my suggestions and FOX doesn’t even owe me a consulting fee. It can have them free of charge, and they should be easy to implement:

Settle on an exact starting time and let fans in on it. And somebody please whack that rat.

That may not solve all of NASCAR’s TV problems but it would be a good start. 

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 19 2009
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