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Race Day: ESPN Has Work To Do Starting Today

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 26 2009
Tony Stewart heads out onto the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They guy always provokes reaction. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tony Stewart heads out onto the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They guy always provokes reaction. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Indianapolis – Rich Feinberg has seen the rating numbers for television coverage of the first half of the Sprint Cup season. As vice president for motorsports at ESPN, it is his job to see and study those numbers. And yes, Feinberg says, they are disconcerting.

Beginning this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be his and his people’s mission to change those numbers to concerting.

ESPN will attempt to improve on the numbers posted by Fox and TNT during the first 19 races of the 36-race schedule by, says Feinberg, “throwing the kitchen sink” at their coverage of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

As he sat in the media center at IMS Friday, he sported a confident look. The kind of look which you get from a guy whose network made watching people playing cars must-see television.

Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, said her network is concerned about the first-half numbers her competitors posted.

“It’s fair to say that we certainly recognize that the baton is being passed to us with ratings down,” Sobieski said. “While we certainly see as you do that there’s room for improvement in a lot of areas, we’re doing everything we can from a TV standpoint. Many of you (media) have written about different theories about why ratings are down, but it’s not really my place to get into those areas we don’t control. At the end of the day, we’re doing everything we can from a TV standpoint. We’re really lucky to be able to kick off our Sprint Cup coverage with one heck of a race.”

Sobieski also addressed the issue of starting times for races.

“There’s definitely been a lot of dialogue about start times, and a lot has been written. With ratings being down, there’s lots of factors that are contributing to that. Can consistent start times make a difference? Certainly that’s possible. We’d be supportive of consistent start times with ESPN and we know that’s also been a priority for NASCAR to try and look at, so if it’s good for the fans, and we think it’s going to benefit ratings, then certainly we’re onboard with that concept,” she said.

“It’s ultimately NASCAR’s call when it comes to the schedule of their races, and certainly the tracks as well. All we can do is have the open dialogue and support ultimately where NASCAR and the tracks feel (the starting time) is best to serve the fans. Nothing is set for next year, so I think that dialogue is ongoing and continuing.”

Lights, cameras (76 of them today)…

Some ESPN Numbers:

10 – Number of months ESPN’s NASCAR fleet will be on the road (February-November)

26 – Tracks ESPN’s mobile fleet will visit in 2009

38 – NASCAR events ESPN’s mobile fleet will attend in 2009

52 – NASCAR races to be televised live by ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC in 2009 (full 35-race NASCAR Nationwide Series season, final 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup events)

22,000 – miles signal travels from racetrack to satellite, then 22,000 miles back to ESPN

78,000 – Weight in pounds of ESPN traveling studio for NASCAR Countdown shows

360,415 – Projected combined miles ESPN’s mobile fleet will log in 2009

11 – Mobile units at each race (including pit studio, Tech Center (2), mobile office, in-car camera trailer, uplink trucks)

19 – EVS servers for race and studio production (high-speed digital recording)

20 – maximum miles of video, audio and power cable needed on site at race tracks

60-75 – HD Cameras used by ESPN to televise a NASCAR race (including 24 in-car cameras, 15 manned or operated cameras, seven handheld; 8 robotic on-track; 4 robotics in Pit Studio; 3 RF Crewcams; 8 pit overheads; 2 Jib cameras; 1 Grasscam; 5 POV cameras including announce booth, race control, flagstand, etc.)(Brickyard 400 has 76 cameras with addition of Bat Cam)

67 – computer-based record/playback devices

80 – microphones both wired and wireless used at each race

150 – Hotel rooms needed each event for ESPN personnel

225 – Credentialed ESPN personnel working on NASCAR each week

NASCAR At Indy (1909-2009)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and although known more for its open-wheel tradition, the track has seen its share of NASCAR history.

Stock-car racing became a fixture there in the early 1990s, with the advent of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.

But NASCAR references and competitive crossover are found throughout Indianapolis’ long existence. Some examples follow:

* NASCAR founder Bill France was a pit-crew member for driver Joel Thorne during the 1938 and 1939 Indianapolis 500s. Thorne finished seventh and ninth, respectively.

* The car that Mauri Rose drove in his 1941 Indianapolis 500 victory proved quite versatile. The grandfather of outgoing Indianapolis Motor Speedway President (and soon-to-be International Speedway Corporation Vice President for Business Operations) Joie Chitwood drove the same car in the 1946 Indianapolis 500.

* Buck Baker later drove the car in the NASCAR Speedway division title in 1952. It remained in Charlotte, N.C., until Bob Harkey arranged for its return to Indianapolis. The car now is on display at the IMS Hall of Fame.

* Red Byron, the first NASCAR Sprint Cup champion (1949), practiced, but didn’t qualify for the 1947 and 1948 Indianapolis 500s.

* Red Vogt, one of stock-car racing’s earliest and most sought-after mechanics, helped Byron prepare for his Indianapolis 500 attempts.

* Legendary NASCAR driver and team owner Junior Johnson drove part of the rookie driver’s test for the 1963 Indianapolis 500, as a teammate to then-fellow rookie Bobby Unser.

* Curtis Turner attempted to qualify for the 1963 Indianapolis 500 in a car prepared by another famous mechanic, Smokey Yunick.

* The Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR’s oldest and most accomplished teams, pitted the car for 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Clark and his teammate Bobby Johns, who finished seventh.

* NASCAR legends Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison all boast Indianapolis 500 history. Yarborough started the 1966, ‘67, ‘71 and ‘72 races. Bobby Allison started the ‘73 and ‘75 races. Donnie Allison (’70 and ’71) was the highest finisher of the three, finishing fourth in the 1970 Indianapolis 500 and earning rookie of the year honors.

* Current NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers with Indianapolis 500 experience include Tony Stewart, 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), John Andretti (No. 34 Taco Bell Chevrolet) and Robby Gordon (No. 7 John Manville Toyota).

* The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first test at Indianapolis was June 22-23, 1992. Nine drivers participated – Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/ Kellogg’s Chevrolet), Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford), Darrell Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Davey Allison and Kyle Petty. Elliott had the top speed (168.767 mph).

Brickyard Fast Facts

Next Race: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard

The Date: Sunday, July 26

The Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; 2.5-mile oval

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

The Distance: 160 laps/400 miles

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: IMS Radio and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 26 2009


  • SallyB says:

    Judging from todays broadcast, ESPN isn’t going to do much to improve ratings. The camera work was so chopped up it was impossible to follow the action…what little there was. Overuse of incar cameras, bumpercams, and gimmick shots make the racing incomprehensible. With all the ‘special pieces’, it really was a lot of interviews, pre taped segments, and a little bit of live racing thrown in as an afterthought. Pretty sad to think this is the best that the self proclaimed ‘World wide leader in sports’ can do.

  • mike says:

    Those stands were empty today. Did anyone notice? I have not seen the stands so empty in a cup race in a long long while and this was Indy. Looks like NASCAR needs to make some changes PDQ.

  • john j. says:

    Does any person or respected organization have the ability to confirm
    the accuracy of nascar’s claim of Juan pablo montoya actually speeding at the brick yard today . I do not consider Nascar or Fox news to be a trusted source of factual information .

  • Will E says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Benny Parsons. For right or wrong, he was always exciting.

  • John says:

    They need to bring back Bob Jenkins to get there ratings better