Beside the Rising Tide: The Business Of NASCAR Television

If nothing else, the Eldora truck series race is unique. It’s the only event in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions run on a dirt track. It’s the only NASCAR event to have heat races and a last chance qualifier to set the field. And unlike any of the Cup races, the Eldora race is run on a weeknight. This year, the event is to be run Wednesday July 19th. If past runnings of the event count for anything, it ought to be a good time and to date the fans have shown up at Eldora to support the spectacle.

But a lot of you won’t be able to see this year’s Eldora event or TV, at least not all of it. As of right now, qualifying is set to run on FS1 at 5. (At Eldora this round of qualifying decides how drivers will line up in the heat races, it doesn’t determine the starting order of the Main event.) Those qualifying races will be held on FS2 beginning at 7:30, which presumably will give the on air “talent” time to switch to the appropriate shirts and microphones.

The thing about FS2 is it’s like Hepatitis C. I know that there are people out there who get it, but I’ve never met any of them. As such most of you won’t be able to see the qualifying races, which to put it succinctly sucks.

Then from 9 to 9:30 (all times are Eastern as that’s the time zone I live in and I refuse to accept the other time zones as legitimate) there will be pre-race show which will air on…are they kidding me?…nope…the FOX Business channel. The race itself will also be on the FOX Business channel starting at 9:30 or thereabouts.

People in the employment of FOX have said that as many households receive FOX Business as receive FS1. Well, OK then. Time for all of us to upend the recliners and sofa and find that old channel guide the cable guy dropped off back when we got hooked up to the cash vampire that is cable TV. I’m sure it’s on there somewhere. You might want to figure it out beforehand, because using the guide to scroll through all channels when you’ve got almost 1000 of them is time consuming. Especially if you’re old, have to prop your glasses halfway down your nose, lean forward and squint to make them all out. I mean, seriously, I think I have close to 100 Spanish language (or “Mexican” as my neighbor likes to refer to them) channels. I speak barely a word of the language but when I asked the cable company if I could trade almost 100 Spanish language channels for FS2 they said “no.” There’s 10 to 12 channels I actually watch during the course of the year. If I could get just those 12 at a buck a pop a month I’d be living large and in charge. Well, maybe I’d add a 13th channel. Watching some of the crap like “Finding the Loch Ness Monster” on Discovery puts me right the hell to sleep some nights. They had a special the other night where they claimed to have found a Democrat living in Montana. They did locate some Birkenstock shoeprints and had some grainy footage of what could have been a Prius, but they never spoke to anyone who admitted to Democratic tendencies.

How many fans will even get to see the on- or off-track fireworks this year? (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

So why on earth is the Eldora race on FOX Business channel? Well it seems that the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal double-header match is going to run at the same time as the race. Ummm. First off, the acronym needs work, guys. It’s longer than some relationships I’ve had. And secondly…it’s shorthand for soccer. It seems as of late FOX just loves soccer, almost as much as they hate auto racing. The only thing FOX Business has to do with racing is if they’re going to treat race fans this way they have no business covering the sport.

NASCAR fans are not alone in our travails, tribulations and trauma with the FOX networks. Someone in the FOX scheduling department is awfully optimistic when it comes to deciding what time a stock car race will end. Over the last several weeks, it seems that FS1 was set to go to NHRA drag racing after our races conclude. And usually the handoff to drag racing is at least a half hour after the scheduled start time. My guess is the straight line fans aren’t pleased. But oval track or dragstrip, all of us race fans have this much in common…..if a soccer game goes late FOX isn’t going to move it to FOX Business to get the race coverage started.

Let’s face it. Currently in the US there’s two sorts of auto racing….stock cars and “other”. But it seems at least those “other” series are trying ramp up interest in their forms of motorsport as well. Thanks to the late start time for the Cup race Sunday, NBCSN was able to present the Formula One race from Azerbaijan (is it just me or does that sound more like a Genesis song than a place) followed by the IndyCar race from Road America starting at 1 PM ET, when traditional race fans expect races to start.

As for those three o’clock start times helping the TV ratings, well, not so much. The ratings are in fact down from last year and last year’s numbers were nothing to write home about. But the official line is that the ratings are down less than they would have been had the earlier start times still been used. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s an alternative truth or just plain old wishful thinking.

On a brighter note, FOX’s annual reign of aural terror is over for another year in NASCAR. Next week at Daytona they pass the baton to the NBC family of networks which, at least at this juncture, haven’t announced any races to be broadcast on the NBC Business Channel. It’s been 16 years since FOX started broadcasting the first half of the NASCAR season. You’d think by now they’d have at least figured out how to do it halfway well, especially given the low bar they set for themselves in that era of animated gophers and what almost turned into a physical altercation at the then-Lowes Motor Speedway as promoter Humpy Wheeler threatened to cut the cables to FOX’s truck.

But perhaps there is hope. Earlier this week Dale Earnhardt, Jr. opined that if the right opportunity were to present itself for him to be a race broadcaster it’s something he would seriously consider. So perhaps Earnhardt could take Darrell Waltrip’s slot in the FOX booth? It might be nice to actually have a driver who has driven a Cup car in the last two decades explain what it’s like to drive one these days. And at 70 years of age it’s high time that DW enjoys that rocking chair the late Dale Earnhardt gave him as a retirement gift. And if the change was made soon it would give the drivers several months to re-acclimate themselves enough to know the race starts when the green flag drops not when Darrell hollers that terribly annoying “boogity” anthem of his. Waltrip’s Cup racing career lasted approximately 28 years though he didn’t win a single race in his final eight years driving. His broadcasting career has now lasted 17 years. He was considerably better at driving than he has been at broadcasting. And with all the hullaballoo about health care lately Waltrip could perform a valuable service. His retirement would almost instantly lower the blood pressures of millions of race fans between February and June every year.

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