Driver Change

July 01, 2001

The summer of love didn't take place in 1967. Rather, it happened
last year and involved the unlikeliest of paramours: Fox Sports
and NBC Sports. In November 1999 the networks (along with Turner
Sports) signed a six-year, $2.4 billion deal for rights to
broadcast those oh-so-groovy kids on the NASCAR circuit. Fox and
its cable arm, FX, went leadoff, telecasting the first half of
the 2000 Winston Cup season. On July 7, NBC (whose cable partner
is TNT) will begin coverage of the second half with a 7:30 p.m.
telecast of the Pepsi 400 from Daytona.

To prepare, last summer the two networks dispatched their
broadcast teams on a joint road trip: eight men visiting tracks
across the country in what NBC race producer Sam Flood calls "a
magical mystery tour." Three days a week for six weeks they
scouted camera positions, talked shop and, on occasion, raced
their rental cars around a track. "It was a unique situation,"
says Flood. "You wouldn't see CBS and Fox doing this in football,
but this is different. This is the first major sports package in
which we don't compete against each other--it's in both our
interests to see NASCAR do well." Fox certainly held up its end
of the bargain, as the latest ratings available at week's end
showed a rise to 6.5, from 5.1 last year when four networks split
the coverage. Fox won viewers by introducing innovative graphics,
including FoxTrax (an arrow that points out the car the
announcers are discussing), and a ticker that tracks every car in
the race. The network also scored by pairing as analysts the
down-home duo of veteran crew chief Larry McReynolds and former
driver Darrell Waltrip.

Now, it's NBC's turn. "It's been tough having to sit and watch
Fox," says NBC analyst Benny Parsons, a veteran of ESPN's NASCAR
coverage who will work alongside sometime driver Wally
Dallenbach. "I'd watch and say, 'Wow, that's really good,' but
sometimes I'd also think, Why didn't they say that?"

Another ESPN veteran, Bill Weber, will be the pit reporter and
host of the prerace show, to be held on pit road. "It gives us a
chance to talk to drivers right until the race starts," says
Weber. "It's basically carte blanche access for a NASCAR fan."

NBC will feature the same graphics used by Fox (technology
licensed by a company called Sportvision), and Flood says he
hopes to "keep the energy and excitement that Fox has created."
Imagine that: a producer complimenting another network's
coverage. Break out the tie-dye and the Cat Stevens--the Peacock
Peace Train is leaving the station.


As NBC picks up NASCAR, producer Flood hopes to "keep the
excitement Fox has created."

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)