The Critic's Annex: 1999 Kroger 225
by Phil Allaway
Note: The broadcast of this week's throwback race can be seen here.
Hopefully, the holidays were quite pleasant for you all. Now, it is time to go back to work.
Before we get started with this throwback critique, we have some TV news. Two notable on-air personalities will not return to their roles in 2017. Ray Dunlap announced on his Twitter feed that his contract with FOX Sports has not been renewed for 2017, ending his time with the network after 16 years. Recently, Dunlap has served as the play-by-play commentator for FOX Sports' ARCA Racing Series broadcasts and conducted a series of one-on-one interviews for NCWTS Setup.
Secondly, Mike Massaro announced that he is leaving NBC Sports, effective immediately. Massaro served as a pit reporter for race broadcasts on NBC and NBCSN, in addition to work on NASCAR America. No announcements have been made in regards to potential replacements.
This week on the throwback edition of The Critic's Annex, we're going back to the late 1990's. Prior to the opening of Kentucky Speedway, current Kentucky Speedway minority owner Jerry Carroll owned and operated Louisville Motor Speedway, a 7/16ths of a mile oval just south of Louisville, Ky. (the track was literally in the flight path of nearby Louisville International Airport). Louisville hosted five races for the then-Craftsman Truck Series. The first four were held in summer during the day and two of those (1996 and 1997) aired on CBS.
For 1999, the race was moved to early October and ran at night. With that, the heck broke loose. How did ESPN handle the heck going down?
This race was originally scheduled to air live on ESPN. However, ESPN also had rights to air Game 3 of the National League Divisional Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros. That game went 12 innings and thus, went long by 45 minutes or so. As a result, the start of the race was pushed to ESPN 2. The baseball game ended roughly one-third of the way into the race.
Even in 1999, moving a race from ESPN to ESPN 2 due to a live event was relatively commonplace. At that time, ESPN 2 was in over 60 million households (the network broke 70 million eight months after this race
). More than four of every five households with ESPN would have also gotten ESPN 2 at the time.
For ESPN, Marty Reid was on play-by-play in the booth (at the time, he was the regular man in that position for truck races), joined by Benny Parsons. Dave Burns and Amy East (Cook) were in the pits.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of pre-race coverage due to weather threatening the proceedings. As a result, there was a brief recap of the previous race in Las Vegas, mentioning the fact that Greg Biffle's No. 50 team got busted for an unapproved part. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty blatant. A $46,000 fine today would require a P5-level penalty in the series. The weather prevented a proper explanation of that mess.
When the broadcast began, the 30 starters were already on the track and running their pace laps. After a brief introduction and a check of the starting lineup, the race got underway.
It didn't take long for the action to heat up as David Starr smacked the wall, then Carl Long hit the wall a lap later and put fluid down on the track to put out the first yellow.
After the restart, the action came fast and furious. Drivers were trying to get every spot they possibly could. Robbie Thompson seemed to miss a shift on the restart, which backed up the inside line and created problems in turn 1. Starr spun out on his own a lap later on the frontstretch. No replay was shown of this spin and no caution was thrown.
Ron Hornaday, Jr. struggled in the race, running down the order a ways, then he lost a lap by spinning out while trying to avoid Tom Bambard and Joe Ruttman. There was a replay of the incident, but that clip did not show Hornaday's spin.
After Hornaday's son, Ronnie Hornaday, III, was eliminated in a crash, Hornaday nearly wrecked Jimmy Hensley out of the lead on the next restart. The result was simply chaos with people everywhere. Reid and Parsons described this incident as a "carom shot," which it basically was. What that means that is that Hornaday intentionally hit Hensley.
Later, Jack Sprague spun on the frontstretch after contact with Mike Wallace. Despite doing a 360 in front of two-thirds of the field, Sprague was not hit and continued without issue. No yellow was thrown. One did come out while ESPN was showing a replay of the incident.
Another aspect of the race that hasn't mentioned is the fact that this was the only truck race at Louisville with live pit stops.
As you may remember from some of my older TV critiques, Reid was a rather forgetful fella in the booth. That's what ultimately got him fired from the network late in the 2013 season. However, that unfortunately track record really wasn't at play here. The Reid of the late 1990's and early 2000's was generally solid in the booth. If we got that performance from Reid when he was calling Sprint Cup races in 2010, then maybe things could have worked out differently for him.
Post-race coverage was fairly brief due to the 12 cautions that comprised a full one-third of the race. Viewers got interviews with race winner Jay Sauter and winning crew chief Todd Berrier, in addition to some wrap-up coverage before ESPN left the air.
Overall, this was a pretty wild race swansong to major races at Louisville Motor Speedway. Jay Sauter got out of there with the win despite only leading the final three laps. ESPN did a decent job bringing viewers the action, but it occurred so quickly at times that they couldn't cover it all.
The obligations as a TV network did get in the way of the action at times. There were multiple restarts missed and Stacy Compton's late spin from fourth was caught live, but Reid had to read a SportsCenter promo when the wreck happened. That's weak and Reid should have been able to stop himself and hold off on that for a moment.
Parsons was himself in the booth. Very affable, enthusiastic about the action. He really did follow Reid's lead for much of the broadcast, which is a little unusual as compared to his work on Winston Cup broadcasts on the time. I suppose sharing a booth with Reid had a different protocol in terms of how Parsons conducted himself as compared to when he was sharing the booth with Bob Jenkins.
Phil Allaway is the Newsletter Manager and a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via e-mail at ashl...@mail.com.