What’s included in this week’s sports media column (linked here): How Michael and Darrell Waltrip have taken their brother act to Fox’s NASCAR Sprint Cup pre-race show, which continues this weekend from Fontana for the Auto Club 400.
What’s not included: More reaction from the Waltrips about other NASCAR related issues.
Darrell, on how the L.A. market factors into the success of NASCAR as a league and a TV event: “It’s obviously huge to our sponsors, to our sport and that’s why it’s always an important part — whether it’s Sonomoa or Fontana or Riverside or Ontario — in the success of the sport. Look at the number of drivers – 10 or 12 are from California. It’s important to them to be go back and race in front of their fans and friends and exposure we get. Fox is headquartered in L.A. All the sponsors have connections to L.A. We have to be there. And we need for it to be as successful and big as it can possibly be because it’s so important to everyone part of the sport.”
Darrell, on whether NASCAR ever goes back to having two events in Southern California per season instead of just one: “You know I’m not sure about that. I think sometimes one great big healthy event is a whole lot better than two events that are kind of mediocre. You kind of put all your eggs in one basket and grow that and use that for your platform. Sometimes two events actually end up hurting a race track than helps them. So I like one big event, and I like the fact it’s shortened to 400 miles, it makes it more exciting. It’s a beautiful facility. There’s not another one on the circult that’s any nicer. Or well run. It’s right where we need to be. The airport (in Ontario) is right there. There’s a whole lot of great things about that area that should make this race one of the best on this circuit.”
Michael, on how he’ll spend his weekend in Fontana focused on being a team owner and broadcaster: “I have great sponsors who love the fact we’re in Southern California and are passionate about racing, so when we come here, we bring our show to them and they can enjoy what NASCAR is all about. And I’m with Darrell: One race, a lot of energy. It’s important to our industry and also fun for the drivers and team to come West and see some Hollywood life. It’s something different. It energizes the teams.
“My role has certainly diversified with ownership and still driving some, but mainly when we head West my job is to entertain and interact with sponsors and help them use this investment they have in the cars to exploit that when we’re out there.”
Michael, on whether he has any advantage as a car owner being able to sit in the Fox studios and watch the races on all the TV monitors, and then radio information to his pit crew: Every (owner) goes about it differently. People ask, ‘How can you get to be a car owner like Rick Hendrick if you’re not with your team but in the TV booth?’ Well, guys like Hendrick and Penske, they don’t come to every race. They figure out their schedule and have smart people in charge of their teams that run the deal day to day and they’re there for support, making sure those guys have all the tools to run the show. How I’m able to watch and interact with my team, once the race starts and they say go, we’re mainly out of the broadcast and so I’m getting information via my team radios and scaning all the teams, and sometimes I’ll hear things other teams are saying that I can share with my team.
Darrell, adding to how Michael operates in the studio truck: “Here’s something you gotta remember: We don’t have anything that anybody else doesn’t already have. Everyone has access to all the TVs we have, and the scanners. In fact, we don’t have all the information a team owner would have. We don’t know what they’re texting or emailing each other. Strategywise, we just have a scanner like everybody else has. There’s no huge advantage from where Michael’s sitting than he’d have over any other owner. They could sit in a truck and watch a race like Michael sits in the (studio) hotel and watches the race. From that perspective, there’s no big advantage. At best it would be equal to what everybody else is doing.”
In other news:
== Fox announced it will team with the MLB Network in bringing back a half-hour pregame show for its Saturday afternoon games this year, using MLB talent such as Matt Vasgersian, Harold Reynolds, Mitch Williams, Eric Byrnes and Kevin Millar. In previous years, Chris Rose and Jeanie Zelasko had hosted a “Fox Saturday Baseball” show, using Byrnes, Millar, Eric Karros and/or Kevin Kennedy in the mix. The first new Fox/MLB show airs April 7.
== CBS will keep Clark Kellogg teamed with Jim Nantz on coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament’s South Regional games tonight in Atlanta – Baylor-Xavier and Kentucky-Indiana – rather than spring him free to watch his son, Nick, play for Ohio in its Sweet 16 game against North Carolina in St. Louis’ Midwest Regional. Kellogg said he never asked CBS to let him watch Nick’s game, and CBS wasn’t going to assign him to the Midwest Regional to exploit that connection. As Bob Raissman in the New York Daily News points out: “It’s not like CBS would have to scramble to find an analyst to replace him (with Nantz in Atlanta). . . the absence of Kellogg also won’t cost CBS a single ratings point during the Kentucky-Indiana telecast.” Heck, taking Kellogg off the rest of the tournament would actually be fine by us.
== A happy belated 60th birthday to Bob Costas (linked here)
== Bill Seward has the call for Universal Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network in their coverage of the Sevens World Series rugby from Hong Kong this weekend. In addition, UniversalSports.com has live streaming of the event for $4.99 or the full season for $29.99. Coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Network and 9:30 a.m. on Universal.
== The final installment of Tennis Channel’s “Top 100 Players of All Time” has the top 10, airing today at 4 p.m. Who’s No. 1? We can’t say, but the network released the top 10 list, in alphabetical order. As you may suspect, it includes: Bjorn Borg, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Roger Federer, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal, Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras.
== And the latest sign of ESPN overkill: The network will give Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith a prime-time debate show tonight (that is, for the East Coast) with a “special” called “First Take – #TebowTakesManhattan.” The show airs at 4 p.m. The New York Observer decided Bayless was worthy of a piece in its Wednesday editions, quoting Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch as saying that Bayless, as a member of ESPN2’s “First Take” team, is a “self-proclaimed television truth-teller simply pushing his own brand of dime-store demagoguery. … People tell me he’s a nice guy off the air. If so, that’s even more disappointing, because few in sports television come off more loathsome on the screen.” Bayless says of his image: “It’s not an act. It’s not a character. It’s the real me. I’m not a shock jock. I never ambush anybody. I just speak my mind and my heart and my soul.”
== And finally:
A new ABC reality show called “Ball Boys,” from the producers of the cable hit “Pawn Stars,” debuts with episodes Saturday at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Channel 7. The premise focuses on the sports memorabilia business at Robbie’s 1st Base in Baltimore, run by Robbie Sr., Robbie Jr., Sweet Lou and Shaggy. There are 12 hour-episodes that show the negotiation process that happens with sports merchandise at the store and off site. In the first episode entitled “Lord of the Ring,” owner Robbie Sr. is searching for a special Notre Dame gift for a client’s husband on his birthday.