What we learned: Homecomings

  • Scott Whitmore
  • Monday, October 19, 2009 10:37am
  • Sports

Wow. That was my reaction to the first 10 minutes of Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

The beginning of the second-to-last grand prix of the 2009 season had a little bit of something for everyone: crashes, fireballs, arguing drivers and SPEED TV’s David Hobbs’ spot-on impersonation of the Queen of England.

The included YouTube video isn’t from SPEED, so you won’t get the best announcing team in motorsports — Hobbs, Bob Varsha, Peter Machett and Peter Windsor — but you will get to see what happened.

As the three of you who read this stuff regularly know, I’ve not been much of an F1 fan in the past. But I’ve got to admit, the more I watch it, the more I appreciate the subtleties of F1, which is the most popular racing series everywhere else in the world that isn’t the U.S.

As I’ve said in the past, it doesn’t hurt that the SPEED announcing team is so good at what they do, which is notable because they call the races from a studio here in the U.S., watching a TV feed provided by F1. I get the impression they little or no control over what that feed shows, so they have to be able to shift their commentary on the fly, while still providing an overall view of the race we’re not seeing.

When I contrast the SPEED F1 team with the NASCAR Sprint Cup broadcast from Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Saturday night, I feel the live-at-the-track team from ESPN2 doesn’t give me as complete a picture as the SPEED guys in the studio watching along with me.

Case in point: During an early round of pit stops for the NASCAR Banking 500 on Saturday, Chase driver Brian Vickers hit the jackman on Michael Waltrip’s pit crew, sending the man to the hospital for evaluation.

I know this not because of the ESPN2 team — focused so totally as they were on the Chasers at the front of the pack — but because I was following along to NASCAR Scene writer/editor Jeff Gluck on Twitter. I also know the man is okay, because Waltrip tweeted that on Sunday. (By the way, if you’re on Twitter check out Waltrip (@MW55) — his tweets are frequently laugh-out-loud funny)

Was that information essential to my understanding of what was going on with the race? No, probably not. But at the same time, little details like that help to immerse the viewer in the event. Back when I was younger and could afford it, I liked to play computer games, and “immersion” was always a goal of game developers.

Do the SPEED guys miss things — important things? Of course they do. Do they also have the benefit of following a field that is half the size? Yes, they do — and the lap times on F1’s longer road/street courses are more forgiving than NASCAR’s.

Still, those SPEED guys have gotten me much more into F1 than I would have thought possible. And even though an ESPN2 broadcast of the first ten minutes of the Brazilian GP would have looked and sounded awesome — Hi-Def! Stereo simulcast! In Spanish by activating the SAP button! — I’m not sure it would have been better.

The end result of the Brazilian Grand Prix was a win for Mark Webber, but a fifth-place finish was enough to secure the championship for Jenson Button.

Meanwhile, the machine that is Jimmie Johnson continued his march toward a historic fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with a win at Lowe’s.

There has been some debate in the Twitter-verse about whether Johnson’s dominance is good or bad for NASCAR. He’s derided as a bland champion, whose steady winning does little to generate interest in NASCAR among fans.

As a member of uber-owner Rick Hendrick’s organization, Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knauss also have access to the best equipment and people available, which contributes to the sense that they’re the New York Yankees of racing — in other words the only news would be if they weren’t winning.

I enjoy seeing history made, especially when it’s something that appeared to be impossible like winning four straight Cup titles. And there is something impressive about seeing a team that is so obviously peaking at the right time.

But, I do agree with those that say it is not good for any sport to have one team, car, organization, whatever, winning most of the time. Obviously anything can happen once the green flag falls, but let’s face it, the odds of an Elliot Sadler, Bobby Labonte, Robby Gordon, David Stremme or Reed Sorensen winning are slim-to-none on a weekly basis.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at best — at best — less than a quarter of the starting field for a Cup race has a reasonable shot at winning on a weekly basis. Besides being boring, this is bad because what sponsor wants to shell out big bucks in a recession to have their name on the side of an unwinnable car?

If you haven’t been watching the NHRA’s Countdown, you’ve missed something. With just two events left — Las Vegas starting Oct. 29 and California starting Nov. 12 — most of the pro category titles have pretty well been determined.

But the battle in Funny Car is likely to go down to the final round. And based on the upsets we’ve seen so far, nothing is really set in stone — well, Mike Edwards may as well decide where to put his Pro Stock Wally.

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