When I was a kid, I hated report-card time. Not because of my grades - I always managed to be solidly north of the failure line - but because of the invariable addition of one line in the comments section. Regardless of what grade level or school I was in, Mr. and Mrs. Whitmore's youngest son was always "capable of putting forth more effort."
Flash forward more years than I care to think about and that pretty much sums up my feelings about the first two Versus channel broadcasts of the 2011 IndyCar Series season: Solidly north of average, but still capable of doing better, especially if the handling of a certain event on Sunday is repeated.
Because of overlap with the finish of the NASCAR Cup series race at Talladega, I didn't watch Sunday's IndyCar race live. No preference implied by that: I prefer whenever possible to finish one thing before moving on to the next (Ed: He's not the brightest blub in the display).
But I've taken to watching races with my smart phone in hand and the Twitter app launched, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on in Long Beach thanks to the ever-growing community of IndyCar tweeters.
So when the DVR recording got to the point where Paul Tracy was penalized for dumping Simona de Silvestro - the incident that encompasses my biggest concern about Versus - I was ready. In retrospect, knowing about it in advance probably muted my unhappiness with the way it was handled; had I come upon it cold, I may be even a bit angrier today.
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First, let me say I like the addition this season of Wally Dallenbach in the booth, and Marty Snider and Robin Miller in the pit lane. Dallenbach and Snider are more known for their work in NASCAR, but both display a solid understanding of motorsports in general and they have smoothly integrated with the members of the broadcast team who returned from last year.
In particular, Dallenbach meshes well in the booth with Bob Jenkins calling the action and Jan Beekhuis as co-analyst; the small mistakes each have made during broadcasts were respectfully corrected - with good-natured humor when appropriate.
Miller is what I like to call a "bomb-thrower" - offering without apology opinions that range from mildly cranky to controversial. There is a fine line in dealing with bomb throwers on live TV: too much of them and the show begins to resemble a cable-news panel discussion (Ed: What @PressDog may call "A festival of Sound Bites"); too little and their relevance to the audience is lost.
Personally, I could use a little more Miller in the Versus broadcast, especially after the part he played addressing the PT penalty for dumping de Silvestro in Sunday's race. More about that soon, I promise (Ed: three words, Sport: Burying the Lead).
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Sunday was Versus' second broadcast of the season, with ABC/ESPN taking the opener at St. Petersburg in March before yielding to Vs. for the race at Barber Motorsports Park a week ago.
My biggest complaint about the Barber broadcast was the disconnect between the booth and director: several times Dallenbach or Beekhuis began to describe what was happening on track only to have the picture cut abruptly to something else, leaving them to gamely solider on describing what we could have seen but didn't.
I know making live TV is difficult, usually thankless job that require many split-second decisions, but many of those quick-cuts left developing action to show instead the Parade of Leaders. Listening to the talent in the booth would have created a smoother and more exciting broadcast.
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There was only one instance I saw of the quick-cut from action to non-action in Sunday's broadcast. Perhaps the director-to-booth communication was better or maybe it just worked out that way. I am curious, however, to know what part communication between the truck and booth played in the issue of Tracy's penalty.
If you recall, shortly after Helio Castroneves turned Justin Wilson in the hairpin before the front straight, bringing out a local yellow, the TV picture returned to the same spot to show a similar scene: de Silvestro's car sideways and stalled, bringing out a full course caution.
Cars pitted and booth discussion turned to the advantage Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani gained by pitting just before the caution. After the race returned to green, the booth announced that Tracy, among others, had returned to pit lane after the restart for a splash of fuel.
It wasn't until Miller's later report from pit lane that we discovered PT had been given a drive-through penalty for "avoidable contact" with de Silvestro, which is the real reason why he returned to the pit after the return to green-flag racing. Miller then asked the very logical question: Why wasn't Castroneves penalized for doing the same thing to Wilson?
I would also add: why didn't we see a replay of the PT-de Silvestro incident - there was a camera in place to show Castroneves driving through Wilson - and why didn't the booth know about the penalty?
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There are three possible answers to my questions - I'll leave the bomb Miller tossed about Castroneves to others more knowledgeable - (1) Race Control didn't inform Versus of the penalty, (2) the Versus director decided not to show the replay or inform the booth of the penalty, or (3) Versus dropped the ball and missed both replay and penalty (Ed: what the kids are calling an Epic Fail).
None of these answers are satisfactory, to my mind, but strangely enough to me only the Epic Fail option is acceptable.
The only reason I can think of that Race Control would not inform the broadcaster of key events like penalties, or that the broadcaster would not inform the audience, is that they are "spinning" events to maintain a positive view of the series and its drivers.
Yes, PT is popular, and his struggles finding sponsorship to get back into a car this season are well known. But de Silvestro entered the race fifth in points and has developed her own following, and this event ruined her drive. Sure, she was pretty far back in the field at that point, but how far back did Mike Conway fall before surging to his first victory?
Not giving us all the details about what happened - looking at either Race Control or the Versus truck here - is deceptive and does not bode well for the future. I get that both IndyCar and Versus want to build an audience to help grow the series, but withholding information or linking arms and singing "Kum-Ba-Ya" (Ed: commonly known as Larry Mac-ing it) isn't the right way to do it.
Of course, I could be wrong and Versus flat-out dropped the ball. Again, as unfortunate as that would be, it's better than the alternatives.
These are my opinions, and I'm frankly not that bright. Please feel free to weigh in with comments below, to follow me on twitter @ScottWhitmore or drop me an email.