From the Marbles - NASCAR

We were able to spend some time with ESPN's Marty Reid over the weekend at Kansas Speedway. Reid, who became ESPN's voice of the Sprint Cup Series in 2010 has done the play-by-play for virtually every motorsport on ESPN since he joined the network's motorsports coverage in 1982. From 2001-2006, Reid was the voice of ESPN's NHRA coverage, and currently also is their Izod IndyCar Series lead announcer. (Reid's on the left)

We know that everyone likes to talk about the television coverage -- and the ratings for the first three Chase races have been a big story -- and we touched on topics ranging from Elliott Sadler's crash to what goes on behind the scenes that viewers at home can't see. Yes, it's a long interview, but if you love to talk about the networks' coverage of the Sprint Cup Series, trust us, it's worth it.

How did you get started?

MR: I was a race fan, but when I was growing up there were three races on television a year, and so when I was thinking about getting into sports, it was stick and ball. And I actually did Columbus Clippers baseball and Ohio State hockey and basketball and things like that and then I graduated college in 1975 and ESPN didn't even start until 1979. How I got back into motorsports was -- I was actually friends with, and still am friends with Jeg Coughlin Sr. in drag racing. I lived in Columbus, was working at the NBC affiliate from 1975 on. I started working on his top fuel car, met Dave McClelland and Steve Evans and they saw my work when they came to Columbus for the Spring Nationals. And in 1982, ESPN decided to do their first ever NHRA drag race and Steve Evans had a conflict. God bless his soul, he recommended me, and it's a job that I never applied for and that's how it all started.

There was a stretch from 1982 to really 1999 when the company asked me take over the Craftsman Truck Series -- now the Camping World Truck Series, I literally was doing any sport that we had as far as motorsports. One week I'd be doing Formula 1 in the pits and the next week I'd be doing off-road play-by-play and the next week after that the pits at ORP for Thursday or Saturday Thunder. And it was a fun time because you got to be exposed to all these different people and different disciplines and hone my craft. And along the way I called Jimmie Johnson's first win in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series at the age of 16 in a Stadium Super Light. Casey Mears at the age of 15 --didn't even have his driver's license -- in a Stadium Super Light. Robby Gordon flying through the air with the greatest of ease when he was doing desert racing. Ricky Carmichael when he was doing SuperCross. Things like that, and to see all these guys come back to series -- Jeff Ward when he was doing IndyCar -- to see all these people grow in their careers and paralleling the growth of mine, it's been a lot of fun.

When you became the full time voice for the Sprint Cup Series, did it feel like the Cup Series was the one thing in racing that you hadn't done until this point?

Yes, it really was. It truly has been the culmination of a journey. And in one respect, you have a great sense of satisfaction that they have the confidence in you to do the job, but also it is a huge sense of responsibility because you realize that this is the last piece of the puzzle and you are going to be judged just like you have been, from the last performance that you put on the air. And it's just a different feeling from the standpoint -- and it's hard for me to put into words -- it's not that any other motorsport I've done along the way has been less significant, less important, but that as you move through this journey and are given these opportunites, you always say 'Well, OK -- I always did -- if this is where they want me to stay, I'm happy.'

I miss the guys in drag racing, they're wonderful people, both on our crew and the racers. And each time they kept coming to me saying 'Hey, we need help with IndyCar, we want you do to this, and we've had three different play by play guys in the last three years.' And now here I am, I've just finished my fifth season (as the lead voice for the network's Izod IndyCar Series coverage) To be able to fill that bill and fill those needs for the company has been extremely gratifying. And now I have this huge responsibility of making sure we do the same thing here, and so far I'm really happy with the direction that the shows have gone, the interaction between sometimes the 12 of us that are on-air, and the fun I'm having trafficking the show and getting us from point A to point B with all the stops along the way.

As we all know, people love to complain about the TV coverage. Do you all listen to those complaints and is it something that you think about? And what makes a good broadcast from your point of view?

Well first, to answer your question about the viewers, everyone is entitled to an opinion and we have become a very opinionated society. You look at the number of web pages that are out there, the blogs. I have no problem with anybody complaining -- what I want to know is ‘What do they want to see that's different?' I keep hearing people complain about not having the good old days. Well, the good old days -- and I was there -- we had five cameras in one truck, we missed crashes like crazy because we didn't have enough cameras to cover every corner of the track; to isolate views.

It's very rare that we miss a crash. We missed Elliott Sadler's crash back at Pocono. Both cameras went with the primary crash and then all the sudden there was a secondary crash. But in this day and age, they seem to forget that there were times that we missed a lot of things just because we didn't have the equipment to cover it. And they also -- I hear complaints about the racing not being as good. So I'm going ‘You want to go back to the days when Ned Jarrett won by two laps?'

I think just like we have selective hearing, I think we have selective memory sometimes. And I have no problem, though, with anyone that has constructive criticism; when someone says 'I don't like this, but here's my idea how to make it better.' I think the danger of the blogs is -- it's sort of like if you are liberal in mind, politics-wise, you're drawn towards MSNBC. And if you're a conservative, you're driven more towards Fox.

And I think what happens on the blogs and it's the samething. If someone comes in with a differing opinion -- I've heard tales of some of our crew and they would blog and defend a position and get ganged up on -- and people get to the point where they don't stay because their opinion isn't respected. So now you have blogs that are basically like-minds, all agreeing on the same thing. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's just the way it is. And like I said, my only concern there, is I would love when every time someone has criticism, give me an idea how to make it better. What do you want to see to make it better? I get viewers all the time [saying] 'less commercials.' Well, that's something I can't control. I can't control that. If they have a problem with me, let's say, not identifying a certain car correctly. I'm never going to be perfect. The day I do the perfect show, I'm out of here and I'm in my 29th year, so what does that tell you? None of us are perfect.

[Note: He's obviously not talking about From The Marbles because we don't agree with anything that's posted in the comments. Relax, we kid because we care.]

I think what we try and accomplish with the broadcast is it is a race first - now that we're in the Chase, the Chase is part of that race. Now, a lot of the focus does end up on the Chase because those are the best guys and they're running up front. But if you go back to our last two races, AJ Allmendinger has gotten more air time in the last two races than he's gotten in the rest of the season whether it was Fox, TNT or us. And the reason is because he's running up front.

Ryan Newman right now, he's running -- in the last five races he's got the third-best finishing average behind Busch and Edwards and he's getting coverage.

We also hear the complaints that TV ignores the Non-Chasers

Not true.

But if you also look at the broadcasts -- and what I'm happy about -- is that even in the Chase races we're getting back to battles for 25th, for 20th, and it's not just Chasers involved in those battles because that's where the best racing is. That's one of the theories that we've really refocused really hard on. Because that was thing we did back in the old days of ESPN because you had to go where the racing was because we only had five cameras. You had to go where the action was. So now that we have all these other cameras to cover the angles -- yeah sometimes we cut away from a battle to go to another, but now if you've noticed we're doing much more split screen which is very difficult for our camera crews and for the director. You are basically rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Oh, and then immediately change; pat your head and rub your stomach.

As the voice of the coverage, how do you juggle that with the split screen?

Finish your thought. That's what we always talk about whether it's Dale, Andy or myself. Finish your thought, then pick up what's going on. Just don't do a knee-jerk reaction and let the viewer absorb what they can as well. Again, sometimes we'll hear criticism that because we have 12 people, there's just too much conversation. Well, in certain cases, maybe they're correct on certain things. Maybe someone said the same thing that someone just said a month or so ago. But in my area, the reason I say something is to either describe something that's happening on the track or to help put a period on a story that we introduced earlier in the broadcast. Because to me, that's the one thing that when I walk away from a broadcast at the end of the day, if I haven't put a period on every story that we've introduced, then that's what makes me angry at myself because that's one of my main responsibilities. Make sure that if we talked about so-and-so having a problem at lap 55 and by lap 100, we never put a period on it and it got lost in the shuffle for whatever reason, we get to the end of the day, the guy went behind the wall 10 laps later and we never put a period on it. That's the one that frustrates me. And it happens, because you're talking about 43 teams. You know, the NFL has it great. [laughing] They've got two teams to worry about. I would kill -- could you imagine if we had just two teams racing out there? It would be like a drag race.

And that's why drag racing has it's own unique formula that works so well, especially for television. Every car gets exposure, every car gets its 2 1/2 minutes from the time they fire the engine, do the burnouts, back up, make the run, they're on camera and you talk about both guys.

Now, we're trying to talk about as many as 43 if possible, but you're not going to be able to talk about everybody.

Going back to the storylines, some contend that networks come into a broadcast with storylines and will harp on them even though those storylines don't come true. Is that a valid thought?

I'm going to respectfully disagree. I think you have to come in with a format. Our 'Countdown' show touches on the areas that are of key importance to viewers and to the story of the Chase and the overall race. As the race unfolds, I could tell you, if the viewers were allowed to sit in the production truck, the producer, Neil Goldberg, will be ready to go to an Up to Speed, which would allow us to get through the top 10 or top 15, and all the sudden we have a crash.

Now everything changes because now we have pit stops. We may not get back to that Up to Speed because we have a restart and now we have stories to put periods on again because guys had problems during those pit stops. And guys lost positions. Every time there's a yellow, the whole complexion of the broadcast changes, and again, what we try and do is go back and put periods on those stories. That doesn't mean that we're married to them, just that we're trying to put a closure for the viewer -- you know if we talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr. and all the sudden he falls back, one of the things I try and do is even if we can't get him on camera, say ‘Junior's fallen back to 20th position and we've got somebody checking on it to see if there's a problem' or maybe the report is that he's lost grip or has an ill-handling car.

[Note: Goldberg turned himself in Tuesday on charges of public indecency, simple trespass and disorderly conduct. Goldberg will not be involved with ESPN's coverage from Auto Club Speedway while ESPN looks into the matter.]

Is that the most important thing that goes on during a broadcast that a viewer doesn't see?

I think it is. I think it's the complexity of how quickly a show changes, how quickly an entire race changes, which then affects the broadcast and that's why I disagree with anyone who says there's a script that's followed each week in and out, that we have to cover this guy. No, we cover people because they are important. We touch base with Jimmie Johnson because Jimmie Johnson is doing something that we may never see again.

And I don't understand NASCAR fans. Maybe you can help me on this. When I was doing drag racing, fans understood what was happening when John Force was winning 10 in a row. And maybe they weren't all rooting for John, but they didn't hate the sport because John was winning. I mean, it's almost like ‘I don't want to watch this race because Jimmie's in the lead.' There's going to come a time, I think, when people look back on this era and they go ‘Holy smokes, we really were a part of something special.'

We have chats every week and we see all the comments, and that's what it all comes down to. Some (many?) people don't grasp the importance and uniqueness of what Jimmie Johnson is doing and it seems everyone has a conspiracy theory. And it gets to a point where we ask ‘Which ones do you believe and do you not believe?'

Again, I would like to see the fans -- they may want to see another champion, their guy. I understand that -- but I would love to see the fans that embrace the moments that are special in sport. Whether it happens to be Jimmie Johnson in the drive for five. Am I rooting for him? No, I'm not rooting against him, either. I'm here to tell the story. I am the viewers' eyes, ears and mouthpiece. I am their advocate and I'm trying to be that storyteller.

Someone always asks me ‘what do you do for a living?' Well I am, I am a storyteller. My book is written in pages called laps, and at the end of each book, there has been this complete tale that has been told with 43 different teams and 43 different stories and if we are blessed enough to cover as many of those as possible and put periods on them and weave that story where it made sense for the viewer, my ultimate goal is that the viewer comes away, that that three or four hours was time well spent and not wasted. And if we've done that -- I can't control the ratings, I can't control the racing on the track, but if I help our team, if I set our guys up so they can do what they do best and tell those stories and people feel like ‘Yeah, that was worth it.'

Do you feel that the three or four hours is something that people aren't willing to invest these days?

Good question. I'll tell you what, I always tell people about Mickey Thompson. When he was alive, I was doing his series and he had a hard and fast rule for his Stadium Series. ‘We will start this show at 7 p.m. and we will end it at 10 and if we don't end it at 10, somebody's head is going to roll.'

I once asked him ‘Why are you so adamant about this?' and he said ‘You watch the grandstands.' He goes ‘At 10 o'clock, the folks with kids are getting up and leaving because the kids have been here all day and they're tired and grumpy and they want to go home. The ones that don't have kids have to go home and get the babysitter back to their home because they can't be out past 11 o'clock.' And it was an interesting theory and which I think if you wanted to take it one step further -- and it's a great question to ask everybody -- should any sport last longer than three hours? Any event?

It's a very good question.

You know, golf tournaments last longer because they're over 18 holes, you don't have to televise all 18 if you don't want to. Basketball, they're usually done in 2 1/2 hours. Baseball's gotten longer because of endless pitching changes, football is going longer, whether it's replays or whatever, I'm not an expert on any of those reasons. But it's an interesting concept that if you threw it out there, what would you do if you were limited to three hours. Would that make more people want to watch? I don't know. Those are areas that are not my expertise. My one sole responsibility is what I told you before, make people feel like it was time well spent.

What every viewer should know also is, the most important event that I ever do is the one I'm on right now. And that's the truth. Today is the most important day and tomorrow will be just as important.

 

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