Friday, June 28, 2013

Goodbye Speed. It's Been Nice

I don't remember the exact date. All I do remember is it was an overcast morning in late April 2004. As my mother tried to scurry my sister and myself out to the bus stop for another day of the fourth grade, I sat on the couch in ecstasy that Speed Channel was added to our cable package.

Nine years later, it's an overcast morning, I have just woke up after a night of work, two couches removed in the same living room that my prepubescent self became over-ecstatic for a television station. Today I say my final goodbyes to the station to that introduced me to forms of motorsport such as MotoGP, World Superbike, World of Outlaws, USAC, American Le Mans, Grand-Am, World Rally and much more.

Speed (formerly known as Speedvision) was the television version of what National Speed Sport News  had been doing for years. It was shangri-la for race fans. You could see anything and everything from all over the world. But as the world has changed and television has changed, Speed will become Fox's 24/7, sports network to compete with the likes of ESPN and NBC Sports Net.

I first saw Speed at my grandparents' house which had Directv. That's where I got to see Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain and the early days of Speed News with Connie LeGrand. As a young, eager racing fan who wanted to see it all, Speed was perfection. Once Speed became available in my house, the rest is history. A day would include me waking up in the early hours of the morning for Formula One somewhere half way round the world. Then sleep. Up at a more reasonable hour, watching the NASCAR pre-race show, then constant flipping between races whether they be NASCAR, IndyCar, ALMS, a tape-delay MotoGP or 250cc race. Speed News would air followed by Wind Tunnel with a recap of the World Rally Championship ending the day.

I quickly learned the names such as McNish, Rossi, Hayden, Bergmeister, Kinser, Lasoski, Mladin, Darland, Solberg and Loeb. It was the only place in the United States you would find television coverage of the two major 24-hour endurance races at Daytona and Le Mans, the Knoxville Nationals and the Daytona 200. It was the home to most ChampCar races after it's failed Spike TV experiment and covered both American Le Mans and Grand-Am spectacularly despite both series being "rival" sports car series. Speed's outstanding Formula One coverage would make a fan out of anyone with Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, Sam Posey, Peter Windsor and Will Buxton providing a wonderful production of the international road show despite only having two men at each and every race outside the United States.

With all the good Speed did, it did have it's pit falls. No one who constantly watched the network can honestly say today that the network did not become more NASCAR centric over the years. Remember Two-Wheel Tuesdays? Now Tuesday night, like every other weeknight on Speed, has become a home for terrible original programming. From Unique Whips to Wrecked: Life in the Crash Lane to Livin' the Low Life to Hard Parts: South Bronx to R U Faster Than a Redneck to The Racing Chef to I Wanna Date a Race Car Driver. You have to give Speed some credit. They found a way to roll out turd after turd after turd with almost no end it sight. Speed did get a few shows right. Pinks was alright. Pass Time was bearable. Back In The Day was nostalgic. But if we can all agree on something, the end of Speed with fortunately bring an end to it's garbage television programming.

It's hard for me to believe those shows made Speed more money and drew better ratings than when Wind Tunnel was on four nights a week or weekly shows on open-wheel racing, motorcycle racing, sports cars, drag racing, etc. Speed's demise was not solely because of it's poor choices in programming (although looking at what they allowed on television it should be) but the big conglomerates deciding to enter the ring and challenge ESPN for top 24/7 sports network. There will be no home for motorsports on Fox Sports 1, only NASCAR. Wind Tunnel will be gone, as will Dave Despain. Speed Center will be gone, as will most of it's staff leaving many forms of motorsports without a home. A whole slew of talent will be without jobs including Bob Varsha, Adam Alexander, Marshall Pruett, John Dagys and Robin Miller to name a few. Fox Sports 1 will not give you updates on Indiana Sprint Week or show twenty-one and a half hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Who knows what will happen with United SportsCar Racing in 2014 (Update: They will be on Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports 2, as will FIA Formula E).

The major problem with sports news is contracts on broadcast rights. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, don't have contract to the broadcast rights to U.S. Supreme Court decisions or the United Nations or international news. They cover what has to be covered because it affects the people. Imagine if a news network didn't cover the Boston Marathon bombing because they didn't have the rights to cover breaking news in the New England area. Thank God that will never be the case but sports news is the opposite. Why cover something you don't have the contract to? That is why we see disproportional coverage of certain sports whether it be by ESPN or NBC Sports and that will probably be the case when Fox Sports 1 takes the air. It's a slippery, ethical slope that may never be conquered.

Back to the point. Speed will still be around for a little over under a month and a half week but it's on it's death bed. These are the final days of what was a great home for racing for so many years. People might not give a damn about Speed going six feet under but I will look at Fox Sports 1 the same way I look at Red Bull Racing in Formula One, a team whose original roots goes back to Stewart Grand Prix and an upset 1-2 with Johnny Herbert and Rubens Barrichello at the Nürburgring to Jaguar Racing who never lived up to the name and the pit crew literally waved goodbye after Christian Klien made the teams final pit stop at Brazil. When Fox Sports 1 is showing matches in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Major League Baseball I will remember the roots that stretch all the way back to Speedvision with a rebranding to Speed in the middle and the fact that without the network I might not have caught the racing bug and I might not be writing this blog today.