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NASCAR TV talkers: Words of speed, Part 1

Sports on TV would be somewhat bland even with all the action if it weren’t for commentators describing, enhancing and explaining what a viewer’s eyes are absorbing. Motorsports can be noisy chaos at times and it often takes expert analysis to enjoy the excitement to the fullest.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Wikitionary, a commentator (noun) by definition is: A person who comments; especially someone who is paid to give one's opinions in the media about current affairs, sports, etc. A color commentator is a sports commentator who assists the play-by-play announcer by providing analysis and background information.

NASCAR TV commentators are certainly nouns that are known. They are often chosen for their ability to communicate and their background. All that helps when making good sense of the lap-by-lap action. It is through their experience as drivers, crew chiefs or long association with racing that they bring a special focus complete with varied stories.

It’s time to crank up a few quotes and drop the green flag on some of NASCAR’s top commentators as they attempt to bring the best description of motors and motivation. Reporter Dwight Drum takes media questions to the media in a three part series. It’s all about stories and show time.

Dr. Jerry Punch [ESPN TV commentator]

About overcoming injury:

“I always tell people over the years as a medical doctor and a friend of these drivers I’ve probably been around or treated 25 drivers, some privately that were injured, some publically,” Punch said. “I will bet you that probably 22 of those 25 that had an injury, not an illness, but an injury, had their best performance of the year in the race when they had to play hurt.

“Dale Earnhardt Sr. a prime example, when he went to Watkins Glen. He had to get out of the car at Indianapolis because he had a broken sternum and a broken collar bone. He had to get in the car at Watkins Glen and everybody was telling him he couldn’t get in the car at Watkins Glen. You have one arm. You can’t use your left arm because of the sternum fracture and the collar bone fracture and it’s a road course. You can’t turn the wheel and shift and turn the wheel. You’re going to hurt yourself or hurt the team. They called me to come talk to him. Teresa (Earnhardt), Richard Childress, all of us talked to him. Richard tried to tell him that they didn’t want him to get hurt by trying to drive with one arm. Earnhardt said, ‘If I’m going to hurt this team, I’ll get out. But if you just give me a chance and show what I can do.’

“Richard said, ‘How do I not let Dale Earnhardt not have a chance in the car?’ So they did and he went to qualify. I went upstairs for qualifying. Dale Earnhardt Sr. with one arm shifting at Watkins Glen set a new track record and put it on the pole. He got out of the car and said, ‘How’d I do?’

“I think that explains when you have to get it done as an athlete and a champion these guys can get it done.”


Darrell Waltrip [FOX TV & Speed TV commentator]

About racing Dale Earnhardt:

“Scary. Scary. You didn’t know what he was going to do. He was going to wear your fender off, move you, whatever. It was a lot better having him in front of you than having him behind you, I can tell you that. I’ve caught him many a times and soon as I got by him, ‘Oh man, what did I do that for?’ because you knew he was going to worry you to death and wear you out until he got back around you. He raced hard. He was aggressive and he could be rough and he could be ruthless. He never made excuses for it.”

Rusty Wallace [ESPN TV commentator]

Rusty Wallace mentioned Dale Earnhardt Sr. to explain what happens when the helmet goes on and the flag drops.

“There are a lot of guys that want to get along with people and be everybody’s friend,” Wallce said. “When they get in the car they get real greedy and go, ‘Okay, I want it.’ Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. was always like that. You could hang out with him all day long. I went on vacations with him and then I’d race him. I’d say I can’t believe this is the same guy, completely different.

“There are a lot of drivers like that, completely different. Because when you go out there you’re racing for positions. You’re racing for money. You don’t want anybody else to get it. You’re greedy. You’re selfish. You want it all for yourself. That’s what you got to do. When you put your helmet on, that changes your attitude big time.”

When drivers take helmets off and shift gears from race cars to monitors in the broadcast booth, big changes happen.

When the helmet on and helmet off action is all about a weekly routine as with a current driver with three recent Cup championships, TV appearances are a different matter.

Looking into a camera is part of the job, not all of the job.

Jimmie Johnson [No 48 Chevrolet]

“The one thing that I'm sure you guys are tired of as media members is when whatever a question is and it lasts months and months and months and every time we see one another that question continues to come up. I think we all get tired - you get tired of asking it and I get tired of answering it." Johnson said. "For now, it's going to be, Jimmie, can you win a fourth?' So that will be the next 10 weeks, that will be the one that you will be tired of asking and I will be tired of answering."

Good point from a gracious champion. Johnson also has opinions about ways to deal with the media.

“It's tough if you're really reading and watching what's out there, there's a lot of opinions and you get caught up in believing that you're the greatest or get caught up in believing that you suck. I really just end up falling back on things that have worked for me and just do my thing, stay focused on my world and everything seems to work out."

Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com

Words of Speed, part 2 coming next.

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