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Early start proved good move for Fox and NASCAR fans



Published: Thu, February 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The network's crew performed well considering it was pressed into action to fill extra air time.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Fox saved the Daytona 500.

Although rain made it tough for the network to put on its best show Sunday, the decision to move up the start by 23 minutes was the reason fans didn't have to wait another day for the finish.

The race was called and Michael Waltrip declared the winner after two rain delays and 109 laps.

Had they not had those extra 23 minutes, rain almost certainly would have halted action before the halfway point of the 200-lap event.

Made best move

"We knew going into the day we were penciled for rain and it was important to get the race started as quickly as possible," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said. "We did that."

From there, Goren said, the cadre of Fox announcers "needed to bring our tap shoes" because there was lots of air to fill over the more than 90 minutes of downtime.

So, announcers talked about the weather, they talked about broken alternators, they talked about themselves.

Asked about the rain during the first delay, Waltrip reassured fans that, "I don't think the really heavy stuff's comin' down for a while," a hilarious reference to a line uttered by groundskeeper Carl Spackler in "Caddyshack."

Some moments were funny for other reasons.

"So, did that sod come out of your car or out of you?" pit reporter Jeanne Zelasko asked Kenny Schrader as the camera panned to a tuft of loose grass in the driver's garage.

Hiccups like that are forgivable, especially considering the race-saving decision about the starting time.

Other highlights included analyst Jeff Hammond's informative breakdown on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s broken alternator, the culprit of his stunning drop from first to 36th.

Lesson in lingo

Speaking to what will probably be the largest NASCAR audience of the year -- not all of whom are familiar with the lingo of the sport -- Hammond also explained what a "catch-can" does: It catches overflow fuel during a pit stop, and Jeff Burton got penalized when his crew didn't detach it from the back of the car.

On the negative side, Fox missed a chance to show Waltrip's victory celebration live.

Waltrip was waiting out the rain delay in the garage when NASCAR declared him the winner.

The driver and his wife, Buffy, embraced, and rushed to Victory Lane. The whole scene played out during a commercial and when Fox returned, they showed it as though the scene were live.

It was only a 15-second delay, but the whole notion of portraying something as live when it isn't got NBC in trouble during the Olympics.

Goren said Fox has broken away from commercials in the past to show bad accidents.

"But that's a lot different than this situation," he said.

Of course, it did beg the question as to why NASCAR, which gets $2.8 billion from Fox and NBC as part of a six-year TV contract, couldn't hold up the winning announcement while the commercial wrapped up.

Bird's-eye view

Fox touted its new Fly-Cam, and got good use out of it during the reduced race. Early on, Bobby Labonte and Schrader collided on pit road during an accident that also involved Ryan Newman, and the camera -- dangling high above the pits -- had a bird's-eye view of the whole scene.

Unfortunately for the network, only 86 of the 109 laps run were under green-flag conditions, and the opportunities to use the Fly-Cam were limited.

Gizmos aside, maybe the most memorable moment came from -- who else? -- Darrell Waltrip, who got to shout his trademark "Boogity, boogity, boogity!" starting call not once, but twice. The second time was after the first rain delay ended.

Although his reaction to his younger brother's victory was anything but objective, ol' DW lent insight and emotion that nobody else could at the end.

"He did it again. I couldn't be prouder," he said. "I dragged the little scoundrel here when he was 7 to watch me race. Now, he's a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, and I couldn't be prouder."




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