FOX color commentator cheers brother on to victory
Updated: Monday February 19, 2001 3:30 AM
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- What turned out to be the final seconds of racing great Dale Earnhardt's life were overshadowed on Fox Sports' coverage of the Daytona 500 by the unbridled rooting of an announcer whose brother took the checkered flag.
It wasn't until 20 seconds after the end of the Sunday's race that another member of the broadcast booth brought attention to the mangled black Chevrolet that had plowed into a concrete wall heading into the last turn of the last lap.
"How about Dale -- is he OK?" asked Larry McReynolds, his words measured.
Later, after Fox showed a glimpse of Earnhardt's car on the infield, color analyst Darrell Waltrip said, "I just hope Dale's OK. I guess he's all right, isn't he?"
It was a drastic change of tone for Waltrip, who minutes earlier was screaming encouragement as younger brother Michael won for the first time in 463 NASCAR races.
"Come on, buddy! One [lap] to go, buddy! Keep it low, Mikey. Keep it low! Don't let 'em run up on you," Darrell yelled, and he continued in similar fashion until the race ended.
"You got it! You got it! You got it! Mikeeeeeyyyy!"
The rejoicing over Michael Waltrip's victory continued during the postrace portion, again at the expense of coverage of Earnhardt's crash. The seven-time Winston Cup series champion was cut from his car and taken to a hospital. He died of head injuries.
It was a tough, immediate test for FOX, which was opening its first season of NASCAR coverage.
After a commercial break, FOX did take a look at replays of Earnhardt's crash with Ken Schrader, including one from a camera inside his car. But the network then went to an interview with Michael Waltrip and a brief conversation between the brothers, before again airing replays of the accident.
Then, when a graphic showing the race results was put on the screen, lead announcer Mike Joy matter-of-factly reported, "Earnhardt and Schrader did not complete the final lap so they're scored at 199 laps, along with Robert Pressley, Brett Bodine, Kyle Petty."
FOX's treatment of the accident might have been shaded by the crash's nature. At first glance, it seemed less dangerous than the 18-car pileup with about 25 laps left, in which one car flipped through the air and landed on another but none of the drivers was seriously hurt.
That earlier one happened during a commercial break, and thanks to quick thinking the network -- starting off its new six-year, $2 billion-plus NASCAR rights package with NBC and TBS -- abruptly cut away from an ad to take viewers to the track and the crash aftermath.
It was jarring to go from a scene of a white dog in a green pasture to live shots of crumpled metal and billowing smoke, but the move allowed FOX to tell the story at Daytona.
There were replays from various angles, including from inside Tony Stewart's somersaulting car -- viewers could hear each screech of the tires and the crunch of car-against-car -- and enough interviews with drivers to flesh out details.
Otherwise, FOX was cautious about dipping into its bag of technical toys Sunday, while still presenting a gripping telecast thanks to 30 cameras, some with new angles, and plenty of sound.
There were glimpses of the style that brought glowing pucks to FOX's NHL broadcasts: