The summer of love didn't take place in 1967 Rather, it happened last year and involved the unlikeliest of paramours: Fox Sports and NBC Sports. In November 1999 the networks (along with Turner Sports) signed a six-year, $2.4 billion deal for rights to broadcast those oh-so-groovy kids on the NASCAR circuit. Fox and its cable arm, FX, went leadoff, telecasting the first half of the 2000 Winston Cup season. On July 7, NBC (whose cable partner is TNT) will begin coverage of the second half with a 7:30 p.m. telecast of the Pepsi 400 from Daytona.
To prepare, last summer the two networks dispatched their broadcast teams on a joint road trip: eight men visiting tracks across the country in what NBC race producer Sam Flood calls "a magical mystery tour." Three days a week for six weeks they scouted camera positions, talked shop and, on occasion, raced their rental cars around a track. "It was a unique situation," says Flood. "You wouldn't see CBS and Fox doing this in football, but this is different. This is the first major sports package in which we don't compete against each other—it's in both our interests to see NASCAR do well." Fox certainly held up its end of the bargain, as the latest ratings available at week's end showed a rise to 6.5, from 5.1 last year when four networks split the coverage. Fox won viewers by introducing innovative graphics, including FoxTrax (an arrow that points out the car the announcers are discussing), and a ticker that tracks every car in the race. The network also scored by pairing as analysts the down-home duo of veteran crew chief Larry McReynolds and former driver Darrell Waltrip.
Now, it's NBC's turn. "It's been tough having to sit and watch Fox," says NBC analyst Benny Parsons, a veteran of ESPN's NASCAR coverage who will work alongside sometime driver Wally Dallenbach. "I'd watch and say, 'Wow, that's really good,' but sometimes I'd also think, Why didn't they say that?"
Another ESPN veteran, Bill Weber, will be the pit reporter and host of the prerace show, to be held on pit road. "It gives us a chance to talk to drivers right until the race starts," says Weber. "It's basically carte blanche access for a NASCAR fan."
NBC will feature the same graphics used by Fox (technology licensed by a company called Sportvision), and Flood says he hopes to "keep the energy and excitement that Fox has created." Imagine that: a producer complimenting another network's coverage. Break out the tie-dye and the Cat Stevens—the Peacock Peace Train is leaving the station.