NBC/USA/Peacock took over the coverage of the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series races a couple of weekends ago in Nashville and it feels like, at least to me, that there has been a definite theme in the early going. Almost like the the WWE or Marvel movies, the coverage seems to be taking on a heroes vs. villains type of concept as the broadcasts appear to label certain drivers as one or the other.
Mind you, this is not really meant to pick on NBC but simply to make an observation. Keep in mind that Fox never really seemed to have enough time to develop much of a theme in and around all the commercials they mixed into their coverage.
What I mean by a heroes and villains theme is that the NBC coverage seems to almost go out of its way to make some look like the heroes of the show. Have you ever watched a race in which so much focus was placed on one driver that the covering network sent one of its personalities over an hour away from the track just to hang out in local dive for the purpose of talking to anyone who might have a story to tell and to watch the reactions of the people when something happened to that driver?
Well, that’s happened last weekend during the NASCAR Cup Series race in Atlanta when NBC dispatched Rutledge Wood to the Dawsonville Pool Room to find supporters of Chase Elliott.
Is this going to be a weekly occurrence or was NBC simply portraying the sport’s most popular driver as the hero? Will they send Rutledge Wood to hang out at an Applebees in Middletown, Connecticut this Sunday as NASCAR races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to seek out Joey Logano’s old acquaintances and dig up childhood stories?
It’s doubtful that such will be the case.
And for the villain part, it seems obvious to me that NBC is leaning hard into the Ross Chastain as public enemy No. 1 theme. Of course, the ‘Watermelon Man’ has provided plenty of ammunition with his various run-ins with other drivers throughout the season. But even with that, it feels like every move made by the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet is a bit overly scrutinized.
As a U.S. Government teacher, I often tell my students that the 24-hour TV news channels are more alike than they are different. Their job is not to report the news but to make a profit for their parent corporations. To do that they have to hook viewers and keep them tuning in. One way to accomplish such is to make people angry or make them scared which they hope will cause people to watch. When viewers stay tuned in, the more the networks can charge companies who want to advertise.
That same strategy can work in racing coverage as well with just a slight modification. Instead of making the viewer angry or scared, make them love or hate. In other words, give them heroes and villains and the best way to manipulate people’s feelings is to personalize the people in question.
Show an old hang out and people who actually know those who are to be heroes to create attachment. Do an uncomfortably long and awkward interview with the villain to make him appear distant.
Like I said earlier, this is not necessarily a criticism of the strategy, it’s more of an observation. TV shows, movies, wrestling and other forms of entertainment have used it for years very successfully so why not in NASCAR as well?
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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