Era ends at Atlanta

Atlanta race marks end of television era By Tim Packman HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 20, 2000) The NAPA 500 was not only the end of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. It also closed the curtain on an era of television coverage for the sport. ESPN ...

Atlanta race marks end of television era By Tim Packman

HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 20, 2000) The NAPA 500 was not only the end of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. It also closed the curtain on an era of television coverage for the sport. ESPN carried the rain-delayed event from Atlanta Motor Speedway, bidding farewell to the series just as CBS and TNN did earlier in the season. A new TV package beginning in 2001 will have FOX and NBC carrying the senior circuit and the NASCAR Busch Series.

Monday's race was a farewell for a few others, too. Ned Jarrett, booth announcer for ESPN and CBS, did his final broadcast before retiring from the business. It also was three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip's last race, once again due to retirement.

It was Waltrip who drove to victory in the inaugural event on ESPN, a race from Rockingham, N.C., on March 1, 1981. Ratings showed the race was seen in about 8 million homes. Monday's race attracted roughly 10 times that figure.

Ratings have grown along with the popularity of NASCAR racing, but ESPN wasn't the first to cover a race live in its entirety.

CBS made its live coverage debut with the 1979 Daytona 500. The event was remembered not only for the inaugural start-to-finish coverage, but the race-ending, infield fisticuffs of Bobby and Donnie Allison taking on Cale Yarborough. While they were duking it out, Richard Petty drove to victory.

A new era in TV motorsports coverage was born.

From a handful of cameras in '79 to the addition of in-car cameras in 1984 to more than 90 stationary, hand-held and robotic cameras in 2000 - CBS helped take NASCAR to the fans. The network bowed out in July with the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.

The Nashville Network, now called The National Network, came on the scene after CBS and brought the sport to even more homes. The cable network seemed to go hand-in-hand with its country music and NASCAR racing. The Phoenix event earlier this month was the final series race carried by TNN.

ESPN will continue to cover the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2001, and the daily RPM2night show on ESPN2 will continue as well.

Dr. Jerry Punch, a booth announcer and pit reporter for ESPN who will remain with the cable network, said Monday was a bittersweet day for him.

"It is tough to say goodbye to a group of people who have been like family to me," he said. "I understand this is a business decision and I just hope FOX and NBS will spoil these athletes like we did. They are going to get to deal with some of the most honest and open people in professional sports.

"ESPN and NASCAR grew with each other through the last 20 years, and I hope the new TV partners will do the same with them."

Punch said race fans may not have seen the last of him or the network, which could bid for future NASCAR broadcast contracts.

"In the words of Gen. Douglas McArthur," he said, referring to the general's departure from the Philippines in World War II, "we'll be back." -nascar.com-

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About this article
Series Automotive , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ned Jarrett , Richard Petty , Donnie Allison
Tags TV