Murto: Goodbye to SPEED Channel

We’ve known for some months that the SPEED Channel was going away this Saturday to make room for Fox Sports 1.

But it didn’t really hit home until Sunday night, as I watched the 594th – and final – episode of Wind Tunnel hosted by Dave Despain, simply the best all-around motorsports show ever to air on television.

It begs the question: Are producers at Fox stupid, or just ignorant?

It’s not like other motorsports shows on other networks haven’t come and gone — Motorweek Illustrated, RPM Tonight, Speedweek — there are too many to mention. But Despain’s show was the best by far, and not just because Despain — a former flat track motorcycle racer — understood the racer mentality, it was the best because it weighed all motorsports equally. It wasn’t a NASCAR show, or an F1 show, or IndyCar or motorcycle or dirt show — it was all of the above.

Speedvision first appeared in Latin America in July 1995, and began airing in the United States in December of that year. By 2003 it was known as SPEED Channel, or SPEED for short.

In the early years you never knew what you’d see on SPEED. I remember seeing helicopter racing one early sleep-deprived morning. Lawnmower racing also was common.

But so too were some great motorsports we’ve missed in recent years, such as the Tuesday night Speedway motorcycle racing from Europe. And does anybody else remember the F3 championship from South America? The SCCA Runoffs? Whatever happened to that great programming?

In the past few years SPEED “jumped the shark,” as they say. Too many reality shows about tow-truck operators, contrived drag racing shows or car-building shows for hot rodders replaced actual racing. And exactly how many hours of car auctions do we really have to see? We used to be able to turn to SPEED to see racing series and events you’d never see broadcast anywhere else; now they’re gone and we’re about to lose a lot more.

Fox Sports 1 just paid a fortune to maintain a huge NASCAR presence in the future. I hope it’s profitable for them; I’m still going to record the races and fast forward through the commercials.

NASCAR may be the only motorsports on the new Fox Sports channel; they already lost F1 to NBC, and don’t expect them to keep MotoGP or V8 Supercar. Where are those series going to end up? And what of the off-road racing series and dirt Late Model series that broadcast on SPEED? What of the K&N Pro Series races or Grand Am? Will they move to the FUEL channel, another Fox property?

CBS grabbed AMA Pro Racing, maybe it will pick up more. Maybe more racing will end up on NBC Sports Network. Not unlike ESPN when ESPN was in its infancy, NBC seems to be stacking motorsports onto its new sports network in order to grab viewers. It’s going to work, just as it worked for ESPN. NBC currently has F1 and IndyCar, and soon will have half the NASCAR schedule as well.

Maybe ESPN — which will lose half its Nationwide and all of its Cup races — will bring back some of the motorsports they used to show, such as flat track motorcycles and unlimited hydroplane powerboat racing. They haven’t had a home since ESPN abandoned them — and RPM Tonight, a Wind Tunnel predecessor — in favor of stick-and-ball talk shows and endless boring hours of Sports Center.

And what will we do for general racing news? Wind Tunnel isn’t the only SPEED show that’s going away — Sunday also was the final episode of Speed Center, the all-motorsports news show.

If we could get our local, overpriced cable system to carry MAVTV we might be able to see a lot of unique motorsports. Call your cable provider and ask them when they’re going to bring MAVTV into their cable lineup — or consider changing cable providers. We’re going to have to hunt for motorsports programming, and that means going to cable or satellite providers who carry the networks that carry racing.

Perhaps the network known as Velocity will become large enough to expand its motorsports coverage. They have the perfect name, and they brought us the Isle of Man TT races earlier this year.

But for now, SPEED becomes Fox Sports 1. No more Speed Center, and no more Wind Tunnel. They had the best motorsports show that ever aired and they shut it down; Fox Sports 1, good luck, but you obviously have a lot of stupid — or ignorant — people making decisions at your rebranded network.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.