Murto: ESPN gets a black flag

The new NASCAR TV deal that takes effect next year gives the races to Fox and NBC, so I was interested to see how ESPN handled this year’s Brickyard 400 broadcast from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There were an annoying number of commercials during the broadcast, but that has become the usual thing no matter who shows a NASCAR race. You can’t blame any network for making money, and especially in ESPN’s case it makes sense to milk it while you can. I expect given the huge amount of money paid for the new TV deal, we’ll see even more commercials during race broadcasts in the future just to try to recoup the losses.

The race coverage was good. Pit road reporting was good. The analysts were all knowledgeable and articulate. They did a good job keeping viewers abreast of the various strategies teams were using as the race unfolded. The last 10 laps were a bore, however, as we followed Gordon’s car around and heard nothing but talk of him as if there were no other cars on the track.

But then, just as Jeff Gordon crossed the line to win his fifth race at Indy, it happened.

The camera panned up from the racetrack and gave us a close up of the flag man waving the checkered flag. It is the most annoying and stupid camera shot in motorsports coverage, and demonstrates a lack of respect for the sport.

Why is it so annoying and stupid? Because Jeff Gordon was not the only car on the track and the race isn’t over until every competitor has crossed the line. To make matters worse, after the stupid flag man shot we never saw another car in competition as we went directly to shots of celebrating crew members and cheering fans.

Joey Logano grabbed fifth place on the final lap. How? We’ll never know, because instead of showing us the action on the track some moronic producer — who probably knows more about TV than he does racing — decided nothing but Gordon mattered during the final 10 laps of the race. It didn’t matter that positions were changing hands throughout the field. And nothing else mattered once Jeff Gordon crossed the line.

If TV wants to show us the flag man waving the checkered flag, put him in the corner of the screen. At the end of a hockey game or football game, the camera doesn’t leave the action on the field to give us a close up of the clock. Doesn’t racing deserve the same respect on TV as any other sport?

The proper camera angle for the end of any race is one that shows the race vehicles — all of them — crossing the finish line. Formula One broadcasts are able to capture the checkered flag and more than just one car at the finish, why can’t ESPN do this with their NASCAR coverage? Aren’t we intelligent enough to know that the race is finishing without a close up of the flag man?

Fans want to know what happens to their favorite driver. I’m sure Joey Logano fans would have loved to have seen how he gained position on the final lap. There are more teams in competition — and more teams that matter to viewers — than the team that wins the race. If this is the best they do the rest of the year, maybe it’s just as well that they don’t have the contract for next year.

Hopefully NBC doesn’t raid ESPN’s production staff; the person making the decision to give us the flag man close up may be a great TV person — and know a great dramatic shot that’s perfect for use in TV commercials — but needs not work in live race broadcasting. Viewers deserve better than this.

So here’s hoping that NBC is paying attention, not only to what needs to be done, but to what needs not be done. The end of a race is just as important as the start, and the race isn’t over until all the cars have crossed the finish line. Give us a wide angle shot of the finish so we can see cars finish the race behind the winner. There’s plenty of time to show the winner and his/her crew celebrate when the race is actually finished.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.