Last year, as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season was winding down, ESPN expanded its coverage of the sport by adding live telecasts of Friday qualifying for the events on ESPN3, ESPN’s multi-screen live events network.
Drag racing fans loved the programs and so did ESPN’s drag racing anchor Paul Page and other members of the coverage team.
While the workload increased, no one seemed to mind.
This Friday, March 30, ESPN3 will air live qualifying for the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals from Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET, as well as the full day of eliminations on Sunday, April 1, at 2 p.m.
Television coverage of qualifying and eliminations will air Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively, on ESPN2.
“It’s made Fridays a little busier but we’ve figured it out and it’s no problem,” said Page, who has been a motorsports voice since the early 1970s.
“And it’s so much fun to do that it was worth figuring out.”
Page and analyst Mike Dunn man the ESPN booth, with pit reporters Dave Rieff, Gary Gerould, John Kernan and Jamie Howe tracking down drivers, crew chiefs and others to speak with during lulls between runs on the track. And with the extra time, some of the interviews aren’t as formal as they are for the TV programs.
“We learned that we can easily put a headset on a driver and just talk to him and be very casual about it,” said Page.
“They are really tuned into that kind of thing and they really pick right up on it and go.”
The Friday programs have also been good learning experiences.
“For the whole production crew, it’s almost like a Broadway workshop,” Page said.
“You can try all these things that you wouldn’t normally try on the air. So it’s been a very profitable thing on a production level, and certainly with the fans.”
Ah the fans. Earlier this year, ESPN3 didn’t carry the Friday qualifying or Sunday eliminations from the opening race of the year at Pomona, Calif., and NHRA fans used social media, email and phone calls to voice their displeasure.
The fans spoke, and the coverage was back for the second event at Phoenix.
“I was excited about the fan’s reaction,” said Page.
“The fans obviously got up and said we want it. It showed that these are caring fans and they’re really on the ball.”