Talladega Superspeedway is a track with its own reputation. As the largest and fastest on the NASCAR calendar each visit to the Alabama behemoth comes with the notion that excitement and danger could be at every corner. In fact, Fox Sports quite literally advertises to that effect. With “danger at every turn” the high speed action at Talladega is a favorite to millions of race fans, and the 2023 spring race weekend has held up to that standard.
Saturday’s Xfinity series race was accident riddled, even by Talladega standards. While there were several crashes of note, two specific incidents where a car flipped over took precedence into the public record. Near the end of Stage 2, MBM driver Dexter Stacey struck the backstretch wall at a bad angle, and the 02 Our Motorsports car driven by Blaine Perkins flipped end over end in a fashion not often seen in pavement racing. Stacey’s part of the incident was shown on Fox Sports as it happened, with the car sliding to a stop after the concerning strike to the jutted end of the backstretch SAFER barrier. At this point, Fox decided to take a commercial break, just after the camera panned over to see a heavily damaged 02 car, without the context or description of what actually happened to Blaine Perkins. During the commercial break, social media began to comment on the severity of Perkins’ incident, with the first notions of the car flipping over coming not from the broadcast, but from people on the internet. After 2-3 minutes of commercials, the broadcast audience began to learn of Perkins’ wild crash, with the knowledge that he had climbed out of the car under his own power.
At this point color commentator Brad Keselowski made mention of how the network refrained from showing the replay until it was determined that there were no critical injuries. On its face, this was a good faith statement from a guest commentator that we avoided showing raw footage of someone perhaps getting seriously hurt. However giving this even the slightest bit of interrogation leads the new policy to come up short. Ordinarily, had this been a one time decision it would be easier to dismiss, however the race’s other “big one” in the final laps saw a similar broadcast choice being made. Before the cars were even allowed to fully settle after a massive turn 4 accident which saw Daniel Hemric’s Kaulig Chevy land on its roof, Fox once again cut to a commercial before discussing the accident.
To put it bluntly, cutting to commercials is not the answer. It feels super on-brand for Fox, but it’s not the kind of decision that shows any understanding of what’s happening. The most important fact to consider is that it doesn’t actually solve any problems. If -god forbid- we run into an accident where a driver really is seriously injured or worse, the broadcast still needs to confront that hard fact when you come back from the Applebee’s ads. In fact, it’s actually a bit more crass if you’re selling ad space during the time you’re finding the words to speak to a heavy situation. I mean shit, when the commericals you’re cutting to literally scream the words “DANGER AT EVERY TURN” after showing Bobby Allison flipping into a catch fence, just how the FUCK is that going to look should you have to speak to something tragic when you come back on air?
In a way, this lack of preparation is a salute to how far our safety has improved over the last few decades. It’s a tragic notion that tv networks were actually prepared to go somber at a split second’s notice in the old days, and we should be absolutely proud of how far we’ve come in that area. That said, perhaps it’s time we take a look at how we’re talking about crashes and incidents during the course of a normal race today. We’re all having a good chuckle on the broadcast about how often wrecks occur in the final stages of a race, and “I don’t think we done with cautions boys!” has become an old hat line for any restart with 20 or less laps to go. It’s a tired and lame phrase even before considering the level of danger, and the broadcasts would be improved without it.
Commentators and announcers are paid to bear witness, and the job they have is an important one. While it’s harder to believe these days, they aren’t just promo-readers and softball joke crackers. Most of the pros in the business have proved they can step up when the tough moments happen, and we should let them do what they do best when the need arises. We can discuss an incident with transparency and a level of respect that confronts what’s happening without making light of a bad situation. I agree, an immediate broadcast replay before we have an idea of personal injury would be a bad call, but cutting to “WHOPPER WHOPPER WHOPPER WHOPPER” sure as hell isn’t the answer either. People really can get hurt in this sport, and the commercials try to remind us of that fact in their own way. It’s important for the television broadcast to treat their viewers with a certain level of respect, and by confronting a crash with candid realism instead of a marketing opportunity we can take that important first step.
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