"THE SACRED WORLD OF SPEED"
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 20:10
On Wednesday, I found out some of the most troubling news: NBC Sports Network would be the official U.S. broadcaster for the 2013 Formula One World Championship, ending the Speed channel’s 17-year hold on the sport.
Now people might wonder why I am upset, for NBC Sports does a good job with event coverage. It isn’t so much the channel change, but more of the memories that Speed’s coverage has given me over the years. In 13 years, I have only missed one F1 telecast, the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix, and that’s only because I was actually at the race.
My dad and I first found American F1 coverage in 2000. We got the Speed channel (then called SpeedVision) when we moved to our new house. I was 7 years old, and got “F-1 World Grand Prix” for my Nintendo 64 (remember those?) for Christmas. When my dad told me I could see my video game heroes race in real life on the TV, I jumped with joy.
We didn’t, however, jump out of bed early for Speed’s live coverage, instead turning to Fox Sports Network’s tape-delayed coverage later on said Sundays in 2000. But that option ended in 2001, so SpeedVision it was for the coverage, and boy was it good. Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Peter Windsor brought an atmosphere to the races and the courses I had only seen in my 64-bit world.
Sadly, the SpeedVision channel was bought by Fox, who turned it into a 23 and a half-hour NASCAR network, except for those glorious F1 weekends. Varsha, Matchett, Hobbs and Windsor became part of the family, friends who my dad and I could trust to let us know about our heroes fighting for the lead, but it’s all over now, ending in Brazil in November.
The reason I’m so scared of NBC Sports Network’s coverage is because I have seen what major networks do to F1 races. Case in point: the 2001 U.S. Grand Prix. ABC Sports had the coverage rights, and though they used the F1 Digital Television coverage, they supplied their own commentators: Bob Jenkins, former F1 driver Eddie Cheever and Jason Priestly. Yes, you read that right: Jason “Melrose Place” Priestly, whose only qualification was that he raced Indy Cars, was the second commentator.
Needless to say, it was a mess. Priestly kept pronouncing seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher’s surname as “Schu-mach-ER” and his teammate Rubens Barrichello’s surname (pronounced Barra-kell-o) as “Barri-chello.” And Jenkins and Cheever were boring as well. In 2004, my family and I rejoiced when the coverage returned to the Speed channel and our reliable announcers Varsha, Matchett, Hobbs and Windsor.
Is nothing sacred anymore? NBC gave up its Wimbledon coverage after 42 years last year, with this year’s matches on ESPN. NBC’s coverage was nice, starting with the English trumpet-based introduction music and ending with NBC Sports’ famous theme (Keith Mansfield’s “World Champion”) and made a glorious summer fortnight all the better.
For the few who might not have known, ESPN didn’t always have “Monday Night Football,” ABC did. Sadly, that was taken away after 35 years in 2005, in one more of ESPN’s money grabs so as to force people to buy cable plans to get their coverage.
Worst of all, though, was the ending of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” in 1998, after 37 years. For those readers hooked to their iPhones and Blackberries and 54-inch TVs that can get the web on them, “Wide World of Sports” was the only place on the three (yes, three) channels in the 60s that people could see sports not seen regularly like the FA Cup final (the only soccer game other than the World Cup broadcast in the United States for many years), prizefights featuring Muhummad Ali, the Indy 500 or even F1’s Monaco Grand Prix. My dad loved “Wide World of Sports” for the so-called “sports oddities” like cliff diving from Acapulco or Figure-Eight racing from Islip, N.Y.
With technology and the world markets, it’s not hard to see why F1 changes broadcasters and shows like “Wide World of Sports” fall by the wayside. But it is sad. I enjoyed seeing old “Wide World of Sports” clips like people on skis riding behind horses on a lake in Switzerland, demolition derby from Ascot Park in Los Angeles or the World’s Strongest Man competition, especially because it gave me a glimpse into my dad’s childhood.