Back seat driver. Please surprise me

ESPN is tossing Marty Reid out of the booth this week for the CarFax 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway this Saturday. Instead, the race call will be done by a team of past champions. Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Ray Evernham and Andy Petree will be alone in the TV booth for the race.

The concept for this call is that the former driver’s and crew chiefs will relay the on track action with events in their past, or to offer their ideas about what the driver’s on the track or the teams should be doing. So as I understood from a press conference Tuesday with Rusty and Ray there will be no actual play by play. This is a new one time deal for ESPN with no further similar broadcast planned. The network big wigs are looking to shake things up and see how the fans / viewers like it. If this idea goes over good, you can be sure that it will be done on several occasions next year and possibly flow over to the Cup races.

After thinking about this idea and giving it consideration, my best comment is, Surprise me, Please Surprise me. I can recall when Rusty first went to the TV booth, just as I remember when DW first hit the booth. So I have to say that I hope that Rusty has gotten his “look at Stephen doing this, I think Stephen should do that” and more out of his system, it took DW years to stop . Dale Jarrett hit the TV booth 2 years ago and to my delight, he stepped into his dad’s shoes. Dale showed an ease about himself and completely comfortable calling a race. He instantly gained a lot of respect from fans and deserves to be more visible on the Cup broadcast. So, the surprise I am hoping for is that DJ takes the lead on this telecast and can keep the others focused on the race and the viewers.

Ray Evernham and Andy Petree both bring a lot of knowledge and experience to the broadcast team with tons of technical expertise. Ray is a natural speaker and his time on TV has shown him to be very at ease, Andy has come a long way in his time with ESPN , so both can make this a very positive program. But listening to Rusty and Ray speak about this upcoming broadcast, I have to wonder if anybody will do any kind of play by play, or if the viewers will have to try to decipher what is actually happening on the track.

When saving point about this broadcast, and Ray was quick to point it out, is the fact that Alan Bestwick will be in the Pit studio and will be able to steer the broadcast in that direction. Alan has one of the coolest heads in NASCAR broadcasting and should be able to help guide this whole experiment, by directing the flow between the broadcast booth and the pit reporters. In my opinion, one that is shared by many in the sport, Alan should be leading the play by play booth on a weekly basis.

Nobody knows if this will work out as an acceptable alternative, but I have to give credit to Rich Feinberg, Vice president of motorsports for ESPN . This whole idea is his baby, so if it flies he gets the credit and if it sinks he gets the blame. The economy has hit NASCAR particularly hard this year. Sponsor and advertising dollars are down as are viewer and attendance ratings. Give this idea a chance, check it out and if you like it, let ESPN know, if you don’t like it, also let them know. ‘Backseat drivers’ will be on ESPN-2 Saturday at 3:00 ET.