‘Race for the Championship’ gives NASCAR a close-up

“You are not a good person. And you define yourself by one very small thing, which is winning and losing.”

NASCAR Brad Kiselowski Explaining the negative effects of his unique focus on regular motorsports was one of several intriguing scenes in “Race for the Championship,” a documentary series produced on NBC jointly with NASCAR and its teams that debuted September 1 and ran for 10 hours. Episodes conclude at the end of the season on Thursday, November 3.

If you missed the show, the show was on the USA Network on bad times Thursdays at 10 p.m., but it’s now available for binge-watching on Peacock, and it’s well worth your time. The production has effectively matched real-time storylines throughout the NASCAR season, from intense competition on the track, to the complex relationship between teammates, to family life. Unlike some series that do well after one season, “Race for the Championship” tells its story as it happens, as the season begins, and that drew me in.

I am a fan of the motorsports business but have not followed the competition closely. I passed Episode 5, or by Coca-Cola 600, and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I learned a lot about the sport, the demands on drivers and understood the personalities of those I often considered scripted or rigid. It was fun knowing how to do it Joey Logano He is seen as an idiot on the track with a few friends, while watching him at home with his wife, as she gives birth to their third child, a naughty, almost goofy father. There beloved and smooth Ryan Blaney And tell unknown stories Corey Lagoy From Concord, North Carolina, who grew up in the sport and personally introduced one woman named his biggest fan: “I know Kourtney. I know all my fans by name. There are eight of them.”

The show relies heavily on media talent, who help shape the narrative from their internal perspective of the season, and while all of them are effective, this is where the driving voice comes in. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is also an executive producer, really enhances the show. It feels real, and the producers have done a great job of providing the best storylines on many different drivers. For this viewer, there are not enough business leaders in sports – yet no insight from Jim FranceAnd the Lisa France Kennedy or Steve Phelps. among team owners, Justin Marks From Trackhouse Racing and Rick Hendrick And the Jeff Gordon Get airtime, with rare sightings Roger Pinsky. That could change as the story turns to driver safety and the tension between the garage and NASCAR leadership. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is little coverage of team strategy or crew chiefs talking about race day decision-making. Sources told me that teams considered such coverage too sensitive, and it was a deal breaker.

Over the years, I’ve heard from many in the NASCAR community disappointed that their sport did not create “Drive to Survive.” Then when this show was announced, there was frustration that it would be produced by NASCAR Studios and not by an independent production company. Yes, it is different from “Drive to Survive”. It’s less intense and there isn’t a great deal of emotional drama, contrived or not, in the Formula One series. I don’t know if “Race” will attract new fans to NASCAR or draw existing fans deeper. But NBC, NASCAR, and the teams got a chance to show what they could do, and it worked. There are more than two dozen employees focused on this initiative in the NASCAR offices alone. It’s NASCAR Studios’ first imprint and comes when NASCAR begins negotiating a new media rights deal, so having this kind of production and storytelling ability should only help the series as it talks with potential media partners.

As “Race for the Championship” winds down, I’ll be watching to see how they tackle some of the more sensitive story lines and combat unfolding in real time. At the end of the race, NBC and NASCAR can analyze the audience and decide if they should return. Programming and producing like “Race for the Championship” isn’t easy, but in today’s day of content marketing it can be incredibly effective. It’s hard not to be addicted or even empathetic when it comes to the demanding grind of this sport. As a team consultant Steve Littart In a powerful scene about life in NASCAR, he advises the exhausted Spire Motorsports crew: “This isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle. You’re not a cashier at Lowe’s. This shit isn’t easy.” It’s hard to argue with that after watching “Race for the Championship”.

Abraham Madkour can be contacted at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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