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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

NHRA Pushing the Pedal to the Metal

February 02, 2001|LARRY STEWART

It's a new era for NASCAR television coverage, and with the Daytona 500 two weeks away, Fox is gearing up.

But the National Hot Rod Assn. beats NASCAR off the starting line this weekend, as it welcomes its new television era with the AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.

Drag racing has quietly made inroads as a television sport, getting solid ratings at a time when most are declining. The ratings have been particularly solid in Los Angeles, the sport's birthplace. NHRA competitions on television often outdraw hockey, the Clippers, tennis, college basketball and other sports.

Armed with a five-year television contract with ESPN, Tom Compton, the NHRA's energetic new president, is feeling bullish about the future.

"NASCAR may have been the motor sport of the '90s," he said, "but we're going to be the motor sport of the next decade."

With the new TV deal come changes in the announcing team. Marty Reid is the new lead announcer, and he'll be joined by veteran driver and former funny car champion Cruz Pedregon, whose father, Frank, was a top-fuel competitor in the 1960s. Pedregon's brothers, Tony and Frank Jr., currently compete in funny cars.

Dave McClelland, longtime voice of NHRA, will still be a part of the telecasts, and returning are pit reporters Bill Stephens, David Reiff and Shelly Anderson.

ESPN and ESPN2 will cover 24 NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events this year, usually on a same-day delay. ESPN2 will also televise, tape-delayed, 15 Federal Mogul Drag Racing Series events, and Reid will be joined by Bob Frey on those telecasts.

TROJAN FANS IRKED

Fox Sports Net was besieged with callers Thursday complaining that the USC-Stanford game was not going to be televised in Los Angeles.

Not much the network could do. The schedule, set before the season, had Arizona-Oregon as a national Pacific 10 Conference telecast, and Fox Sports Net in L.A. was contractually obligated to carry it. UCLA-California was scheduled for Fox Sports Net 2.

Because of Fox Sport Net's news programs, a tape-delayed USC-Stanford game wouldn't have worked either. And besides, tape-delayed games, in this day and age, get minuscule ratings.

TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENT

Another new television technology will be introduced during NHL All-Star weekend in Denver.

Players during Saturday's skills competition on ESPN will be wired so that viewers can determine how fast they are skating. The NHL, in partnership with Trakus Inc., developed the technology that will also be used on a limited basis during Sunday's All-Star game on ABC.

MORE BAD LANGUAGE

Much discussion resulted from CBS microphones at the Super Bowl picking up profanity during the player introductions. Earlier in the day, NBC cameras and microphones picked up some bad language from Philadelphia 76er bad boy Allen Iverson, who got into it with a fan at a game against the Pacers in Indianapolis.

NBC's Mike Breen, partnered with Bill Walton, said that Iverson's youth was no excuse for such behavior, and later in the week, as a guest on Dan Patrick's ESPN Radio show, said he was upset because Coach Larry Brown and others had said Iverson, 25, was maturing.

Iverson, after the game, said a fan was yelling racial slurs at him. That was his excuse for his boorish behavior. But Thursday, Pacer President Donnie Walsh, a guest on Jay Mariotti's One-on-One network show on KMPC (1540), said an investigation determined there was bad language but no racial slurs.

And the NBA wonders why ratings are declining.

SHORT WAVES

ESPN Classic will reshow Jennifer Capriati's victories over Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis at the Australian Open as an "Instant Classic" on Monday at 6 p.m. . . . Andre Agassi's victory in the Australian men's final on ESPN got a 2.25 national rating, a 2.8 in L.A., and drew the network's second-largest audience ever for tennis, 1.8 million homes. Capriati's title victory over Hingis got a 2.09 national rating and drew ESPN's third-largest tennis audience ever, 1.7 million homes.

Recommended viewing: The latest edition of "Beyond the Glory" on Fox Sports Net on Sunday at 8 p.m. scores with a profile of Roberto Duran. Actor Hector Elizondo serves as Duran's translator. . . . Boxing beat: Showtime offers a boxing rarity Saturday at 9 p.m., delayed--a world unification title bout between super lightweight Kostya Tszyu and Sharmba Mitchell from Las Vegas. At 11 p.m. Saturday, HBO offers a card with Hector Camacho Jr. and Hector Camacho Sr. in separate bouts. . . . ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday at the new time of 7:30 a.m. examines the state of the NHL.

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