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NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Banquet Much Improved

An Opinion

December 2, 2007
By Kim Roberson

Kim Roberson

Wow. I don’t know who was in charge of the NEXTEL Cup Awards Banquet this year, but whoever they are, they need a raise.

I tuned into the Awards Banquet on Friday night as I always do, prepared to put the TV on mute and listen to the coverage on Sirius. I had been listening to Sirius all the way home from work…a much longer trip than usual thanks to a crash on the road that I used to get home, that completely blocked off any passage and thus parked me for a good 40 minutes.

Maybe I should have taken hope when, as I sat there, I listened to Steve Post giving commentary on the dresses the wives were wearing at a pre-banquet gathering. “DeLana Harvick has on a green dress with a strap over one arm and the other arm strapless.” “Connie Montoya has on a dress that has no straps….and no back… goes all the way down. I mean, ALL the way down….”

The Post-man’s color commentary on the clothes was so much better than Melissa River’s awful red carpet coverage last year. It was a glimmer of hope that last years debacle might be better this go around.

I made it home in time to grab some dinner and sit down to watch a little pre-banquet coverage. ESPN Classic had the honors this year, and prior to the ceremony, they ran a Sports Century segment on Jeff Gordon, and then covered the Myers Brothers luncheon.

My e-mail to friends as the show began was as follows:

Good news #1: Weber is GONE! (Thank you!). Jerry Punch is now the host.

Rick Hendrick's wife must have about $1.5M in diamonds around her neck. I might be blind from the glittering.

Waiting to see if David Spade is any better than a drunken Jay Mohr. I can only hope.

The good news #2 was that Spade WAS better than the former host, Jay Mohr. My remarks about Jay’s comedic abilities were summed up this way last year:

Sadly, he wasn’t any funnier this year than last. I actually decided to go fix dinner while he was doing his monologue because I couldn’t stand to sit and watch it after the first two jokes. When Tony Stewart came up to accept his award for 11th place, he looked like he couldn’t wait to get away from Jay, slowly trying to step away as the comic tried to poke a jab or two his way.

Spade was much tamer, and didn’t throw insults at anyone…except maybe Wally Dallenbach, who gave David his first ride in a Cup car several years back. "I get the one guy who isn't good enough to be in the race to give me a ride. Great"

Next up was the commemoration of those we lost in 2007, including Bobby Hamilton, Benny Parsons, and Bill France, Junior. The host for this segment was former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, who I had no idea was a NASCAR fan. He commented that everyone knows Brian Williams, who replaced him in the anchor chair at Nightly, is a big fan, and was friends with Dale Senior, but Brian’s wife decided Friday night was the night to go to the symphony instead of to the NASCAR Awards Banquet. That got a chuckle out of everyone in the room. He then looked up into the balcony area, where the 48 team watched the ceremony, and told them “Representatives from the Betty Ford Clinic will be here to offer you help tomorrow.”

It turns out Mr. Brokaw was good friends with Bill France Junior, and he was an excellent choice for that segment. A friend who I was going back and forth with during the ceremony -- put it this way: “Brokaw should be the only host- every year.....class act all the way around...and loves the sport.” I think Jerry Punch is doing a great job hosting this year, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Tom back.

The next award was the Bill France Award of Excellence, which went to MRN lead anchor Barney Hall for his 50 years of coverage of NASCAR. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Mr. Hall, and hearing MRN turn reporter and Sirius Speedway host Dave Moody talk about him, you know he is an amazing guy with a head full of more history than almost anyone can dream of having. The man who lends his voice to the coverage of dozens of races a year ended up having a nice, short, acceptance speech.

Then it was on to the drivers’ awards. As Kevin Harvick was introduced I waited for David Spade to appear. He didn’t. The driver was allowed to walk up, make his speech, take his trophy, and walk off, no harassment involved. Kevin didn’t seem all that relaxed making his speech, and looked much happier to be leaving the stage than he was getting up on it as the first driver to make a speech for the night.

I will say, as to the just picking up his award, I would think they could have someone actually hand it to them. Remember that girl who was in the NEXTEL black and yellow jumper at the end of every race? I know she worked for NEXTEL, and she didn’t really do much but be a pretty advertisement….she wasn’t quite a Winston Girl, but she was close. Why not bring her along to the awards ceremony and have her hand out each of the trophies? It would be a nice touch.

Maybe next year.

Before each driver came to the stage to make their speech and pick up their trophy, they ran a highlight reel that included wives or significant others. They talked to Kevin and DeLana Harvick, Jeff and Kim Burton, Kurt and Eva Bush. Then came Tony Stewart, who did his pre-award segment with Greg Zippadelli. They showed Tony at home, and showed the front of his house, the same house he lived in growing up. When Smoke walked up to the podium, he smiled and said “My crew Chief Greg Zippadelli, who, since I’m not married I guess had to fill the wife role in the video. Sorry babe. And I do feel ashamed, I feel like the first thing I need to do is go home and mow my lawn” which got a round of laughter from the crowd. He kept them laughing with his comments about this years Rookie of the Year. “Congratulations to Juan Pablo Montoya. I think you made going from the streets of Monaco to the close circuit at Martinsville look pretty easy. Keep your eye on this Montoya kid…I think if he works at it a little harder he might make a pretty good race car driver.”

Maybe they ought to have Smoke do the comedy for the show every year.

When Kyle Bush got up to accept his fifth place award, I have to admit, he surprised me with his maturity. He is on the way out the door at Hendrick Motorsports, and yet he didn’t sound bitter, and publicly thanked his crew chief, and every member of the 5 team and Hendrick Motorsports. He went on to say “Everyone knows I’ve had an interesting start to my Cup career the past few years, and as much as I have enjoyed getting to know Mr. Helton and Mr. Darby and Mr. Pemberton, I’ve really tried to stay out of the NASCAR hauler this year. And despite my best efforts, mission accomplished.”

In the video for Matt Kenseth, who was fourth, he was shown talking to his Crew Chief, Robbie Reiser. In one scene, they showed Resier talking to team owner Jack Roush before a race. “Do you have your radiator all the way open?” asked Jack. “Yes I do.” replied Robbie. “Brakes all the way open?” “Yes.” “Anything I need to do for you today?” “I’m just glad to work for Roush Racing.” “Just stay out of your box?” asked Jack. “Pretty much.” replied Robbie, getting a laugh out of Roush. When Matt got to the stage, he got his own chuckles by saying “Well I really got the shaft there. I can see Tony doesn’t have a wife, and Kyle Bush had his dogs, and I’ve got the cutest darned wife out there, and I had to get my video taken with Robbie.”

Watching these guys during the season, you forget that they aren’t always the serious looking racers we see week in and out. The guys were funny, even as they spouted off the required pleasantries about their team and their sponsors. They all clean up pretty well, and while you know they would rather be in jeans and t-shirts, they carry the formal wear nicely.

Jeff Gordon might have spent a bit too much time thanking Rick Hendrick, but he made up for it by fighting off tears at the end of his speech when he talked about his wife, daughter, and his parents. Who can blame him for shedding a tear, after all? He has a wonderful wife, a new daughter, and not only did he finish second to a teammate, he OWNS the winning car. I'd be weeping for joy if I was in his shoes too.

When Harvick came back up to accept the Sprint Most Dramatic award for edging out Mark Martin at Daytona, he was much more relaxed, poking fun at Smoke. “I got to tell you, I got a “Stewie” last night…for those of you who don’t know what that is, it is an award that Tony Stewart gives on his show, this is much slimmer than your bobblehead, bud. It’s got his figure. Yeah, sorry. What was the average weight everyone guessed? 240? That’s a joke.”

That’s the rapport we are used to.

When Jimmie Johnson came up to accept his award, it seemed the folks in the audience were a little slow to remember that they were expected to stand as Jimmie stood center stage. Finally, I saw Mike Helton stand, then his table stand, and finally everyone else began to stand. I don’t know if it was because everyone was about done with the whole ceremony, or if they were just thinking “Didn’t we already do this once?” The ovation was shorter than usual, and they quickly moved into the discussion of what Sprint/NEXTEL had done for the sport this year, and then the various goodies that Jimmie earned as Champion.

As Jimmie made his speech, I couldn’t help noticing that his bow tie was crooked. He also looks a lot like a good friend of mine, who is a police officer at the Arlington County Police Department.

The highlight of Jimmie's speech was the very end, when he closed by saying “And I promise I will stay IN the golf cart this off season.”

As the clock ticked towards midnight, I had to admit, this ceremony wasn’t half bad. I still don’t know why they don’t use Larry the Cable Guy or Jeff Foxworthy as the comedian for the night. I am keeping my fingers crossed that when the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens in a few years, they will pack up the banquet and leave the Waldorf behind, in favor of having it in Charlotte. It would be nice to allow fans the chance to be able to afford a trip to see their drivers enjoying their Championship Week.

David Poole said during his show this week that he was going to pay more for his hotel room this week in New York than he would for an entire race weekend during the season.

It would also be nice to have an awards ceremony the fans could actually take part in. Right now, the crew of the Championship team is relegated to a balcony in the far corner of the ballroom. Bring the team down either on to the stage or in front of it, and let the fans occupy balcony space, like in the People’s Choice Awards. It is impossible in New York, but at the Hall of Fame, it would be possible. Not only could fans go to the awards ceremony, they could spend the week touring the shops, going to Lowe's Motor Speedway, and taking part in driver events. If the Champion needs to do a New York media tour, then send him up to do Regis and Kelly and Rachel Ray on Monday and Tuesday, then bring him back on Wednesday to do a session with his fans in Charlotte.

The Hall of Fame opens in 2010. That is two years to think about it. Friday night proved they can change things for the better. Let’s hope they decide to make the whole week fan friendly and bring the party home to Charlotte.

Discuss this and other racing matters in the Prodigys@Speed Forum

You can contact Kim at.. Insider Racing News

    Read other articles by Kim Roberson

The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.

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