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HBO show drives home points on NASCAR, race


No one would dispute that auto racing, and particularly NASCAR, has become one of the hottest sports going these days, but racing viewers can be forgiven if they notice a sort of sameness about what they see, or rather what they don't see.

In particular, what appears to be absent from NASCAR, both behind the wheels of the cars and from the stands, are black drivers and fans. Their absence and what NASCAR is doing to attract them is the subject of a fascinating story in tonight's "Real Sports" magazine on HBO, airing at 10.

Reporter Derek McGinty, one of the newest additions to the "Real Sports" team, takes a hard-hitting, historical look at how the NASCAR boom has somehow missed blacks. The piece goes back to the 1950s and '60s, when Wendell Scott, the only African-American driver to win on the circuit, was driving, to the present, as Willy T. Ribbs waits for a chance to break through.

McGinty, a former CBS News contributor and National Public Radio talk host, interviews Jeff Gordon and NASCAR vice president Brian France, a progenitor of the founding family of NASCAR. In one exchange, McGinty upbraids Richard Petty for his use of the word "colored" in discussing Scott -- a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee this year -- and the problems he faced then.

To be sure, the McGinty story is decidedly anecdotal, and lacks some of the direct punch of anchor Bryant Gumbel's lead story on the flood of counterfeit golf equipment onto the market. But, when you combine the two pieces, with solid profiles of New York Yankees pitcher David Cone and Sacramento Kings point guard Jason Williams, you get another fine "Real Sports" presentation.

Serendipitously, ESPN's latest "Outside The Lines" special airs tonight at 7: 30, focusing on agents, with scheduled features on how players select agents, the growing influence of new agent, rapper Master P, the effect of the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement on agents, and on HBO's agent-based sitcom, "Arli$$."

Draft day afternoon

We've often admired in this space the wizardry of WJFK (1300 AM) producer/host Paul Mittermeier, particularly regarding his football expertise.

Well, Mittermeier and his staff outdid themselves Saturday in covering the NFL draft, and especially the Ravens' participation.

Within no more than a minute of each of the major selections, the station had a quick, informative package on the air with a sound clip of that player's on-field contributions, as well as a sound bite of Ravens' personnel chief Ozzie Newsome assessing the player's attributes and a Ravens player who had either recently played with or against the draft choice, talking about the player who had been drafted.

Likewise, it was refreshing to hear station personnel address the legal difficulties of Ravens' first-round choice Chris McAlister, who was asked about his petty-theft charge. Given the often tricky relationship between a club and its rights-holder, it's often not easy for a station to bring up potential baggage. WJFK did, and it's to be commended.

Meanwhile, ESPN ran the trains of 17 hours of coverage rather smoothly over two days of coverage, with hardly a noticeable gaffe. The experts opined, the highlights ran correctly, and the commentators covered whatever drama you can expect out of this made-for-TV extravaganza with few hitches.

'Great' coverage from Fox

Let's just say that Fox got really lucky that its decision to regionalize the telecast of Wayne Gretzky's final game Sunday didn't backfire. The network sent the New York Rangers-Pittsburgh contest to 80 percent of the country, but not to cities like Houston, San Antonio, and, yes, Baltimore. The New York Fox affiliate was locked into a Yankees game, by the way, and could only show portions of the historic hockey contest.

Thankfully, the Rangers-Penguins game went into overtime, giving the entire country the chance to see Fox's shining moment in sports broadcasting, a telecast that goes right alongside the network's Emmy-nominated showing of Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd home run last year.

Kudos go to the network and its affiliates for staying with the post-game ceremony past the 6 p.m. anticipated ending, for if they had left, we would have missed the fabulous work of director Sandy Grossman and producer Richie Zyontz, who got all the shots of a most moving farewell.

Also, a real thumbs-up to play-by-play man Mike Emrick and analyst John Davidson for "laying out" and letting the emotion of the moment speak for itself, rather than lapsing into hokum. ABC undoubtedly will go its own way when it takes over hockey coverage next season, but Davidson and Emrick deserve to come back.

ESPN, meanwhile, begins its NHL playoff coverage tomorrow night with a doubleheader on ESPN2, leading off with Detroit-Anaheim at 7: 30, followed by the Colorado-San Jose series opener, joined in progress after the Detroit game ends.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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