Speed TV slows to a stop, and I'm not happy I have Dave Despain's phone number somewhere. I thought about calling him but he would only piss me off.
Not by what he would say, but what he wouldn't. I'd want him to join me in railing against Fox's corporate bean counters who spayed, neutered, starved, and as of 6 a.m. Saturday, finally put the SPEED TV cable network to sleep. I want Despain to be as upset as I am that his “Wind Tunnel” show was, over its 11-year history, marginalized, and as of last Sunday, eliminated. Ditto the “Speed Center” hour before it, which has been astoundingly schizophrenic this last season as they juggled hosts and formats, but there was always one constant: They showed us pictures and stories from racing all over the world, for which there is simply no acceptable alternative source.
But Despain is too professional to join me in whining. I first interviewed him at Winchester Speedway in Indiana, where he was hosting that night's edition of “Thursday Night Thunder,” a must-see-and-saw program that even now fans talk about in reverent tones. Despain has never taken himself or his career very seriously, and I know that if I called him, I could pretty much feel the shrug on the other end of the phone as he said, in essence, “Stuff happens.” Now he has more time to ride his motorcycles. I'm glad he's happy, because I'm not. Despain's show must die, so Rutledge Wood's show can live? Yeah, that's a splendid trade.
Business-wise, the changeover ostensibly makes sense: Fox figures a full-line sports network is more marketable to viewers and advertisers than Speed, and plans to charge cable carriers at least three times what they were paying for Speed. Those cable and satellite carriers balked, as they always do, but at the last minute reached an agreement. As they always do.
Yes, along with ultimate fighting, football, soccer and five-days-a-week Regis Philbin, Fox Sports 1 will air some NASCAR stuff, as well as coverage of the new United SportsCar Racing series, as well as some additional motorsports that they are contracted to air, for now. This includes the ARCA series, but likely foreseeing the future, and consequently hedging its bets, ARCA is sending up a trial balloon by showing a few races on NBC Sports.
But the days of flipping over to Speed TV and finding some sort of surprising, perhaps even surprisingly good, racing- or automotive-related shows are over. This was our station, and it's gone.
One of the things that killed “Wind Tunnel” and “Speed Center” was, according to “Sports Business Daily,” the fact that they had an older audience. Fox Sports 1 does know Regis Philbin will turn 82 this month, right? Right.
Meanwhile, look for MAV-TV on your cable or satellite provider. But if anyone doing a survey asks you how old you are, say 18 to 25, or we could lose that one, too. AutoWeek