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Major change coming for race fans

By: Amanda Vincent, Feature Writer – Motorsport Illustrated News (this article posted here with special permission from MIN)

If you watch racing on the SPEED television network, it’s probably not breaking news to you by this point that SPEED will soon be FOX Sports 1. While they have mentioned the re-launch of SPEED to FOX Sports 1 a lot and often, not a lot has been said about exactly what the change means for motorsport enthusiasts. This isn’t just a mere name change; it’s a lot more than that.

Gone will be the lone automotive and motorsport-specific channel in the US. While specific channels for sports like golf, basketball, basketball, football, horse racing, hockey, tennis and others across various cable and satellite systems will remain, motorsport fans will no longer have that luxury with the demise of SPEED.

The switch over is scheduled to take place on August 17. According to FOX, the new FOX Sports 1 will be located at the same channel now occupied by SPEED on most cable and satellite television systems. But it won’t be SPEED with a new identity. FOX Sports 1, programming-wise, will be more like the Disney-owned ESPN. As a matter-of-fact, the channel plans to compete with the ESPN family of networks.

According to the FOX Sports 1 FAQs (frequently asked questions) on FOXSports.com, FOX Sports 1 will provide coverage of seven “pillar” sports: college basketball, college football, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, NFL, soccer and UFC. The MLB coverage from the new channel is set to start in 2014, and the NFL coverage is listed as “ancillary programs.”

FOX says that it will continue its commitment to motorsports programming, but some of that programming may wind up moving to another channel within the FOX family. Racing-related programming Fox has promised, via its sports website, to continue is coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series; other NASCAR-related programming like NASCAR Race Day, NASCAR Victory Lane and NASCAR Race Hub; Monster Energy Supercross; MotoGP World Championship; the ARCA Racing Series; the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Barrett-Jackson Collector Car auctions. Although there was no specific mention of where on the FOX family of networks a lot of the aforementioned programs will land, there were specific mentions of FOX Sports 1 carrying select NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races (beginning in 2015), Camping World Truck Series races, the Sprint All-Star race, many of the events that make up Daytona Speedweeks in February, including the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel races. FOX Sports 1 will also be the home for NASCAR Victory Lane and Race Hub.

With a multi-sport channel like FOX Sports 1 replacing SPEED, some of the current SPEED programming is sure to fall victim of the shift, despite FOX’s said commitment to motorsport-related programming. Messages to multiple current SPEED on-air talent, questioning the status of their various shows, went mostly unanswered.

Only one well-known SPEED on-air talent, who will remain anonymous, did respond, but his reply was that he couldn’t speak about the transition or his future with the network.

Our questions regarding the future of SPEED’s website and the possibility of a motorsport news-themed website by FOX also went unanswered.

While FOX has listed online the racing-related programming it will continue after this transition, the network and those involved with it seem to be remaining somewhat tight-lipped in regards to motorsport-related shows not mentioned. Not mentioned in this transition are the current SPEED staples Wind Tunnel and Speed Center shows along with coverage of other non-NASCAR race series.

While NASCAR news, apparently, will still be covered by shows like Race Hub and Victory Lane, there has been no mention of a general motorsport news show – a need presently filled by SPEED Center. There will be, though, a general sports news show called FOX Sports Live that will, presumably be similar to ESPN’s Sports Center.

There is also no mention of Dave Despain’s long-running Wind Tunnel show. This show was previously an hour-long program on SPEED, but it has recently been cut back to 30 minutes. Judging by the new network information on the FOX Sports site, there doesn’t look to be any room for Despain and his show.

In a response received from Erik Arneson,VP Media Relations, FOX Sports Media Group, specifically about Wind Tunnel, he stated that “unfortunately, final programming decisions are still in flux and I do not have a definitive answer as to the direction of the show … obviously, over the next few weeks, that picture will become clearer, but we have nothing to share at this point.”

Non-motorsport programming on FOX Sports 1 is slated to include Big East, Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA college football and basketball coverage, including the Big East Conference men’s basketball tournament; MLB League Championship and Division series games and regular season games; soccer coverage including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, CONCACAF Champions League, FIFA Women’s and Men’s World Cup; and UFC programming including Saturday pay-per-views, UFC Tonight, live events and The Ultimate Fighter. Also on FOX Sports 1 will be a show hosted by Regis Philbin.

Unsure about the future of motorsport-related programming, some fans are dreading the changeover.

“Dreading it with a passion,” fan Michael Bar Jr. said. “SPEED has been my favorite channel for over 10 years, even back when it was Speed Vision. I am not too fond of the idea of not having a dedicated racing channel, but I am hoping Fuel and Spike will pick up more coverage along with NBC's channel picking up some of the slack.”

Although the transition means a loss of a motorsport-only network, at least some fans can acknowledge that the move is good for overall general sports fans.

“For sports fans in general I think it will be a good thing, and will provide much needed competition to ESPN and NBCSN,” Ron Frankl said “But I think most NASCAR and motorsports fans will be angry and disappointed, because racing will only be one component of the new network. There will certainly be a lot less time devoted to NASCAR coverage, and I think a lot of fans are in for a rude awakening.”

Like it or not, the change is coming and SPEED will disappear come August 17, making way for FOX Sports 1.  

Follow Amanda Vincent on Twitter @NASCARexaminer

Amanda Vincent is a feature writer and Hot Laps Editor for Motorsport Illustrated News, a weekly print and digital auto racing magazine. Learn more at motorsportin.com