While you may not yet realize it, the historic racing community has lost one of its greatest champions. By the time you read these words, an old and trusted friend will cease to exist, leaving a vacuum in its place. I speak not of a legendary driver or a personality from the world of motorsport; unfortunately, I speak of our beloved, sniff, sniff, Speedvision.
I realize that this may come to you as a shock, it certainly was for me. It seems hard to believe that just six years ago Speedvision burst onto the scene and opened our collective eyes. I can still hear my wife’s words as I breathlessly ran into the house to tell her the tremendous news.
“Honey, pant, pant, they’re making a new, pant, pant, cable channel, gasp, that will carry auto racing and classic cars 24-hours a day, wheeze, seven days a week! Isn’t that great?!”
In a hushed, near whisper, she replied, “Oh my God! I’ll never see you again.”
Despite her protestations, the writing was on the wall. As soon as I could, I ran out and bought a satellite dish to receive this most special gift from the heavens. Next, I paid for more than 456 unwanted channels of baseball, golf and Pro-Bass fishin’ so that I could get the “one true” channel. And it was good.
Apparently, a little too good. In July of last year, Fox Cable Networks also decided it was good…good enough to step in and purchase Speedvision, lock, stock and smoking tail pipe. At the time, many pundits in the motorsport media postulated that Fox’s purchase would mark the beginning of the end – or rather the “NASCAR-ization” of Speedvision. Having paid millions for the broadcast rights to all NASCAR events, it made sense that Fox would want a racing-dedicated cable channel to leverage their investment.
There were no wholesale changes at first. But by late fall, it was announced that Speedvision would change its name to Speed Channel. “Rebranding” they called it. Then, in November, it was announced that starting with the Speed Channel “launch” on Feb 11, each weeknight from 3:00 pm to midnight would be 100% devoted to NASCAR and that the aviation and marine dimensions of Speedvision would go away. This announcement raised the obvious question, “What will happen to the rest of Speedvision’s existing line of programming?” And of most importance to us, what about classic cars and historic racing?
With these questions in mind, I thought I’d give newly appointed president Jim Liberatore a call and see how historic racing fit into the new Speed Channel. After the usual pleasantries, I asked Liberatore about the giant block of primetime NASCAR programming and what would happen to the other shows. He assured me that staples like F1, CART, FIA Rallying and endurance racing would still play a part in Speedvision, err, Speed Channel’s programing. Whew! What a relief. However, he did go on to tell me that the executives at Fox felt that Speevision had “maxed out” with its original audience and that NASCAR programming and the NASCAR audience was more the direction the channel was going to go in the future.
Not sure what to make of this last comment, I dived in and asked, “What about your historic racing programming? You know, event coverage like the Monterey Historics and the Lime Rock Festival?”
There was a long pause before he replied, “I don’t think I’ve heard of those before, hold on a second and I’ll ask.”
As the president of the new Speed Channel network shouted to someone if they had something called the “Monterey Historics,” I tried to gather my jaw up off the floor and regain some of the lost blood flow to my brain. Could it really be possible that the man who now manned the helm of this beloved institution has never heard of the Lime Rock Festival? It was at this point that I again saw the writing on the wall… and it wasn’t pretty.
When he came back on the line he told me that they didn’t have any plans for those shows, but that they would be keeping the Legends of Motorsport show. After descending into a speechless stupor, I thanked him for his time, hung up the phone and went to lie down for awhile.
It’s taken me some time to come to grips with this “loss.” But as Confucius once said, “Let mourning stop when one’s grief is fully expressed.” So rather than mourn our fallen friend, why not let the folks at Speed Channel know that we are still out here, still interested, still leading the top 10% of all consumers nationwide…and wanting some of our programming back! Gentleman (and ladies), start your pens.