The Death of Speed

thOn August 17th, Speed is being killed by its owner, FOX. In its place will be Fox Sports 1. This is hard news to take for this car obsessed writer. As a kid, finding auto racing coverage that I liked was tough. I fondly recall many a night staying up past midnight when ESPN would air World Rally Championship racing. The insane days of the Group B cars. While my family slept, I would sit, wide-eyed, at the ur Audi Quattros positively shredding rally courses in foreign lands. It was a rare treat, but it was a great time.

Then I heard about a new TV network called Speedvision, and it was as if all my prayers had been answered. A channel dedicated to nothing but cars. I ditched cable, who didn’t carry Speedvision, and switched to DirecTV just for that channel. It was a miracle. Watching David Hobbs narrate ‘Legends of Motorsport’ was addictive, his savvy British charm recalling a more romantic era of racing, accompanied with grainy black and white film footage was classic. Alan de Cadenet hosting ‘Victory By Design’. Where else can you watch a guy tearing up the countryside in a Ferrari 333SP? And of course, Formula 1 racing coverage finally available in the US. The narratives from legendary Trans Am racer Sam Posey literally sent chills down my spine. Dave Despain’s deadpan race news coverage on Wind Tunnel. I Tivo’d the entire Barrett Jackson coverage of the famed auto auction in Scottsdale, Arizona just before my son was born, and that is what we watched together in the wee hours of the morning when he needed feeding. Me, my newborn, and guys talking about cars. It does not get any better than that.

Speedvision was based out of Stamford, Connecticut, about 40 miles from where I live. My wife and I would drive past the Stamford Marriott and wanted to believe David Hobbs was holding court in the top level lounge towering over I-95, regaling stories of the old days of racing. Then came FOX, and it was never the same. FOX bought an interest in Speedvision in 2001, later took over completely, and renamed the channel Speed. NASCAR was the name of the game, big time. Moronic reality shows started cropping up. World Rally Championship coverage? Gone. Dakar Rally coverage? Gone. Poor Alan de Cadenet was deemed too intelligent for Speed’s desired demographic,  and disappeared. Instead of exploring the history of some of the greatest car companies of the world, and per chance learn something, Speed preferred to put on a show with a bunch of meatheads duking it out on a drag strip. What was once a network that was intelligent, offering content for people truly passionate about cars had been deliberately dumbed down.

One of the greatest spectacles of automotive racing, the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans retained coverage on Speed, but FOX’s NASCAR preference was still omnipresent. Year after year, Speed would stop covering this live, historic race to show us Sprint Car qualifying. Are you serious? In 2012, Speed gave up the rights to air Formula 1 racing, which went to NBC Sports, with Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, and Leigh Diffey.

The truth is, what made Speedvision so awesome died when FOX bought in and turned it into a NASCAR network, with the aforementioned idiotic reality shows. And, sadly, people who were dedicated to Speed uprooted their lives from Connecticut to the new headquarters in North Carolina are now out of work. To make matters worse, FOX kept most of their employees completely in the dark. Until they said they were shutting Speed down.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I raise a glass to the TV channel of my dreams whose lights are going out at the end of this week. It was fun while it lasted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *