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NASCAR Seeks Broader Audience with New Film and Netflix Show

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It’s been well documented that over the last few years NASCAR’s TV ratings have been consistently trending downwards. This could loosely be traced back to when Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon retired in 2015.  Since then, a handful of the sport’s superstars have departed from full-time racing and as a result fans are following.

It now appears NASCAR is seeking help in the form of Hollywood entertainment in hopes of drawing in a greater population of race fans.

Television icon and avid NASCAR fan Kevin James is taking his comedic talents to Netflix in 2020 for the new multi-cam sitcom The Crew. The new sitcom will feature James as an old school crew chief who is resistant to the inevitable advancements of modern day technologies. When the team owner steps down and leaves his daughter in charge, these changes are implemented rapidly – and naturally, the two don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Long Island Native will not only be starring in the show, but he will be teaming up with longtime production partner Jeff Sussman to serve as a co-executive producer. NASCAR will also have a hand in crafting the show with a pair of senior executives also producing alongside James and Sussman – Senior Executive of Digital Operations, Tim Clark and Senior Executive of Entertainment Marketing, Matthew Summers.

The only other name attached to the project is sitcom writer Jeff Lowell, who has worked on hit shows such as Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. There is no word on who will be taking on the pivotal roles of the team owner and his daughter (let the Leah Remini rumors commence).

NASCAR may have hit a home run with this pitch, because the potential for success is seemingly enormous. Netflix has been the most dominant company in terms of streaming and entertainment services since 2013 and their success just keeps growing. It was reported that in the second quarter of 2019, there were 151 million subscribers worldwide using Netflix’s streaming services – that’s A LOT of eyes that will likely be tuning into The Crew. But what’s the allure?

For starters, James is a massive comedic TV icon. James broke onto the scene with the wildly successful show, The King of Queens, which aired for an astounding nine years. Sussman served as the producer for all nine seasons with James, so there is a high probability that the duo can recreate some of their chemistry and television magic with The Crew.

It also helps that James is known to be a huge fan of NASCAR who rarely misses a race. This should bring forth an authentic and passion-driven performance from the actor, in addition to his knowledge of the sport. We also have NASCAR’s ties to the show. With a pair of the sport’s senior executives playing a heavy role in the production of the Netflix comedy, this should ensure that  the sport shown in a truthful light.

Lastly, although no other casting news has been confirmed, it would not be out of the ordinary to see some of James’ friends such as Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade make a cameo on the show. The group of friends are notorious for making appearances in each other’s projects. And don’t count out driver cameos! The film Logan Lucky which premiered in 2017 showcased the (brief) acting talents of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards.

Between James’ and Netflix’s popularity and the infinite possibilities stemming from NASCAR’s involvement, the sky seems like the limit for The Crew. The bottom line is, if the show is done right, NASCAR could be seeing a dramatic increase in viewership over the next few years.

The Crew is slated to premiere on Netflix in 2020 with no official release date.

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Making the jump from the small-screen to the silver screen, Michael Waltrip‘s documentary, Blink of an Eye, premiered in theaters worldwide this week. The documentary is an adaptation from Waltrip’s critically acclaimed and “New York Times Bestseller” book which examines Waltrip and the late Dale Earnhardt’s friendship.

After snapping a 462 race winless streak in the biggest race of the year, Waltrip’s triumphant euphoria comes to a screeching halt within seconds after finding out seven-time champion, team owner and his best friend, Earnhardt, passed away after getting involved a wreck on the final lap of the same event.

For those who have not read the book and do not know the story, Waltrip is able to articulate his damning range of emotions with ease. Seeing how Waltrip’s story translates from writing to the big screen should be nothing short of spectacular, especially with help from Emmy-award winning director Paul Taublieb at the helm.

With the combination of Waltrip and Taublieb’s storytelling coupled with one of the most heartbreaking stories in sports history, audiences should expect a full-on assault of their emotions in theaters. This is a drastic – and much needed – change in direction for how NASCAR had been previously portrayed by Hollywood.

Blink of an Eye should showcase NASCAR in a devastatingly serious manner. Prior to this we’ve only recently seen the sport shown in a comedic and childish light with films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Logan Lucky and Pixar’s Cars trilogy. You would have to turn back the clock 29 years to find the last time NASCAR was shown in a non-comedic light with Days of Thunder.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the sport being shown in a comedic or youthful light. This is great way to bring in a new generation of viewers and comedy almost always sells (especially in the form of Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights). It’s just nice to see the sport being taken seriously instead of one big joke.

People want to watch characters (or athletes) they can relate to. Witnessing and listening to Waltrip’s story through his words offers audiences a raw and honest look into the minds and lives of these athletes and ultimately gives them something they can both sympathize and empathize with.

It will be interesting to see if Waltrip’s documentary can generate enough Oscar’s buzz to be considered a nominee for “Best Documentary” in The 92nd Academy Awards. The story is certainly there and with Taulieb directing, Blink of an Eye could be NASCAR’s broken Cinderella story for the sport.

If the documentary can indeed earn a nomination at the Academy Awards, it could have potential to draw an even broader audience from the cinema community. This could then spark a NASCAR trend in Hollywood and with that the possibilities are infinite.

The popular trend in the film industry is currently reboots and sequels. Whose to say we can’t get a Talladega Nights or Days of Thunder sequel? After all, Tom Cruise is returning for a Top Gun reboot – a film which premiered 33 years ago. So why couldn’t he return as an older and wiser Cole Trickle?

Personally, I’d love to see Waltrip’s story told in a more cinematic way, much like the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush.

What are your thoughts on NASCAR’s outreach through television and cinema? Would you like to see reboots, sequels or certain stories told through the big screen?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Cole Cusumano

Cole Cusumano is currently attending The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication for a degree in sports journalism. In addition to providing content for POPULAR SPEED, he worked for Pit Notes at ISM Raceway. He is also currently writing for the school's magazine "The Cronkite Journal", which is affiliated with Arizona PBS. Cole was born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y. but has been living in Arizona for 13 years.