The 2001 Daytona 500 was a notable event on several levels; it was the first edition of the race Fox broadcast, it was the first win in that event for Michael Waltrip, and it saw the death of famed racer Dale Earnhardt. With Fox set to broadcast the Daytona 500 again this year Sunday in their 20th straight year of NASCAR coverage, several key broadcast figures spoke to AA this month about the race, coverage of Earnhardt’s death, Fox’s NASCAR coverage, and more. AA spoke to four figures who have been with the NASCAR on Fox broadcasts since 2001: play-by-play announcer Mike Joy, analyst Larry McReynolds, pit reporter Matt Yocum, and host Chris Myers. Here’s what they had to say, starting with commentary on the first race in 2001.

PART ONE: How Fox’s first Daytona 500 broadcast in 2001 came together.
PART TWO: What was different about NASCAR on Fox?
PART THREE: Coverage of Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
PART FOUR: Looking back at some memorable Daytona 500 races.
PART FIVE: How Fox’s NASCAR coverage has changed in recent years.
PART SIX: Looking at 20 years of NASCAR on Fox, and what’s ahead.

Joy said moving from CBS to Fox and changing from a play-by-play focused broadcast to an analyst-centered one was a significant shift for him.

“It was quite a transition for several reasons. CBS was much more of an anchor-centered network, Ken Squier had anchored the 500 from 1977, and after 15 years in the pits I was moved to the anchor seat in ’98. But it was very much a play-by-play centered telecast, where the analysts would contribute opinions but not drive the telecast. Fox was completely different, in their football, their baseball, and their auto racing, it’s very analyst-centered. The analysts are the huge personalities and they drive the telecast. Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip and I had all worked together before, doing some of the Saturday races on cable, so we were pretty well accustomed to each other, and that team seemed like it would be the best fit for Fox, but it certainly required an adjustment, doing a broadcast which was pretty much led by the direction the analyst wanted to go to as opposed to a traditional play-by-play centered telecast.”

“Basically, you set the table for the analyst, they lead the telecast in interesting directions, you try to pull it back to center where needed or when to get in and out of commercials. It’s more of a conversational telecast, I think, than a standard play-by-play where someone calls the play and then someone analyzes what happened. And because auto racing is very fluid, there are no natural play stoppages, it lends itself well to that kind of telecast.”

McReynolds said it was tough for him to fully transition from crew chief to analyst, but he’s glad he made the shift.

“Doing that first one, it was scary to say the least. The decision to leave being a crew chief was probably one of the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make. I thought I’d probably be a crew chief for the rest of my life, and certainly loved doing it. And then when Fox came to me with this opportunity…the good thing is that it wasn’t like it was a big difference in money, it was essentially the same money, which quite honestly I was kind of glad, because I could kind of slide that element aside and really evaluate ‘Was this the right thing for me to do with my career, for myself or for my family?'”

“And there were several things that led me to to doing it. I had done some TV here and there for CBS Sports, for Turner and TBS, and I know I really enjoyed it when I did it. And I knew that there was only going to be a very small group of people that was going to do this, and that if I didn’t take it, the opportunity may never arise again to do it. And that at that point, Fox was offering me a two-year deal, and for some reason they didn’t like me or I didn’t like them, after two years I could always go back to the crew chief role. But I did it and I’ve never looked back over my shoulder.”

“When we went to that booth, I guess it would have been back then on the Friday before the Clash, qualifying weekend, and I went up in that booth with Mike and Darrell, and all of a sudden those cars started piling out of that garage area to to the track for practice, I felt to myself, ‘What have I done? This doesn’t even feel right.’ But it didn’t take long, and I think a lot of that was because of the chemistry between Mike and Darrell and I. The comfort level got there pretty rapidly.”

Joy said it was helpful working with McReynolds and Waltrip on previous cable races, but there was a notable shift in what was expected when they headed to Fox:

“I think the difference was not so much the level of the racing, it was a difference in moving to Fox. David Hill and Ed Goren preached Fox attitude to us, and really encouraged and all but demanded that we bring that to the telecast and that it not be a repeat of what had been done in the past on different networks. And so we kind of developed a mindset that we were friends sitting on the couch,watching the telecast with our uncle who knew a little about racing but
not a lot, you needed to bring him along and bring him in. And that’s what we did.”

And McReynolds said it felt like a broadcast that worked right from the start.

“I relate it back to some of the drivers I worked with as a crew chief. I didn’t have a bad relationship with any driver I worked with, but there were certainly some that I had better
relationships with than others, in particular Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan. And it’s like you knew immediately that this is going to be good. It just seemed to have that special feeling at the very beginning. And even though Mike and Darrell and I did an Xfinity Series race together at Phoenix, I think it was in 2000, we hadn’t been around each other
that much. But it’s almost like right from the early going, I’m talking about well before we even got to the Daytona 500, I just had that feeling that this was special.”

“And I think the biggest thing made us click is we didn’t try to overstep our bounds with each other. We all knew our role, we knew what our expertise was. You know, Mike is in my book the best in the business that has ever been and probably ever will be a play-by-play NASCAR guy and traffic cop for analysts. And Darrell was the driver and I was the crew chief. And we always kind of related it to Mike was our owner and Darrell was the driver and I was the crew chief. I think we kind of defined our roles from the very beginning.”

The 2001 Daytona race saw some notable direction from Fox execs like David Hill and Ed Goren, as Yocum discussed.

“As memories go, we could sit and talk for five hours just about that first Speed Week. I remember the room number that I had, 325 at the Hilton Garden Inn, being able to look
out over turn four to our production meetings. Our very first show, our leader then was David Hill, and our leader now is Eric Shanks, and you feel blessed to be able to have leadership like that that allows you to really express your passion for the sport that you love that you’ve has migrated to since you were a little kid. And then being able to tell those stories.”

“Everybody came together from different backgrounds and different networks, and immediately it was like Jimmy Johnson with the Dallas Cowboys making a trade with Minnesota, giving them Herschel Walker and getting 13 players, draft picks or whatever. To have all that group hit the field, it just felt magical. So it still feels special to this day.”

Myers said joining Fox’s NASCAR coverage wasn’t easy for him, given that he was new to the sport, but he loved how it turned out.

“It was a unique challenge. I don’t know that I was the first choice to be the host of their pre-race and post-race coverage. They certainly wanted someone who had the approach to sports and hosting and interviewing and questioning. And some people in NASCAR thought of me as an outsider and a stick-and-ball guy because I’d done football and baseball. I’d been around NASCAR, I’d just never lived it. But that was the role Fox wanted me in. And they were just starting out, and they had a
champion driver in Darrell Waltrip, and a former crew chief [in Larry McReynolds], experienced pit reporters, and they wanted a sports TV guy who not necessarily was a gearhead to orchestrate and bring more people into being race fans and grow the sport. For me, I was still doing football and baseball, but it was an exciting challenge.”

“And I’d been on ESPN and interviewed various NASCAR drivers, even though I didn’t cover it on a regular basis. And I’d had an older and younger brother growing up who
were car guys, who wanted to drag me to the races when we weren’t watching football or baseball. So it was a good opportunity for me, a unique challenge at the right time. And Fox Sports was a network that was growing and I was a part of it.”

PART ONE: How Fox’s first Daytona 500 broadcast in 2001 came together.
PART TWO: What was different about NASCAR on Fox?
PART THREE: Coverage of Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
PART FOUR: Looking back at some memorable Daytona 500 races.
PART FIVE: How Fox’s NASCAR coverage has changed in recent years.
PART SIX: Looking at 20 years of NASCAR on Fox, and what’s ahead.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.