Facing Time Constraints, Fox Is Caught Off Guard


Darrell Waltrip felt the gamut of emotions.

Working as a commentator for Fox Sports on Sunday’s Daytona 500, the first one televised by Fox, Waltrip was ecstatic as he called his brother Michael’s victory.

But before Fox went off the air at 2 p.m. PST, a half-hour later than scheduled, Waltrip felt a different emotion.

One of the last things he said on the air was: “I’m worried about Dale.”

He was talking about Dale Earnhardt, who crashed just before the finish. The crash initially was overshadowed by Michael Waltrip’s victory and his emotional post-race comments.


Then the situation began to look grave, particularly when the ambulance carrying Earnhardt from the scene drove very slowly.

But Fox did not stay with the story. Nor did the network break into its regular programming to announce Earnhardt had died.

Instead, Fox chose to break the news only on cable networks Fox Sports Net and the Fox News Channel.

After the big network went off the air from Daytona, Darrell Waltrip was so concerned about his friend that he immediately went to the hospital where Earnhardt was taken.

Fox, according to network spokesman Dan Bell, did not get a confirmation of Earnhardt’s death until three hours later.

“We had no idea how serious it was,” Bell said from Daytona. “We couldn’t have just stayed on the air indefinitely.


“It started off as a great day with some great racing. Then we saw the raw emotion felt by Darrell Waltrip witnessing his brother win the Daytona 500.

“But all that changed.

“Suddenly, it was not about Fox or NASCAR, it was about a man losing his life, a human tragedy.

“For all of us at Fox, our prayers and thoughts are with the Earnhardt family.”

Fox had to deal with the end of the race and the Earnhardt crash at the same time. Fox eventually showed four or five replays of the accident, including one from Earnhardt’s in-car camera.

Fox lost communications with the Earnhardt crew once the car crashed. NASCAR and Fox officials scrambled to get as much information as they could before it was time to go off the air.

One of the last things Fox showed was workers trying to free Earnhardt from his car.