Pinks All Out, the drag-racing game show that wrapped its second season on Speed Channel with a Thanksgiving weekend marathon, is the network's priciest original show — and one channel executives say pays dividends on the affiliate and ad-sales sides of the business.
The hourlong show moves from drag-racing track to track around the country, staging 10 events a year that draw 13,000 or more paid customers. They come to watch show-host and creator Rich Christensen and crew whittle a field of 400 drivers down to 16 who are chosen to compete head to head with their own cars. One finally emerges as the winner, with $10,000 in cash and an $8,000 NAPA tool chest.
The taping here on July 26, at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, drew 15,000, most of whom stayed all day and into the night until Emilio Giano, of New Haven, Conn., and his 1970 Plymouth Duster won the last race.
Robert Ecker, Speed's vice president of programming, said the show's forerunner — Pinks, in which amateur racers competed to win the “pink slip” to the loser's car — began with a tiny budget in 2005. “In fact, it was so low I didn't know that they could even finish the show,” he said. (Now Pinks All Out costs more than $400,000 an episode to shoot in HD; the production company is Pullin Television of Los Angeles.)
“I think there's a real textbook case study there,” Ecker said. “You can start very small and, through careful evolution and growth, have something end up where it becomes a nationally recognized and sought-after event, as well as a TV show.”
Speed now works with the track owners — which market the tapings for weeks in advance — on ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorships to make the events “mutually financially beneficial,” Ecker said.
The network works closely with participating sponsor NAPA and with cable affiliates in setting the schedule and determining which 10 tracks will host the tapings, posted on SpeedTV.com.
“It's proven to be a very big draw for our affiliate-sales group, which is seeing significant interest in helping to build relationships with our local MSOs,” Ecker said. NAPA uses the events to boost its regional businesses.
Added media coordinator David Harris: “These shows have the ability to have people come out so they can see the show live and really schmooze and say, 'This is great, we need to have this channel on the local system, because look at the popularity.' ”
In St. Louis, at a June 28 taping at Gateway International Raceway, Charter — which carries Speed locally on expanded basic — had 16 employees on hand with VIP passes, communications manager Chon Tomlin said.
The Friday before, in a typical arrangement, Christensen visited a Charter Communications call center in Town and Country, Mo., overseeing a Matchbox-car racing tournament among employees and inspecting their prized real cars. He even signed one employee's dashboard, Tomlin said.
“We thought it was a really nice visit and it was a really great way of tying in the network and our employees as well,” she said.
“We're very proud of Speed Channel and anything we can do to show the multi-system operators that we matter, that we're significant and we care, we try to do that,” Christensen said.
Speed president Hunter Nickell, who attends every Pinks All Out taping, said in an interview on the Raceway Park track, between giant clouds of tire-spin smoke, that the network has found the event format to be a success.
“What we're totally fired up about is this thing, around the country, gets this size crowd everywhere we go,” he said. “The tracks are great to work with. We have a day where Speed and the track are putting on a live event that becomes a dramatic television show in grassroots racing.”
The show, which airs three to five times a week during the season (debuting on Thursdays), draws a cumulative audience averaging 600,000 to 1 million, Harris said. It's also spawned an outtake show on Wednesday nights.
Its biggest event audience so far was 30,000 plus at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, on Sept. 4, Harris said.