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Auto racing coverage is more than waiting for the crashes

Round and round and round they go. And when they start bumping into each other, that'll sure gain some attention. Televised auto racing coverage amounted to just about that until fairly recently. During the past decade, the sport of the grease set has caught the imagination of a nation.

"Show the start, show the finish and wait for the wrecks," CBS' Ken Squier said in describing the classic TV perspective of his favorite sport, auto racing, specifically the stocks. Squier is the "play-by-play" announcer for Sunday's Daytona 500 on CBS (noon, Ch. 13).

"I think what really turned it around for auto racing nationwide was CBS," Squier said. "CBS came forward and said they wanted to do this race flag-to-flag, complete. Rather than exploit it, we cover it as an event."

Technical developments such as the in-car race camera also have contributed to interest from the armchair enthusiasts, Squier agreed, but he credits the drivers themselves with promoting the auto racing to its current heights. "Even though they might not speak the King's English, they're interested in talking to people about their sport.

Long after the race is over, they'll be there for hours signing autographs for people. They know what business they're in."

Squier's business is more than appearing on national TV once in a while on a high-profile event. He does a one-hour talk show five nights a week on Motor Racing Network, plus he covers stocks all year for CBS and other broadcast interests.

A stock car enthusiast, he's not averse to the Indy-car concept, but is too busy to get involved withthe Indy 500. Every Memorial Day weekend, he's occupied with a stock-car assignment, the World 600.

After Sunday's NBC Sports Updates, Bob Costas probably could have run and won for commissioner of boxing and baseball.

Not one ashamed to forward his own analysis and opinion, Costas stated that "every sane person" would agree that James "Buster" Douglas should be recognized as heavyweight champion, despite the post-bout claims made by promoter Don King and his client, the unseated champion, Mike Tyson. The world of boxing, its sanity still doubted by some, consented to the opinion of Costas and the populace.

In a later Update on Sunday, Costas and baseball commissioner Fay Vincent did a sit-down interview in the NBC studios, at which Costas put forth an idea for settling the apparent stalemate between Major League Baseball's owners and players associations. Vincent, at an apparent loss for ideas himself, nodded at Costas and suggested his participation in the talks. Costas' idea concerned the possible sharing of TV revenues, both local and national, equally by baseball clubs.

Yesterday it was Today, today it's golf for Bryant Gumbel, who makes his debut as host of NBC's new-sound golf coverage with the Shearson Lehman Hutton Open from La Jolla, Calif. Gumbel, host of the weekday morning Today show, agreed to the sports duties about a month ago. NBC's golf team is overhauled with Johnny Miller, Charlie Jones, Bob Trumpy and Joel Meyers joining incumbent Mark Rolfing.

Although former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth declared the new ESPN cable TV baseball contract a bonanza for the fan, that's not true for all of us. ESPN issued a proud statement that it can now reach 60.1 per cent of the nation's households. On the flip side, that's 39.9 of the nation that can't reap Ueberroth's proclaimed harvest. They'll only be able to see 16 games a year via CBS-TV's exclusive over-the-air pact that takes effect in April. Baseball used to take pride in its availability to all classes of people, cabled or not. Neither SportsChannel Florida nor the Sunshine Network is

planning to carry major-league games this year, due to the ESPN exclusivity on cable games nationally. SportsChannel and Sunshine are apparently barred from broadcasting in Florida any games exported from other regions. That knocks out upwards of 200 games from what was available last year. ESPN's four-days-a-week schedule should balance out that loss, but results in no such bonanza. Besides, SportsChannel and Sunshine allowed viewers to follow a handful of teams with continuity while ESPN will show a sampling of major-league teams, inherently with no day-to-day continuity. Superstations WWOR, WGN and WTBS sstill will be able to peddle their overdoses of National League baseball on cable, however.