Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does television. Even as
the Eco-Challenge was being wiped off the 2003 calendar, Primal
Quest director Dan Barger was finalizing a deal with CBS to air
two hourlong prime-time shows from his race, which will be held
Sept. 5-14 in Lake Tahoe. The deal, which represents the first
significant network exposure for adventure racing, could make the
sport's richest race--the Primal Quest's prize purse is $250,000,
with $100,000 going to the winning team--also the most-watched.
Although the inaugural Primal Quest telecast on the Outdoor Life
Network scored slightly below average for that cable station's
Wednesday-night time slot last summer, the CBS deal should bring
adventure racing to a wide swath of people who have never seen it
before. "Our primary goal with this whole event is to bring the
sport of adventure racing to more people while trying to raise
the bar a little bit for the sport," says Barger.
An adventure racer like many of his top staff members, Barger
said before the inaugural Primal Quest that he wanted to create
an event "from the racer's perspective, not the media or
sponsor's." Last week he added, "I think there is plenty of drama
that happens out there. We don't need to manufacture it, we just
need to capture it." Whatever approach Barger takes, it is his
ability as a storyteller that will be on the line.
"Mark's great talent is finding the great stories in a race, and
all the athletes hate that," says racer Isaac Wilson. "We tend to
want to tell the straight story about who won, but that's not
what people want to see. They want to see the curiosities. Dan
Barger is an athlete, but hopefully he has enough sense to put
some of that stuff in there."
If Barger does have the dramatist's touch and audiences respond
accordingly, Primal Quest, say some sport insiders, could
eventually replace Eco-Challenge as adventure racing's brand
name. "With a network deal, Barger is taking the sport to the
next level," says Competitor magazine editor Bob Babbitt. "He is
seeing an opportunity here to become the main guy in adventure
racing. And that's a smart move on his part." --K.A.
COLOR PHOTO: CARL YARBROUGH GOOD FORTUNE With its $250,000 purse, the Primal Quest filled up75 online slots within two minutes.