The view from my couch

USAR ProCup - Tuscon Cigarettes / Dave's Discount Furniture 250
by Couch Potato

Weather took it's toll on the Ace race weekend, forcing the postponement of the race to the next day. This took one valuable day away from the Speed Channel's schedule for producing the tape-delayed USAR broadcast. It didn't seem to make any difference as this one ended up being a very good broadcast. Having a great race always helps the broadcast look better too! I learned a whole lot last weekend about the behind the scenes work that goes into producing a race for TV. It certainly helped me understand things better, not that it will change the way I review the broadcast though. I can't be bought - o.k., maybe I can, but that's our secret....

Location - Altamahaw, NC
Race Date - April 18/19, 2003
Broadcast Date - April 24, 2003
Channel - SPEED, DirecTV #607
Announcers - Gene Crane - Booth, Brian Drebber - Booth, Doug Rice - Pit Road

Right from the start it appeared that the sound gremlins were back to haunt the USAR show, just like they had for the Pensacola race earlier this year. Since the commentators voiceover is added a few days after the race, the problem can only be with the Speed Studio where the process takes place. Doug Rice on pit road sounded just fine, and the microphones for speed sounds during the race were o.k. as well.

The show started with the usual track overview, field rundown, and pole winner interview. Doug Rice interviewed Shane Huffman and Doug actually smiled! The mobile pit camera, with Richard Campbell at the control, captured some good low-angle footage as cars left the starting grid and during their warmup laps. A good call to insert this view into the show. The in-car cameras were carried by the #2 of Steven Christian (cockpit cam), #28 of Michael Ritch (spoiler cam), and the #15 of Mardy Lindley (cockpit cam). All would provide some good shots during the race and it's always a plus to have a camera in the winning car! Add two frontstretch cameras, a turn 1 camera, a turn 3 camera, a fixed "Speedy" cam, and the pit road mobile cam, and you have the complete package for a USAR race.

You're probably getting as tired of me writing about it as I am of seeing it, but as usual when the green flag flew, we got to see a sponsor poorly waving the flag instead of the field going into turn 1. Are they were sponsoring the RACE or themselves? I feel like Don Quixote.

The weather conditions caused some moisture to be visible on the cameras in the early laps of the race, but that was quickly taken care of by the crew, during cautions laps I assume. The track conditions caused a big wreck on lap 20. Some fluid on the track took out the leader and several other top five cars. Huffman, Puryear, Wallace, and Sarvis all sustained heavy damage with the Puryear's car suffering massive damage to the fuel cell and bringing out a red flag to clean up the gas on the track. Microphones in the corner captured some excellent sounds of squealing tires and crunching sheet metal. There was excellent camera coverage of this important incident with multiple replays including an in-car from Lindley who managed to make it through and a good mobile camera shot of Huffman's wrecked car coming down pit road.

The red flag period and yellow laps gave the production crew the opportunity to do multiple interviews and expanded camera coverage of damage repairs. Rice interviewed an obviously emotional Shane Huffman, who had been the race leader. Driver emotions immediately after a wreck like this usually don't make the driver look all that professional to the TV audience. Shane's interview was no exception. He'll probably regret some of the words he chose, but hey, that's racing and if you stick a microphone in front of any driver after a disappointment like this and you're likely to get the same type of reaction. Maybe a PR person from his team should have gotten to Shane before Doug Rice did. There were some excellent pit road camera shots showing the damage to Puryear and Huffman's cars. Puryear had the luxury of time to be able to gather his thoughts a little more than Huffman. By the time he was interviewed, he was a lot calmer and more politically correct than Huffman, although the camera showed him being a little more emotional as he walked down pit road after the accident. Continued use of the mobile pit camera gave viewers superb coverage of damage repair to Shane Wallace's car with good commentary by Doug Rice. It was a good choice to use more audio from Rice since the booth audio quality was still bad.

During this non-racing period, the broadcast showed a pretty decent pre-recorded piece about Sarvis and his in-season return to his championship team from 2002, with interviews with Sarvis and team owner Ricky Benton. We could have done without the lame music that accompanied the story. Racing restarted on lap 33 and there was a brief green flag period before a spin by Larry Barrett in the #04 car on lap 42. Viewers got a neat perspective of the restart from this caution as we were riding along with leader Mardy Lindley from his in-car camera. A great perspective of coming out of turn 4, taking the flag, and accelerating down into turns 1 and 2. Nice change of pace for the viewer at home. I started to notice a trend that the director apparently likes to use after restarts. Ole' Speedy cam would get used on nearly every restart during the race for a couple of laps as the field passed it each lap.

What happened on lap 50 had me dancing on my couch cushions, doing the mashed potato! When they showed the full-field rundown, they actually had the "laps down" listed for each driver!! I nearly fainted. Thank you, thank you , thank you! I know most may not appreciate it, but I think it's a vital part of racing to be able to know this kind of information. I'm so glad you were able to find a way to include this in the rundown, along with "reason out" data. Chicken wings are on me!

In the "great timing" category, Doug Rice was doing an interview with Shane Wallace's crew chief about his car and it's damage at the exact time that Wallace wrecked again off turn 2 on lap 54. Wallace was involved in a 3-wide (not recommended at Ace, turn 2) deal with Huffman and Sarvis that looked to be caused by an impatient Sarvis. Great replays were shown of the incident. When the race restarted, some good action in the pack was covered, with the 28, 18, 5, and 44 all battling and cameras rolling. It was at this point in the race that I noted that although the sounds of the race are great, the audio guys probably need to push the volume for the announcers up a little more. This isn't a Fox/NASCAR broadcast, none of you are D.W. and we're not wishing the car sounds would drown you guys out! Also, the 48 car was black-flagged because the series didn't think he was yielding to the leaders properly. Crane and Drebber had a good discussion about this.

Note to Los Angeles - I love girls in wet t-shirts, mud-wrestling as much as the next guy, but the “Great Taste/Less Filling” commercials are getting old.

The next section of the race included Gene Crane giving some good track information as he talked about the track and how it changed from dirt to asphalt and was lengthened. One peculiar feature of the track that I noticed by being there is that the grandstands are "segregated". No alcohol on the front stretch, only on the backstretch. Kind of like one side are the Christians and the other are the Lions. I like animals :-) A humorous shot by the cameraman captured "Dave Despain" in incognito. The first of too many interviews with the #5 crew chief - Duze - and more humor as someone said that what his eyes are showing and what his mind is thinking are not connected. Amen to that! We even got to see some good mid-pack battles too. No back-markers are ever shown unless the get black-flagged...The 15 and 5 cars put on a good battle for lead which led to an informative discussion of brake rotors and Gill's rear brakes.

I noticed an occasional use of a wider camera shot (frontstretch, left side camera) of action. I think this type of view should be used a little more. Closer shots of the leader or other cars are good, but wider is better! A fan sitting in the stands does not see the race through zoom lens eyeballs. We see a wider view of the race, multiple cars in our field of vision. We can handle it. Don't be afraid to use it more! Also, I think the director should hold shots longer and not be so quick to switch/dissolve (learned a new word!) camera shots to create a sense of action. Let the race action speak for itself and save yourself some energy!

Another big wreck on lap 119 with the 7, 1, 94, and 31 cars involved. The camera guys caught it live. This brought about the usual solitary pit stop segment for a USAR race. A nice triple-screen display allowed us to see the 15 and 5 cars along with an overall pit road shot as Rice described the 15 car's stop. The booth filled in the details on the others including the 5 car's slow pit stop. We also got the second of too many interviews with Duze as he showed his arrogance with disparaging comments about his crew and apparently how he was the only one capable of doing anything right. Man, that guy loves the camera. We could have been shown a replay of the incident instead of his tirade, but that's not what happened. No interviews with any of the teams involved either. I guess since they were not front-runners, they don't count.

The race restarted on lap 128, with Sarvis and Gaita battling for the lead. Good in-car from Lindley followed the action. A caution on lap 137 allowed us to see some more excellent mobile pit road camera as the 06 car pitted. You could sense the weather and temperature by the visible steam and smoke in the shot. I was disappointed by the fact that for part of the pit stops, we were shown the VIP building in turn 4 while Doug Rice was starting to describe Gaita's pit stop. My puzzlement over this camera choice by the director continued after the commercial with more shots of the VIP area. Why? I'd rather see the "HOOTER GIRLS IN THE STANDS" (see this article for the inside joke), than a VIP area. We did get another awesome full-field rundown on lap 150!

A longer green flag section of the race was next. We were able to see the 44 and 22 battle for 2nd, immediately followed by an interview with the 44 (Benny Gordon's) crew chief. Good timing and the first time his team was mentioned all night. Gene also provided some background information on this rookie driver. Some more good battles were shown as the 5 car joined the mix. An expected mention of fellow announcer and driver, Scott Sutherland, made it's way into the show. More in-car shots, this time from the 2 car. I wish they'd stick with it longer than ¼ lap. They also started to mention/show some of the “other” cars in the race during this period. Lindley's in-car had some great footage as he caught traffic and worked his way through it. More great battles on track with the 5, 15, and 22. A great race like this one probably has the TV guys worried a bit that they might mess it up. It's probably a whole lot easier to make a good race look bad than it is to make a bad race look good. I noticed a few laps where the video quality got weirdly wavey and pixelized for a lap or two.

On lap 208 Steven Christian spun and there was a great in-car replay of it to show how he hit the 18 car and spun himself out to avoid wrecking the18 totally. This was followed by the third of too many interviews with Duze. I give up! After the restart, there was some awesome two-groove racing action for lead between the 15 and 5. Using picture-in-picture, Doug Rice described Gill's brake rotors and how different they were than traditional rotors. At this point, I wrote the following in my notes - "Everybody's hitting everybody! Racing everywhere. Ain't short tracks a wonderful thing?" Yep... After a couple of predicatable late race cautions, (including some good replays when Ritch hit the wall on lap 244), we get down to a great finish. A restart on lap 247 with Gill leading, Lindley in second, and Sarvis in third. Great action, but the camera should have widened out and stayed with the Gill/Sarvis spin a little bit more.

As Lindley passed Gill and came to the white and then checkered flags, I was drawn to the fact that the announcers should have sounded a LITTLE more excited as the winning pass happened. Does taped delayed commentary reduce their enthusiasm? Fake it boys! And I doubt that Gill will just chalk it up to short-track racing, as one of the commentators suggested. We did get some good replays of the pass and spin, along with scanner audio from Sarvis explaining why he hit Gill.

The audio in victory lane was bad, then got better, and Mardy actually looked happy to be in victory lane this time! We got the final results and some post-race interviews with Benny Gordon, who came home second and Jason Sarvis who still finished third. Gordon truly sounded excited and explained some motor problems at end of race. At this point, the audio began cutting in and out and going to different speakers. Still have some audio bugs to get ironed out. We also got to see the top 10 Points Standings. Missing were some comments from Gill.

Overall, this broadcast was very good! The excellent racing action helped make up for the sound problems and over-Duzing it. But the best part of all was the "laps down" info shown during full-field rundowns :-) Until next time, I'm going back to my nap. You can send me email at

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