USAR ProCup - Miller Lite 250 - Illiana Motor Speedway
by Lou Lauer, August 14, 2003
This week the USAR Series visited the relatively flat half-mile track at Illiana. The Northern Division Championship is still a close battle and the teams should be hitting their prime just in time for the overall Championship races to start in a few weeks. How about the TV production team? Are they hitting their stride? Could this fan stay awake for the entire race this week, the second one since the change in timeslot to 10 PM?
Location - Schererville , IN Race Date - August 9, 2003 Broadcast Date - August 13, 2003 Channel - SPEED, DirecTV #607 Announcers - Booth - Rick Benjamin and Scott Sutherland, Pit Road - Brett McMillan Production team - Thanks!
The answer to the sleeping question was a definite no! The SpeedCouch has a powerful effect when the sun goes down and it wasn't long before my eyelids were being checked for holes. But thankfully, the Tivo was doing it's job and I could finish watching the race the next day, without commercials.
In-car cameras were carried by the #4 of Jay Fogleman, the # 92 of Jimmy Burns, and a dashboard Jesus looking back at the driver carried by the #73 of Jeff Agnew. The race began on a good note, some fans from the stands (John & Gloria Kraczon) were chosen to give the command to start engines. Just one more thing about this series that makes it so much better to watch and follow. The way they treat their fans!
Unfortunatly, we still had to watch the honorary flagman wave the flag instead of the race into turn 1 to start the race. What made it worse was the fact that the broadcast team was hyping up a conversation between Brian Ross and Jeff Agnew during pre-race where Ross was telling Agnew how he could drive it into the first turn further than Agnew (ego v.s. ego stuff). An interesting tidbit and racefans like to hear that kind of talk. Well, because of the unwillingness to use PIP or split screen at the green flag to show the starter and the race, we of course never got to really see what happened to this challenge. Nice story, but why use it if you weren't going to follow through to the conclusion of it?
Early in the broadcast there was a good segment with Brian Ross and his team owner/crew chief, Darren Odle and how the two of them got together. Interesting. I didn't know that, thanks for filling us in! Also early on in the race, a few of the top-ranking drivers had problems (Corbett & Ross) and the pit reporter (McMillan) and broadcast team were on top of it all and provided solid coverage of these important developments. I also noted that there was much better track lighting this week compared to the South Boston race. No washed out shots or dark areas.
Big Rodney, from the # 14 Charlie Ford team, was being interviewed early in the race and he talked about their car and how it was doing since his spin. What spin? Never saw one on TV or heard mention of it until Rodney. It might be a good idea to leave out interviews where the person refers to events that never made it to the viewing audience at home. Makes us go "huh?". Speaking of pit coverage, it must have been extra tough this weekend with the unusual pit configuration - pits on BOTH side of the pit road. I can just imagine RC and Brett dodging incoming cars as they scurried back and forth across pit road to get stories and footage.
I must question the officials decision to NOT black flag Jeff Agnew when he was obviously dragging something and sparking for quite a few laps. I know he was the leader and it was a tough call to make, but if it had been somebody running in 20th place, he's have been sitting on pit road having it looked at. And before the Agnew fans want to lynch me, I like Jeff Agnew and am glad he won, but fair is fair. I'm just calling it like I see it.
As race go, this was a pretty good one. A lot of side by side racing and multi-car battles for position. Some teams that needed a good run had it - the #3 of Jason McLellan, the #11 of Scott Baker, and the #50 of Hal Goodson all had great races and solid finishes. Kertus Davis in the #68 - keep knocking on that door, that win is coming! I enjoyed hearing interviews with some different people in the pits this week. We got to see and hear a lot from Bill Harkins with the #11 team as well as David Lynch, car owner for Hal Goodson and Darrell Bryant, crew chief for the #68 of Kertus Davis. It was great to be able to snoop in on the conversation that Harkins and Lynch were having about action on the track somewhere around lap 150 or so.
The bad part of the broadcast for me was once again, Rick Benjamin. The race involved a little pushing and shoving, as most short track race do (and why fans love them!). Derrick Kelley had managed to get his share of gouging during the race. First he doinks into Davis and Kertus makes a great save. Kelley wrecks Jason McLellan. Replays seemed to show that there may have been contact, but Benjamin claims "no contact". Later on, the 97 car of Sammons wrecks wrecks Kelley, but Benjamin still claims no contact or that there must be something on the track. He eventually manages to throw Sammons under the bus, a carry over from a previous race where Benjamin maligns Sammons driving abilities. Rick, as a fan watching a race broadcast, I expect the broadcast team to report the facts, provide knowledge on technical subjects that I may not understand, and give play-by-play commentary of the race. I don't expect them to be as biased towards or against ANY driver or team. We can make up our own minds about what we see on the TV or how we feel about the drivers. That's our privilege as fans. When you buy a ticket and sit in the stands, you can do the same. When you're behind the microphone I don't feel that you have that right to be biased.
Sorry. Got off on a tangent again. Some things just really bug me....Back to the race - or what was left of it. A caution with 19 to go sets things up for an exciting finish but then suddenly after a commercial we're left with 7 laps to go on a restart. It's only the end of the race, lets cut out some of the exciting laps near the finish.
We did get to see a great finish and a couple of extra laps thanks to the wonderful policy that USAR has to have green-white-checker finishes. It would also have been a great opportunity to use some more shots from Agnew's in-your-face camera too, but something must have happened to it because we never saw it in the later portions of the race. Besides skipping commercials, I found another positive note to taping or Tivo-ing the late night race and watching it the next day - the ability to pause or rewind to see the field rundown and points rundown, which always seem to go by way to fast for my old eyes to read when I'm watching it "live".
Rick Benjamin considered, I enjoyed watching this race. Now if you don't mind - "I'm going to Hooters to celebrate!" ... You can send me email at