The view from my couch

The USAR Series Opener from Lakeland
by CouchPotato

What the heck is a USAR Series you ask? For "those of you new to the sport" (of short-track racing) - the United Speed Alliance Racing Series is the sanctioning body for a traveling stock car racing series that brings us some of the best short-track racing in the country. The series primary sponsor is the Hooters restaurant chain. Races are held at tracks like Lakeland, Pensacola, Jennerstown, South Boston, Myrtle Beach, Hickory, Southern National, Concord, and Peach State. There still is some great racing out there to watch beside that 'other' series. Due to popular demand, somebody had to review the USAR races on TV and I got nominated! I'll have to cut my nap short and get off the couch once in a while it appears.

Location - Lakeland, Florida
Race Date - February 22, 2003
Broadcast Date - February 27, 2003
Channel - SPEED
Announcers - Gene Crane - Booth, Brian Drebber - Booth, Doug Rice - Pit Road

The USAR Series runs its races on Saturday nights. Since they don't have a multi-billion dollar contract with Fox or NBC, they have to settle for all their races being tape-delayed. If you're a USAR fan, you have to wait until the Thursday following the race before you can catch the TV broadcast of the race on the Speed Channel. It's tough to avoid hearing or reading the race results before you have a chance to see the race! I don't have many positive things to say about tape-delayed sporting events. It's better than not having it covered at all, but the nature of the cutting room somehow seems to take something away from the race excitement. It can serve to draw more negative attention because there is no excuse for some of the errors, ommissions, or bad decisions that make it to the TV screen when they've had a couple of days to get it right.

This race was the first race of the 2003 season. USA Speedway in Lakeland, Florida is considered to be the "home track" for the USAR series. The season begins and ends at this 3/4 mile track with another couple of stops here during the year. The quantity of cameras covering this series usually includes a camera in turn 1, one in turn 3, one or two on top of the press box, a mobile pitroad camera, and "speed shot" cameras ;along the fence at the exits of turns 2 and 4. Throw in a couple of bumper cams and in-cars and you've got a lot of potential. Not bad for a "minor league" racing series! Additionally there are usually some special microphones associated with the "speed shot" cameras to add that real race sound to the show.

This year, the USAR races are being shown two hours earlier - Thursdays at 7 PM instead of last years 9 PM starts. I give this a big thumbs up! Old guys like myself sometimes tended to drift off to sleep on the couch before the race was over. Now I have a better chance of being able to remain conscious through the entire pre-packaged two hour show. Yep, the races are limited to just a two hour timeslot - so you know that means lots of stuff on the cutting room floor. It's not totally a negative thing. You can schedule things better or set the timer on the VCR without worrying about the race running long and losing the exciting finish! Some folks say this is not much more than a long Hooters commercial (or one of their Naturally Fresh products). I say it might very well be so, but at least racefans get a chance to see some of this wonderful series on a weekly basis. Couple this with the affordability and fan-friendly atmosphere that this series offers to fans who go to the races live, and you've got a good thing going here. I don't expect NASCAR-quality coverage, fancy graphics or glitz when I sit down (o.k., so I'm really lying down) to watch the short track stars battle it out each week. This doesn't mean I can't expect some things to be better about they way this series is presented.

Let's get one of my big gripes out of the way early - numerous missing replays of caution-causing incidents! You'd think with the luxury of tape-delay that they could at least show you what caused the latest caution. Nope. Quite frequently with this race we had no clue what happened. Lap 40 had an incident with the #31 and #23 cars - no replays. Lap 98 caution, they chose to insert a commercial instead of a replay. Lap 119, the 84 car spins - no replays. Lap 155, Bill Plemons goes around in circles - no replay. Of course, the lap 111 caution for Todd Hirschfeld's spin had a replay, but I suspect that since the replay was being sponsored by CocaCola, that this was the real motive.

There are a couple of things that I really like about the way SPEED and the USAR Series presented this race (and every race they do). One is the mobile pitroad camera! It's a great part of the race coverage. They are able to get the cameraman and pit reporter right out there on pit road with the teams as pit stops are in progress. Yes, some of you are probably worried about safety. I hope at least that RC is wearing a helmet! It would be a shame to lose this access that the pitroad camera offers to viewers. Secondly, I think that Doug Rice did a very good job of covering all the pitroad action single-handedly throughout the race. Even though the TV package was assembled in some studio with the luxury of a "do over", Doug was there LIVE at the race covering the pit action. The interview with Shane Wallace about his broken studs was very good. The story about the new roof package rules was interesting and informative. Lap 191 brought out a caution with a serious looking hit involving Sean Studer (the replays of that were good) and Doug's interviews with Studer and his crew chief were well done.

There are some parts of this broadcast that really bug me. Most of these are standard procedures for every USAR race and I wish they'd consider changing some of them. You'll probably get tired of hearing this in future reviews - but there are just some things that are not acceptable considering this is a tape-delayed broadcast and CAN be fixed before putting it on the air.

  • Horrible field rundown information. Either with the standings or an actual camera showing a car. If you're not running in the top 10 forget about getting any coverage on TV. This series seems to think it's bigger than it really is and that it can ignore the need to help cultivate it's driver talent and sponsor-attraction capabilities. Go to a USAR race and you will see the majority of the field in virtually un-sponsored cars. Keep up the lack of TV coverage and you can't expect this to get any better. When teams stop showing up because they can't get sponsors as a result of the series not providing them TV coverage, then maybe USAR will wake up.
  • Missing restarts? Whats up with that?
  • Speedshot microphones drowning out the announcers? Heck, we all know the booth announcers are not live! How does this happen? Does the sound technician back at the studio have a hearing problem?
  • Lap counter missing. I suppose this is so you can't tell how much racing action they cut out to fit the timeslot. Like the missing 14 laps during the final parts of the race - when the action on the track was heating up!
  • Missing lead changes because of commercials?
  • Why can't we know if a car/driver is a lap down? The graphic on the screen sure doesn't tell us.
  • Try using a split screen when there's a pitroad interview AND exciting action on the track.

I scribbled down a few positives about this race too! I'm not just a big meanie :-)

  • Gene Crane provided some good 'insider' knowledge about the drivers and teams. Gene is there at each race doing the track announcing. He just puts on a different hat to do the TV broadcast later.
  • Good in car camera action when the #9 and #25 cars were battling early in the race.
  • Crowd shots! I like 'em. It helps the series keep that fan-friendly atmosphere. At least until they show some fan holding up a "boogity" sign. Then the end is near!
  • Great triple screen coverage of the critical pitstop.
  • Good bumper cam for Ritch/Gosselin action.
  • A good thing about the tape-delay is the fact that you can actually hear the pit reporter during his interviews. Being able to alter the sound for this purpose is excellent.
  • Excellent replay of Laughlin getting his lap back.
  • The in car camera for #25, Stover, provided some good shots.
  • Interesting piece on Danny Sammons during the part of the race he was leading.
  • Good coverage, replays, and analysis of the big wreck involving Studer, Sammons, and Christian.
  • Good post race coverage. Keep up the interviews with drivers other than the winner!

Overall, I think the USAR Series and the TV broadcast they bring us each week is decent. I'm a racefan at heart and short track racing is the best racing you can wish for! I've attended numerous USAR races and can attest to the fact that the racing is exciting and fun to watch. I know that TV can never capture the feel, sights, and sounds of a being there - I just wish they could improve a little here and there! It's a product and all products can be improved. I'm new at this race review thing so hopefully if I do some more reviews of the USAR series races, I'll be more timely and better able to get to the point! Maybe if I could type with more than 2 fingers it would be easier....

Until next time, I'm going back to my nap. You can send me email at

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