The view from my couch

USAR ProCup - Simonson Builders & Simonson Excavation 250
by Couch Potato

I was fortunate to be able to actually be at this race. It was the first time that the USAR Series had run at the newly re-built Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. What a nice facility (with 16 degree banking) it has become and apparently more improvements are on the way. The fact that the USAR Series performed well and put on a great race made the long trip worthwhile. Now let's see how the rest of the USAR audience who weren't at the race saw it on Thursday night. Did TV do it's part to compliment the facility and the racing action? They might have if Rick Benjamin hadn't spent the last half of the race showing his bias against the winning driver....

Location - Mansfield, OH
Race Date - May 3, 2003
Broadcast Date - May 8, 2003
Channel - SPEED, DirecTV #607
Announcers - Rick Benjamin - Booth, Scott Sutherland - Booth, Stephen Cox - Pit Road

The USAR race broadcast seems to have a new intro segment for the series. A nice improvement with some first-rate looking graphics, audio clips, and video montages as they began the show with a mini-review of the 2003 season thus far. Unfortunately, they still can't get the race sponsor to be very enthusiastic when issuing the "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" command. As the field left the starting grid for the warmup laps, a good low-angle mobile camera shot was used. It had also been a wet, windy, and chilly day at Mansfield and the booth discussed these conditions and how they might affect the race.

As they showed us the starting grid, the booth added some good tidbits of information throughout the rundown. It's nice that all drivers get talked about a little by the USAR series announcers. We also were shown the in-car cameras for the race - the #11 car of Scott Baker (who might wish he hadn't had a camera), the #92 car of Jimmy Burns, and the #4 car of Jay Fogleman. Add to these, the wall-mounted "Speedy Cam" coming off turn 4, cameras in turns 1 and 3, and at least 1 camera on top of the tower. There are usually 2 there, but it seemed like only 1 might have been used or perhaps I'm mistaken. Fogleman's in-car provided some good shots of the problems he had with his car before the green flag even flew. Stephen Cox added some quick info on potential problems with Fogleman's ignition.

Prior to the green flag, there was a commercial from the actual race sponsor! A commercial by an actual "non-Hooters" race sponsor - Simonson Builders & Simonson Excavation. It was nice to see this, even though it had only regional value. A new Miller commercial was also shown - this one I could relate to better! Thanks Bruce! Back from commercial to see the flag waver instead of the field racing into turn 1. Followed by an immediate caution before the lap completed. Thankfully, the USAR Series chose to do a complete double-file restart and on this second start, viewers got to see the start of a race as it is meant to be seen! Without highlighting the flag-waver.

An advantage to being a tape-delayed broadcast became apparent very quickly. Before the restart, they had a feature piece on Glenn Gault and the #32 team. Fortunate because within 6 laps, his day was pretty much over, as he suffered mechanical problems. Because of the tape-delay, fans unfamiliar with Gault got to learn more about him as the broadcast showed it's "ESP" by doing the feature on Gault before he broke. We're now 15 minutes into show and we've seen no actual race laps yet. Must have been a pretty quick race or else a lot of laps ended up on the cutting room floor. As Gault has his problems, they chose to go to commercial instead of covering Gault's team working on the car on pit road. For the second time already tonight we got to see the "Get Fresh" commercial. They did return form commercial to cover Gault's problems.

We restart on lap 10. It didn't look as cold on TV as it was in person! It did appear that the cameramen and the director might have had the "shakes" due to the cold as there was some bad camera switching in the first few laps. Attempting to follow the Davis/Ross battle with jittery cameras was a bit annoying. The turn 3 camera was very jumpy. Coverage of the 92 car went on for way too long during the early parts of the race. During this time, I also noted what might have been the use of a new graphics which told what position the battle on track was for. The audio this week was much better than last week. You could hear the announcers better and still hear the cars.

Cox provided a good interview with Jay Fogleman describing his problems and the inability to get to the parts needed due to the haulers having to park outside the track. Next we had a restart after a caution for the 31 car stopping on the track and a discussion between Sutherland and Benjamin about the 3 and 75 cars. Sutherland was talking about the 3 and Benjamin begins his 75 car fixation by getting the conversation mixed up. On track, we're treated to some exciting action as the 3, 73, and 75 cars battle for position at the front of the field, and more action with the 42 and 68 cars battling for the lead. Lap 50 bring us a full-field rundown with that wonderful "laps down" information added to it!! Thanks again SPEED or Hallbrook Productions, or whomever is responsible for finally getting it all worked out to be able to provide this data. It's also appreciated that you regularly show these full-field rundowns on laps 50, 100, 150, and 200.

Danny Sammons in the #97 car had early problems and Cox provided us with an interview with Sammons in the pits describing his motor problems. On track again, we had a great battle going for the top 4 spots. It was pretty good on TV, but was awesome to see in person. Ross, Davis, McLellan, and Corbett slicing and dicing through traffic like they were standing still. The mobile pit camera showed us some good video of the 97 and 4 teams swapping distributors to try and get Fogleman back in the race. A successful maneuver, which eventually helped Fogleman improve 10 spots before the race was over. Nice cooperation by USAR teams.

At the front of the field, there was a caution on lap 65 as Kertus Davis drove it into turn 1 a little too hard and ran over the #1 car of Roger Blackstock, who was in the right place at the wrong time. Nothing intentional by Davis, just racing. The guys in the booth didn't hesitate to place blame for the accident. I don't mind hearing this kind of commentary. It's what they are there for. But later in the race, Benjamin gets carried away. There was good mobile camera coverage of the 68's repairs. Another commercial to "Get Fresh" and a policeman getting accosted by a Hooters girl bring us back to a lap 68 restart with some cool in-car shots from the #11 car. Some good on-track battles continue. The 3 and 75 are fighting it out for 2nd, when 75 gets into the 3 car and spins him out on lap 107. Fortunately, McLellan did not hit anything and continued on. At this time, Benjamin begins his biased commentary against Corbett - almost seeming mad that Corbett didn't get penalized for spinning McLellan. Most of the leaders pitted. The pit coverage was not up to the usual standards as we only got to see the 42 car. After the restart on Lap 114, Scott Baker and Andy Carroll cross paths and manage to wreck in turn 3 without bringing out a caution. Some good audio sounds of the squealing tires accompanied the "non-wreck" and an excellent replay from the 11 car's in-car camera.

There was a lot of side-by side, two and three-wide racing all night by the whole field. Agnew leads at halfway. On lap 126, Scott Baker stops in turn 4, which is followed by speculation from the booth about a penalty forthcoming for intentionally causing a caution. They did not follow up on this though, because he actually did get penalized. More pitstops with mobile coverage of the 73's pit stop. Cox describes it then jumps over to the 3 car's pit. Nice going to RC for staying with the 3 car during the problems they had on the tire change which also caused the 3 car to lose a lap on pit road. McLellan was already ticked off after Corbett spun him and this pitstop didn't help. I can't repeat the scanner sound-bites I heard from the 3 car while I was at the track! During this break in the action, we were shown a feature on the track owner of Mansfield, Dean Bolton. It was nice to give him some airtime for all the work they are doing to the track for race fans and race teams alike.

On lap 139, the 25 car of John Gaunt spins and we were able to hear the sounds due to good microphone placement in turns 3 and 4. An interview with Josh Tucker, crew chief for the 44 car of rookie, Joel Kauffman, followed by a restart on lap 144 with Ross leading. Ross gets a heck of a jump on the restart (for which he actually got scolded by USAR). The 73 car has carb flutter problems and Sutherland gives a good description of what might have caused this and how it's affecting Agnew's car. A field rundown on lap 150 shows a lot of teams out of the race without a single mention by the booth. Fans of Joe Harrison, Chris Limerick, or others might like to know why. Of all the teams in the series, these guys need any coverage they can get. Rick Benjamin is still harping on the non-penalty for the 75 car. Why Rick? You seem to be carrying over a lot of dislike for the 75 car ever since last year's race at Lonesome Pine where Corbett and Ross got into it during the later parts of the race. You were wrong to take sides then and you're wrong to take sides now. Shouldn't you be unbiased in your announcing of a race? Let the viewers decide for themselves.

We got to see some new graphics, showing intervals between cars this race. It's a neat idea and good addition to the broadcast, but it was only used for 1 lap, so it was pretty useless, especially since both cars fit into the same camera shot. Use it to show multiple laps and how the interval is either growing or shrinking. But it was cool to see something new anyway. Just don't start using a lot of tickers or pointy arrow things like Fox does, please! More Rick Benjamin 75 bashing here as he again comments again on the non-penalty. Do you really dislike the 75 car? Back to real announcing as Scott Sutherland gives us a good "driver perspective" on the 75 car and the line he was using on the track to pass people. Also during this period, we get to see/hear about good runs for Lonnie Rush, Forrest Urban, and Gerald Davis. Sutherland describes smoke from Urban's car as exhaust valve "leak" that helps keep headers cool. Interesting!

Lap 184, Corbett spins out the #01 car of Pete Wormcastle. Eric, this didn't help your cause any. And as I expected, Benjamin shows biased reporting against the 75 car again - wishing for another penalty. Some graphics errors pop up in the broadcast now. The lap 200 field rundown has Fogleman listed twice. Does he get double the points and payout? And Joe Harrison is listed in 25th and 100 laps down, but is somehow still ahead of Fogleman in 26th who is only 98 laps down! Oops. Back to the exciting action on the track as Ross and Corbett battle for the lead. With a daring move, Corbett goes 3-wide off turn 4 to pass Ross for the lead. Benjamin still makes a remark about the "chrome horn" which wasn't even relative to this pass. Be an OBJECTIVE commentator, Rick! It was the move of the race, but no replay was forthcoming. In the pits, Stephen Cox interviewed Darren Odle (crew chief for the 42 car) and asked him if he was "second-guessing the 2 tire decision". A great comeback by Odle - "No, are you?" I think it surprised Cox. The booth added some deserved comments about the track lightning, it's pit road, and safety fencing. All of which were 100% true and a welcome sight to the USAR Series competitors and fans.

Caution on lap 224 as the 72 car of Mike Hennessy hits hard into the turn 2 wall. Instead of a replay or any attempt to make sure the driver is o.k., we go to a commercial. The race restarted on lap 229. The lead is pretty stable and this gives the broadcast team time to cover some other great battles on the track. Urban, Ford, and Rush put on some great action for top 10 positions. As Corbett pulls away, we saw the interval graphic but again it was used only once. On the white flag lap, there was good use of picture-in-picture showing the 75 team preparing to celebrate their first USAR win. A nice shot of Corbett's father and mother too. Next we got to see a victory donut on TV! During the interview with Corbett, Cox missed a chance to ask the driver about the on-track incidents he was involved in that night, but Benjamin gets a final shot in as he runs through the finishing order. When he gets to the 01 car he says something like "got turned by Corbett but finished 13th". Interviews with Ross and Agnew who finished 2nd and 3rd round out the show.

Overall, this broadcast was just o.k. Less Miller 'girl-wrestling' commercials was a good thing. Benjamin's un-professional bias was distracting. Scott Sutherland provided some good stability to the booth and some excellent technical insight and observations. The race was a good one, but the broadcast was not quite equal to the race........ Until next time, I'm going back to my nap. You can send me email at

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