USAR ProCup - O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 - Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
by Lou Lauer
The USAR Hooters ProCup Series made it's debut at another legendary track - Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. The Southern Division drivers made the long haul out to Tennessee last weekend. Despite the fact that the snooty NASCAR boys don't think the track is good enough for their BGN series anymore, it's still one of the great short tracks around! Shane Huffman took a commanding points lead with him into the race. It's a new track for almost all the drivers so the race was up for grabs. How did it all look on TV?
Location - Nashville, TN Race Date - July 13, 2003 Broadcast Date - July 17, 2003 Channel - SPEED, DirecTV #607 Announcers - Booth - Brian Drebber and Gene Crane, Pit Road - Doug Rice
Well the broadcast finally had someone with a little emotion get the cars fired up. A little boy picked from the grandstands gave a decent "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" to start the show. The field rolled out behind a Ford T-bird as the pace car. What happened to the official USAR pace car? Did it get repossessed? A description of the .596 mile , 18 degree banking track followed the usual starting grid rundown.
Cameras for the race included at least one on the main tower, the usual mobile pit road camera, a Turn 1 camera and a Turn 3 camera. Add to those was a stationary 'speedy cam' located on the wall just after the start/finish line. For in-car cameras we had one in the #2 car of Steven Christian, another in the #28 car of Michael Ritch, and a different view - a 'doggie cam' on the driver's side looking backwards on the #16 car of Clay Rogers. Let's hope they don't get carried away with that camera like they did the last race (Xenia) when the doggie-cam was on Jeff Agnew's car and it was poorly used.
Doug Rice gave us some info about the track's history and some of the USAR drivers who have been there in the past. Then - yep you guessed it - the same lousy start of the race with the flag-waver overshadowing the actual start of the race. I also noticed that it appeared to be a pretty small crowd on hand to watch the race. What a shame for "race fans" in that area. They missed a good race and a good series.
I noticed a new graphic in use this week. It was a nice small graphic which showed the interval between 2 drivers. Small and unobtrusive. Additionally, this week the cameras in the turns had great placement. No fences in the shots and a great view of the track in their areas. The turn 3 camera was particularly neat this week. I thought it showed a great view down the backstretch and also showed the beginning of the banking as the cars entered the turn. The race began just before dusk and the lighting was good as well. That time of day always shows well on TV.
Throughout the usual pit road interviews as drivers fell out, Doug Rice did a solid job getting interviews with the drivers or with crew chiefs as race strategies unfolded. I noted that the audio quality this week was good. The announcers were not overpowered by track noises yet you could still "feel" the race and the engines. Early in the broadcast, Gene Crane talked about Shane Huffman and how he had raced a late model event at Nashville just the week before to help gain some track time. This was good information for viewers to know and based on the eventual results, I think it must have helped!
The race provided some good action throughout the night. Partly because the USAR series DOES have some very good drivers and partly because Nashville is still a great track for racing. Early on, there were battles involving Lindley, Gill, and Gaita. Gene Crane talked about how Southern driver, Michael Strother, could not afford to bring his own car to the race this weekend, but that he came to help out another under-manned team - the #24 of Mike Williams. Nice story and nice gesture, Michael.
I noted that there seemed to be good camera coverage of action through the field early in the race. Not just focusing on the leaders. There was the makings of a good in-car segment from Rogers' 'doggie-cam' as Lindley was passing, but they chose to switch away to show Huffman running by himself right at the critical moment of the pass - the time when use of that camera is MOST appropriate. More quality racing action was shown with the 4 (Fogleman), 51 (Pletcher), and 61 (Morgan) cars battling. The camera choices were good. Use of longer/wider views instead of zooming in on a single car is appreciated. I thought there was much less switching between shots just to be "artistic".
Question - What happened to the Naturally Fresh sponsorship that was on the hood of Sarvis' car early this year. When/why did it move from Sarvis to Rogers? Besides covering the race, maybe the broadcast team could fill fans in on this type of development also. If it's been covered, I guess I missed it.
More great on-track battles as Gill takes the lead around lap 60 and as the #8 (Wilson) and #41 (Hill) race hard AND we got to see it even though they were not up front of the field! On lap 65, J.P. Morgan spins in turn 4 and then does a bonehead move by diving down off the banking in front of field to keep from being lapped. During this caution, Gene talked about the extra two tires that teams got for this race. The mobile cam shows the pit work being done on the #16 car and Rice talks about the rubber removal. Good job.
In typical USAR tradition, a red flag come out on lap 73 or so for a front stretch melee involving the #56 of Daniel Johnson, the #6 of Ronnie Davidson, and the #8 of Donnie Wilson. The 'Speedy cam' catches a great shot of the wreck and the turn 1 camera catches the 8 and 6 piling in. The booth provided some good descriptions. Doug Rice interviewed Johnson while a replay was shown. Very good coverage.
As the race continues, it doesn't take long for some great racing to resume. Except for the leader, Huffman, who has the field covered, the rest of the pack is putting on a good show. At one point the 51, 41, and 4 were racing when the 4 of Fogelman had a thought about taking it through the middle of the other two cars, but came to his senses in time! Ooops, what's that on the track? An air gauge? From the 24 car? Hmmmm, how did that occur? Does Mike have some secret cockpit adjustable deal going on? Sarvis and Gill pit. The mobile camera was covering the 22 car, while Rice describes Gill's pit stop. Excellent job! Thanks for remembering that you weren't doing a radio show and that the viewers could see and comprehend all by ourselves.
Throughout the night, I noted that the broadcast team was doing a good job of mentioning ALL drivers as they appeared on screen, even if they were not front runners. And the cameramen seemed to be right on top of all the action. I know I said it earlier, but it seemed to me that it was a much calmer broadcast this night. I also liked how occasionally the director allowed the Turn 1 or 3 camera to follow a car or battle nearly the entire way around the track, instead of using a bunch of disjointed dissolves, switches, or fades. Throughout the broadcast, there did not seem to be so much of a need for camera switching and it was much appreciated! Thanks to Chris Larson (producer) and Steve "Hippie" Ulrich (director) from Hallbrook Productions for their efforts. While you're at it - take a look at the entire "team" for the night.
While these guys and girls work hard to bring us this series every week, I couldn't just sit here and dish out nothing but compliments - you'd get suspicious and think they were paying me! I do have a few gripes. I started to note that we would get to see the in-car shot from the #2 car more often as the race unfolded. Typically, it was showing us nothing but open track in front. Not very applicable to the race. I also noted that the 'doggie cam' on the 16 car had the Naturally Fresh graphic placed right in THE prominent spot for seeing other cars racing on the inside. What a terrible placement of that graphic. Might have just as well just placed it on the lens itself. We occasionally missed seeing or hearing about how some of the usual front runners got to be lapped (Gaita for instance), but at least, now we can see it in the full field rundowns. As night fell, it looked to me that the turn 1 camera appeared washed out. A lot more white than normal as if it wasn't adjusted as well for night racing as it was for the beginning of the race. And during the later portions of the race, the 16 car 'doggie cam' was WAY too dark.
Tire strategy was key in this race and the broadcast team did a good job of discussing it and getting interviews with various teams after pit stops to find out their strategy and how it might play out in the end. A good example was when Gene was talking about Gill's strategy and waiting for the next caution to get fresh tires and Brian Drebber brought up the fact that "what if there is NO next caution?". Good to hear the announcers thinking what fans at home are thinking too!
On lap 138 - the 71 car of Sean Studer was pitting when a big fire broke out in his pit and engulfed several crewmen. TV had it covered all the way. Great camera coverage and discussion. I say great knowing now that all of those involved were not seriously injured. Doug Rice did a great job talking about the fire and giving viewers a timely and positive status update on the injured crewman (Todd Holland?). I didn't see the usual mobile camera shot of the 71 pitting from Richard Campbell so I can only hope/assume that he wasn't covering the 71's stop at the time or else he would have been right there in the middle of the fire - and without wearing a firesuit! RC, you better rethink your race attire buddy. The series needs you around.
After the pit fire cleanup, we had the major pit action of the race with all the leaders stopping and TV gave us a nice 3-way split shot with PIP coverage. Another different and interesting angle of the pit action came from RC apparently standing on top of the 16 pit box. The camera was able to provide a sweeping aerial-like view of the 15, 16, and 5 cars pitting. We then got the usual mid-race-recap for the short-attention span audience.
With Sarvis leading after the restart, we saw some great in-car footage from Christian's car as Gill and Huffman try to wreck each other off turn 2. I think Huffman and Gill don't really like each other. Soon we see the "winning move" as the 84 passes the 22 for the lead. More of 2 car in-car showing us nothing. Also, is it the Lucas in-car camera or the Naturally Fresh camera? Since they had the NF graphic 'accidently' covering up the Lucas logos I couldn't tell. The last quarter of the race got boring, but that blame goes to the dominance that Shane Huffman was showing this night (and most of the season). The last 20 laps of the race, it seemed like the cameramen couldn't find a battle on the track to save their lives.
Shane Huffman, the "King of Karaoke" brings it home to victory and gets a Nashville guitar - except this one looked more like a ukelele to me. A quick - and I mean quick (slow it down some boys) - points rundown, victory lane celebrations and interviews with the 2nd and 3rd place cars round out the show. Clay Rogers gave a good description about how he was killing his tires trying to catch Shane and thanking USAR for coming to the Nashville track. Excellent comment, Clay! The USAR series was made for tracks like Nashville. Mardy Lindley had some interesting comments about experiencing 'aero push' for the first time because the cars go just fast enough at Nashville to experience that unusual feeling for short-track drivers. Let's hope that the series doesn't plan on going to any big tracks in the future - these teams can't afford to worry about an added expense like wind-tunnel testing to figure out the 'aero push' phenomenon.
Overall, I really enjoyed this broadcast and the race itself. It's a good deal when you don't notice an excess of commercials, and this race I did not. I liked the camera work and the racing action that the USAR series put on display. If we could only get Shane to wait up a bit for the rest of the field.... Until next time, I'm going back to my nap. You can send me email at