The view from my couch
SPEED Coverage of the USAR Series Charlie Campbell Memorial / B.F. Goodrich Tires 250
by Cheryl Lauer
October 4, 2004
Overall, this was a very good broadcast by the group at Hallbrook Productions who produce the coverage of the USAR Series for the SPEED Channel. This was the first of five annual Championship races for the United Speed Alliance Racing (USAR) Series.
I'd like to give a little background on the USAR Championship Series. It just seems kind of appropriate to give credit to the stock car racing series that pioneered a "playoff" at the end of the season. In fact, USAR actually has a five race playoff between their Northern and Southern Divisions. This concept began in 2001 when USAR decided to expand their series, by starting a Northern Division to run 12-13 regular season races. The Southern Division runs the same number races. Then the top 30 eligible finishers in each division are "merged" into a playoff scenario where each division's champion is awarded a bonus of 40 points to start of the playoffs. Subsequent finishers in each division are awarded one race's worth of points according to their finishing position in their division.
Each Championship Series in USAR since 2001 has produced a tight battle resulting in a different champion each of the three years. But the USAR championship does not eliminate anyone from being able to contend for the title. In fact, last season, Benny Gordon missed the first few races of the season and came back to nearly win the championship in the last five races. He was able to do this by winning two out of the five races. The eventual 2003 USAR Champion, Shane Huffman, won two of those races as well, but because of a couple of bad finishes, Gordon was able to combine his two wins with consistent finishes in the other three races and make a strong surge in points in the Championship Series. So much so, that it came down to the last race of the Series to determine the Champion. You can't manufacture that kind of excitement!
Enough of the history lesson, but I thought it was very important for you to understand that a true playoff can exist between different divisions in the same series. Now on to my review of the Jennerstown TV broadcast.
The booth announcers for this race were anchor, Rick Benjamin, and former driver, Scott Sutherland providing color commentary. Pit road was covered by Brett McMillan, of the Performance Racing Network, and as always, mobile cameraman Richard Campbell.
The broadcast began with a neat lead-in featuring the top few contenders from both the Northern and Southern Divisions. Next, Gene Crane provided a report on the flooding at the track just the week before the race. This included some dramatic photos of the 5.2 million gallons of water which filled the infield at Jennerstown. I'd seen the pictures on the internet, but including them in the TV broadcast was excellent to give the viewers at home the feel of how bad the flooding from Hurricane Ivan affected the track and Western Pennsylvania.
Brett McMillan had an interview with pole sitter, Mardy Lindley and told us that 35 of the 37 drivers in the race had broken the old track record. A combination of a newly paved track and BFG radial tires accounted for that feat, facts which were pointed out while doing the track description.
The announcers pointed out that since the last race of the Southern Division scheduled for Lakeland had been cancelled due to the hurricanes in Florida, Clay Rogers had won his division's title, with his brother, Brad winning the Southern Division Rookie of the Year Award.
SPEED also provided an excellent graphic explaining the points standings going into the championship races. They also showed which drivers failed to make this race. They told us that Joe Harrison had received a provisional since he was 15th in the points entering the Championship Series. It was also nice have them specifically mention Pennsylvania driver, Robbie Marhefka, who didn't make the race.
The SPEED crew positioned one of their "speedy cams" in a new location for this race. It was on the backstretch just at the exit of turn 2 and it provided some great shots of cars coming off that corner!
At the start of the race, the announcers quickly reported that Joel Kauffman had slowed and everyone was having to dodge him. The cameras caught Logan Dernoshek spinning in the aftermath. The producer provided a replay of the incident from Daniel Johnson's car which showed Kauffman getting sideways. Rick told us that Kauffman said on the radio that his brakes locked up.
On every restart, SPEED provided the ticker of the top ten and Rick also mentioned where several of the drivers were running. This was excellent! I also like the flame shooting across the screen when the ticker appears. It's not an annoying noise, and is only there for a second without being distracting.
After the lap 8 restart, Rick explained the sparks we were seeing from several cars going into the turns were probably a result of soft springs. Throughout the race, SPEED utilized an inset in the top corner of the screen to provide interesting pre-race comments from several of the top drivers. This was a great feature!
SPEED did an excellent job of following eventual winner, Shane Huffman, through the field. They covered each pass he made until he took the lead on lap 53. When he pulled away from the field, rather than showing him alone, the cameras covered good racing throughout the field. This included excellent coverage of the exciting side-by-side battle between Clay Rogers and Benny Gordon.
My biggest complaint about this broadcast was that the cameraman on the backstretch wasn't able to stay with the action. All too often, instead, he'd be focused on empty track and another cameras had to pick up the action between two cars.
The SPEED team did a fine job of reporting on problems on various cars, beginning with Mart Nesbitt's car smoking. I did think Rick's comments that "the Blue Cross and Blue Shield car would need an emergency room to fix" was a little too cute. Brett followed up with timely interviews with many of the competitors who dropped out of the race, such as pole sitter, Mardy Lindley.
The producer did a good job of integrating in-car camera shots and radio communications between drivers and their teams into the broadcast. When George Brunnhoelzl wrecked and felt it was Calvin Redwine's fault, the camera captured a good shot of him confronting Redwine's team afterwards. Brett also had a good interview with him.
In addition, to showing the top ten on the ticker on every restart, we got to see a full field rundown several times during the race. Each time, this included how many laps down cars were or if they were out of the event. This is great information for the viewers and I appreciate that the producer includes it in the rundowns.
The announcers provided good insight when various events occurred on the track, such as when Michael Ritch spun and Rick speculated that maybe he had a tire going down.
Scott Sutherland mentioned that Gary St. Amant was "the oldest rookie out here besides Dick Trickle." I understood his point about Gary being older than all of the other rookies in USAR, but why bring up Trickle? He never ran in this series.
SPEED provided an excellent comparison of the seasons of South and North division champions, Rogers and Gordon. Titled "Head to Head," it showed how many wins each had in their division and their average finishes, with the announcers pointing out that Rogers started out strong, but faltered at the end of the regular season, whereas Gordon did just the opposite. Rick pointed out that since the Championship Series started, no Northern driver has won a championship race.
When David Pletcher wrecked on lap 102, Scott pointed out that it was easy for another driver to get into somebody at that point in the turn. If you lift just a little, and the person behind you doesn't, you can get collected. Rick told us that the radio transmission from Pletcher's team suggested Michelle Theriault was the one who hit him.
During the resulting pits tops, Brett did an excellent job covering pit road action. There were great shots by Richard Campbell of Huffman getting blocked in his pits by Redwine. And then Redwine had to back up because Jay Fogleman was in front of him.
There was excellent coverage of Huffman passing Bobby Gill to regain the lead. SPEED had some great replays of the major incident that occurred on lap 119. This included some really good shots from Johnson's in-car camera. The replays showed that because of the back-up, Johnson appeared to be making his way clear of the accident when he got into Sam Fullone. Johnson's hood was pretty much obscuring his view out the windshield and we got to see the view from his in-car camera. Rick pointed out this was very close to what the driver sees, which in this case was very little.
SPEED did a good job of telling us when they heard about rain on some of the team radios. Brett followed this up by confirming that there was in fact a light rain falling on the track. Rick pointed out that keeping the cars on the track would keep plenty of heat in it and probably keep the track surface dry enough to continue racing even though you could see some of it on the camera lenses.
When Mardy Lindley went up high towards the wall, Rick said it looked like his motor had let go, which proved to be true. When Mardy retired behind the wall, he told Brett they broke a rocker arm.
I was a bit dismayed at one point when SPEED broke away from some hard racing between Jeff Agnew, Rogers and Gordon to show us highlights from the autograph session and earlier racing on their way to commercial. Viewers would much rather see the current racing than this type of highlight feature which interrupted the action.
When Gordon and Rogers were battling side-by-side later in the race, Scott pointed out that Rogers didn't seem to be running as well as earlier. He noted his glowing brake rotors and thought maybe this was causing some handling problems for Rogers. The producer alternated the in-car view from Rogers or Gordon's cars with the overhead view of the battle, which was great.
The announcers seem to get a little carried away late in the race when alerting us when Huffman went on the outside to get around a couple of lapped cars. Yes, they were three-wide for a couple of seconds, but it really wasn't that big a deal as Huffman seemed perfectly in control of the situation.
When the rain got heavier USAR called a caution around lap 200. We got a good shot of just how hard it was raining from Redwine's in-car camera. There was also some good coverage when USAR red-flagged the race and allowed the teams to come out on the track and clean their drivers' windshield. The editing after this was a little choppy, as we were told USAR had told the drivers to refire the engines and a second later they were already rolling around the track.
As I mentioned earlier, SPEED did an good job of not just covering the leader particularly during the waning laps. After the lap 221 restart, they showed us battles between Agnew and Gordon for second, St. Amant and Rogers, and Gill and Johnny Rumley. The camera caught when Gordon cut a tire and hit the wall. I was surprised to hear the announcers immediately say he was "out for the night." At that point, there was no indication that his car was that bad. Brett immediately interviewed Todd Gordon, who said his brother had blown a tire after running over some debris on the track.
As the drivers crossed the finish line, taking the checkered flag, the producer added a great feature to this broadcast! This was a "pylon" of the top ten finishers as they crossed the line in 'real time'. Fans always enjoy seeing this so they can see where drivers finished and how far behind the leader they finished.
Brett had interviews with the winner, Huffman and second-place finisher Agnew. We got the usual graphics of the final rundown and the points update. We were also told that St. Amant earned 'Rookie of the Race' and that Danny O'Quinn, Jr. and D. J. Kennington were both awarded the 'Hard Charger Award'. There was also a good shot of Todd Steen of BF Goodrich presenting the trophy to Huffman in Victory Lane.
Overall, an excellent broadcast, with good camera work (for the most part), heads-up editing, and meaningful commentary from the announcers and pit road reporter. Keep up the great work guys!
If you want to comment on this review, you can reach me at .
Return to the mainspeedcouch.com page.
Visitors since November 2, 2002