The view from my couch

SPEED Coverage of the Hooters Air 250 Presented by Blacks Tire
by Cheryl Lauer
July 3, 2004

I think this was an excellent broadcast by the group at Hallbrook Productions who produce the show for the SPEED Channel. The last two broadcasts of USAR races have left a lot to be desired, particularly because of poor camera adjustments and track lighting resulting in nothing but washed out, unrecognizable images of the cars on the track. Instead of the hoods of the cars being washed out by glare as they were during the broadcasts from Salem and Lake Erie, the Myrtle Beach race seemed to have the lenses adjusted appropriately for the light on the track.

The broadcast started out with a recap from the last USAR championship race at Myrtle Beach last year. A review of the controversial ending between Shane Huffman and Benny Gordon was an appropriate lead-in to showing that the two of them were starting side-by-side on the front row for this race.

I'll have to admit to jumping for glee when I heard that ESPN alumni, John Kernan, would be the pit reporter for this broadcast. It was so nice to see John back working on pit road for a stock car race. Personally, I've missed his excellent work since ESPN lost the NASCAR contract several years ago and the demise of his show, RPM2Night in 2003. John had certainly done his homework on the USAR drivers and teams and was able to speak knowledgeably about them throughout the race.

Booth announcers for the Southern Series, Rick Benjamin and Scott Sutherland, quickly pointed out that because of the abrasiveness of the Myrtle Beach track surface, tires would be a big issue during this race. Kernan explained that because of this, USAR had given the teams 10 tires for this race and this could lead to some very creative tire strategies by teams.

The announcers pointed out that a couple of key Northern Division drivers were competing in this race to get some experience at Myrtle Beach because it would host a championship race again later this year. They pointed out that 10 drivers had to go home because of such a large entry list and later in the broadcast, there was a graphic listing those who didn't make the race. It was refreshing, as usual, to have the SPEED team show us a graphic of the starting grid and introduce each driver and mention the make of his car as well. The series used to make a point of mentioning the teams sponsors during driver intros, but this season they have eliminated that helpful item. They do make a decent effort of mentioning sponsors during the race when possible.

At the start of the race, the producer showed the honorary starter waving the flag, but quickly switched to a wider shot, so that the viewers could see the cars taking the green as well as the starter. I really enjoyed this view.

Rick explained that Myrtle Beach had a D-shaped front stretch and cars handling depended on how they got through the straightaway. He also mentioned that there were 9000 fans in attendance for this race, which was great.

When the first caution of the night came out early, for a spin by Brandon Collins, we didn't get to see a replay. I understand if the cameras didn't get one, but it would have been nice to have the announcers at least describe what happened to the driver.

During the broadcast, there were several really good in-car shots of driver, Jason Sarvis, where you could clearly see him fighting the wheel. I also thought it was neat that because he had his visor open, you could see his eye movement as he constantly checked around him on the track. The announcers did a good job of mentioning his one-race sponsorship with Phillips Seafood as well. The only bad thing was that they were showing an in-car shot of Sarvis and missed the first restart on lap 13.

Next, we got to see Bobby Gill moving up through the pack, but they quickly switched back up front to catch Michael Ritch closing in and passing Benny Gordon for the lead. Scott pointed out how much Gill had the nose of his car taped up and speculated that his team must know how much tape they could use to get the right balance between downforce and not allowing enough air to cool the engine. Later, John reported that Steve Dulzniewski ("the Duze"), Gills' former crew chief, was back helping out the team for this race.

Scott Sutherland mentioned that Clay Rogers may have the qualifying record at this track, but that he said he still had trouble getting his car just right for the race. This was a great point. Rick told us that Clay also had a new sponsor for this race. I didn't catch the company's name, but it was a heavy trucking company I believe.

Throughout the race, SPEED showed a lot of good racing throughout the field, with most of the action being among the top 10. My only complaint was that many times they showed and told us about a driver passing another for position, but the announcers didn't always tell us which positions they were in.

When Collins spun for a second time, they were able to queue up a replay of how it occurred. When Ritch was leading, the announcers pointed out that he had two previous wins at this track. They also covered the pit stop when George Brunnhoelzl, Jr. had some problems and speculated that he was leaking fluid which was causing steam to come out of his car. I noticed later that the driver returned to the race, but never heard exactly what his problems were. Also, Mardy Lindley apparently got lapped early, but the viewers never heard about it until the announcers pointed out he was getting his lap back.

As usual, the broadcast gave us full field rundowns at laps 50, 100, 150, etc. I still prefer the old method of using a graphic rather than the notorious Fox "ticker." It takes up too much of the screen for my tastes. Also, I really enjoy the features or interviews that the producer inserts throughout the race; however, the picture in the top left corner of the screen showing them often covers up the view of the racing on the track. I like these features, but not if it mean sacrificing the seeing the race for them.

For the most part the camera work during this broadcast was very good. Just a few times, the "dissolve" to another camera when following the leaders was a bit choppy. Also, the picture from the "speedy" cam located near the start/finish line seemed really dark this week.

The production crew were right on top of things when Bobby Gill slowed dramatically and dropped back from the lead. Kernan did an excellent job of covering the crew's attempt to repair his car and told us that it looked terminal. He also had a good interview with a clearly disgusted Gill. The SPEED team also caught when Mike Laughlin, Jr., Shane Huffman, Matt Carter, and Michael Ritch had problems and dropped out of the race as well. Kernan got interviews with most of the disappointed drivers, including candid comments from both Huffman and Carter after their run-in earlier.

We were told that Greg Marlowe only took two tires during this pit stop and got out of the pits first to take the lead for a brief period. During the restart at lap 105, SPEED caught when Don Satterfield clipped Jay Fogleman and caused a lot of damage to the front of Jay's car. The announcers mentioned that this type of damage could cause handling problems and the wrinkled sheet metal could block the radiator and cause overheating later in the race.

There were numerous replays including in-car camera shots when Huffman and Carter got together. The announcers pointed out that Keith Roggen dove onto pit road to avoid the wreck. They also told us that Sarvis got his lap back when the caution came out, but was penalized because a crew member came over the wall without a helmet on the subsequent pit stop.

Not too soon after the restart, SPEED went to commercial after only a few laps and came back to do the Race Recap. There just seemed to be way too many commercials around the mid-point of the race. I know these are necessary evils, but as a viewer, it's hard not to be frustrated sometimes.

Kernan reported on the unusual tire strategy the team chose for Benny Gordon's car. They put on three tires only, thereby saving their last three tires for their last pit stop. Obviously, the strategy worked out very well for them.

Next we were told that Mardy Lindley was about to head home and Kernan had an interview with him. I was really surprised by this because we never heard what problems he'd had previously or when he went behind the wall. I also had a lot of trouble following just how many laps Danny O'Quinn was down. Around lap 150, he got out in front of the leaders, so I thought he was back on the tailend of the lead lap, but later the ticker showed he was still a lap down.

The announcers gave us a lot of background on Stewart Ricks when he got up to third position, telling us that he had a lot of late model experience at the Myrtle Beach track. They also had an interview with his crew chief during this time and later when he took the lead. There was also great coverage of the battle between Gaita and Gordon. Unfortunately, SPEED was at commercial and missed when Gaita passed for second position.

It was excellent when near the end of the race, SPEED did a sort of "through the field" showing and talking about all eight of the cars left on the lead lap. Next they showed the green flag pit stops for Clay Rogers and O'Quinn. When Justin Hobgood spun right after that, the announcers pointed out that this pretty much killed Rogers' chances of getting back on the lead lap despite the fact he had new tires.

During the yellow-flag stops, SPEED had an excellent three-way split, showing the stops of Gordon, Gaita and Ricks. When Joe Gaita's team had a miscue on pit road, the announcers were quick to point out the problem and the producer showed replays of the problem with the air wrench. They also explained that Gordon had a long pitstop because his team had a problem with the lugnuts.

After the restart around lap 200, Benjamin pointed out that only the top 5 cars remained on the lead lap and named them all. Next SPEED was showing an in-car shot from Hal Goodson's car where you could see that his rearview mirror had fallen down. During this shot, the camera caught Goodson's view of a wreck in front of him. This was an excellent shot for the producer to use in the broadcast. He followed it up with other views of the wreck from the regular cameras, which showed why Goodson had been unable to miss the spinning car in front of him.

The race restarted at lap 210 and though I noticed that the last 40 laps seemed to fly by and it was 10 to go in no time, I think the SPEED team did an excellent job of editing a few of those laps out. We didn't appear to miss anything of substance and I enjoyed that this saved time for several post-race interviews at the end of the broadcast.

I found it interesting that Ricks was blackflagged on this restart, particularly because I commented while watching the broadcast how he appeared to jump the previous restart as well. SPEED did an excellent job of covering this and even had a replay of the last restart and pointed out where the restart "box" was on the track. I was a little disappointed to hear Rick Benjamin say that Gordon was the beneficiary of a "controversial call." It seemed clear-cut that Ricks jumped both the last restarts of the race, but only got caught the second time. I don't think the announcers need to interject their personal opinions into this type of thing to create controversy when none should exist. Yes, Ricks was the hometown favorite, but if he jumped the start, USAR made the right call. Personally, I'm tired of other racing series who make arbitrary calls to cater to the fans.

At the end of the broadcast, we were told that David Pletcher got the Hard Charger of the race for gaining 23 spots to finish 3rd. Kernan had good interviews with the winner, Gordon, second place, Brad Rogers, Pletcher, and a disappointed Ricks. The broadcast ended with a quick (and I mean quick) graphic of the top 10 in points in the Southern Division. I know the producer is trying to fit a lot into the limited two-hour timeslot, but maybe they could keep that graphic up just a few moments longer so you can read all ten positions.

Overall, an excellent broadcast, with good camera work, heads-up editing, and meaningful commentary from the announcers and pit road reporter. Keep up the great work guys!

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