Here’s tangible proof that in this business, you get to report good news every so often, too. More than 30 years ago, now, ESPN revolutionized the televised coverage of American auto racing by presenting live USAC open-wheel programs, often from what today is Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis, the broadcasts known as Thursday Night Thunder. Among other things, the cablecasts helped turn a very young Jeff Gordon into a household name long before he headed south to NASCAR-land. They firmly stamped open-cockpit American racing into the consciousness of the audience like few promotional ideas had previously. Most of the races were called by the team of Gary Lee and Larry Rice, becoming known as the broadcast side of USAC’s Gary and Larry Show, named for the historic Sprint car rivalry of Gary Bettenhausen and Larry Dickson during the 1970s. Besides being a good TV personality, Larry Rice was an acclaimed race driver, winning USAC Silver Crown championships in 1977 and 1981, preceding them with a 1973 title in the USAC Midget series during a run that also included victory in the Hut Hundred at Terre Haute, along with two starts in the Indianapolis 500.
Regrettably, Larry Rice passed away in 2009 but the family’s legacy in USAC racing is still brightly lit, here in the form of Larry’s son, Robbie Rice, who just became the entrant champion of the Silver Crown series for 2022 as the boss of Rice Motorsports, this Rich Forman show depicts Robbie – the guy in the black hat and sunglasses – with his family and championship chauffeur Logan Seavey of California, who made the younger Rice one half of the only father-son duo of entrant champions in USAC Silver Crown history. A key assist came from crew member Ronnie Gardner, who owns five USAC Western States Midget championships as a driver. Most definitely, this is a feel-good tale of the first rank.