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Effort involved in a live NASCAR television production is mind boggling

By admin | March 24, 2010

     By Richard Allen

When watching the telecast of a NASCAR event have you ever stopped to consider how much effort goes into the job of putting on such a production? Until last Friday, a racing broadcast was one of those things I had always taken for granted.

Just before NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying last Friday, Andy Hall of ESPN was kind enough to give me a tour of that network’s production facilities located trackside at the Bristol Motor Speedway. It was an eye opening experience to be sure.

The enormity of a live sports telecast is one of the first things that stands out when allowed to peak behind the scenes. Some twenty miles of cables have to be strung for cameras, microphones and other technical equipment to make their feeds back to a central location. “It takes our folks about a day and a half to get the cables laid and everything up and running,” Hall explained. “The people who do it really have it down to a science. They’re very efficient.”

When watching a sporting event you have no doubt heard the on-air personalities refer to “the truck”. The production truck is quite a technological marvel, at least to a high school history teacher. A multitude of television screens of varying sizes completely fill one wall. Facing that wall are a number of seats which are manned by a crew of trained professionals with very specific tasks to execute.

At the head of the operation are the producer and the director. The producer is the overall boss, somewhat like the admiral of a naval fleet. He or she makes such critical decisions as the timing of commercials and when certain special features are to run. It’s the producer’s job to keep the show ‘on track’ so to speak. In all of this the producer is aided by other members of the production staff who advise him or her on all matters related to the telecast.

“The producer has as many as thirty people talking to him during the course of a broadcast,” Hall said. “He often has to choose between various pieces of input in an instant.”

The director is somewhat like the captain of one ship in that fleet. He or she is the person who actually controls the specific task of  what you see on the screen during the race. Calling on each of the dozens of cameras to provide the differing viewing angles and offer the best possible look at the event is this person’s complicated task.

After looking inside the production truck, we walked outside and around to the back of that facility. “I like to show this to everyone who comes to look around,” Hall said as he pointed to an unbelievable multitude of wires plugged in to a multitude of ports.

“Wow! Somebody actually knows how to connect all that stuff,” was my reaction.

From the production truck it was off to the trailer that houses Tim Brewer’s cut away car and all of the gadgets he uses to explain the ins and outs of NASCAR racing. “A lot of people are surprised to find out that Tim Brewer is not in some studio off site but he is actually right here on the speedway property in this trailer,” Hall said. He was right, I was surprised.

The trailer, which on the outside looks very much like a trailer one would see being pulled down the interstate by a semi-truck, expands out in both directions to form an entire studio. Virtually everything that might be needed to describe the mechanical workings of a NASCAR race car are held in the trailer.

“See if you can pick that up,” Hall said as he pointed to a small block. It was a frame weight used by the teams to line the inside of a car to bring it up to the required weight. The small piece, which was no more than six inches long, weighed 40 pounds.

Over 200 people are required to pull this whole thing off. Most of those workers travel with ESPN to each of the races they cover. “It’s a big sacrifice,” Hall says. “The people who do this have to love it to put that much time and effort into it.

“Our season is actually longer than 36 weeks,” Hall continued. “We cover every Nationwide race as well as our share of the Cup races. There are some weekends when one series runs without the other.”

When we think of a televised NASCAR event we often think only of the on air personalities. As I was fortunate enough to learn last Friday, there are many more dedicated professionals who never will appear on a TV screen who make watching the broadcast possible.

Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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One Response to “Effort involved in a live NASCAR television production is mind boggling”

  1. mkrcr Says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Well, that finally ’splains it. With all that high tech stuff goin’ on, no wonder they can’t really afford to put someone in the booth that actually cares more about the racing than promoting themselves. Perhaps they could sacrifice one of those HD cameras they use to give us “all those cool shots” plastered across the TV and hire some real talent. Or keep the camera and plug in MRN audio.