Rain Delays, Mutes Daytona 500
Thanks to persistent rains over central Florida, NASCAR’s opening number, the Daytona 500, sounded a bit different when it ran on Monday night after a 36-hour delay. That slightly different timbre wasn’t because of any significant changes to the audio regimen by Fox Sports audio consultant/senior mixer Fred Aldous, who describes the Emmy-winning Fox Sports protocol for NASCAR as “nicely buttoned down.”
Rather, changes to the sound were due to the weather. Instead of the sunny, reasonably dry (for coastal Florida) day that most Daytona 500 races have enjoyed for more than a half century, this year’s running was preceded by two straight days of rain, forcing the first postponement in the race’s 54-year history. That had a measureable impact on its audio.
“The real issue is that moisture in the air and actual wetness on the equipment can really change the sound of the show,” he says. “When moisture gets onto the diaphragm of a microphone, it dampens the high end a bit and really changes the properties of the sound. It takes some of the edge off of it, and that edge is part of what we pride ourselves on; it helps all the elements sit together and cut through when they need to.”
Aldous’s team, including submixer Kevin McCloskey, had to increase the weatherproofing on the approximately 120 stereo and mono microphones scattered around the 2.5-mile track, including a few new shotgun mics added this year to increase the range on long robo-cam approach shots, giving the director more loiter time on the shot with audio. Shotguns were covered with a blimp and windjammer as well as synthetic cloth instead of plastic.
“Plastic creates its own noise issues when it gets whipped around by the wind,” Aldous explains. “It can also change the sound of the microphone, so a synthetic cloth is a better choice.”
Before the start of the race, at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, as Aldous monitored the scene from his position in Game Creek Video’s Fox A truck, his crew of A2s went around the track and checked each mic, looking for damage or debris caused by the giant jet turbines that had been used to try to dry the track throughout the weekend. In particular, the A2s looked at the diaphragms and the exposed electrical and signal connections and checked the aim of the shotguns in the wake of the blowers’ velocity.
In any event, it was inevitable that the Daytona 500’s audio would be affected. How much, Aldous was anxious to find out, and it might be most apparent on “Crank It Up,” Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage’s version of a drum solo, where Aldous gets two-plus minutes to let track sound effects take front and center (and surround) stage. “That’s where we really hear the effects of the moisture,” he says.
Ultimately, no microphones were lost, either to weather or to the numerous wrecks that helped drag the race out till past midnight, although Aldous and company were ready with replacements if necessary.
“This has been the most bizarre 500 in my 23 years of coming here,” he sums it up.
Later in this season or next, Aldous says, he’ll be focusing more on the in-car audio experience. “It sounds great to begin with, but we’re always looking to improve where we can. At least it’ll be dry in there.