For a Hometown Boy, Producing Indy 500 Coverage Is ‘Working Vacation’
When the 99th running of what has been called the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” gets under way at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, the classic race’s biggest fan won’t be in the stands. Instead, he’ll be aboard NEP’s SS21 truck, as immersed in the event as any one of the millions watching at home. That’s because Senior Coordinating Producer Shawn Murphy has been enthralled by the race ever since he can remember.
Recalling his childhood growing up in Indianapolis and particularly a special fifth birthday, he told ESPN Front Row’s Hannah Worster two years ago, “The night before, my parents told me my birthday present was to go to the race the next day. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.” From 1980 through 2001, he never missed a race.
Now the Sunday before Memorial Day is his Christmas. “I tell everyone this is my working vacation,” he says.
As a passionate fan, Murphy finds the anticipation of the race as exciting as the event itself. As a sharp-eyed producer, though, he is most engaged by looking for the individual story arcs within the larger race: “As a producer, you’re always trying to find out where the best action is on the track, to take the viewer to that.”
Tools of the Trade
Murphy will have plenty of storytelling tools at his disposal. Among the record 85 cameras deployed around the track this year will be five nac Image Technology Ultra Hi Motion cameras that will allow viewers to see detail not visible at regular speed. This is one more camera than last year’s complement and enables ESPN to cover the entire 2.5-mile track as well as all of the pit road. In addition, 12 of the 33 cars in the race will carry three onboard cameras each, and four of the 12 will have dual-path technology to allow shots from two of the car’s cameras to be used at the same time.
“We’ve added more [cameras] in recent years, and fans love them,” Murphy says. “People like the speed most of all, so the in-car cameras are always great. But key are announcers, like Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever — Eddie won the race, and Scott has come close many times. They put you in the cockpit with the driver’s point of view. And our pit reporters — Jon Beekhuis, Rick DeBruhl, and Jerry Punch — are so in tune with the sport and the storyline of the race that they are truly the eyes and ears of the broadcast.”
He also cites enhanced graphics that will “connect the dots” between this race and historical ones, and between drivers and their past performances. And,” he adds, “we’re making more of an effort to let sound be another announcer for us. The camera placements give us a great point of view for sound at the track level, like in the chute between turns 3 and 4. Between that and the in-car audio, the sound is so strong that we want to let the fan enjoy it at times with no one talking over it.”