NBC Sports Shifts Into Gear for Second Half of 2019 NASCAR Season
The highly acclaimed BatCam system will make its return
Fox Sports having ended its live coverage of this season’s NASCAR action at Sonoma Raceway last weekend, NBC Sports begins its 20-week-long television coverage on Sunday with the Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. At the forefront of its production efforts are two initiatives that were in play last season: BatCam and the Peacock Pit Box.
“We’re probably going to implement BatCam on a couple of races,” says NBC Sports Group Technical Manager Eric Thomas. “We’re always pushing the envelope and always looking towards new ideas. Every day you get up, you want to do something better.”
Peacock Pit Box Makes an Encore Appearance
Developed for the first race of the 2018 NASCAR on NBC season, the Peacock Pit Box will be deployed in time for its one-year anniversary. Before heading back to the NASCAR scene, the 14-ft.-long x 12.5-ft.-wide, two-level perch was situated next to the action of a different racing organization.
“The Peacock Pit Box took a tour around the IndyCar circuit for the early part of the year because it did such a great job for us last year,” says Thomas. “That’s been a successful item that we used since it’s a place for announcers to be right in thick of things in pit lane.”
NBC Sports’ Peacock One will handle all the onsite elements as the lead mobile production unit. Game Creek Video constructed that truck for the network in 2015. This season, a new truck will be in the compound to assist the overall production.
“[Peacock One] is the core of our compound, but the Edit One is new to NASCAR,” Thomas explains. “It’s going to house our mix-effects room for audio. Our radio-replay and EVS in-car [operators are] going to be working out of there, plus an edit team will be in there as well. It’s a support truck, but it plays a pretty big role this year.”
Inside the edit truck, a new method of content storage was installed for categorizing the massive influx of files leveraged by the NBC telecast.
“In order to get the content from point A to point B,” he adds, “we’ve added a new storage device in Peacock [One] to help with that and help manage the media that we generate on a weekly basis. We’ve added another 150-TB drive to help manage that content. [NBC Sports Senior Director, Remote Technical Operations and Engineering,] Craig Bernstein was instrumental in organizing that, so it’s going to help a great deal.”
Creative Mobile Solutions and OpenDrives are collaborating to help NBC Sports with this storage platform.
As for audio, the technical team of NASCAR on NBC made a significant change in transitioning to the Dante protocol heading into the new season.
“We used it in what we call our B Booth last year,” says Thomas. “We tested it and liked it, so now we’ve expanded it, using the same system in our PitBox as well as the A Booth. Whether [the announcers are] in the A Booth, the B booth, or the PitBox, we’re transmitting or transporting those, and it gives us some more flexibility. Our wireless intercom [system] will also all be on Dante. We’re going to put it through its paces this year.”
Getting Closer to the Asphalt
Racing fans always enjoy the close calls, near misses, and drivers being able to finesse tight corners on the track. With the addition of the edit truck, NBC operations is upgrading its camera complement with some specialty cameras. Five RF cameras will accompany the announcers down pit row, and two Sony P43 super-slo-mo robotics will be placed on the corners of the course.
“We’re hoping to get some good shots there since they’re hanging right on the wall of the race track,” Thomas says. “We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of content we can get out of those cameras this year. The number of cameras depends on the size of the track, of course: some tracks are smaller, some super speedways are bigger.”
The traditional setup will include 50-55 cameras. Depending on the size of the venue, the production may need to be scaled back. On any given Sunday, the NBC crew will have Sony HDC-4300 hard cameras, aerial cameras, on-board cameras, and other technological offerings to entertain the viewers sitting at home.
“We have different cameras that we’re going to deploy this year,” says NBC Sports Group Executive Producer Sam Flood. “Charlie Dammeyer, our director, is always looking for the best possible way to show off the race. He’s still proposing some different techniques [that] he wants to use this year. Each racetrack creates a different challenge and a different concept that he wants to play around with. There will be plenty of ways that we’ll work to capture the speed and energy of [the season].”
Studio Programming Gets a Tune-Up
In 2018, NASCAR America celebrated its 1,000th episode on NBC Sports. To acknowledge the occasion, NBC Sports has committed to a schedule of reimagined episodes for each day of the week.
To jumpstart the week, NASCAR America Monday will focus on the previous weekend’s races, offering highlights, driver interviews, and expert analysis. On Tuesdays, two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will co-host a one-hour edition of NASCAR America with Mike Davis and will provide inside info during “The Dale Jr. Download.” On Wednesdays, Motormouths will feature Rutledge Wood and Marty Snider, and auto-racing icon Kyle Petty will provide a light-hearted approach to the traditional show, giving fans the opportunity to call into the show with questions. On Thursdays, hosted by Krista Voda with NASCAR drivers/analysts A.J. Allmendinger and Parker Kligerman, Motorsports Hour will highlight the upcoming weekend’s NASCAR races and also shine a light on the latest news surrounding IndyCar, IMSA, American Flat Track, Supercross, Motorcross, Mecum collector car auctions, and all of motorsports. Former IndyCar driver Townsend Bell, former IMSA GT driver Calvin Fish, former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, and Motocross and Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael will join Thursday’s show. To end the work week, starting in July, Fan Fridays will originate live from inside the Peacock PitBox at the site of the weekend’s race.
“We send signals back to Stanford, CT, for some of the NASCAR America shows as well as some of the pre-race and post-race shows,” says Thomas. “[We] give them control of the show, and then, when it comes time [for us to go on-air], we take it back and [produce] the race.”
At the race track, NBC Sports’ lead NASCAR race announcer Rick Allen, Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte, and 21-time Cup Series race winner Jeff Burton will call the action from the booth. Earnhardt Jr. will also be joining the trio in the booth. During the pre-/post-race, Voda, Petty, and Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett will serve as the primary team, both setting the table and cleaning up the day’s activities on the track.
Inside the bowels of the garage and the high-speed action, the latest news will be relayed by Snider, Kelli Stavast, Dave Burns, and Kligerman.
“This sport is driven by the people telling the story of the race,” says Flood. “To me, that’s where this sport is going to grow. The more the story gets told by Jeff, Steve, Rick, and Dale Jr., they’re the people that will engage you at a higher level. The execution of these guys and their passion for the sport is what’s going to capture and grow the audience.”
Raising the Production Bar Every Season
The annual NASCAR season has become a staple property of NBC Sports. Every season, the production quality of each race improves and expands to cover every nook and cranny of the race track. For Thomas and the entire operations team, the ever-changing nature of technology in sports-video production will be used as an advantage.
“Every year, technology just keeps on growing and growing,” says Thomas. “The more content you can push, whether it’s inside the truck or outside the truck, or having the connectivity back to the studio in Stanford, [having that technological] bandwidth is king.”
Coverage of NBC Sports’ first race of the 2019 season, the Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 30.