Fox Sports Set for Return of NASCAR; L.A. Production Team to Handle EVS, Graphics

SVP, operations and technology Mike Davies details the delicate process

NASCAR is returning to Fox Sports this Sunday with The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, kicking off a nine-week schedule of racing that runs through June 21. “We’re thrilled to back in a TV compound and giving our team a chance to do what they love but it’s totally different,” says Mike Davies, Fox Sports, SVP, operations and technology. “It’s a different compound and a different feel but we’re making TV again.”

NASCAR on FOX returns on Sunday with live racing from Darlington Motor Speedway in South Carolina.

The core components are all still there: Game Creek Video’s Cleatus production unit; NEP’s Shared Resources Truck (SRT); BSI for in-car cameras; and CAT for power.

“In-car cameras are still a huge part of what we do, and we will have a helicopter for aerial shots as with fewer coverage cameras the aerial shots are quite helpful,” says Davies. “The shots aren’t just about beauty and wide shots.”

The Featherlight operations and production trailer has been transformed into an on-site doctor’s office where employee health and screenings can be done as quickly as possible and an additional container is on hand for sanitation needs.

“For a lot of TV shows around the world you have to rebuild everything from scratch because there is a limit to the amount of people that are on site as NASCAR came up with the safety plan and a very different schedule,” says Davies. “There is no qualifying and practice. The whole production was very much a cooperative effort between NASCAR, the municipalities, the tracks, and Fox Sports.”

Crew safety has always been a top concern at NASCAR given the nature of the sport and a busy pit road and garage area. The Coronavirus pandemic adds a totally different level of safety demands and Davies says that every decision with respect to the entire event have been made with NASCAR to maximize that safety in light of the Coronavirus.

“We did a lot of preparation at the office and with NASCAR,” says Davies. “We employed a table-top exercise to think of any problems that might occur.”

For example, the seating map in Cleatus had to be redone to accommodate social distancing and plexiglass dividers were installed even though everyone in the new plan was seated six feet apart. There is also more space between the trucks to give people more room to roam without violating six-foot social distancing guidelines.

“We are promoting the wearing of facemasks and copious hygiene but we also divide the crew into very small functional groups to make it easier to contact trace everybody in the compound,” says Davies. “Catering is also very different as buffets are a thing of the past.”

Sanitizing a production truck with all of its nooks and crannies is being provided by Constellis which makes cleaning robots that are used in medical facilities.

“It also cleans equipment cable, cameras, and then headsets can be sanitized in a UVC cabinet,” adds Davies.

Also helping minimize the number of people on site is having only one pit road reporter and then keeping the main play-by-play and analysts located in Charlotte, NC. Reductions of any kind are not really wanted to do or set out to do, but the situation simply demanded lower numbers on site.

“Our announcers are in Charlotte, NC at our network center in a similar setup as we used for the NASCAR iRacing,” says Davies. “We will also have EVS and graphics operations in Los Angeles with the EVS operators there controlling the EVS equipment in Darlington from Los Angeles in a socially distanced environment.”

Everyone in the production completed a screening questionnaire and took their temperature for five days at home before being screened on site by the medical staff.

“The most difficult thing is being on site and developing new habits that have been built over 10, 20, even 30 years,” says Davies. “You have to think carefully about the sequencing of doing even the simplest task like running cables to cameras. There is still a lot of room for evolution and learning.”