Indy 500 Returns: With No Fans at the Track, NBC Sports Looks To Bring Racing’s Greatest Spectacle to the Masses
IMS Productions’ fleet of trucks allow crew to follow COVID-19 protocols
NBC Sports Group heads into this weekend prepared to produce an Indianapolis 500 like no other before it. However, just because there won’t be fans at the track and it’s not Memorial Day Weekend, don’t expect a dip in the Peacock and host broadcaster IMS Productions quality or equipment levels on Sunday.
“Everything is onsite, [and] we’re really focused on executing out of the building,” says NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood. “Remember, it’s the home facility for IMS Productions, so it makes it very simple to execute out of that facility. Some added work is happening from people’s homes, but the majority of the content will be generated from [Indy].”
IMS Productions is providing the production facilities for NBC Sports with HD-5 as the main truck and HD-3, HD-4, and several office trailers onsite to provide ample room for the nearly 200-person production team to work safely on race day.
“The big difference is, everyone is usually in a packed compound with hundreds of people eating under a tent together,” says Flood. “Now everyone is taking their boxed lunch and going their separate ways. It’s a real separation of people following all the rules.”
In addition to the now familiar safety protocols in place for the crew, NBC has opted to have a single production team produce the pre-race show (cut from three hours to 90 minutes), the race itself, and the post-race show — as opposed to having separate preproduction team in years past.
“It just became a simpler way to execute it,” says Flood. “So one team starts the show and goes from on-air all the way through the checkers and the post-race show.”
NBC’s on-air talent will also be spaced out differently throughout the track to ensure social distance. Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick will be in the booth, tasked with providing the audience a sense of place at Indy Motor Speedway despite the fan-less stands. Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell will be in the Pagoda (as was the case during qualifying), and Paul Tracy will be positioned outside Turn 2. Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast and Kevin Lee will deliver live reports from pit row. In addition, without a crowd onsite, Rutledge Wood will look to engage the fans at home, and these elements will be integrated throughout Sunday’s telecast.
“[We want fans to] feel like they’re a part of this event because it is such a great gathering and such a passionate fan base,” says Flood. “For some, it’s the one race of the year they will watch. We hope they will watch a lot more, but let’s make sure we welcome all these fans into this great story, the tradition, the rituals that make the Indy 500 one of the great slices of Americana.”
This year’s Indy 500 kicks off a major run of (largely rescheduled) events on the NBC Sports calendar, with the Kentucky Derby the following Saturday, NFL Kickoff and the season premiere of Sunday Night Football (Sept. 10 and 13, respectively), and a new event: U.S. Open golf Sept. 14-20 at Winged Foot. But first comes Indy on Sunday. And, without fans onsite, NBC’s coverage will be the sole way that racing fans can see this year’s action.
“If you can’t be at the racetrack,” says Flood, “who would you rather hang out with to watch the race than Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick [and] a great combination of people to welcome you into the racetrack and have some fun with? Once the green flag falls, I couldn’t imagine a better group to listen to than Leigh, Paul, and Townsend and all the information that’s going to be gleaned from pit road by the amazing team down there. It couldn’t be a better setup to be at home.”