Live From Daytona 500: Fox Sports Studio Team Parks in Old Victory Lane for Stunning Backdrop
The foldable set was created in partnership with Filmwerks
For the first sold-out Daytona 500 since the pre-pandemic era, it’s only fitting that fans watching at home can witness the raucous crowds in the stands. Although the race broadcast will show the throngs in numerous ways, Fox Sports’ remote studio team has constructed an onsite set in one of the best locations at Daytona International Speedway: the old victory lane positioned right in front of the start/finish line.
“A lot of the people on this crew were working on their first NASCAR event last year,” says Rob Mikulicka, director, remote studio operations, Fox Sports, “but a packed house with fans is what makes this race special. The excitement is going to be on a much different level this year.”
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Safety in Mind: COVID-19 Protocols Move Set Away from the Concourse
Sunday’s race will be hosting a lot more fans than last year’s, but the studio setup will be in the same location as last year. Previously, the broadcaster emphasized fan interaction, placing the prerace desk amongst the fans in the concourse. After the pandemic, Mikulicka and his crew met with the folks at NASCAR in late December 2020 to early January 2021 to come up with a more COVID-friendly approach.
The best answer arrived at was to move the on-air talent away from the crowds and into a more controlled environment adjacent to the Chevrolet Fan Experience building. This prime spot guarantees beautiful views of the teams on pit road, fans enjoying their time in the grandstands, and a tight shot of the checkered racing line, where the race will both begin and end, but it doesn’t get in the way of patrons using the Chevrolet building.
“We had a couple of site visits to take measurements a month and a half before the race,” says Mikulicka. “We wanted to make sure that the roof of our desk wouldn’t ruin the sight lines of Chevrolet’s clients and VIPs. We took a bunch of notes from last year, but we didn’t have as much planning this year.”
With no room for error, the team used the same studio set deployed two weeks ago at the Busch Light Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Not only was it a success at NASCAR’s premiere preseason race, but the setup was familiar and able to shrink in size. Featuring mechanical arms developed by Filmwerks, the compact set can be raised and collapsed at a moment’s notice.
Down Below: Operations Team Works Beneath the Set
At a glance, the physical set reflects the NASCAR on Fox brand: blue flooring, steel beams, and appropriate lighting (engineered by Airtime Lighting’s Jeffry Gregson). This set reaches a height of 6 ft. from the ground to the main deck, and that decision was intentional. Since Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile unit is handling the race and prerace, the truck isn’t able to comfortably fit the broadcast and studio teams. To compensate for the lack of space, the core of the studio operations team will be operating underneath the set within that 6-ft. gap. Debuted at the Clash in Los Angeles, it requires the drilling of small holes on the main deck to allow cabling to pass through and ample room to place equipment out of sight.
“We basically built a remote-control room for our audio mixers and technical managers with video routers and high-bright monitors like you would normally see in a truck,” says Amy Burns, manager, remote studio operations, Fox Sports. “Our back-of-house [crew and hardware] is now under the house.”
The studio set and mini production compound is built on functionality, but it also focuses on providing a safe working environment. Since the Great American Race is located in Central Florida, the unpredictable weather is a roll of the dice. For instance, the last two races were postponed to the following Monday after inclement weather.
To keep the prerace and postrace shows on the rails, the physical set is equipped with necessary features to withstand heavy rain. A slanted roof extending a foot beyond the set water runoff to go behind the structure, and waterproof curtains shield from rain from any direction along the curved awning. In protect from severe thunderstorms or lightning flashes, the crew outfitted the roof with multiple 10-ft. poles that can catch lightning strikes, harness and filter the energy away from the set, and prevent power outages. And the set can withstand upwards of 80-mph winds, but, in an abundance of caution, the set would be dismantled at anywhere close to 35-mph winds.
“[Fox Sports VP, Remote Studio Operations, Rod Conti] worked with Filmwerks to modify the design a little bit,” adds Mikulicka. “Last year was the first time where we had to shut the set down due to unsafe winds. A couple of the panels on the roof started coming loose, so we’ve actually screwed them down and have done that on every show since last year’s Daytona 500.”
Full Team Effort: Fox Sports and NASCAR Create Remarkable Onsite Presence
Mikulicka and Burns are two of the main figures on this onsite project, but there are more individuals who have made this activation a reality. Also pitching in were Art Director Johnny Cho; Technical Managers Mike Vaughn and Cory Scott; Technical Producers Daniel James, George Grill, Pete Chalverus, Clyde Taylor, and Mark Alsmeyer; and Production Manager Karin Fasing.
On the NASCAR side, the broadcaster has relied on the help of VP, Operations and Technical Production, Steve Stum; Managing Director, Broadcasting, Ben Baker; Senior Director, Broadcasting, Lauren Hill; Director, Track Communications, Russell Branham; Senior Manager, Technical Ops, Mark Hull; Compound Technical Manager Wayne Nelson; and Compound Operations Managers Bill Papadopoulos and Jamie Wolfe.
Above all, Mikulicka says, the execution of a large-scale effort like this is led by Conti: “His vision is the glue that holds us all together. We have great relationships with the people that we work with, and that all starts with him.”