NASCAR, The Famous Group Team Up for Another Lap of Mixed-Reality Magic at Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte

Drone is deployed in a first for MR activation

Last week’s rain-delayed, crash-filled Coca-Cola 600 proved to be one of the wildest races of the NASCAR Cup Series season thus far. And there were plenty of fireworks beyond the action on the track as well, with NASCAR and The Famous Group teaming up for the second time this year on an innovative mixed-reality (MR) activation honoring 75 years of NASCAR. The 1-minute feature, which was among the first to deploy a drone for mixed reality, appeared during Lap 100 of Fox Sports’ broadcast as well as on videoboards at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We set out to create a visually stunning activation celebrating all things that have made NASCAR such an amazing part of American culture,” says Hemu Karadkar, creative director, The Famous Group (TFG). “It was an added bonus that the activation was going to happen at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend. We got to play into the Americana theme for the creative for the show.”

Inside the Creative: Honoring 75 Years of NASCAR History

The piece paid homage to NASCAR’s 75-year history and featured mixed-reality footage showing legendary drivers and cars from the past, as well as audio from classic Fox broadcasts.

The segment, which builds on a mixed-reality activation produced by NASCAR and TFG at the Daytona 500 in February, focused on a giant construction of the number 75, representing the 75th year of NASCAR. The numeral became a sculptural piece housing the iconic elements that have become synonymous with the NASCAR brand. Time-lapse animation allowed viewers to see the various elements representing the different eras as they were placed in the numbers. As the animation was triggered, the 75th-anniversary car come out of a portal representing the future of the brand and landed on a platform that served as a base for the 75.

“We took a deep dive into researching things that have become iconic to the brand,” says Karadkar. “Representing some famous drivers through their numbers and cars that have left a legacy on the sport. Introducing the Mount Rushmore of the NASCAR world.”

To five iconic tracks and trophies — plus the eagle from the Pocono Raceway trophy flying across the American flag — TFG added in some fun background elements, including the iconic Sunoco fuel cans, Goodyear tires, an F-16 flyover, and fireworks completing the Americana theme.

TFG collaborated closely with NASCAR Head of Content Strategy Amy Anderson and SVP/Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark with the goal of creating something visually stunning that also helped to build buzz around the 75th-anniversary celebration.

“Tim, Amy, and their team wanted something that would highlight the forward thinking at NASCAR,” notes Karadkar. “The use of mixed-reality–led creative definitely helped present the 75th-anniversary theme in a unique way. Our partnership with Fox Sports on many mixed-reality activations was also a huge advantage in pulling off this creative.”

Inside the Technology: Drone Plays a Key Role in MR Activation

To create the segment, TFG, NASCAR, and Fox Sports deployed two tracked cameras using Stype and one drone using Pixotope Fly, with the signals fed directly into render servers running Unreal Engine 5.11 and Stypeland. “The unique thing about this activation is the use of a drone for mixed reality,” says Karadkar, “a first of its kind in the live event.”

All tracking data went into a machine running Stage Precision, which serves as TFG’s central hub and control machine. The data was calibrated, aligned, and corrected in Stage Precision, then passed on to the render engines.

The video feeds with the composited MR were output from the render system directly into the broadcast truck at 1080p59.94 and Rec. 2020. Audio for the piece was sent externally (rather than embedded in the SDI since Stypeland wasn’t able to do that) and embedded in the live feed in the truck.

“Activations of this scale offer an opportunity to tell unique brand stories on a bigger stage,” says Karadkar. “Stories are developed to take advantage of a different canvas than the traditional media formats. In the past three years, we have seen a greater awareness from brands for the potential of AR and mixed-reality activations to build buzz.”

The creative was led by Karadkar, and the Unreal Engine team was led on the art side by UE/Art Director Jeremy Lobdell and on the technology side by Technical Director Ben Ryle, who played a key role in execution of the project. TFG VP, Production Technology, Erik Beaumont oversaw the production, along with in-house NASCAR expert and Lead Producer Gil Colon, who helped add accuracy to the creative. On the live-broadcast side, Fox Sports director Bryan Lilly and producer Jake Jolivette were at the front bench. Long-time TFG collaborator Zoic Studios helped in animating and developing key visual elements of the activation in Unreal Engine, and Liveyard Productions helped with the car animations.

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