Indy 500: NBC Sports Introduces Virtual Car, Pit-Box SpyCams to Memorial Day Tradition

The usual two SpyCams will be bumped up to six for Sunday’s race

The Indianapolis 500 is an experience best observed in person, but, for fans who can’t make it to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, NBC Sports is deploying tech toys and storylines befitting an event of this magnitude. The customary in-car cameras will once again be situated in the cockpit, but the broadcaster is adding virtual-car graphics to the broadcast and boosting the number of SpyCam POV cameras in pit lane.

“We enjoy when there are new elements to deal with,” says Rene Hatlelid, producer, NBC Sports. “We’re extremely excited about adding more technology to this race.”

New Workflows: SpyCams, Virtual Car Bring Viewers Closer to the Action

NBC Sports is always looking to bring new and interesting angles to a marquee race that it has broadcast since 2019. Fans have become familiar with a handful of production techniques seen on numerous motorsports disciplines: in-car POVs, POVs along the track, super-slow-motion cameras to highlight the tight corners drivers navigate, jib cameras extending over the pit wall.

The INDYCAR version of Virtual Car that was shown during Friday’s practice.

To vary the looks and keep the viewer coming back for more, the broadcaster is leaning into its use of SpyCam: an additional POV camera positioned in the pit box to showcase the real-time discussions and emotions of a driver’s support staff. Typically, these cameras highlight a team’s top engineer or spotter, and, in previous races in 2024, NBC Sports has opted for only two of the devices. For this weekend, the crew plans to install a total of six at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).

“We have these SpyCams every week,” notes Hatlelid, “but we’re looking to up the ante a bit on Sunday. [The cameras] will add to our normal portfolio of onboard cameras and other equipment around the course.”

This graphic explains the role of a weightjacker that’s inside the car.

In the truck, the team is looking to integrate a new virtual-car graphic into the broadcast. Similar to the virtual car that’s been shown on NBC Sports’ coverage of NASCAR, the network recruited the skills of UK-based Chris Beatty Design to recreate a three-dimensional and authentic replica of a single-seat, open-cockpit IndyCar. Geared towards being an educational tool to identify certain parts of a car that casual fans might not know or give context to intricate pieces that they’ll discuss throughout the day, the front bench needs to find the right time to show this explainer video without missing the action on the track.

“Two of the biggest things the driver can control are the weightjacker and the anti-roll bar, so the goal is to educate the viewer when we show these [videos] during pre-race and potentially during in-race,” says Mac Swenson, associate producer, NBC Sports. “When [analysts] Townsend [Bell] and [James] Hinch[cliffe] talk about these two items, this will help the viewer understand what’s really going on when the driver utilizes those parts.”

Cars will be outfitted with a reverse shot of the driver in the cockpit.

In addition, both the broadcast and the in-venue experience will be supported with solutions by SMT. On the broadcast side, SMT’s real-time data and statistics will populate NBC’s Race Pylon with pertinent information like Interval Behind Leader, Fast Lap Speed, Last Lap Speed, Manufacturer, Last Pit Lap, Laps Since Last Pit, and the five Headshot Leaderboard to Break. The Pylon will also be supplemented by telemetry on its lower half, which will display an individual car’s current speed, RPM, Brake and Throttle Data, and  Lower Quarter and Half Green Flag Pit Stop Times. Viewers will also see a hat graphic to stay informed of the running order during commercial breaks. In the compound, a handful of services will be useful on Sunday, including an AD Station that allows the assistant director to use an SMT laptop on the SMT Graphic Network to set up commercial breaks and control the SMT Break Clock Prompter to keep segments on track. The crew will also tap into SMT’s Duet Interface with thousands of racing stats for the four IMS Duets on-site: two for NBC’s live race coverage, one for NBC’s pre-race coverage, and one for international coverage. Up in the booth, a SMT-powered Video Prompter will highlight Current Running Order, Championship Standings, Current Segment/Break Time, and much more to keep the announce booth on the same page with the production trucks. For fans taking in the race from inside IMS, an SMT operator can run one application to control the five render machines that can feed the multiple videoboards around the venue.

Dual Storylines: Kyle Larson Seeking the Double, Jimmie Johnson in Peacock Pit Box

Every driver is looking to leave their mark on the historic race, but two in particular will be capturing the attention of viewers. Both Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson are looking to pull off a unique “Double,” or the chance to participate in two races on the same day. This Sunday, the Indy 500 will be in the daytime, and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, NC, will take place at night. Looking to become the second driver in history to start and complete both races —Tony Stewart accomplished the feat in 1999 and 2001 — Larson will have completed 1,100 miles of racing.

The Peacock Pit Box will once again take its position behind pit lane on Sunday.

“Practice and qualifying showed that doing this isn’t just a flash in the pan,” says Hatlelid. “We’ve known this for years, but he’s one of the world’s greatest drivers. I’ll be on the edge of my seat to see what he’s going to do in the 500, and I wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to win this race.”

Johnson will be in the booth at IMS and, like Larson, in a car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion will be joining NBC Sports for four races on the INDYCAR calendar, beginning in Indianapolis and including responsibilities during the pre-race show with Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick and during the race in the Peacock Pit Box. Johnson will contribute to the call done by play-by-play announcer Leigh Diffey, Bell, and Hinchcliffe. Reporters scheduled to make an appearance include Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Dave Burns, and Dillon Welch in pit lane and Jeff Burton and Kim Coon roaming the infield.

“Jimmie will be able to detail what Kyle’s going through, the differences between their cars, and what he’ll be feeling in the moment,” says Hatlelid. “I think it’s priceless that Jimmie can also speak about his experience with racing in the Indy 500 [in 2022].”

Back Home in Indiana: NBC Sports Looks Forward to Another Holiday at IMS

In what has become an annual tradition at NBC Sports, the crew relishes the time they get to spend in Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend. At IMS, fans of all ages make new memories that are attached to the sport forever, and so it is for the production crew, who consider it a privilege to serve as a conduit between the viewing public and the iconic racing venue.

BSI’s mobile unit and the other trucks at the IMS broadcast compound.

“It’s an indescribable feeling when you walk past the Yard of Bricks on the morning of the Indy 500,” says Hatlelid. “I take so much pride out of this race and the team that I work with because the weeks of work that we put into this broadcast will come across to the viewers watching at home on Sunday.”

Coverage of the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26 begins with pre-race at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and Peacock. Green flag will be waved about 12:30 p.m. on NBC, Peacock, and Universo.

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