Fox Offers Asphalt-Level Perspective With Inertia Unlimited Revamped GopherCam

NASCAR fans tuning into this Sunday’s Daytona 500 on Fox better fasten their seatbelts before flipping on their big-screens. Inertia Unlimited’s newly modified GopherCam system promises to offer a unique — and startling — new perspective.

“The reason this GopherCam works so well is that it’s an extremely unnatural angle,” Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman says of the pair of GopherCams, which are imbedded directly into the Daytona track. “In real life, you are just not used to watching a car come at you at 200 miles per hour and go right over the top of you. It’s a jarring shot that, in my opinion, offers a truly show-stopping angle of the race.”

Inertia Unlimited’s Jeff Silverman drills hole for one of two GopherCam positions at Daytona.

Inertia Unlimited’s Jeff Silverman drills hole for one of two GopherCam positions at Daytona.

The GopherCam system has been a staple of Fox’s Daytona 500 coverage for five years, but Inertia Unlimited significantly modified the camera this year to create an even more compelling shot of the cars racing by. Always an ultra-miniature system, the latest iteration is even smaller, allowing Fox to position it almost anywhere on the track.

“Due to the optical technology we have developed, the entire height of the camera sensor — the highest point above the surrounding pavement — is just 1/10 of an inch,” says Silverman. “It’s almost equal to a piece of sand — basically unnoticeable. When we started this six years ago, we were at a hair more than ¼ of an inch, then cut it down to 3/16 of an inch, and now 1/10 of an inch. You have to have some height so you can see down the track, but this is about as close as it gets to zero height.”

The new GopherCam is years in the making and, according to Silverman, was designed with the help of the same company that designed the corrective optics for the Hubble Space Telescope. The revamped GopherCam system features a brand-new lens custom-built by Inertia Unlimited to capture a wide field of view (65 degrees horizontal) despite shooting through a pinhole in the track.

“About 3 or 4 mm in front of the lens, all the rays of light that goes into the lens converge into a point,” says Silverman. “At that point, we put an extremely small prism. For baseball, it is 2 x 2 mm square. We are stuffing all the light through a tiny hole and turning it 90 degrees down into the lens. That allows us to shoot and see a completely unobstructed wide field of view. To my knowledge, no lens exists to do this kind of feat.”

Fox and Inertia have positioned two GopherCams on the track at Daytona. The first is in the front stretch 5 ft. from the wall just after the pit-road exit. The second is located at the dead center of the backstretch.

“We drilled holes in those two new positions, and we put them in spots where we anticipate the cars will be going regularly,” says Silverman. “In the front stretch, we are expecting to be underneath almost every single car, and, at that point, they are doing over 200 mph. And [on the backstretch], the cars come out of turn two tight to the wall, and they actually drop in a little bit to the center of the backstretch. That’s exactly where we’re going to be.”

Of course, anytime a camera — no matter how small — is placed directly into the asphalt of a NASCAR track, there is always the concern that it will somehow affect the race itself. However, both NASCAR and Daytona Motor Speedway proved to be quite accommodating.

“NASCAR has always been cooperative,” Silverman says, “but they have reached a new level of cooperation recently with us. We scouted a couple months ago at Daytona and met with NASCAR. When we agreed to modify the camera a bit, they let us take the exact position we wanted. This is going to be our ‘eureka’ moment.

“The operations staff at Daytona have also been incredibly cooperative over the years,” he continues, “but this year has been amazing. There is hardly ever a time where I’ve asked for something and haven’t gotten it from them.”

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