NASCAR’s Need for SPEED lasts all week long

Next Sunday NASCAR season kicks into high gear with NBC s coverage of the Daytona 500. But this week SPEED, the network devoted top motor sports, gets the coverage out of neutral with more than 70 hours of coverag of the big race.

Rick Miner, SPEED senior vice president, programming and production, oversees the massive effort that includes everything from interview shows like Trackside and SPEED News to full-blown race coverage. Feb. 17 the network will carry live coverage of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and on Feb. 11 it carried the ARCA race. Practice and qualifying sessions are also carried live.

This is the largest scope of any NASCAR event we do, says Miner. Speed will have four locations for its shows: the Speed stage truck (located trackside), a 24×8-foot stage in the infield, an anchor position on the garage roofs, and an indoor studio for inclement weather.

Along with sharing NBC s compound for on-the-track coverage SPEED has its own truck from NEP Supershooters that will handle non-racing coverage. And there s a lot of it: Trackside, Inside Nextel Cup, NASCAR Live, and NASCAR Victory Lane are among the shows it delivers to NASCAR fans. More than 100 people are brought in to handle the non-racing coverage.

Speed will also be expanding its equipment arsenal, adding Ikegami cameras to get all the action. Not counting the RF cameras we ll use 16 cameras for our coverage this year, an additional nine over last year, says Miner.

There will be a couple of changes. Speed will unveil a new graphics look thanks to Chyron Duets. Our goal is to make everything much more legible and that means much more 2D, he says. Traveling graphics and shadows make it difficult to read things so we told the designers to make our graphics legible first. Speed is also moving to Chyron HyperX systems during the year.

In terms of his biggest challenge Miner says its integrating all of the programming. There will be 10 days of racing activity that is fluid and requires us to react, he says. The weather and unpredictability mean that nothing ever runs on time.

In addition, the massive crowds means that doing things like having personnel responsible for more than one job becomes difficult. The crowds make it impossible to move people around, he says. It sounds great to have someone go from point A to point B but they might not be able to get there in a timely manner.

Miner handles overall coordination of SPEEDs coverage and also heads up the racing coverage. On race day he ll begin his day at dawn by looking at what he calls version 84 of a minute-by-minute schedule. Then he visits with sales, sponsors and VIPs to make sure everyone is seeing what they want to see. Then it s off to the truck to watch the first segment or two.

Then I go into the office trailer and watch the air monitor, he says. I want to see what the people at home see to make sure the viewer at home got the story. Did we say something that would leave them confused? Being in the truck you can t see that.

One of the interesting aspects of the NASCAR season is that while the broadcasts are split between NBC and Fox the personnel who work the races, whether its for NBC, Fox, or Speed is fairly consistent from one race to the next.

We use [director] Mike Wells, [producer] Sam Flood, and all of NBC s guys, says Miner. The people I pay to be in the truck handle the commercial elements of the broadcast.

As a result, much of the race coverage from one network to another has a similar rhythm and pacing. It also ensures that by season s end the NASCAR TV broadcast teams run as smoothly as the best crews on pit row.

One difference between SPEED s coverage the others, however, is that it doesn t guarantee airtime to companies that sponsor the in-car cameras. Each of the cameras in the cars have a sponsor whose logo is on-air during shots from that car. And some sponsors demand a certain amount of time in front of the viewers.

It creates a dilemma but I don t want to impinge on the integrity of the telecast, says Miner. If an in-car camera is in a car that isn t in the heat of things or the leaders aren t near them the sponsor might be unhappy with their return on investment. But our sales team understands the big picture.

Another difference is that Speed s coverage won t be seen by viewers in HD even though it produces all of its races with the same HD gear used by NBC and Fox. Everything we do at the track is in HD and all the graphics are built to 16:9, says Miner. It looks phenomenal but the backend transmission group [at Speed] doesn t have HD done.

One of the interesting things about NASCAR is that it begins its season with its largest and most popular event. As Miner says, it s a bit dyslexic. And it also means many of the technical innovations that are typically seen in the beginning of baseball, football or basketball season won t begin appearing for another month or two.

Right now we just want to hit the ground running, says Miner. We ll save the innovation for another day.

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