Daytona Rising Is Template for NASCAR Tracks’ Future
The renovated venue is designed to enhance both the fan and the broadcaster experience
Daytona Rising, the $400 million renovation of NASCAR’s flagship venue, will be officially unveiled for the upcoming Daytona 500 season-opening event. Intended to bring the onsite fan’s experience up to par with those of MLB, NFL, and NBA venues, the project is part of a strategy to improve the sport’s flagging attendance revenues, which were down 2.5%, at $239 million in ticket sales over the past year vs. $450 million brought in a decade ago.
The renovation is also intended to make life nicer for television broadcasters, who paid a reported $388 million to auto racing as a whole in 2014, according to ESPN. That’s why NASCAR Productions spent a good part of the past three years envisioning and then executing the massive undertaking — which produced 101,000 (wider and more comfortable) seats in a new, nearly mile-long grandstand — seeking input from broadcasters, particularly Fox Sports and NBC Sports, auto racing’s two biggest TV stakeholders, as to what they wanted in a new venue.
They had a long wish list, including miles of single-mode fiber and other infrastructure that has been integrated into the renovated edifice, seamlessly connecting the expanded broadcast compound with a new announce booth and new camera positions throughout the venue. Cabling that once flew point to point over the seats is now a fiber loop that runs in covered conduits throughout the campus and transports audio, video, and data feeds, including three separate VLANs for each team for each garage stall and pit.
In addition, video and data from the Hawkeye Innovations camera system, introduced last year and deploying up to 45 remote HD cameras to record every pit stop and automatically check for rules violations, will be sent over a Gigabit backhaul to NASCAR headquarters in Charlotte, NC, archived by NASCAR Productions and shared with the racing teams later.
(NASCAR’s onsite officiating, enhanced by this system last year, will be working again as well: the cameras feed a trailer in the TV compound where eight NASCAR officials sit at workstations with two computer screens each and scrutinize video for rule violations, such as the pit crew’s entering the pit stall too early.)
“Our job was to make the logistics and operations of our broadcast partners easier than they had been in the past,” says Craig Neeb, chief digital officer, International Speedway Corp. (ISC), a division of NASCAR that owns a dozen tracks, of which Daytona is the most prominent.
The sheer scale of the project was its biggest single challenge, he says. The A/V-systems integrator, The Integration Factory, Rockledge, FL, attached many of the 295 Community Sound R.5 and R.2 series weatherproof speakers to light poles on the ground and then hoisted the assemblies by crane to the top of the five-story-tall grandstand because the construction elevators had not yet been installed. In all, 2,791 audio speakers were installed throughout the venue, along with nearly 1,500 Samsung and Peerless 47-in. LCD screens mounted throughout the concourses and inside concessions and bathrooms.
CommScope, one of several DIS technology partners, deployed approximately 220 miles of its Systimax GigaSpeed XL Cat 6 cable, 50 miles of TeraSpeed single-mode fiber-optic cable. Two new, larger videoboards in the infield, each measuring 40 ft. tall x 80 ft. wide, flank two existing infield video screens; collectively, they provide 8,470 sq. ft. of viewing surface. The videoboards are supported in place by a 80- x 80-ft. custom structure built by NEP Screenworks, which fabricated and installed the new video systems.
But what really set the project apart, says Neeb, is that, unlike many new stadiums or arenas built next to old ones they were replacing, Daytona Rising’s renovation took place while the venue was in use for races.
“The Coke Zero race last July was the real test,” he explains. “We had to build a temporary announce booth for that race so that construction on the permanent one could proceed during the race.”
Daytona Rising is in tended to be the template for NASCAR tracks going forward, both to enhance the fan experience and to facilitate the broadcasters’ work and increase their cost-effectiveness — part of the calculation, says Neeb, of those stratospheric rights agreements. He says there is a “master plan” in place that will see the rest of ISC’s venues upgraded. There is no timetable at this point, he notes, but progress will be determined in part by the experience at Daytona, and older tracks, such as those in Richmond, VA; Phoenix; and Arlington, TX, will be scheduled for renovation earlier in the process, subject to board approval and an ROI analysis.
“We’ll do one at a time,” he says, “and what we learn here will help us elevate the fan and the broadcast experience everywhere.”