Awhile ago I was contacted by ESPN and invited to take a tour of their production facilities while I was at Chicagoland. I of course was delighted by the offer and immediately accepted. On Friday Andy Hall, one of the communications managers for ESPN, took me and Geoffrey Miller from AOL Fanhouse over to their production trailers on the other side of the track, way off behind the grandstands.
I know this is a really silly thing to point out but that was my first time on one of those go-karts everybody drives around during the race weekends. I was extremely happy about it, for one it’s a lot nicer to get a ride around the track (and not walk) and two, it kind of made me feel like I was “in” on things.
Once we arrived at the trailers, which were this little TV production town complete with a big catering tent, we entered the ESPN Tech Center. Qualifying for the Nationwide Series race was going on at the same time and so right as we stepped in there’s Tim Brewer watching the telecast. He said hello and apologized for not being able to talk to us because he had to concentrate on the action on the track and what his counterparts in the booth were saying in case they cut to him. Of course I completely understood, although I was afraid at some point they would cut to him while we were there and we’d have to duck out of his way with only seconds to spare. Luckily that didn’t happen, but then again it would have been to cool to see him in action.
It’s amazing how much stuff they have to put together and pull apart every week. The technology it takes just to make something that can look amazing, function but then collapse into a mobile size is mind blowing all on its own. I’m still surprised at how many moving parts and pieces there are to put these shows on, it’s amazing more things don’t go wrong. I mean, just imagine having to move your home every week, but add in 250 people and over 78,000 pounds of stuff. Crazy.
After saying goodbye to Tim we went into the production trailer where they were directing the qualifying session broadcast. There were a million screens and a million little buttons. It’s like a video game on steroids. Everybody had headsets on that connected them to about a dozen different people in various locations throughout the track.
I know fans get upset when they’re watching a race, a caution comes up, and they cut to commercial and come back after the green flag has flown. If you could see what goes into making a broadcast happen you might not get so upset the next time it happens. The people that work behind the scenes are striving for excellence and they work hard so that you don’t miss anything. I have a deep respect for their work. I don’t think a person takes that kind of job without having a serious passion for what they do. I know that I have no desire to have that much pressure sitting on my head every week.
Oh! On the ride over to the studios we were all talking and I asked if there were any plans for the NASCAR broadcasts to have the same side-by-side race view that the IndyCar broadcasts use. With side-by-side you get to still watch the race in the left hand side of the screen while commercials play on the right hand side. It’s similar to what TNT did for the Coke Zero race last week. Apparently NASCAR won’t allow ESPN to do this. Note to NASCAR: Uhm, what’s the problem here? Would you please make this happen? We all know we have to live with commercials but the side-by-side thing makes it seem less obvious and really you wouldn’t have to worry about getting back to those green flags as much.
So the tour was awesome and I’m so grateful that I got a chance to go behind the scenes and see how a race broadcast is created.
Tim Brewer watches and waits for the call to explain the technical details of racing
So there’s a cool story behind this tire. It came off of David Gilliland’s car at Indianapolis last year. He was doing his practice run and his car spun out. Thinking quickly Tim Brewer immediately got on the phone with a contact of his from Goodyear and within minutes they got the tire over to him in the ESPN Tech Center so that he could show it on air. What a great way to show off the Tech Center in its debut!
So I’m total girl and I was curious about the clothes! The pit road reporters don’t have to wear the firesuits, it’s totally voluntary.