For many years now, Champ Car fans have been critical of
the quality of the TV presentation of their favorite race series. I
think it is safe to say that most fans have no idea of the complexities
involved in actually presenting a Champ Car race LIVE on Network
Television. This task is made much more difficult because the majority
of the races are on road or street circuits, where the action is more
difficult to follow.
Most sports, including baseball, football, basketball,
soccer, and even NASCAR, are played in a confined stadium where all the
action on the playing field is happening right down in front of you -
you can see the entire playing field.
Not so for Champ Car's road and street circuits that
wind through city streets or up and down hills in some remote location.
You can't see the entire playing field from one vantage point, and
neither can the TV production crew. As such it takes an incredible
amount of coordination, and real-time communication to do it right.
Champ Car's Mark
Reilly (L) and TV Producer John Mullin
I had the opportunity to watch a live race
production for a short period of time in Denver this year, and was
bowled over by the high intensity, pressure cooker scene I witnessed.
While getting ready for race day takes many days of preparation, those
2.5 hours during the actual race itself certainly isn't for the faint of
Just five minutes in the main command center where the
Producer and race Director sit is enough for one to say, holy shit.
There are about 10 people in the command center and at any one given
time there could be three or more people shouting over one another, one
command or another. At times it sounds like the Tower of Babel.
Last weekend, prior to race day at Road America, Champ Car TV
John Mullin, and Champ Car VP of Broadcast Sales and Distribution, Mark
Reilly, took time out of their very busy day to take me through the TV
compound and explain what it takes to produce and broadcast a race -
from the main command center, to the video taping and playback room, to
the international broadcast feed trailer, to the graphics room, to the
mobile pit and car cameras. It's like a little city - they even have one
trailer just for power alone.
In addition to the incredible amount of
equipment it takes to produce each race, over 100 people are
involved, far more than any race team, or even Champ Car, brings
to an event.
To capture it all meant culling through a lot of audio
tape, and it still ended up four pages (4 parts) long.
Like Champ Car, racing TV production is highly technical, and to
do it justice required this lengthy article.
Primary TV Production Truck
Primary TV Production Truck wall of monitors includes a live feed from every
stationary camera (manned or unmanned), every mobile camera, the
video playback feeds as well as what the viewer is seeing on the TV
at home. Gary Clem the Director is in the white shirt and to his right is
the Pit Producer. The Producer, John Mullin, sits to his
JOHN MULLIN: This is the main control room for what we call the domestic
feed, understanding that we're producing two shows simultaneously when
we're on the air. We're producing a show for the American and the
Canadian audience out of this control room. This is the primary effort.
This is where all the assets and the resources are, all here.
At the same time, we have a truck for the
international distribution. Over 180 countries are taking the
Basically what this control room affords us is
the ability to monitor virtually every visual source that we
have throughout a racecourse. The coverage breaks down into
several types of cameras -- for instance, we have 14 manned
cameras at Road America, which is a four-mile course. In
addition to that, we have four unmanned cameras, which are
called points of view cameras within the industry. These are
locked cameras which present interesting angles of the race.
Some folks refer to them a speed shots.
We also have cameras on three cars. Each one of
those in-car cameras shows you three different views.
Finally, we have two RF cameras which stay with
our two Pit Reporters, Jon Beekhuis and Cameron Steele.
Networks love to play the camera game, and if you want to start
counting cameras at a Champ Car event, you’ll quickly close on
the number thirty.
In just camera cable alone, we've got about
80,000 feet this weekend. The Units start rolling in on Monday
and we usually have cameras by late Thursday.
Next to the camera monitors are the monitors for
all of the tape machines What happens is, for instance, camera
No. 1, in the way we do things, is always going to 81. If you
hear somebody calling for 81, it's a videotape source.
Then we have three digital recording devices
called EVS’s. They are called Elvis. They are simply able to do
more than a single tape machine. They can take four feeds in
simultaneously and play two out simultaneously. We can actually
edit while we're taking feeds in. Right now we're in
preproduction, getting all of the various elements that we might
call into the show ready.
This gentleman over here is called the Technical Director. His
name is Mike Thompson, and he is responsible for all of the
video that's going on the air. He has the ability to create all
of the special effects that you see, everything that the
Director calls and asks for.
Gary Clem is the Director. He is responsible for managing all of
these various visual inputs.
What the viewer sees is a combination between Gary and myself as
the Producer. I tell the story. Probably the best way to think
of our partnership is that I tell the story, while Gary
illustrates the pages. Gary is an Emmy-award winning race
Director. He's done thousands of hours of racing. He's forgotten
more about racing than most people ever learn.
I produce the show from the chair next to Gary. I coordinate the announcers, all of the tape machines plus all
of the graphics. We run a very intensive television show as we
have many, many elements to get within each program, so, as you
have witnessed, things are pretty busy in this truck.
Sitting beside me is a Pit Producer. He listens to what it is
we're doing collectively and works with us in terms of getting
the stories from the pits in.
The Associate Director, Bill Herbstman, is responsible for all
of the timing and coordination. You'll note right now he’s timing
everything we produce so that he knows how long it is and makes
sure it doesn't run out on the air.
He also coordinates when we're live with the network, all of the
commercial breaks. He gets them timed correctly so it's a
seamless handoff with the network and also a seamless take back
from the network.
This afternoon we'll do a qualifying show which is live to tape.
He will be responsible for bringing us in on time.
Sitting right beside him is our Font Coordinator, Jeff Paris, one of the
best in the business. He works with the Deko operator sitting over
there, John DeGrandis. Think of the machine he is working, called a
Deko, as a titling device that is turbocharged. It can do amazing
things. CBS, for whom we produced three races this season, prefers the
Deko to other machines, so we use it all season long for consistency.
In TV graphics departments, there are basically two graphics machines
out there. One is called a Duet and one is called the Deko. Some
networks like the Duet and some networks like the Deko (Deko and Duet
are the company names).
In Champ Car, we do what's called a Champ Car centric look, meaning we
have been able to get the various networks we work with to accept one
look, which is rather unusual. When you see a Champ Car show, it's
always the same graphics regardless of whether it's on CBS, NBC, or
SPEED, as long as it's Champ Car.
There's a different story for Atlantics because it only airs on SPEED.
For that series, because it airs only on SPEED, we use a Duet machine
because that is what that network prefers.
Over here is our real-time scoring. Real-time is what we call the hat or
the ribbon. The ribbon goes across the top of the screen. The viewer
sees the ribbon a lot as it contains the live standings during the race.
We work very hard at trying to put a face to the helmet. That's why all
these graphics in the upper left-hand screen are coming in. I know, for
instance, a Champ Car devotee may get tired of looking at that shot of,
say, Dan Clarke. But I'm not really putting it up there for the
hard-core fan. I'm putting it up there to get somebody who is a casual
fan to start to understand who that guy is, to begin to care about the
competitors. That is a very important part of our responsibility to
Champ Car. Story telling is what it is all about - making the new viewer
care about the sport, while giving the committed fan what he or she
wants as well.
Part 2 |
Part 3 | Part 4
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