SPEED Traveling "Circus" Takes Army to Move
When the SPEED™ traveling TV “circus” hits the road in February for 100 hours of NASCAR in High Definition at Daytona, the journey will begin with six tractor trailers carrying roughly 380,000 pounds … every nut and bolt it takes to air the NASCAR on SPEED programming each weekend.
Ninety-percent of SPEED’s NASCAR programming originates from the race track, highlighted by NASCAR RaceDay, Trackside Live, NASCAR Victory Lane, NASCAR Live, Tradin’ Paint and NASCAR Performance. These sets and the people who maintain them spend the entire season as nomads on the road, residents of the “city” they construct at each race track.
NASCAR on SPEED broadcasts live from four primary sets that travel from one speedway to the next. Seventy people, television production crew excepted, are dedicated to getting these mammoth stages to and fro each week, while six employees do nothing but set up and tear down the sets.
“We have the main stage from which Trackside Live and NASCAR Live broadcast,” said Rick Miner, SPEED Senior VP of Production and Network Operations. “There is also a NASCAR RaceDay stage, a NASCAR Victory Lane set, which is really a portable desk, and a NASCAR Performance set, which is more of a background prop and staging area than an actual set. Plus, there are additional desks and pieces.”
Similar to when the big circus comes to town, SPEED’s entourage is a huge production with significant behind-the-scenes work that usually goes unnoticed.
The NASCAR Live and Trackside sets fold out from their tractor trailer. To create the Trackside set, the crew simply adds an extension to the smaller NASCAR Live set. The Tradin’ Paint set is also a scaled-down version of the Trackside set.
The sets, which are all being revamped for the 2008 NASCAR season, consist of stairways, lights, generators, air conditioning units, public address systems and rolling office spaces, among other items. When they roll onto track property, there is a pre-determined place they are parked and remain for the entire weekend.
“We have a designated 100x125 footprint for these sets we negotiate with the tracks and it’s to both of our advantages to have them in high-traffic flow areas,” Miner said. “The NASCAR on SPEED programs provide valuable entertainment to the fans at the track and the speedways recognize that.”
The trucks and their cargo leave one track and head directly to the next venue, arriving early in the week to begin the tedious and laborious process of constructing the “television city.” One of the trucks is a bus the crew members live in, creating a true TV city, while the other five haul sets, cameras and lighting for the SPEED programming.
“Our people start out by laying out and unfolding the stages, hanging the lights, arranging the basic compound shape, setting up the generators and running power to all the stages,” Miner added. “These are all extremely large and heavy pieces and it takes a couple of days to get everything set up before the TV production crew pulls into town.”
All the sets are designed, owned and transported by JHE Entertainment Group.
“I cannot say enough good things about JHE,” Miner said. “Trackside was the first, fully-mobile stage for TV they did, so we’ve also helped them grow tremendously.”
At the end of a long weekend, the crew doesn’t haphazardly throw the equipment back into the trucks in an attempt to beat traffic out of the race track. There is a fine art to packing all these sets and their components into the trucks each week.
“Everything is stored in a specific place,” Miner explained. “When we unload the semis, the equipment is removed in the same order each time and when we pack them back up, it all goes back in a certain order or nothing will fit. It’s like putting together a huge and cumbersome puzzle because one wrong move will wreck the whole process.”
The weekend isn’t over when NASCAR RaceDay closes and tosses to the race broadcast. The crew sticks around until the conclusion of the race when NASCAR Victory Lane hits the air. When the checkered flag waves, there is a mad scramble to get the stage ready for the broadcast and sometimes this process is seen live on the air.
“NASCAR Victory Lane is actually in Victory Lane and we don’t even start to set it up until after the green flag waves,” Miner stated. “Depending on the track, we might be able to get it a little closer to Victory Lane on Saturday but generally it doesn’t even go into the track until Sunday. Of course, there are times when we barely get everything ready in time for John Roberts to begin talking and have had to roll the guys in on a trailer live.”
The SPEED crew is accustomed to rolling with these punches and as one would expect with live, outside programming, weather can play a major role. However, SPEED is prepared to deal with these unpredictable and uncontrollable scenarios.
“We can cope with rain with stage roofs and sides but lightning and wind are our problems,” Miner said. “Lightning can take us off the air while wind can become problematic because these sets can become sails. We’ve seen what a track looks like after straight-line winds and we don’t want the crowd standing out there in those conditions.”
However, asking the diehard fans in the SPEED crowd to take cover and getting them to do it are two different things.
“When we did Trackside two years ago at Charlotte’s Speed Streets, we had tornado warnings,” Miner recalled. “I told the crowd we were delaying the live show by 30 minutes until the weather cells passed and they should take cover. Soon after, it started hailing and they started chanting, ‘Hail no, we won’t go.’”
These loyal and sometimes fanatical fans are what make the NASCAR on SPEED programming so popular. Thousands of people gather at the SPEED stage decked out in costumes, hats and shirts supporting their favorite driver. They expect SPEED to deliver a unique and entertaining product, and the process of setting up shop at the track is the first step in meeting these expectations.
“Simply getting the SPEED shows to the track every weekend is a lot of work but it’s worth it,” Miner said. “We are able to take the show to the fans and put them in the middle of it. We are right out there with the fans and they make a great show for us every time.”