It took four years and 143 races for NASCAR’s most popular driver to claim another Sprint Cup Series victory, but, last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Michigan International Speedway. Fittingly, Junior — as he is known throughout the sport, a nod to the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. — ended his winless streak on Father’s Day.
With two races down and four to go, Turner Sports’ six-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is well under way. And, although the network has unveiled several production enhancements, including a touchscreen application and weekly “NASCAR Generations” segment, races like Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 remind viewers that the most compelling element of any NASCAR race is the human element.
“We’re still very focused on telling the story,” says Tom Sahara, senior director, IT and remote operations/VP of operations and technology, Turner Sports. “We have a production crew that’s been very judicious in what they do, because we don’t want to put something in that’s going to detract from what’s going on on the track.”
In-Depth Analysis Aided by Robotic Car
Celebrating its 30th season of NASCAR coverage, Turner Sports debuted an on-set touchscreen application that allows on-air analyst Larry McReynolds to track drivers throughout the race, telestrate the action, provide real-time weather updates, and engage with the audience via social-media platforms. If a wreck occurs, McReynolds can replay the video and mark it, observe the reaction on Twitter, and more.
“There’s a lot of options that we have available to [McReynolds] that he can interact with, rather than having to be solely relying on what the producer puts on screen for him,” Sahara explains. “He’s really in control of that. So it gives him the flexibility to follow storylines that he sees developing.”
McReynolds’s segments will originate from a customized, unique broadcast unit that will house his own studio and base location to provide analysis using a cutaway display car. TNT will return the Off-Track Robotic Car (TORC) presented by Toyota, in which McReynolds can analyze pit-crew strategies and elaborate on the technical and mechanical aspects of the sport.
“It’s got cutaway views of the engine, transmission, the suspension,” says Sahara. “Anything that needs to be explained, he has all the tools that he needs at his disposal.”
In the Pit, as Well as the Car
Inside Trax, which follows a selected pit crew during the race, returns this season with several technical enhancements. TNT is deploying a POV on the crew chief and a handheld to follow the crew, in addition to wiring the crew chief for sound.
“You can actually hear what they’re talking about before and after pit stops,” Sahara elaborates. “It’s really giving the viewers the in-depth behind-the-scenes view — things that they don’t normally see in a telecast — and helps to shed some light on the strategies of the teams.”
TNT’s RaceBuddy on NASCAR.com will again provide live companion coverage from eight camera views and an option of two mosaic screens. Camera angles will include four In-Car Driver Cams, two Battle Cams highlighting head-to-head competition between drivers, a Backstretch Cam, and a Pit Road Cam. This season, RaceBuddy is enhanced with live in-race reports from Miss Coors Light.
TNT will provide Wide Open Coverage for the primetime Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on July 7. Wide Open uses a letterbox widescreen format to deliver unobstructed race action. In place of the national ads, the telecast features a variety of animated sponsor messages, branded content, and on-screen graphic elements.
Upgrades in the Compound
From this weekend’s Toyota/Savemart 350 in Sonoma, CA, to the New Hampshire 301 on July 15 and every stop in between, Turner Sports is rolling out NEP’s ST27 and SS-24C mobile units. ST27 was upgraded specifically for TNT’s Sprint Cup Series coverage with updated fiber optics, edit space, video walls, audio consoles, and MADI. According to Sahara, this upgrade reduces the number of cables that are run and decreases the space and weight of the units, thus improving fuel mileage.
“It’s reduced our setup time quite a bit,” says Sahara. “We used to spend a lot of time having to fax individual cables, but, because we moved over to this MADI digital audio and fiber optics for the video, troubleshooting and the cabling have been reduced considerably, so it saves a lot of time.”
Familiar Faces, New Segments
TNT’s NASCAR coverage will once again feature analysis by Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach, with play-by-play commentator Adam Alexander expanding his role with pre-race hosting responsibilities this season. McReynolds will provide analysis, and reporters Ralph Sheheen, Marty Snider, Matt Yocum, and Chris Neville will contribute.
TNT’s Countdown to Green pre-race coverage will feature a new segment called “NASCAR Generations,” a panel discussion touching on broad-ranging topics and storylines, including the state of NASCAR. It is hosted by Alexander alongside five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, legendary champions Ned Jarrett and Bill Elliott, as well as McReynolds and Petty.
“As much as they’re involved in the sport, they rarely get time to actually sit together and talk,” observes Sahara. “Anything that comes to mind, they just throw it out and start a discussion, so it’s really fun to watch and listen in. You can hear a lot of what is common across generations of drivers and then how things are changed so it really gives the viewer, in one setting, a way of hearing a lot about the history and the evolution of the sport.”