Forget Chevy or Ford, ESPN drives NEP for NASCAR coverage during 2007 season

By Ken Kerschbaumer

ESPN’s 2007 NASCAR coverage features new gadgets like HD in-car cameras from BSI and a new drafting graphic from Sportvision but it’s NEP’s SS21 unit that is the most impressive new gadget, with four mobile units ensuring ESPN keeps up with the nation’s fastest drivers.

“Daytona went pretty well for such a large endeavor,” says Paul DiPietro, ESPN coordinating director. “The compound was very overwhelming because of all of the entities.”

SS21 is comprised of four units; an A, B, C and D trailer. The A unit handles the main production, graphics and engineering, with a Grass Valley Kalypso duo production switcher with 3.5 mix effects and six internal DVEs. and five Vizrt graphics stations and Sports Media Technology graphics for the banner that scrolls across the top with standings and timing. A Pesa Cheetah HD 200×400 router and Pesa DRS audio router are also on board with Evertz MVP MultiViewer Processors distributing up to 224 16×9 images across the panels.

“The truck is similar to SS24 which is used for Monday Night Football but a big difference is the use of plasma screens on the monitor wall,” says DiPietro. “They’ve been great.”

The B unit handles tape and main audio mix, with a Calrec Alpha console complete with 76 faders, Bluefin DSP technology and Hydra fiber interfacing on board. As for the tape (or, as DiPietro calls it, the “lack-of-tape” area) a number of tape decks take a back seat to 10 EVS XT2 systems with IP directors and 32 total channels of record. Two EVS XT2 HD Super Slo Mo systems, an EVS HD Spot Box, and an EVS Xfile transfer system are also in the unit.

“The biggest advantage is the networking and ability to tie into an editing suite in the C unit with Apple Final Cut Pro,” says DiPietro. “We don’t have to change tapes.”

The C unit is an engineering room and is actually dedicated to NASCAR (the A and B unit can be used for basketball coverage). It includes a fiber headend, an edit suite, a submix area, racer radio, and tape release.

Tape release has a small Grass Valley Kayak production switcher because there are so many cameras being recorded. “The main switcher isn’t big enough to handle all of the inputs so the switcher in tape release controls those sources and the two switchers are tied together so that when the TD wants to swipe to source A tape release punches the right camera into source A.”

The submix area is also specific for auto racing, mixing nearly 100 mics located around the track while racer radio listens to all the radios of the race teams. “We’ll eves drop on the driver, crew chief and spotter on the room and put the audio into our telecast,” says DiPietro. A disk-based Tascam system is also on hand to record the racer radio.

As for the D unit, it’s 53-foot double expando that has the NASCAR studio. One side expands with a panoramic glass wall while the other side expands with a work area for three Telemetrics robotic cameras on dolleys.

“Telemetrics periscopic pedestals with robotic heads and a prompter can be controlled by two operators located off to the side,” says DiPietro. “Joysticks and a touch-screen with thumbnail shots allow for shots to be pulled up with the touch of the finger.”

All of the trucks are fibered to each other but connected via copper to the outside world that only underscores the advantage of fiber. “When you look at the fiber inputs and outputs there are a half-dozen cables but when you look at the copper audio there are so many cables that you can’t even see the I/O,” adds DiPietro.

For now ESPN actually takes a back seat to Fox when it comes to camera and mic positioning as Fox Sports is the host broadcaster until TNT handles a few races at mid-season. On July 30 ESPN will take over host duties.

“While Daytona is big enough for us to have both had our own cameras some of the tracks aren’t so the holder of the Nextel Cup broadcasts always handles cameras,” says DiPietro.

ESPN, Fox Sports, and TNT created that production plan began more than a year ago at last year’s Daytona 500. And it’s only fitting for a sport known for race teams helping each other on the track to ensure all the drivers push for one goal: victory.