NASCAR Production Center Features 3G Support, a First for CEI

When it comes to technology, the brand-new NASCAR Plaza, located next to the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC, is equipped with the latest and greatest. The file-based HD production center features multiple television studios, control rooms, editing facilities, and production areas and fully supports 3-Gb processing. Communications Engineering Inc. (CEI) was tasked with designing, integrating, installing, testing, training, and procuring equipment for the massive project, which was no easy task, considering it was the company’s first foray into 3G.

“The biggest challenge initially was the fact that the facility needed to support 3G,” says Raef Alkhayat, CEI’s director of engineering and project manager. “We had to make some sound decisions early on as far as the infrastructure side, in terms of what devices needed to accommodate 3G and what did not in order to future-proof the facility.”

Because this project was CEI’s first 3G facility, Alkhayat and his team were especially careful with their planning, which began in December 2008.

“The 3G side of it was something that we had not done before,” Alkhayat says. “We had to be very careful with our cabling. We had to test everything with a 3G generator and make sure that we did not run cables past a certain distance to make sure that, if that cable was to run 3G later, they would not have a problem. That introduced a good challenge. We had to be very smart about our distances and distribution.”

In addition to the 3G infrastructure, CEI built out numerous edit suites, audio suites, and production suites throughout four floors of an office tower and two floors of the adjacent building. CEI also designed and built a studio and control room that Showtime uses to tape and produce the one-hour Inside NASCAR show that airs on Wednesday nights. Each of those individual facilities required communication among multiple vendors, and CEI was the main point of contact.

“Making sure that everyone is communicating properly and that all the systems work efficiently is a challenge for a project of this size,” Alkhayat explains.

The size of the project parallels that of a truck compound on NASCAR weekends. Among the gear involved in this project are Autoscript teleprompters; a Chyron character generator; Cobalt color correctors; DNF Controls video controllers; Evertz multiviewer, router, distribution amplifiers, frame controllers, timing equipment, and control panels; Forecast and TBC consoles; Grass Valley HD studio cameras, production switcher, HD fiber base stations, and K2 servers; Harris Corp. on-screen monitors, routers, and digital 2 signage equipment; Lectrosonic wireless microphone systems; NEC, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony monitors; Solid State Logic production console; Tektronix waveform monitors; and Wohler audio and video monitors.

To complicate matters further, as part of the move, NASCAR Media Group made a shift from Avid to Apple Final Cut edit suites.

“That required a little bit of reinvention of some of the processes,” Alkhayat says. “NASCAR was involved in creating that work process, finding out what vendors will work nicely for them to create the workflow they were looking for.”

Although the production center is now open, CEI’s job is far from complete. The company provides ongoing technical support for the facility and is working on a second studio, with HD audio- and video-control rooms to support it.

“Another phase of the project is ongoing,” Alkhayat says. “That is another studio and audio/video-control room that NASCAR and the City of Charlotte have come together to build in a building called the New Center, which is part of the NASCAR complex. That project is slated to be finished in late July.”