After a Decade, ‘Crank It Up’ Still Makes Sound a Star of Fox’s NASCAR Shows

When Fox Sports took over the first 14 weeks of NASCAR racing in 2001, company Chairman David Hill gave Senior Mixer/audio consultant Fred Aldous what Aldous calls a “blank sheet” on which to create the broadcast’s sound. Aldous and his team went about jamming the magnificent cacophony of stock-car racing into the then-even-narrower pipes of broadcast, winning four Emmy Awards for sports sound in the process. But, when first presented with Aldous’s new NASCAR soundscape, Hill made a request that ran counter to the tradition of sports announcers everywhere: he suggested that they lay out at least a couple of times each show and let the sound take center stage. Thus was born “Crank It Up,” now in its tenth season as that rare moment in broadcast audio where the sound is the star.

“I don’t think sports sound had ever had an advocate like that before in the executive office,” says Aldous, who still revels in the two laps that he and submixers Kevin McCloskey and Chip Weaver get to spotlight two or three times a show. “It really shows how creative racing sound can be.”

“Crank It Up” benefits from the increased number of microphones that Aldous specified in 2001 and that have continued to increase in number over the years. The key microphones are DPA 4007 dynamic mics, a departure from the shotguns often used on sports fields, for two reasons.

“They’re omnidirectional, so, when the cars come into the ‘speed shot’ from the turn, you don’t hear them in the mix until they’re right there. It’s very dramatic,” Aldous explains. “You’re not getting ambient distance sound from the track, so it really sneaks up on you.” The second reason is that the 4007 is designed to deal with a high-SPL environment, which is what you get when several dozen 5.87-liter, 750+-hp engines come screaming out of a turn at you.

The speed shot is set up so that the approach microphone, mounted on the outside track walls and set up about 45 ft. in front of the camera, picks up the sound as the cars approach in the upper left of the frame. A second 4007 is set up 30 ft. farther down and picks up the Doppler effect as the cars disappear into the lower right side of the frame. In the mix, Aldous pans them from surround left through the L-C-R into surround right.

The Guitar Solo
“Crank It Up” is the guitar solo in the middle of a concert. Aldous pulls back the other ambience microphones — a combination of Sennheisers and Audio-Technicas — covering the crowd and stands (referred to as the “roar” mics) and cross-fades up the speed-shot microphone group, just as a live-sound music mixer will pull the rhythm section down a bit leading up to a guitar break. “The closer they get to the speed shot, we pull the roar mics back so the speed shot jumps out at you, then ease the roar tracks back up,” he explains. “The ambience tracks are the foundation that we build the solos on top of.”

Music metaphors are apt in other ways. “CIU” uses a quick-cut picture technique; it would fit nicely in with music videos on MTV. (In fact, “Crank It Up” has spawned at least one album of assorted licensed music tracks from hard-edged artists like Machine Head, Slayer, and Slipknot.)

As a result, matching picture with “Crank It Up” audio isn’t easy; the submixers listen intently for cut cues from the director. “We know our directors pretty well by now so we can anticipate a lot of the moves,” says Aldous. “But there’s definitely mind reading involved sometimes, too.”

Natural Nuances
What’s not happening is any changes to the equalization or dynamics of the audio. He says that bringing up the level of the sound effects naturally brings out the nuances of the sound that otherwise get buried on the mix when the announcers are center channel. “When I change the gain structure when the announcers lay out, it enhances all the [effects] frequencies just by being at full volume instead of half volume.”

And unlike a drum solo, it never gets old. Aldous says he is as jazzed by mixing “Crank It Up” today as he was when he did it the first time, working on an analog Calrec Q2 console during an era when almost no one could hear the surround field.

“Crank It Up” is a favorite of fans, whether they have 5.1 surround sound, faux 5.1, or a vintage mono Sony Trinitron with “11” painted on the volume knob with a Sharpie. One poster on the Daytona Daily News online blog page complained that “Crank It Up” was down to one lap. (It might just seem that way; the segment runs longer when the track is a lengthier super speedway.)

Given its popularity, Aldous is surprised — though not disappointed — that Fox is the only network giving the audio mixer a solo: “There’s definitely some creative stuff going on in ‘Crank It Up.’ I always look forward to it.”