ESPN Revamps Look of NASCAR Pit Studio, Tech Garage

ESPN’s fifth year of NASCAR coverage won’t offer a lot of changes in terms of race coverage, but viewers will see a new look.

The enclosed Pit Studio will be highlighted by a new 60-in. monitor replacing a Daktronics LED scrolling display that dominated the old anchor desk, according to Jill Frederickson, senior coordinating producer, motorsports, for ESPN.

ESPN's Pit Studio set features and new 60-inch monitor that brings flexibility to the production

The 60-in. monitor makes it possible for everything from graphics to video to be placed front and center for viewers. “It helps with show branding. The viewer will be able to know what show they are watching,” she says, adding that “it also gives more visibility to video segments.”

Last weekend, for example, videos showed a time lapse of the repaving of the Daytona Motor Speedway while the ESPN crew discussed the subject. The crew also rolled video of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who was killed at the track 10 years ago.

“It reinforces what they are talking about when the camera is on a wide shot,” says Frederickson. Part of the Daktronics scroll display is still on the set.

There is also some new lighting in the Pit Studio. “We have been using LED since 2007, and it has kept the indoor set cool, which is great for the announcers,” she says. “But now we are adding aesthetic lighting to the desk itself with bars in the desk, and it gives it an instant fresh look.”

The ESPN Craftsman Tech Garage, where Tim Brewer dives, literally, into how the cars operate and respond to setup changes and engine tweaks, is also being revamped.

“Tim has a touchscreen that shows 3D animations of an engine and simulation scenarios where he can manipulate and move the graphic of the engine around,” says Frederickson. “Now we want to analyze the chassis, and we are partnering with Full Sail University to develop that sort of touchscreen app for the chassis that can show how the car responds to changes.”

Full Sail University, in Orlando, works closely with the ESPN Technology Center at the Wide World of Sports facility. Its students are working with the graphics and computer programs that the NASCAR teams use for making adjustments and making the app more user-friendly for viewers.

A Polecam has also been added to the mix, and the system, which features a small camera on the end of a long pole, will allow a fluid camera shot that can move from shooting Brewer to getting up close to the engine.

“It will be able to move right into the area of the engine that Tim is talking about, with HD quality,” she says.

For ESPN’s Sprint Cup Series coverage beginning on July 31, viewers can expect two additional changes to the production. First, a chopper from BSI will be used on all 17 races.

“It’s a great way to get as low as we can with great coverage in the race and compelling replays,” says Frederickson. It can also come in handy for dramatic flyovers into the stadium that give viewers a sense of the surroundings, such as cornfields in Indiana, the hills of Phoenix, and the train tracks outside Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

A new graphics package also is on the agenda. Frederickson says the upgrade will give a fresh aesthetic look and a redesigned ticker and lower-third graphic.

“It’s more streamlined and will focus on information,” she says. “NASCAR can sometimes become very heavy with graphics of stats, headshots, and car icons. So we are going to have some simplification.”

As has been the case for the past five years, ESPN will find itself working shoulder to shoulder with Fox Sports, Speed, and NASCAR Media Group, especially when it comes to sharing such resources as cameras, mics, and signal infrastructure.

“Five years ago, working together was unique, but now it’s the norm,” says Frederickson. “It’s hard to imagine it any other way, and it is seamless.”