NASCAR on TNT Revs Up Sprint Cup With Improved Audio, Studio Operations

Rubber met the road for NASCAR on TNT this past weekend, and, for race fans, there were some notable improvements in terms of audio quality and online enhancements. For the Turner Sports team, which joins a NASCAR season that is already in full gear, the challenge is not only to integrate operational improvements but also to catch up to production crews that have been working NASCAR since February.

“The benefit is that many of the crew have worked on the Fox Sports side and, for many others, this is not their first year,” says Tom Sahara, senior director of IT and remote operations for Turner Sports. “The big stories remain consistent, but it is tough not having everyone plugged in for six weeks prior to the season.”

In terms of production enhancements, the biggest is the use of a Nevion fiber system that allows more audio channels to be pumped from microphones around the tracks back to the production trucks. The result? Turner Sports is moving from mono microphones running through a synthesizer to true stereo mics from Sennheiser and other manufacturers.

“We have enough channel capacity in the fiber ring for stereo pairs, so it really enhances the sound and makes it sound wider,” says Sahara. “If true stereo is 100% of [quality], then the synthesized would deliver about 40%.”

Fans will definitely notice the richer surround, but the production teams will notice one other change: the studio show is being run from its own production truck rather than on a backbench in a B unit.

“The studio-show team has the freedom to concentrate on owning their own show, and the race production can continue unabated while the studio portions of the show are running,” says Sahara. Previously, the productions would dance around each other, and studio rehearsals would have to fit between the race productions.

“This reduces the bottleneck of trying to do everything out of the race truck,” says Sahara. “It’s something viewers may not notice, but it allows us to do a much better job.”

Also allowing Turner to do a better job is InsideTrax, which enables Turner Sports to give viewers an inside listen to the conversations between the crew chief and his driver. The network will tap into the radio communications instead of using lapel microphones, because the ambient noise would make it difficult to hear any conversations. Also, the race radio provides both sides of the conversation, giving insight into why a pit stop is taking place and what needs to happen in terms of changing tires, fuel, etc.

The system will also be on delay but not for the usual profanity reasons. It allows the audio to be put in better context in relation to what is taking place on the track and also protects the competitors. “Oftentimes, they will decide several laps before to make a pit stop, so we don’t want to give away strategy,” Sahara points out.

Also, a camera is assigned to the InsideTrax team, which will shoot around the pits and pit box during the race. Tied into an EVS server, it will provide images that match the audio.

Says Sahara, “It gives the viewer a nice package that shows the buildup before each pit stop.”