Indianapolis 500 Sound Takes on Additional Dimension

This year’s Indianapolis 500 on ABC will be the second time the iconic race is broadcast in 5.1 surround. In addition to an estimated 100-plus microphones — most around the track, a dozen facing the crowd — A1 mixer Jason Blood, operating from the NEP SS21 B unit, will be using a dedicated 5.1 digital surround microphone, a Soundfield DSF-2, positioned near the Pre-Race Stage to capture the crowd both in front of and behind the stage as well as all the low end from all on-track festivities.

“This is the first time we’re using a discrete 5.1 surround mic for this race,” says Blood, who has used it for several previous broadcasts, including Winter X Games. “We’ll be even more conscious of the surround mix this year; there’ll be even more attention to detail. The real challenge is keeping a balance between the individual track effects and the overall ambience that’s so important to making the viewer feel like they’re there with you.”

Changes to the IndyCar engines this year will present a new challenge for audio. Blood describes the sound of the new power plants as lower in pitch, with somewhat attenuated upper frequencies, and actually quieter overall. He says that submixer Steve Urick, in the SS21 C unit, has had to adjust EQ and add gain to shape the key engine sounds.

“There’s definitely more low end, which is great for motor sports in general,” he says, “but we need to adjust for the fact that the engines just sound different this year.”

Urick agrees: “We do have to reach more for the sounds.” But he notes that some of the additional headroom will come from not having to pad the microphone inputs as much as they have had to in the past. “We had to be careful not to blow out the frontend of the camera input. This gives us more headroom on the frontend, and that lets us get a bit more detail.”

He will have his hands full with additional effects mics, such as two Sennheiser MKH-70 long shotguns placed with the ground-level “Grass Cam” at the first turn. The payoff, he says, is sound that pulls viewers in.

For all the excitement leading up to the race itself, Blood is focusing heavily on the pre-race activities, including a recording of actor Jim Nabors singing the race’s theme song, “Back Home Again in Indiana.” (Nabors has sung live for most of the Indy 500 races for the past 40 years but will miss this year because of scheduled surgery.)

The pre-race show will also feature several edited packages. Blood says they will spend a lot of time previewing them this year in order to anticipate how the packages will sound after being auto-upmixed on a DTS UpMix system.

“The automated upmix comes back to me discrete,” he explains. “I’ll be able to fine-tune each element better for air because we’ll be more familiar with it.”

The main mix will be from a Calrec Alpha console; Urick will do his submix from a Calrec Sigma while the radio mix is done through a Calrec Zeta board. The three consoles are linked via Calrec Hydra networking, with what Blood says is very minimal use of DT-12 copper around the compound.

“We have MADI between the trucks, so it’s a fully digital signal transport, which is very efficient,” he says. “The audio mix for this year’s Indy 500 will be true team effort.”