Live From X Games L.A.: ESPN Stays Busy at ‘The House of Drift’

Twenty miles east of ESPN’s primary X Games production compound in downtown Los Angeles sits Irwindale Event Center, home to this year’s RallyCross, Gymkhana Grid, and Big Air events. Surrounded by a cluster of rock quarries deep in the San Gabriel Valley, the venue may not supply the breathtaking beauty shots of other recent X Games venues (like the waterfalls of Foz de Iguaçu in Brazil or Olympiapark in Munich), but the speedway’s versatility and sprawling layout make it an ideal locale to host three very different X Games events on three consecutive days.

The Big Air Ramp shown here must be completely deconstructed overnight on Friday to make way for Gymkhana and RallyCar events over the weekend, complicating things for the ESPN production team.

The Big Air Ramp shown here must be completely deconstructed overnight on Friday to make way for Gymkhana and RallyCar events over the weekend, complicating things for the ESPN production team.

“The biggest challenge here by far is the schedule,” says DJ Driscoll, ESPN’s operations assist at Irwindale. “We have the Big Air Thursday and Friday, and then they tear down the ramp and transition to the Gymkhana course. And then, on Saturday night, it’s an overnight transition to Rally.

“We are essentially doing a complete field strike every night,” he continues. “We are pulling our fiber back to its breakout point, all our mics are coming down, and our camera [positions] change. Then, once the course is built, we have to redistribute everything overnight and first thing in the morning.”

Capturing the Action at Irwindale
ESPN has rolled out a total of 22 cameras in Irwindale, including a Ikegami NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo (switching between hard and handheld configuration) and three robos (all provided by Fletcher), a jib, an RF Steadicam, and an RF handheld (provided by BSI), and four POVs.

In addition, BSI has supplied 12 on-board/in-car cameras for the RallyCross and Gymkhana events. In each event, six cars will be outfitted with two cameras, one driver-cam and one on-board cam.

NEP 32 Goes HD
NEP’s SS32 is well acquainted with X Games, having served as the primary truck for ESPN’s 3D X Games telecasts the past two years. With ESPN’s 3D network shuttered, NEP has maintained SS32’s robust infrastructure and turned it into a standalone HD truck suited to a show like Irwindale.

“Having the firepower that it did as a 3D truck makes [SS32] a really powerful standalone HD unit,” says Stephen Raymond, associate director, event operations, ESPN. “It has a huge router, all [EVS XT3 replay servers], and high-end things like that. If we were to pick a standalone truck for a show like this, that’s exactly what it would be.”

L.A. Live’s EVS Portal Gets a Little Brother
Irwindale also marks the first occasion when a secondary X Games venue has access to ESPN’s EVS network, which serves as the hub for all file-transfer activity between ESPN’s Bristol, CT, broadcast center and each X Games remote production. L.A. Live and Irwindale are connected by a 1-GB fiber line, which allows Irwindale to share content with L.A. Live as well as with Bristol through this scaled-down version of the EVS portal.

ESPN’s DJ Driscoll (left), operations assist, X Games, and Stephen Raymond, associate director, event operations, on hand in Irwindale

ESPN’s DJ Driscoll (left), operations assist, X Games, and Stephen Raymond, associate director, event operations, on hand in Irwindale

“The motivation for [extending the EVS portal to] here was the amount of coverage that was happening here, which is about 40% of the total coverage,” says Raymond. “The databases are shared so you can see the entire network over the 1-GB wire. All the management is seamless.”

Although the two venues are linked via their respective EVS portals, they operate as independent shows, with Irwindale sending a clean feed, dirty feed with sponsorship elements, and dirty feed without sponsorship elements directly to Bristol (through the ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center) for integration.

“To a certain extent, it is like doing two separate football games and then doing integrations from Connecticut to tie the two together,” says X Games Operations Manager Larry Wilson. “That has been the model that we have established at all [X Games cities], and we will continue to operate like that.”

Gymkhana Joins the Party
Known as “The House of Drift” due to its pension for hosting pro–drift-racing events, Irwindale represents a perfect site to debut the newest X Games event, Gymkhana Grid. Gymkhana is a motorsport in which the driver negotiates a specifically designed course posing obstacles (cones, tires, barrels, K-rail), and requiring drivers to perform 180/360-degree spins, drifting, figure eights, and other skills.

“It’s all different this year because Gymkhana is totally new to us,” explains Driscoll. “Any new sport to X Games is always going to take a bit of learning, but, for the most part, it is just another race. You have to get a little creative and learn about the sport to see how to best produce it. From production to technical, it’s been a learning process.”