Bristol Motor Speedway Reinvents Motorsports Video With Colossus

When it comes to in-venue video, there is perhaps no sport in which it is more important – and more difficult to display – than motorsports. Drivers speed around the track, jockeying for position throughout the race, as more than 100,000 screaming spectators attempt to track their favorites and follow the breakneck pace. Unlike NFL stadiums or NBA/NHL arenas, the biggest problem faced by motorsports venues is not whether to have a video board but, simply, where to put it?

Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) came up with a unique solution: suspend the video board over the track. And not just any video board, but the largest outdoor, permanent center-hung display in North American sports.

A rendering of Bristol Motor Speedway with football field. BMS will host the Battle at Bristol college-football game in September 2016.

A rendering of Bristol Motor Speedway with football field. BMS will host the Battle at Bristol college-football game in September 2016.

The process began several years ago, when it was announced that BMS – which can fit a whopping 160,000 fans – would host the Battle at Bristol in 2016: the world’s largest college football game between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech. While BMS has no problem fitting a regulation-size football field within the track, the venue’s existing scoring pylon and video screens would be in the way. After toying around with the idea of installing videoboards at the turns of the track, BMS and Panasonic joined forces to determine if suspending a center-hung video structure would be possible.

“We looked at all kinds of different options, and one that was brought to us through Panasonic and some other partners was suspending it over the top of the race track, much like we do in arenas, just on a bigger scale,” says Jerry Caldwell, EVP and GM, Bristol Motor Speedway. “As we went down that path, I think when we all first heard it we [thought] that’s an amazing idea, but I’m not sure that’s what we’re going to want to spend on just adding screens in the facility, and Panasonic worked hard to figure out how can we do it, here’s what it will cost, and we can make that work. That’s how we got to where we are with this design.”

Christened Colossus, the center-hung structure comprises four 6mm high-resolution displays measuring 30 ft. tall by 63 ft. wide. In total, the videoboard consists of 54 million LEDs and 18 million pixels. The structure will hang from a halo-shaped truss with an additional circular LED display screen underneath, measuring 6 ft. high.

The videoboard will be suspended on miles of cable, with the ability to raise and lower depending on event.

The videoboard will be suspended on miles of cable, with the ability to raise and lower depending on event.

To power the video displays, Panasonic will install a Panasonic 6000 switcher, NewTek 3Play replay server, and Vizrt system in the venue’s control room. The company will also staff the control room with director and producer, provide camera operators and Panasonic cameras, and create all video content.

“They really wanted the wow factor. Six millimeter is really a tight pixel pitch, so this is really going to be the wow factor, and that’s what people are looking for,” says Douglas Moss, SVP, Marketing and Sales, Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company. “The whole industry is looking at the fact that it’s very easy to stay home and watch [the event] on television. The at-home experience is more compelling than ever, and technology has helped make it that way. You’ve got to make [an in-venue] show that is so compelling to go to and make it a must see.

“That was the thinking here,” he continues, “[to] make this really vibrant and sharp and give you that wow factor, because you’re looking at a very big screen at home. You’ve got to treat the people the same way and give them a very special event every time they come [to the venue].”

Assembly of structure is currently underway, with plans to raise Colossus – using four massive support towers ranging in height from 190 to 220 ft. and weighing at approximately 437 tons – in time for BMS’s first major NASCAR race of the 2016 season next April. The Battle at Bristol is set to take place on September 10, 2016.

Once the videoboard is in place, each screen will be at least 20 feet closer to fans and 4.5 larger than the current screens (which will be removed). Weighing in at nearly 700 tons, Colossus will be suspended by 117 tons of cabling, and BMS will have the ability to raise and lower the structure depending on the event.

Colossus will also boast a state-of-the-art 540,000-watt audio system powering 380 three-way loudspeakers and 48 stadium subwoofers.

“Bristol is a very unique venue for motorsports,” says Caldwell. “We call ourselves the ‘Last Great Coliseum because we’re much like a coliseum — there’s not a bad seat in the house for 160,000 thousand people. When you add something that’s the size of this screen – it’s going to be right there in front of you — you’re just going to take that experience to a whole new level… it’s just going to be an amazing fan experience. I can’t wait to see it.”