Indy 500 at 100: ESPN Celebrates Century Mark With 100 Cameras

The Indianapolis 500 is often called the Super Bowl of racing, but, with a camera count in the triple digits, a dozen mobile units, and an expected crowd of 350,000, perhaps that common comparison should be flipped. And, on Sunday, in celebration of the 100th running, ESPN plans to make the Greatest Spectacle in Racing — one of its largest and most complex productions of the year — even more spectacular.

ESPN will deploy a record 100 cameras to cover the race. Typically, the camera complement covering the Indy 500 falls between 85 and 94; this year, ESPN has added an RF handheld, an RF Steadicam, a jib, a blimp, and a handful of POVs to reach the century mark.

“This will be the biggest camera count that we’ve ever had,” says Dennis Cleary, associate director, remote production operations, ESPN. “We’re concentrating on making sure that we have all the cameras we need to tell the story — especially this being the 100th running — [and] we’re going to try to concentrate a lot on audio, making sure we’re getting the sound and the feel of the race as well as the video. It’s a sold-out crowd, so we’ll have a huge and great feel from them as part of the race.”

ESPN’s Dennis Cleary in the production compound at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

ESPN’s Dennis Cleary in the production compound at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

ESPN will station four nac Hi-Motion II cameras — three configured as hard and one robotic — side by side with regular cameras at each corner of the 2.5-mile racetrack, recording in 600 fps. Eleven robotic cameras provided by IMS Productions will be spaced throughout the venue, including four with overhead views of the pits., And in addition to the blimp, ESPN will fly a helicopter over the course for a second aerial view.

Production plans include in-car cameras with dual-path technology from Broadcast Sports International (BSI). Three cameras will be mounted in 12 of the 33 cars: on the driver’s right mirror, at the highest point in the car, and on either the side or back of the car. Two cameras will be mounted in the pace car.

On the audio side, a whopping 287 microphones will be scattered around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including 235 around the track and 26 in cars.

A total of 12 mobile units will be parked in the infield production compound: NEP’s SS21 A, B, C, and E units; IMS Productions’ HD5 A, B, C, ST1, and ST2; BSI’s A and B units; and an EVS support van. SS21 and HD5 will be tied together to handle all cameras, replay, and audio for the ABC production. Working with IMS Productions, ESPN will use 170,000 ft. — more than 30 miles — of TAC-12 fiber cable.

IMS Productions’ HD5 is ready to cover the race.

IMS Productions’ HD5 is ready to cover the race.

ESPN will dispatch 175 technical crew members to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and nearly 200 people will be a part of the ABC production. ESPN’s production will be led by Senior Coordinating Producer Amy Rosenfeld and Coordinating Producer Kate Jackson, with Jim Gaiero producing and Bruce Watson directing. Jackson will produce the pre-race show with Chip Dean directing. ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Shawn Murphy, who produced the Indy 500 telecast the past three years, has been a special consultant for the production team.

IMS Productions will provide an additional 100 staffers, including 15-18 ENG crew members, to support the ABC production and capture the race for its own library. The company is also responsible for the in-venue videoboard show. Stephen Stiles, director, postproduction and facility, IMS Productions, will produce and direct video for the large displays.

“There’s a lot of passion. You can see this aura of passion around the TV compound and the track,” says IMS Productions President Robby Greene. “For the people that are here, sure, it’s their job, and it’s how they get paid, but my bet is that the largest majority of them signed up to be doing what they’re doing on this show because it is the Super Bowl of racing. It is the largest single-day sporting event in the world.”

Cleary echoes the feeling of excitement over the race. “It’s been a pleasure working on this show and preparing for this. I think we’ve had a great support team, a great crew that’s onsite. This is our motorsports crew that’s been doing motorsports from NASCAR on to IndyCar, and it’s the best in the business for motorsports coverage. So I’m really looking forward to having a great race.”

On the Second Screen
In addition, for the first time, ABC’s telecast of the Indianapolis 500 will be streamed live on WatchESPN. The second-screen experience will feature a selection of streaming video from the onboard cameras on ESPN3.

For the first time in the 100-year history of the Indianapolis 500, Sunday’s race is a total sellout. As a result, the local TV blackout of the race was lifted, and fans across the country will be able to watch the spectacle live. Coverage of ABC’s 52nd consecutive Indy 500 begins at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.

“I have seen the 91st running through the 100th, and I can’t imagine it getting any bigger,” says Greene. “It’s always had the claim of being the largest single-day sporting event in the world, and we’re going to have 100,000 more people here this year than any of those prior years. IndyCar is, I think, in the strongest position that is ever been since my involvement.”