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ESPN brings NASCAR to life - MyEasternShoreMD: Caroline County

ESPN brings NASCAR to life

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Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 6:51 am

DENTON -- The stories in a NASCAR race remain ever changing as each lap holds a new possibility with drivers pushing their cars to the limit.

While drivers reach nearly 200 miles per hour on the track, just inches apart; a choreographed symphony works together behind the scenes to bring race fans all the action.

Since 1981, ESPN has won 19 Sports Emmy Awards for the network's live flag-to-flag NASCAR coverage.

In 2012, ESPN will cover more than 10,500 laps of NASCAR action with 225 credential personnel working as one at each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.

At Dover International Speedway, ESPN offered a behind the scenes glimpse of where all the decisions are made on race day as the broadcast is aired live to millions of fans.

ESPN Director Richie Basile said the main control room in the television compound at a track is controlled chaos during a four-hour broadcast.

"At Dover, we have about 60 cameras and more than 100 microphones in our arsenal," Basile said. "Everyone in the control room is like a salesman trying to convince the producer what to show next.

"If we're talking about Jeff Gordon, I'll say, camera 10 [-] there's Jeff Gordon," Basile said. "And we have graphics support to give Jeff Gordon's stats. Tape may tell us they have a flashback of Gordon from what he's done here in Dover in the past. It's a continuous flow of information everyone is providing to tell the story of a race."

The producer decides what stories and action are being covered during a race while Basile as director is in charge of how to get the action on the broadcast.

"If we need tight shot of a fender rubbing a tire, that is what I'll get for the producer to show on the air," he said. "There is a director in every producer and a producer in every director. Everyone is trying to support the story. But we all work together to make those decisions to serve the story and our fans."

Basile said ESPN tries to cover the best race action and tell as many stories in the process. He said the broadcast team will then go through the field to gather stories as to the reason for the recent race action.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. could restart 21st then after 20 laps move up into the top five," he said. "We want to find out the adjustments made to the car or the different line the driver may be taking to improve the car's handle. Drivers just don't run the same line each lap. They are constantly search for speed and we want to show fans how they do it."

To bring the race into millions of living rooms, ESPN deploys 60 to 75 high definition cameras including 24 HD in-car cameras. Some cameras are manned while others are robotic to get in places that are not safe for someone to stand, such as on the retaining wall.

In 2007, ESPN became the first network to use HD in-car cameras and a 100 percent HD broadcast.

In 2011 at Indianapolis, ESPN introduced the first-ever use of dual path transmission of in-car cameras into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage. The new technology, developed by ESPN and Broadcast Sports International, allows ESPN to get HD video from two in-car cameras in the same car simultaneously. In the past, only one in-car camera could be shown at one time.

"We wanted to see what the driver is doing during the impact of a crash or when they correct the car while avoiding a crash," Basile said. "We can now do that. It really enhances our replays."

While other sports can take timeouts, racing remains constant action from the drop of the green flag, which causes networks to broadcast racing different than other sports.

"The biggest difference is this never stops," Basile said. "They come in for pit stops but that is strategy. It's not like you go to commercial for that. In other cases, you have to decide whether a replay is worth showing now or if something live action is more important. There are no timeouts.

"The action happens so fast but on the air it has to be fluid and set up the proper way," he said. "Announcers have to know what we are doing in the truck and they help us by giving us stories they want to follow. We have a live leaderboard for Chase races because each lap could dynamically change the championship standings."

Basile said other sports are liners because the camera follows the ball.

"You can't be on everything at the same time," he said. "Something could happen anywhere on the track and we have to be ready."

ESPN Associate Director of Communications Andy Hall said the broadcast begins in advance of a race weekend.

"The broadcast and production teams will begin with conference calls Tuesday to prepare for the next race," Hall said. "Our NASCAR fleet is on the road for ten months of the year and everyone does a fantastic job."

ESPN aired 262 NASCAR Cup Races over a 20-year period starting in 1981 and returned to NASCAR coverage in 2007.

The network airs the final 17 races of the season, including NASCAR's The Chase. ESPN's final broadcast of the year will began at 1:30 p.m. Sunday from Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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