Race Weekend Central

Where Is the TV Technology?

This past Sunday (Feb. 19), we watched another Daytona 500 grab our collective attention, hold us to its whims for over three hours, and then produce a caution-flag finish that felt a little anticlimactic. 

Of course, that last sentiment may not be everyone’s, but it certainly seemed to be a popular sentiment. 

Seeing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earn the big trophy did not come as a surprise to many, but it did not elicit the kind of stars-shining moment that the Daytona 500 is seemingly supposed to offer. Instead, the journeyman driver, now with three wins over the course of his 12-year career, parks his car in Daytona for all to see over the course of the next season. 

See also
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Gets Last Laugh With Daytona 500 Win

That Stenhouse has wrecked so much that he endures a litany of nicknames extolling his accomplishments is something to be skipped for now. Instead, the goofiness of plate-racing has again given way to a winner that appears to be more of a long shot than a superstar. If NASCAR is hoping that the latest car has really brought parity to the sport, then perhaps this win is a further indication of its merits.

The notion of parity is meant to be one that helps sell the sport to both fans and investors – teams, sponsors, and networks. And if selling the sport to the masses is the vital element, which it is in any commercial enterprise, then how was the broadcast so…

Basic?

For everyone not present at the sold-out Daytona International Speedway, the way to pay attention came through TV, radio, and social media. The dominant mode being, of course, TV – for which FOX pays a dump truck full of gold coins (and the reason that the broadcast is bloated with commercials). 

While the commentators enjoy the wrath of fans, this is not the moment to go after Mike Joy, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Chris Myers, Jamie McMurray, and the rest of the assorted crew stationed all around the track. For sure, they deserve critical engagement and they were hardly stellar for kicking off NASCAR’s diamond season. (By the way, did you notice that NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary?)

No, instead, the focus here is on how simple the broadcast looked. One of the wonders of TV is how it advances. Airing sports has come wonderfully far since Thomas Edison and his crew began filming games at the turn of the 20th century, moving beyond single-camera shots and curious angles. 

After WWII, MLB recognized that the center-field shot was integral to making baseball a sellable TV product. Since then, sports broadcasts have shown imaginative innovation, some good, some bad. From slow-motion, to the first-down line in football, to the glowing hockey puck (egads), to Next Gen stats and all the data they offer, sports continue to evolve in how it brings the viewer to the event. 

That is what makes the 2023 Daytona 500 broadcast so disappointing.  The big reveal for the race: a small camera affixed to the cushioning of a driverʻs helmet that gives their perspective while turning laps. 

Kewl.

Not only were viewers supposed to be wowed by this not-so-revolutionary technology, but they were also subjected to a full Mike Joy seminar on how this eraser-sized camera came to be and why everyone should be singing its praises. 

What made it a laughable product was evinced when the camera showed the electronic dashboards and the information was blurred. Blocking this information distracts from the whole point of trying to place the viewer inside the car. If the goal is to provide an authentic point of view, the failure rate is related to the loss of information being transmitted to the viewer. And just what is it that teams feel the need to hide?

In Formula 1, broadcasts frequently offer viewpoints from the cockpit that give a massive amount of information that other teams might try to waste their time deciphering. Knowing how tense the F1 paddock is, each team probably has someone in place that does such a job, which may be a joke, but also shows how little effect it has on actually gaining any ground.

Mercedes was not going to suddenly jump Red Bull last year because they were able to parse the telemetry in such a way that suddenly gave them a tenth on the track. So what do NASCAR teams, with their relatively simpler technology, think that they are hiding from other teams?

Ludicrous, absurd, silly, and idiotic descriptors come to mind. 

What has happened to innovative technology and race broadcasts? At one point, FOX tried to show that it was on the forefront with NASCAR. We had thermal imaging, we got aero graphics to show better what is going on with the cars and how drivers find advantages. At one point, we even had the ghost car – which was a brilliant way to compare the lines that drivers took on the track.

For the 500, the helmet cam came as the great move forward. Never mind that it seems like this kind of toy is coming a year or two late, the important and disappointing aspect is that the sport is not showcasing technology as it should.

If fans can be given immediate insight that Tyreek Hill hit the 24 mph mark on a touchdown catch, then shouldnʻt NASCAR do better? The technology and information is already built-in to the sport!

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Commercials and Poor Production Hurt Daytona 500 Broadcast

How about offering live information on tire pressures? What about deceleration speeds in crashes? How come there is not more lap-by-lap differentials in speed? Where are the graphics showing how the weather effects the cars? Or something showing grip and tire degradation? What about probabilities that come from a source other than Larry McReynolds and his calculator?!

The sport is limiting itself in how limited the production is. The NFL and F1 have both found ways to use Amazonʻs otherworldly computer processing capabilities to give fans new ways of seeing the sport (worthwhile or not) but FOX seems like it is stuck in the mid-2000s, trying to bank its broadcast on personality rather than giving the fans something unique. 

Clint Bowyer may be a great guy to drink some beers with, and Mike Joy may be a walking encyclopedia, but it’s time to see a little more and to embrace advances in technology.

After all, this piece was written by chatgp.  (Kidding.)

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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4 Comments
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sb

TV coverage seems to think that the extremely limited view of a bumper cam or in car is wonderful. All it does is limit how much of the actual racing you can see. Gimmick shots are OK for a brief distraction, but I get much more from the wide shots that show what is happening in the big picture. Giving information of cars that suddenly disappear from the top 10, or a rundown of the entore field is much more helpful of enjoyment.

Christopher

FOX is tapped out. Mike Joy has been phoning it in for 2 or 3 years now. Boyer is mediocre at best. The entire FOX production seems exhausted, stuck in a time warp, and it will not be surprising to me if they end up losing the NASCAR broadcast rights during the upcoming negotiations to another entity who believes they can do it better and is willing to put their money where their beliefs are.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher
Jeff H

I really don’t get the blur on the dash info. Every team has access to every other teams’ SMT data. What really is there on the dash display that they don’t already have? I also agree the time for Fox is over. I feel they are all just phoning it in. They couldn’t eve bother to send staff to last seasons second half truck races. Enough with the cartoonish stuff also.

Mr Yeppers

A true 4K stream would be nice. We occasionally get one that’s “4K” but it’s actually 1080p HDR upconverted. It looks nice but still a long ways from true 4K.

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