NBC Sports’ first-ever HD production of Daytona 500 to feed fans’ appetite for race experience

Television viewers will be able to feel the electricity of the Daytona 500 thanks to NBC's HD broadcast of the race next month. Photo courtesy Sherryl Creekmore/NASCAR.

Could NBC Sports’ recently announced plans to cover this year’s Daytona 500 in HD give a noticeable bump to sales of high-definition television sets? It’s unclear to most, but sports director Mike Wells thinks it can.

Wells, who has spent much of his 22-year sports directing career covering NASCAR and will direct the Daytona 500 for NBC Sports Feb. 15, believes fan loyalty could drive HDTV sales. “If fans find out we’re doing the race in HD, they will go out and buy an HDTV set,” he said.

“Race car fans are very, very passionate about this,” he explained. “It would be like your NFL team going to Super Bowl. I live in the Tampa area, and when the Bucs went to the Super Bowl you couldn’t buy a big screen because we all wanted to watch our team on the big screen.

“And the NASCAR fans are just as passionate, but not focused on just two teams. If they aren’t going to the race, they want to see it as if they are there.”

That’s just what NBC Sports plans on accomplishing with its HD coverage of the race. “As you know, HD is the best way to put the race on the air because the pictures are sharper, its 16:9 aspect ratio is conducive to a lateral sport like motor racing, and the colors are more vivid. With HD, we will be able to convey the electricity of the race, including the ambience and pre-race.”

“Now, like we always do, we will focus on the best battles and competition. But with the HD format, people will see more cars on the left and right. It will be much more compelling than it has been in the past because of the HD technology.”

The camera positions used to cover the race in HD will be the same as in past SD broadcasts, Wells said. “But we’ve added a camera outside of Turn 4 on a 30-foot jib so it will be right over the fans in the grandstand,” he said.

“I have to tell you that it will be so compelling to be watching in HD and see the cars barreling down the track with a sea of fans cheering. It really gives you a sense of how big the Daytona 500 is,” he said.

NBC Sports' 200-person teleproduction crew will have more than 80 cameras to cover the race. They include 36 car-mounted on-board cameras, 10 overhead cameras in the pits, and robotic and hard cameras surrounding the track. Additionally, 125 microphones will be used to help deliver race audio in surround sound.

On-board cameras will be SD because “HD technology is not there yet,” Wells said. Shots from the on-board cameras will be presented in 4:3 with a black frame.

“Believe me,” said Wells, “we would like to have it all, but we can’t really convert those images because they’d be stretched. We want people to be able to see the true picture of what is happening.”

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