The broadcast will deploy a total of 75 cameras, five mobile units.
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the few sports events that have must-see activities surrounding the main attraction happening on the 2.5-mile track. COVID dampened the energy of the event, but the enthusiasm will be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) this Sunday. And NBC Sports will be present to chronicle it all with 75 broadcast cameras, five mobile units, onsite studio shows, and more than 250 production personnel.
“We’re excited about the return of other events, like Carb Day and the pit-stop competition,” says Rene Hatlelid, producer, NBC Sports, “but having all of the fans back will be incredibly important. It was odd not having fans at the track two years ago, but I love that all of this is back. I couldn’t be more up for the challenge.”
Front-Row Tech: 75-Camera Show Led by Drones, Shallow Depth-of Field, Several Jibs
To cover some of the fastest cars on the planet, NBC Sports will leverage a steep set of broadcast technologies. Where last year’s race featured 103 cameras, this year’s complement will decline to 75, but the equipment is still extremely high-quality. Two drones from Beverly Hills Aerials — which has become a major player in coverage of motorsports in the U.S. — will be hovering above the track: a heavy-lift drone, providing steadier shots at a slower speed; an FPV racing version, capable of nearly 100 mph for striking views of IMS’s massive footprint. The FPV racing drone will be used on the front stretch of the track during pre-race festivities and throughout the course of the race.
Continuing to take the sports-video-production landscape by storm, a Canon shallow–depth-of-field camera will provide a cinematic look at areas like the paddock, team garages, pit row before the race, and other stationary settings. It will be joined by a standard Steadicam and six RF handhelds roaming the premises. BSI will once again handle all of these RF needs, along with 15 onboard cameras installed on cars within Sunday’s grid.
Further from the infield and the asphalt, the network will deploy a handful of heavy-duty jib cameras for coverage of each turn and to capture the crowd atmosphere. A Technocrane, which can be extended to 8-30 ft., will cover the front stretch during both pre-race and the actual race. A Stradacrane, which can reach nearly 100 ft., will sweep over the Snake Pit, the infield concert location, which can fit approximately 35,000 fans.
Seven high-frame-rate cameras round out the arsenal. The cameras are complemented by super-slow-motion replay supplied by EVS. All of this technology is more than fitting for an event of this magnitude, and, for Hatlelid and her team to do their jobs efficiently, it’s up to the technical and operations crews to cast a wide technological net.
“It’s called The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” notes Matt Hogencamp, technical manager, NBC Sports, “and that’s not only because of what happens on the track. Our production team comes to us with ideas, and we figure out how we can make those happen. Trying to highlight this large-scale event is a really exciting challenge.”
Onsite Workflows: IMS Productions, BSI Park Mobile Units in the Compound
The NBC Sports crew will work from five mobile units in the television compound outside Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IMS Productions HD-5 will handle the primary production of the race, HD-3 the pre-race studio show, and B1 and other trucks ancillary distribution and support. Five office trailers will house other essential personnel, and BSI will have two trucks onsite for the RF infrastructure.
Although the Indy 500 is the most famous race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule, there have been five other races since the start of the season in St. Petersburg, FL, on Feb. 27. With a calendar that takes NBC Sports to different locations around the country, Hogencamp gives a nod to the team at IMS Productions — including President Kevin Sublette; Director, Broadcast Operations, Ken Ferguson; and Technical Manager Ken Fitzgerald — for providing a foundation for the network.
“The team at IMS Productions deserves a lot of credit for helping us create and capture this sport for 17 weeks out of the year,” Hogencamp says. “These toys allow us to show this exciting experience to the folks watching at home and, hopefully, get them to come out in person someday.”
Setting the Scene: Studio Programming Resides Near the Yard of Bricks
Alongside the main race production, NBC Sports will have a full cast of on-air talent to cover the festivities. Prior to the waving of the green flag, Senior Producer John Barnes will produce onsite studio shows featuring host Mike Tirico and studio analyst and former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, who became the first woman to lead laps and earn a top-five finish in the Indianapolis 500, in 2005. Motorsports analyst and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. will contribute to pre-race coverage alongside motorsports reporter Rutledge Wood. Within the versatile and flexible Peacock Pit Box on pit road in front of the famed Yard of Bricks, the quartet will preview the day’s race and allow viewers to see shots of spectators at different locations, including the Pagoda and the Snake Pit.
“We want to make it feel as big as possible for the fans at home,” says Hatlelid. “Our programming will have the message of being an event that you can’t miss and want to be a part of.”
As for the live call, NBC Sports’ lead IndyCar team of play-by-play announcer Leigh Diffey and analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be behind the microphone. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Dave Burns, and Dillon Welch will be reporting from the pits.
Telemundo Deportes will present the first-ever Indianapolis 500 on a domestic Spanish-language network. The race will be called by veteran race announcer Omar Amador and play-by-play voice Sergio Rodriguez. Three-time Indy 500 driver Milka Duno will join the coverage and serve as a special guest analyst, and Copan Alvarez will serve as onsite reporter.
In total, fans will have five hours of live race-day programming, with pre-race coverage beginning at 11 a.m. ET and race coverage at 12:30 p.m. on NBC, Peacock, and Universo.
In the Driver’s Seat: Hatlelid Finds Lessons From Last Year’s History-Making Race
From a creative and production standpoint, Hatlelid has a lot of responsibilities on the day of the race. Dancing between 75 camera feeds and connecting the dots to tell a compelling and cohesive story is a challenge, but she has a pedigree in motorsports. Having worked both the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series, the veteran has experience covering cars going more than 200 mph.
Last year, having moved to the IndyCar circuit, she became the first female lead producer in the race’s 105-year history. This year, she knows what it’s like leading up to this race and has the chance to prioritize the storylines that the broadcast will emphasize, such as Helio Castroneves’s attempt at winning his fifth Borg-Warner Trophy and becoming the driver with the most Indy 500 wins.
In addition, Hatlelid will be leading a production team that’s trying to analyze this ultra-important race for first-time fans. This includes explaining all the storylines but also contextualizing and simplifying the ins and outs of IndyCar.
“We had a graphic the other day to explain the speeds of each of the drivers,” Hatlelid says. “When you compare these cars to a jet airplane, a train, or an ordinary person driving on the freeway, it’s unbelievable how fast they’re going.”
Since this year’s production includes a lot more people with a lot more ancillary activations surrounding the track, Hatlelid is focused on staying in the moment and zeroing in on the driving being done on the oval.
“At the end of the day, someone’s life and career will be changed forever by winning this race,” she notes. “We want to encapsulate these stories and make sure that the fans care about these drivers.”