Perhaps the most challenging of sports events to televise is the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race at Daytona Speedway. Fox Sports is televising the event from 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, until 3 p.m. Sunday Jan. 26 – Fox Sports is airing from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday; Fox Sports 2 takes over from 4-9 p.m.; the overnight hours can be viewed online at IMSA.com and Fox Sports Go; and, Fox Sports 1 goes from 7 a.m. Sunday morning until 3 o’clock.
Frank Wilson, the vice president of event and studio production for Fox Sports, has been working this event for the past three or four years, he said. Wilson talked about the challenges of televising a 25-hour show.
THR: What are the biggest challenges facing your production team?
Wilson: It’s really about team building. It’s about getting the right team together. It’s not hard to find people who are willing to work the long days and long hours. There’s a lot of energetic talented people who jump at the opportunity. It’s not hard to find good people; it’s a matter of putting the best group of people together.
THR: What are the inherent problems with such a long race?
Wilson: There’s any number of things. One year we were handicapped by weather and there was an extended caution period that was not the most exciting television for two-plus hours. There are a number of things you have to deal with: fatigue, whether it’s equipment fatigue or personal fatigue. Like anything else, when you do something for a long period of time, you worry about mistakes being made, whether you are an announcer, producer or camera man, so we try to take precautions that we can by having a rotation of announcers, production crew and technical people . You need some redundancy … it’s not a single three-hour race where you just have one group of people doing it. You need redundancy.
THR: What kind of personnel rotation do you use?
Wilson: It depends on the person. Our director (Roger Vincent) will sit there the whole time. He doesn’t get out of the chair. (Everyone else is) probably on a three- or four-hour shift . The announcers, we try to keep on a two-hour shift.
THR: How do you decide when to air feature material during the long hours?
Wilson: There really isn’t a script. It’s a very soft format. With feature material, you kind of want the action to dictate. If there’s an interview with a guy who is leading the race, you tend to wait for cautions to run the features. The pre-race show is heavily formatted. Once race starts, you have react and be able to let the action dictate what’s on the screen. If you get caught up with running this feature at 6 o’clock there could be a 17-car pile-up at 6 o’clock.
THR: How do you handle the staff change-overs?
Wilson: As far as the transition is concerned, most of these guys are pretty good at keeping up with what’s going on. On a producer rotation, maybe somebody will be following for an hour prior to taking the chair … even in 15-20 minutes you can pick up on story lines.
We’re under no illusion our fans are watching the race all the time. It’s incumbent to do race resets – who’s in, who’s out and what are the surprises and disappointments. (Wilson said the race re-sets will generally come at the top of the hour).
THR: What major problems have you encountered in your time with the race?
Wilson: The fog became problematic. We wanted to begin our Sunday shows with sunrise – it’s one of the cooler parts of this event, sunrise at Daytona. We have gone away from that in couple years … We have manipulated time so we have less (television) time in darkness and more coverage in daylight. That one year, I think it must have been 2011 where we had an extended caution. When we came back on the air on Sunday morning, you are sitting there with two-plus hours of just yellow flag laps and you empty the feature bucket. It’s a long race but there’s only so many people you can talk to.
THR: There are four different classes of race cars competing within one race. How do you manage to keep track of so much action?
Wilson: We have a great team of people. You have a lot of eyeballs on this thing. Our director understands racing better than anybody I have worked with. … The way it works, the producer is responsible for getting the director to the best action on the track, and also to give equal time to all of the classes. So there is a team in place that (says) “Okay, we haven’t talked about this class for a while. We need to talk about that.’’ A lot of it is dependent upon good action and consistently looking for the best battles. It’s more of a collective effort, not necessarily one person assigned to one class and another class.
THR: Since it’s a road course designed inside an oval track, do you utilize more equipment and do you have to worry about it breaking down over such a long telecast?
Wilson: You typically use more equipment on road courses than ovals, but this is a ro-val (road oval). There are more cameras on Daytona 500 than this event (because it’s such a premier event).
As for the equipment, it’s like racing in a way. In the old days you had to nurse your car home and make sure you had something at the finish. In endurance races it was more about survival than outright speed. Now with racing, the quality of the equipment is so great, it’s a sprint race from the very beginning … you go as fast as you can for as long as you can. Television is the same way – we expect everything to work for 25 hours. There are always little things that go wrong, nothing too extreme or something that you don’t see on the air.
THR: Do you require more production trucks for an event like this?
Wilson: We’re bringing in more editing equipment, more feature production, we have some overnight components that while we are not on the air there is a level of coverage and people in place to make sure the stories are still being told, even in the down time. The technical challenge is really in the set up. Once we get in there and once we’re ready to go for the first race we do on Friday, it pretty much goes.
THR: What kind of coverage will be provided during the overnight hours?
Wilson: We have a guy – one of our more-experienced cameramen and a great race fan – he mans a camera on the roof while listening to the MRN broadcast (Motor Racing Network radio broadcast). He has a producer in the production truck, following timing and scoring and what’s going on.
NOTE: Wilson notes the coordinating producer for the telecast is Greg Oldham and another producer is Jackson Gardner.