Like a whirlwind, the ESPN network rolled in and out of town last weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races held Saturday and Sunday at Dover International Speedway.
Every race weekend since 2007, the ESPN network has rolled into town and set up what looks like a small suburb outside of Dover International Speedway in order to capture every sound and every viewing angle of the NASCAR races that ensued.
It was no different last weekend as ESPN set up camp for 225 credentialed personnel from Friday through Sunday, complete with its own personal caterer.
Then, the logistical miracle was gone shortly after the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
During race action, the ESPN trailer holding the main control room was the center of the action, where the producer and the director oversaw "a controlled chaos."
ESPN Associate Director of Communications Andy Hall described race coverage as "trying to land 43 fighter jets on the same runway at the same time." Namely, ESPN's job was to cover all 43 racecars in the race.
"The producer has to make more decisions during a three-hour telecast than most normal people do in a month because he has to constantly think on his feet," Hall said. "He's got people in his ear constantly trying to sell him something.
"The graphics guy might say, 'Hey, I've got this.' Or the producer for the pit might say, 'Hey, Dr. Punch just talked to Dale Earnhardt's crew chief.' The producer has to decide, yeah we're going to do that or no."
And they did it with the aid of about 60 cameras and more than 100 microphones placed throughout Dover International Speedway to capture the sights and the sounds of the car engines that people love, respectively, he said.
Director Richie Basile usually works with either James Shiftan or Jim Giero in the producer's chair. Basile coordinates the camera angles needed to tell the story the producer wants to tell.
"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. "
The information flow includes pit producer Rene Hatelid who manages the four pit reporters — Dr. Jerry Punch, Dave Burns, Vince Welch and Jamie Little — and then pitches their stories to the producer, who makes the call as to whether those nuggets propel the story along. And the announcers and the crew talk to each other to set up replay shots or graphics.
Assistant director Linda Schulz does her part by monitoring when to go to commercial and sales obligations, he said.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that NASCAR races are not linear like a baseball or football game, where one follows the ball, Basile said. ESPN's challenge is to show everyone where the action is, including battles between drivers that are the epitome of racing and, of course, crashes.
"We're trying to cover the best races at the time and tell as many stories as we can," Basile said. "It's non stop on the track. And we don't want to get too tight because there are 43 cars on the track. You get too tight, you're missing the race."