A visit to the NASCAR on FOX booth

Last Sunday at Michigan, I randomly rode up the elevator to the press box level with Mike Joy. Since the press box was right next to the TV booth at Michigan, Joy invited me to watch part of the race with the NASCAR on FOX gang to get a feel for what they do.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like, but there were a few surprises and eye-openers about the experience.

Here are three of them:

1. High level of interaction

For some reason, I pictured Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon standing shoulder to shoulder while broadcasting and staring out the window — not really looking at each other while talking.

Nope!

As the race unfolds, there’s quite a high level of interaction between them while they speak — eye contact, a hand on the other’s arm, excited gestures or motioning toward something on the screen or track.

Each man has his own chair — one of those tall chairs you’d use to sit at a high top at a bar — but they often would stand up and take a step toward the others while talking or making a point.

It was much more of a real conversation between the three than expected –and at a higher volume as well. Joy, for example, really projects his voice and it booms in the room (but it sounds normal on TV). There seemed to be a good energy in there.

There’s direct interaction between the three broadcasters during the race.

2. Technology is top notch

With the race going on, I figured the broadcasters would either be looking solely at the track or their monitors showing the camera feed. But there’s actually an impressive amount of statistical information at their fingertips.

First of all, the FOX scoring monitor — which you’ve likely seen photos of on Twitter — is even cooler than I thought. Yes, they have information like “biggest movers” on the screen — but they also get data such as the last lap each car pitted. Super valuable! That makes it easier to see what strategies are unfolding.

Another enviable stat: FOX’s scoring monitor shows the position for each car on the most recent restart. I was drooling.

But to me, the coolest piece of technology on the scoring monitor was a yellow box that was the equivalent of a proximity alarm. When two cars would get close on the track, a yellow box would appear around their car numbers on the monitor. That helps FOX’s director — as well as the commentators — identify where the battles are.

On top of that, FOX (like NBC) works with a company called Racing Insights, which takes NASCAR’s feed and puts it into a database which broadcasters can pull from in real time. Larry McReynolds spends a lot of time looking at those stats during the broadcast (he has a separate room on the same level), where he can do things like see a chart that compares lap times.

Jeff Gordon uses binoculars to watch the race off of pit road during each pit stop.

3. TV magic

The TV booth is just a smallish room that happens to have a great view. There’s a camera set up to record the few instances where the trio of announcers need to stand in front of it, a bank of portable TV lights and a small backdrop to the side where they make their mid-race picks.

There aren’t many people in the room aside from Joy, Waltrip and Gordon. There’s a stage manager (Andy Jeffers) as well as a woman (Barb Hanford) who is in charge of the microphones and cameras, plus two guys from Racing Insights and a runner (who brought the announcers things like water, tea, Diet Coke and pizza). On this day, Joy’s son Scott was also hanging in the back of the booth.

Most of the time, it seems like the broadcasters have to react on the fly to whatever is happening; when they’re talking about a replay, they’re seeing it for the first time along with the viewer. That makes Gordon’s ability to break it down in real time particularly impressive.

Once in the room for a few minutes, it all feels so…normal. Since the camera isn’t on and the TV lights aren’t illuminated like in a studio, it just seems like being in a room eavesdropping on someone’s conversation. It’s easy to forget there are millions of people who are listening to whatever is said in the microphones.

FOX’s scoring monitor has an automated system to highlight battles (indicated with a yellow box). In addition, members of the Racing Insights team will write on a whiteboard to help pass along notes (in this case, “Battle for 26th”).

22 Replies to “A visit to the NASCAR on FOX booth”

  1. Fascinating to hear about all the info available to those in the booth. Does DW pay any attention to any of it?

  2. No chance of getting anyone in trouble now since those that made it happen for me have moved on. It is a super cool thing to see. I had the opportunity to watch a truck race from the booth in Daytona a few years back with Rick Allen, Michael Waltrip, and Phil Parsons calling the actions. Kudo’s to all those guys, not as easy as everyone thinks.

  3. Boy, have we come a long way. I worked a lot of early ESPN (and some TNN) telecasts, and we were lucky to have one every tens laps scoring monitor. It was a lot of paper and pencil work. Larry Nuber had copious notes. And we ‘d go through a couple packs of notecards each race, jotting down scoring, trends, pit stops, comers and goers. It sure has changed!

    1. To me the amazing thing is you all put on much better broadcasts than anything we see today and you did it with no more technology available than you had. There have been a lot of changes over the years. The technology has changed but so has the focus. When you were doing it, presenting the race was central, the reason why you were there. Today, I’m not so sure what it is.

      Thanks for all you did. We appreciate your work.

      1. I wouldn’t go that far. I’ve known Mike Joy sine back in his MRN days, and there’s no one better at calling a race no matter if it’s a Cup deal or a Modified romp and anything in between. Mike knows and appreciate our sport and his commentary always points that out!

  4. I thought about having a drinking game where you take a drink every time DW touched someone’s arm, but I soon realized that you would be dead of alcohol poisoning before the race even started.
    Nice piece Jeff.

  5. Wow, super awesome. And look at you Mr Jeff Gluck, all important. First IndyCar and now Fox and NASCAR. Maybe NBC will let you join Rick, Steve and Dale Jr.
    I’m really happy and proud of you. ☺

  6. Thanks Jeff. I never really thought about what it’s like up there. The yellow box thing is cool. Now I know how they see all that happening at the back of the field.

  7. Such a great perspective from behind the scenes. I’ve been in the media center at New Hampshire but never lucky enough to be in the tv booth. I did meet Claire B Lang from Sirius XM, though. To see the tv production in person would be awesome!

  8. With all of the stuff available to them, how can DW stay so out of the loop and talk the nonsense he does?

  9. this is outstanding….I will definitely remember this article when watching all future races on FOX…top notch, Jeff

  10. I love that stuff, hearing and seeing about it is fun. The proximity alarm thing never occured to me. That is pretty neat. How about MRN next. Their broadcasts are so seamless I always wonder how they do what they do. Those guys fascinate me from a put talent point of view.

  11. You ever notice how DW says “Mike, they’re doing this, Mike, they’re doing that” all as if Jeff Gordon isn’t even in the room? I sure will be thrilled when I don’t have to listen to that boogity crap anymore. I have to mute my TV at the start of each race currently and that is a damn shame!

  12. I work in television production and find the scoring information they have in-front of the fascinating. I would also love to read about the MRN/PRN broadcast since yes they are seamless. The off air shows of both are very funny indeed.

    I agree DW has to go, he isn’t relevant anymore since he has not been in the car for almost twenty years and was uncompetitive for his last three.

    Great insights Jeff

  13. All of this technology, and yet they still can’t show any car passing another car, unless they are in the top ten. People don’t tune in to watch pit stops, they tune in to see racing. But a lot of what they show seems to be mostly pit stops. The directors need an education on what the race fans want to see!

  14. Great read and insights Jeff. I know a lot of people have issues with the personalities that are calling the races but you gave a new look for us to think about when listening at home. This was a great article and just one of the many reasons why you’re my #1 Nascar source. Hope to see you at Watkins Glen

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