ESPN kicks off the final 17-week stretch of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action with coverage of the July 28 Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard powered by BigMachineRecords.com at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jimmy Gaiero and his team are ready.
Chances are, you haven't heard of Gaiero, or Richie Basile, Rene Hatlelid or Chris Gray. Or countless others involved in this weekend's production. But you no doubt have seen examples of their work.
You've seen it every time this season when the NASCAR Nationwide Series has rolled out onto the track. Many of the same ESPN employees who bring race fans Nationwide coverage each week will do their own version of "double duty," working both Nationwide and Sprint Cup races for the remainder of the 2013 racing schedule.
Gaiero is the producer for ESPN's NASCAR telecasts, and it's his job to ride herd over a group of associates -- each of whom is trained on various aspects of the action on the track -- for the duration of each race.
It's not easy, even if Gaiero, Basile and others make it seem that way.
Producer Jim Gaiero (foreground) and director Richie Basile during an ESPN telecast (ESPN Images)
Hidden away inside one of several trailers in the TV compound, the ESPN production trailer is a man cave without the snacks. Or recliners. Not even a painting of dogs playing poker.
It is, however, filled with video monitors displaying anywhere from one to a dozen separate shots at any given time.
Gaiero and Basile, the director, sit front and center, focused on any number of screens but most mindful of the one that's straight ahead -- it's the same shot that's being seen in every home that's tuned in to the race, in this instance, the Subway Firecracker 250 from Daytona International Speedway.
Among those seated behind the two on any given week are Hatlelid, the pit producer who coordinates content with pit reporters and camera crews; and Gray, in charge of logging commercial breaks during a telecast and making sure the producer is aware of time remaining before live coverage continues.
Rene Hatelid produces pit-road reports like these post-race interviews.
What goes on inside the production trailer during a race? Everything. Often simultaneously. Personnel are spread out all over the 2.5-mile track with announcers in the booth, reporters on pit road and camera operators practically everywhere. Each one is in communication throughout the evening with one or more folks inside the trailer.
The official time of July race at DIS was one hour, 43 minutes and 56 seconds. Had you been seated inside the unit, this is a condensed version of what you might have heard:
"Let's have fun."
"Allen, Dave knows why the 33 is getting hot."
"Morph the ticker."
"Ten, nine, eight ?"
"We've got 6 radio."
"Let's go to 6 radio -- now."
"Mention the blue spoiler."
Mention the blue spoiler? Elliott Sadler's blue spoiler finished first and earned him the $100,000 Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash prize at Daytona.
"Seven, six ?"
"Time in this segment?"
"Telemetry and reveal."
"Five, four ? "
"Gimme the points. Gimme the points, Larry."
"Let's get Shannon with Allgaier. We'll do it live."
"Three, two, one."
"Good job everyone."
While Basile is busy calling into his headset for the various shots to be shown on screen, Gaiero keeps tabs on everything else that's going on out on the race track. He's also keeping an eye on how long the coverage has gone between commercial breaks, marking off each break as it takes place.
"My job is to look at the other cameras to help Richie decide where we're going to go next, or if something is about to happen," Gaiero, who has been producing racing for two-and-a-half years, said. "Because we are usually following a story that we've already set up, so we're already focusing on that. My job is to see what we're missing because I want to make sure that the fans are seeing pretty much everything."
A late-race wreck brings out the red flag and brings out the best in the prepared ESPN crew.
The red-flag period near the end of the race -- the result of a multi-car crash -- stopped the event for nearly 10 minutes. No one on the TV crew flinched as the minutes passed.
The downtime wasn't an issue, Gaiero said "because we were ready. We were ready for everything.
"When everything happened at the end with the red flag, we got all this great content and we set up this great finish. Everything we started at the beginning of the day about how this would be a great finish and how the big one was going to happen -- it all played out. Because we had done our research, we had done our homework."
Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president, motorsports, production, (front row, foreground) leads the NASCAR on ESPN team, including the Patrick Perrin and Rene Hatelid (back row, foreground). (ESPN Images)
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