Retro: When IMSA's in-car cameras appeared in 1985

Image by Marshall Pruett Archives

Retro: When IMSA's in-car cameras appeared in 1985


Retro: When IMSA's in-car cameras appeared in 1985


New IMSA broadcast partner NBC Sports has been at the forefront of in-car video technology for decades, and its expected to continue as the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship settles into its new home for television and live streaming.

IMSA’s first adventure in live on-board footage came in 1985 as Jim Busby’s Porsche 962 GTP team, with backing from tire manufacturer BFGoodrich, took sports car fans along for some memorable rides. Sitting in the passenger seat next to Busby, Jochen Mass, Pete Halsmer, John Morton, Rick Knoop, and other GTP legends was a ground-breaking viewing experience in the mid-80s.

Busby Racing was fortunate to have a big company like BFGoodrich willing to fund two GTP entries, and to pay for the pioneering in-car camera systems. It was less fortunate to be saddled with tires that, as decreed by the brand, were derived from its street car products, rather than making purebred racing slicks like the other manufacturers.

Winning the on-track footage game proved to be far easier than winning actual IMSA GTP events.

“You can say what you want about BF Goodrich in the early days of all this stuff when they were independent and not owned by Michelin,” Busby said.“The bottom line is, is Gary Pace and Chuck Patrick and engineering and some of the key players at BF Goodrich had the balls to come into big time racing with big time tires and not look back, and they pulled it off.

“Not only were they good at that, but all the people that did the PR stuff there, they had full confidence and energy in their tires, their engineers, their company, and Busby Racing. And when they had an idea to somehow get themselves some more publicity, they didn’t hesitate.”

Image by IMSA

Despite representing cutting-edge technology at the time, the camera systems were inescapably large and heavy by today’s standards. Affixed to the cockpit bulkhead, the camera unit weighed in at 13 pounds, and the number increases when factoring in all of its associated wiring and transmission equipment. Look inside an IMSA car this weekend at Daytona, and the 2019 version, in full HD, with all of its associated pieces, comes in around four pounds.

“They brought in some of the guys that did off-road work for them and everything else and they’d come to our shops in Laguna [Beach] and start hanging this sh*t all over the car,” he said. “And I’d start looking at it and saying, ‘Let’s see. 13 pounds there, nine there, two and a half there. The battery, where’s the battery gonna be?’ [They’d say,] ‘It’s gonna be right there.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not. If it’s there, it’ll be under my feet by the third lap. You don’t understand what happens inside of this car…’

After the 1985 introduction, camera advancements would arrive quickly as remote-control panning was used to show different perspectives, and before long, in-car views became an expected part of IMSA broadcasts.

Busby’s favorite part of being the in-car R&D team, even with the extra weight the systems brought, came with giving BFGoodrich extra exposure. That’s about the only positive that comes to mind for the retired IMSA veteran.

“And so, they always were on the cutting edge of getting that logo [in the frame], and if you look at every one of those pictures from the cockpit with that camera, that was more than my best friend in the cockpit, [but] I couldn’t see sh*t out of the [left] side of the car,” he recalled. “And if I bent my head over too far in a corner, I hit the camera and it wasn’t a lot of fun. But what did you see every time that thing was on? You saw that logo in the center of the 962 dash that said BFGoodrich.”

Another innovative aspect of the Busby/BFGoodrich in-car cameras was found with the real-time feed to whoever was broadcasting the event—a few networks shared the responsibility in 1985—and in beaming the in-car signal to the brand’s guests sitting trackside. Once again, for the era, having an in-car feed made available to those in a hospitality tent while the Busby 962s were competing was a revolutionary concept in IMSA.

“Remember that ESPN didn’t pay anything for it,” Busby said. “BFGoodrich paid for everything and then they bought commercials. So they not only funded the entire camera project … they made everything work, and so when the signal went out on ESPN, they just picked it up in the tent. So they took the feed and played it live in the tent.

“It was going to your television in San Francisco, so you were seeing real time because they just picked the feed up. I think CBS, ESPN, there was two or three different people, even NBC, I think, at one point, but BFGoodrich paid for everything.”

Where Busby and BFGoodrich deserve credit for introducing something that has become an integral part of every IMSA show, they also shoulder some blame for removing one of racing’s great excuses. Once the in-car cameras went live, fans, drivers, and IMSA officials alike had concrete evidence as to who was at fault for an incident.

Fellow GTP driver Al Leon was the first driver to be exonerated, thanks to the live feed. The owner/driver carrying the in-car camera wasn’t so lucky.

“He locked his brakes and started to go sideways,” Busby says of qualifying for the Miami street race. “I kind of hit him, pushed him out of the way, and continued to set my best lap, but when I returned to the pits, the crew asked me if anything had happened. I said no. I just got close to the other car, but no problem.

“What I didn’t realize is that the camera was showing the action on the huge display screen on Biscayne Boulevard and everyone had seen the incident. Everyone.”

After qualifying, and prior to seeing the in-car replay, Busby gave a quote regarding the contact that mirrored the denial he gave to his team. It wasn’t long before a BFGoodrich PR rep inquired about making a more truthful correction…

“And, to me, I was a pretty heads up driver, but occasionally, when somebody would annoy me, I’d move them out of the way,” he admitted. “And I didn’t think too much about it. It’s almost like it was part of the lap and I remember being asked about it and then I was told by Gary Pace, who was the BFGoodrich [PR] guy, he said, ‘Well, maybe you need to rethink your statement on that because here you are hitting the guy and knocking him out. Would you like to see the replay, sir? Fine, sir…’

“I might have also said, ‘Well, now I vaguely recall…’ or something like that, some legal answer.”

Enjoy the full conversation with Busby on IMSA’s first live in-car cameras in the podcast below:

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