NBC Sports adapting to the moment in preparing for IndyCar's return

Image by Levitt/Motorsport Images

NBC Sports adapting to the moment in preparing for IndyCar's return

IndyCar

NBC Sports adapting to the moment in preparing for IndyCar's return

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NBC Sports will produce its first live NTT IndyCar Series event Saturday night on its flagship network channel from Texas Motor Speedway. The opportunity brings immense potential for the series and broadcaster to reach important new viewers, and takes place during socially-charged times amid an ongoing pandemic.

Recent policy changes implemented by the state of Texas allowed NBC Sports to modify its coverage plans at TMS to include pit reporters Marty Snider and Kelly Stavast on the ground in their customary domain while the host team of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy call the event from a dedicated suite above the grandstands.

From all that’s taking place in the country as IndyCar launches its season to holding the Texas race without fans, Sam Flood, the executive producer and president of production for NBC and NBCSN, says he’s prepared to embrace all the unique influences that might shape the 8 p.m. ET broadcast.

“I think it has to be acknowledged for sure because it’s impacting so many lives, and starting with COVID-19, which anyone in the world knows about right now because it has been top of mind for 80-something days,” he said.

“And in terms of what’s going on across our country in terms of race protests and the rightful dialogue that’s coming from that, we will appropriately react to it and make sense of it. Leigh and I were talking before the call, we are going to get together Saturday morning and have a dialogue about where we are because this story continues to evolve. The events from two nights ago were far different in this country than the events from last night. We have to see the evolution of the story and also the evolution of the COVID-19 story and where we are when this begins, and that’s the job, and we’re fortunate to have Leigh who’s able to put things in proper perspective and words to handle a story and stories like this.”

With sports often serving as an escape from normal life, Diffey is tasked with striking the right balance of acknowledging the unprecedented circumstances facing the country while delivering the entertainment expected from the NTT IndyCar Series.

“It’s an enormous responsibility, and it’s certainly weighing heavily on me, but that’s what we’re paid to do, and when the time comes, I’ll deliver the right message on behalf of our group,” he said. “You know, we’re as disturbed as the rest of the country and alarmed as the rest of the country with what has transpired, so to Sam’s point, we will choose our words carefully and I will deliver those words in a responsible and sensitive manner, and like Sam said, it absolutely needs acknowledgment, and then when we have acknowledged and given it the attention that it deserves, then we can move on in an appropriate manner to enjoy what we enjoy, which is live sports.”

For Stavast, Saturday’s prep work and in-race reporting will be one full of distancing and adjustments.

“Marty and I are used to being in the thick of the action and tapping people on the shoulders and yelling into their ears to get answers and get information on the spot, and obviously to be responsible about things, we’re not going to be doing that this time around,” she said.

Snider added, “We’re used to going into transporters, being able to talk to drivers face to face, so we’re having to schedule some Zoom time with drivers, and when they’re doing their own strategy meetings via Zoom, you need to probably follow the same protocol. So we’ll be doing a lot of that, but in terms of being on pit road, we are allowed in the pit stalls, so we’ll be able to do that, and then it’s up to each strategist as to how we can communicate during the race. Obviously, we’ll social distance. Obviously everybody will have a mask on the entire time, so we’ll be able to approach them, it’s just a question of how they’re going to be able to hear us, how we’re going to be able to communicate, so that’s something we’re going to have to honestly feel out throughout the night Saturday night.”

Fans can also expect to see a shift in production styles as Flood’s production team focuses heavily on the cars and teams.

“We’re not going to necessarily come out of commercial with big sweeping shots of the racetrack,” he said. “Tighter is better in this case. We’ve obviously watched the NASCAR races and they’ve done a nice job at FOX covering the event and staying in tighter shots of the track and of the racing. We’ve got Sean Owens directing this race, and he learned at the foot of the greatest motorsports director of all time, Mike Wells, so he’s got a good game plan in place for how to execute this race and make it feel as big as it’s going to be.

“And the audio side of it, it’s pretty clear that the fans are rarely heard in a motorsports race, and in this case, we’ll be okay without it. The engine noises and the drama and the sparks and the lights will add incredible visuals to this thing, so that combined with the natural sounds that come from racing, we feel confident it’ll be a great listen.”

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