On October 12, 2009, Adam Alexander and Krista Voda welcomed viewers to a “brand spanking new show, NASCAR Race Hub.” In the opening shot, seven-time champion Richard Petty, the show’s first guest, plays on a pinball machine in the corner.
The pinball machine is no longer around, but Race Hub is, and is still in the same building. The sets have changed over the years, as have the hosts, and today it’s not 30 minutes of NASCAR news and analysis as Voda and Alexander did in 2009, but an hour.
NASCAR Race Hub has become a staple of Fox Sports programming, with over 2,100 episodes aired. Recently, it was nominated for a Sports Emmy for (Daily) Outstanding Studio Show, and viewership is trending up 32% from this point a year ago.
RACER was given an inside look at how an episode is put together on a day with Adam Alexander, Jamie McMurray, and Michael Waltrip in the studio and Kelly Hambleton as show producer.
It takes place in a 60-by-60 space of giant green screen with 3D graphics and changeable spaces. More than 50 people work on the show.
Jason Avery (senior coordinating producer): Oh gosh, the evolution is amazing. It’s not really comparable. About midway through 2009, I was told we were going to start a daily NASCAR show and my guess would be we had about eight weeks to do it. So myself and another guy, Neil Sullivan, were put to task to create it. We had a very quick studio that went up that looked like a garage, and we came on set with jeans and untucked shirts. But then, throughout the years, we went from standing on our first set to creating a desk and new look by 2011. When we first sat down, our concept of the show was to talk NASCAR, to be casual, to have drivers come in, tell stories but also have fun, and have features. We were kind of doing that at the time, but it was a smaller level than what we do today.
On this Tuesday, after the race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the day started with a 9:30 a.m. production call on Zoom (something that has stuck around since the pandemic because it’s much easier) with the talent and production staff. It was led by Hambleton.
Hambleton is the first female to produce Race Hub. At first, she served as an emergency fill-in on a show that had already been put together. About a month later, she was given a chance to produce again and build the show herself.
Kelly Hambleton (producer): NASCAR is a soap opera, and there’s new drama every week, so you never want to handcuff yourself on how you’re going to cover it. For me, anyway, it’s helpful to start every show fresh with an empty rundown. If I do a Monday show, I do the rundown right after the race ends. Everybody depends on knowing how the show runs, so I try to get people rundowns at least 24 hours before the show. That gives everybody time to give feedback and gives graphics time to build.
Hambleton’s approach is simple: fans in a bar need to be able to follow the show.
KH: I think sports television, in general, has to be like that because that’s where many people watch.
Hambleton offers a layout for the show’s direction before turning it over to Alexander. For an hour, the call is more like a group of friends sitting around talking about racing and their thoughts on what they watched over the weekend.
There is a back-and-forth between the talent and Hambleton, who is creating a rundown sheet outlining how the conversation will move along from topic to topic and the points to be made by Alexander, McMurray, and Waltrip.
KH: Some talent like their own ideas, and some talent like to be veered in a certain direction, so they know why we’re talking about something. Everyone is different. Jamie is going to come up with whatever he wants. But Bobby? Bobby is doing all kinds of stuff, so when he comes in here, he just needs to know what he has to talk about and prepare himself for that.
Adam Alexander (host): I definitely like to be a part of the process. I didn’t do it with Kelly, but it’s not unprecedented for me to be in here (the day before) doing a show and the Tuesday producer says, ‘Hey, stop by when you get a chance. I wanted to ask you some things,’ and then we’ll collaborate on a segment of something we want to do and get my opinion or buy-in. So, I like being a part of the process. Jamie would argue that I’m a control freak, but I just enjoy the creative and the idea part of it.
Jamie McMurray (analyst): The host and the producers have a really good idea of what your answer is going to be anyway, so they know how to ask the question. But Adam’s role is big in that call. The host is as important as the producer, because he has a good idea of what Michael and I will say because he’s worked with us so much. The worst thing you can do is get out there and not believe what you’re saying. And if you believe it, you don’t have to memorize it. It would probably be interesting to see Michael’s notes and my notes before the show starts, because I can only imagine. And Adam’s notes. Adam’s are basically all in his head and on a receipt from Target.
Michael Waltrip (analyst): I like the structure of it being put together, and it’s my job to interact with Kelly and the other analysts about thoughts on what makes that conversation more interesting. Sometimes it’s right down the line of what she suggests, and sometimes it’s different from things I see or how I think about it differently from somebody else. It’s a balance.
Shannon Spake (host): I’ll receive the rundown in the morning, and I’ll usually write the show before our meeting. So I get my kids off to school, sit down with the rundown and write it. I’ll lean heavily on what they’ve put together, but ultimately, I’m the one who has to get us from one topic to the next. And if I feel like there is something that can bridge that and make the transition smoother, I’ll certainly suggest that. Or if I feel something should be moved from one area to the next to make that smoother, I’ll suggest that as well. I’ll fire off a text message, and when we do our meeting, I’ll bring it up again. Now, if a producer makes a really good case for why they think it should be that way, then that’s fine as well. I can adapt. But I’m the one who has to get up there and know the flow, and if it’s choppy to me, I’m not going to get into that rhythm, so it’s pretty important to make changes I think are necessary.
No rundown is the same with different hosts and analysts cycling through the show every day (and different producers). Neither is a show because of the changing opinions.
SS: I think that’s really important and probably one of the only ways you could do a daily NASCAR show because, let’s face it, for five days, we’re talking about what happened on the racetrack. We’re asking the same questions Monday through Friday, but we’re getting different perspectives because it’s with someone who was on track or the pit box.
Kaitlyn Vincie (host): I think variety is a good thing, and it’s three very unique hosts with three totally different approaches and deliveries. We have a diverse group, which is exciting to see. There is something to like about everybody involved in the show.
Separate from the rundown is the talent’s preparation.
AA: I try to read (everything) and be well-versed in the topics in the sport and the numbers. And my habits the first half of the year are great because I’m doing the Xfinity broadcasts, so I’m naturally doing that prep work and a lot of times that bleeds over to Cup, even though I’m not doing Cup on the weekend. I think I’m just naturally prepared to talk about something, and what’s big for me in the process is rehearsal. I like unscripted, raw conversation on television. That’s another reason I like to be a part of the process of preparation, because I know how naturally it’s going to come to me to go from Point A to Point B. If I’m a part of that, I can begin the rehearsal process in my head of how I’m going to do it. I think I’m prepared, but I don’t like to be scripted. I just prefer to react and keep it conversational.
JM: Monday and Tuesday are typically about reaction to the race, so as long as you watch the race, you don’t have to read much. If you do Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, it normally transitions to going into the weekend, so to me that’s more like a pre-race show where you’re looking ahead (to that racetrack).
MW: We have a great stats team, and there are calls and chats with them about things I’m going to talk about, and I want to have more knowledge about to say. For example, today on the call, I said I’m going to talk about Christopher Bell and Martin Truex with absolutely no apprehension about making the playoffs because they’re going to win. And then I call up (the stat guys) and say, now, I believe that, and I’m sure I’m correct but statistically, what makes me correct? So I say all that (expletive) on TV, and it makes it look like I know what I’m talking about, and I do know what I’m talking about, but if you tried to pin me down on those numbers… if I didn’t do my research, I wouldn’t have that information.
SS: NASCAR is a lifestyle. I’m watching every Race Hub, so I’m watching when I’m not on. We get stat sheets. We have production meetings all week long. On Tuesday, we have the Xfinity Series race production meeting. Cup Series race production meetings. I’m on those calls. I’m constantly listening to what the broadcast is going to talk about or interested in because I think it’s important we’re tying that in. We’re sort of one big television show, whether it’s the race or Race Hub, and we should all be talking about the same storylines.
KV: You’re never really unplugged any day of the week, so it starts on race weekends. Most of my time is spent watching races for all three series, and I have to be dialed in to any on-track activity. So if you’re not plugged into the weekend, you’re not going to know the bulk of the storylines going into the week on Race Hub. And our dates vary from week to week, so you could be on one day with a Truck segment, or an Xfinity segment. You don’t know, so you need to know everything happening. Then there is also a constant line of communication with the producers on storylines. I’m a person who puts a little bit more in the prompter for the analysts because I think it benefits them, especially if we’re standing. You can’t have any paperwork in front of you.