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Fox on the fly with new camera for pits

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2003

When mulling over this season's NASCAR coverage, Artie Kempner, Fox's lead director, says the plan is not to just throw cameras at the track. More, he says, is not always better.

But when the chance came to throw one more camera into the mix, Kempner couldn't resist.

Going where no NASCAR coverage has gone before, Fox will debut Fly-Cam, a concept similar to the Sky Cam used first by the XFL then this year by ESPN and ABC on football broadcasts.

The Fly-Cam will take viewers into pit road along a 500-foot zipline, from which the camera will tilt, pan and fly around at speeds up to 65 mph.

"No one has ever been able to capture this before," Kempner said.

But they thought about it at Fox as far back as 2000, before they had NASCAR broadcasts. Kempner had used similar cameras to cover skiing at the Albertville and Lillehammer Olympics when he worked at CBS, and since coming to Fox had looked for a company that could take Fly/Sky Cam technology and make it work for NASCAR.

He finally found that company in Philadelphia.

"We just didn't want to have a piece of equipment that has (no impact)," Kempner said. "It's a complicated issue. You need a pilot that operates the camera on the wire, a camera guy who operates the camera remotely. . . . You've got to have some people who work on it and have some expertise."

Fox planned on doing a test run in the days before Sunday's Daytona 500. And it will not use the Fly-Cam at every race this season; in fact, it isn't even scheduled to be used again after Daytona, though how it performs Sunday as well as the logistics of using it at other tracks could make it a semi-regular extra.

"Everything is pending," Kempner said. "We'll be on pit road and not only cover the cars coming in, but also cover racing through the tri-oval, which is really important at Daytona. We'll be able to do a little better job covering the race off pit road. This is all kind of in the begining stages. I've watched tapes from other sports (that used the cam), and I think it's a logical step for us.

"Special races call for special pieces of equipment," Kempner said.

And expensive ones. Fox would not release the figures but Kempner said the camera and operation of it is equal to buying 10 more cameras and employing 10 operators.

He thinks the potential payoff could make it worth the cost. Kempner said he's not even sure how Fox will use the camera during its broadcast, but he anticipates many shots to choose from. The Fox crew will be helped by new NASCAR rules, which have limited the size of fuel cells in cars at Daytona an Talladega, meaning almost twice as many pit stops.

"I think pit road is never more important than it is at Daytona," Kempner said. "There should be about 1.6 times as many pit stops. . . . That's where the race is definitely won or lost. The difference between getting in and out in 15.5 seconds or 18.5, that's the three seconds that will get you out front and one of the reasons why we are there."

VAROOOOM!: Fox always has placed an emphasis on getting the sound of the games (or races) it covers, and its "Crank It Up" segments have proven very popular.

And, Kempner said, financially beneficial to makers of surround sound systems.

"We hear it all the time, from people, from tons of e-mails, constantly, that they are buying surround sound systems to listen to Crank it Up," he said.

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