dThe Famous Group will be at the center of the diamond celebration
By Kristian Hernández, Senior Editor
Sunday, February 19, 2023
February 21, 1948. That’s the date when 69 days’ worth of conversations at the Streamline Hotel on Daytona Beach led to the founding of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Nearly 75 years to the day, and 6 miles to the west at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR and The Famous Group (TFG) will honor this illustrious history with an elaborate mixed-reality (MR) open featuring past winners and their respective cars at the top of Fox Sports’ broadcast.
“Being able to take an event like the Daytona 500 to create awareness about our 75th season is pretty incredible,” says Amy Anderson, head of content strategy, NASCAR. “It’s the one race that brings everyone together at the start of our season.”
The Mission for Creative: Condensing 75 Years Into Two Minutes
NASCAR has come a long way since its beginning in the early 1900s. Rooted in bootleggers’ driving small, quick, and maneuverable cars to evade detection during Prohibition, the activity slowly became a sport that merged the latest in machinery and the need for speed. After its founding by former mechanic Bill France Sr., NASCAR ran an organized race on the sands of Daytona Beach annually until Feb. 23, 1958.
Since 1958, the race has been run at Daytona International Speedway. In April 2021, Anderson joined the NASCAR family to assist the NASCAR Studios division and, almost immediately, was brought on to the commemoration project to precede Sunday’s jewel event. She and SVP/Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark put their heads together on the effort.
“We’re interested in doing things that engage the fans in new ways,” she says. “Tim eventually reached out to The Famous Group and realized that we needed to start talking about ideas with them.”
Known as the premier destination for mixed-reality activations for live sports broadcasts, TFG has a track record of success. Projects in its portfolio include work with teams and venues — the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium — as well as league-specific initiatives like the NFL 100 All-Time Team introduced at Super Bowl LIV on Fox in 2020. One project in particular — the MR panther devised by Director/Executive Producer, Game Presentation and Production, Mike Bonner — inspired NASCAR Studios to enlist the help of The Famous Group. Not only did it strike close to home creatively, but the home of the Panthers is less than a mile from NASCAR’s office in Charlotte, NC.
Linking Past and Present: The Rundown of Sunday’s Presentation
The creative team came up with what they’re calling “The Greatest Lap.” On a mixed-reality track running atop the actual track at Daytona International Speedway, cars from different eras will race side by side. As the cars make their way around, mixed-reality videoboards will pop up along the track to display real-time highlights of past Daytona 500s.
From a legacy standpoint, NASCAR owns the rights to team names and cars, so the field will feature winners from different generations. These include the father-son duo of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the first winner, in 1958, Lee Petty. In addition, fans watching the race in person will be able to see the presentation via the LED videoboards at the track.
Rehearsals conducted throughout the week have produced remarkable results, with real-life cars matching the pace and speed of their MR counterparts. With a project of this size and scale, the biggest challenge was making sure that the activation fit on the 2.5-mile track.
“We’re tracking cars going around a large and long canvas,” notes Anderson. “We needed to do all of this while also making sure that the cars look realistic and mixing together videos of various resolutions. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle.”
On the broadcast side of the endeavor, NASCAR collaborated with Fox Sports SVP, Production and Talent Development, Jacob Ullman; SVP, NASCAR Production, Steve Craddock; SVP, Technical and Field Operations, Mike Davies; and VP, Production, Lindsey Mandia. Director Brian Lilley and Producer Jacob Jolivette will helm this presentation from Game Creek Video Cleatus mobile unit — the Fox Sports pairing that worked on the MR tribute to Jackie Robinson at the 2022 MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. NASCAR Senior Director, Broadcasting, Lauren Hill; Managing Director, Domestic Broadcasting, Ben Baker, and others from NASCAR’s broadcasting team will work with The Famous Group and SMT in Game Creek Larkspur.
Behind the Scenes: The Famous Group Supplies Tech Backbone
Brainstorming such an ambitious effort is a fairly simple task when the creative juices begin to flow, but powering this behemoth of a project from an operational perspective is not. The person responsible for bringing these cars to life is The Famous Group Head of Mixed Reality Erik Beaumont. To produce exact replicas of the vehicles, Executive Creative Director Hemu Karadkar, Beaumont, and the rest of the TFG team relied on any and all reference points available, as well as guidance from Martin.
“Since not every NASCAR model was accessible,” says Beaumont, “we had to do 3D scans of replicas, real cars, and toy cars; rebuild them to match the historical footage and images; [and have them] validated by Ken. To animate a pack of 16 cars, we created a parametric animation system that takes the track into account for extreme flexibility. The track itself was lidar-scanned, giving us a 100% accurate surface on which to animate the cars, so that they react correctly where there are bumps or unevenness in the tarmac.”
As for the tech enabling the spectacle, six cameras will be at the ready around the track: three tracked cameras with Unreal Engine 5.1 software on each, three that can be cut to and switched for interaction with crowds and the physical world. With coordination handled by Stage Precision, the presentation will be produced in 1080p60 HDR.