When it comes to live television, it’s hard to prepare for the unknown. Particularly, as Fox Sports producer Barry Landis can attest, when it comes to live sporting event television.
NASCAR moving the Clash race to the L.A. Coliseum falls into that category. The purpose-built quarter-mile track inside the prestigious southern California football stadium that’s home to the USC Trojans is brand-new, meaning the NASCAR on Fox crew, from producers to camera operators and on-air talent, has no history with the venue to fall back on like they do for the hundreds of other races they’ve brought to fans over the past 20 seasons.
“But you can also go through the mental gymnastics of preparing yourself for what if this happens?” Landis says. “I think if you just start the day and say, ‘Let’s roll out six hours, we’ll follow what’s going on,’ it’d probably either finish way too early or go way over and be sloppy.
“We’re very regimented in our approach to what the programming is so that we can enjoy the actual competition. There’s a ton of work that goes into it.”
It’s an approach that has been a work in progress since Fox Sports began broadcasting races in 2001. Thankfully, the relationship between the television side and NASCAR officials has gotten better over the years, going from viewing each other as separate entities to working together with the common goal of presenting to fans the best possible entertainment product.
Landis and his crew will work the Clash as they do other events: backwards. Having just recently addressed the PR representatives for the drivers, Landis said everyone needs to think, particularly for the Clash, what do we want to get out of this?
“Of course, we want great racing,” he says. “We want entertainment on the track. Awesome, we got that. World’s best drivers. Cool venue. All that stuff. But at the end of the day, this event from the concerns to the venue itself, whether you want to get into the new car, it is a stage that is erected to really let the drivers shine.
“We’re always there to show off the driver, so this kind of crazy adventure we’re on on Sunday, you can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re there to sell, appreciate, and let the viewers know who these drivers are. Then you work back from that. How can we accomplish it? All the way from the format of the race to the venue to the concerts, all of this has been done in unison with Fox and NASCAR.”
There is no denying the Busch Light Clash will be heavy on entertainment. After all, if racing on a short track wasn’t good enough, there’s a pre-race concert with Pitbull, a halftime break featuring a performance from Ice Cube, and a live DJ playing during cautions.
Mike Joy admits having a new medium to play with is a little intimidating because of the learning curve, but they’ll make it fun.
Joy can’t do the same prep work he would for the Daytona 500 or Atlanta or Martinsville. However, while this Clash event is new, Joy and boothmate Clint Bowyer grew up on short tracks, and Joy’s time spent watching events unfold at Bowman Gray Stadium should come in handy.
“It’s a very unique experience for the driver of how to set up a pass and how to complete a pass, and how hard that is to do without at least some contact because the track is narrow (and) the turns are tight,” Joy says. “The speeds aren’t going to be anything like we see at Martinsville, so it’s really going to be a different kind of racing.
“I’m not promising carnage at the Coliseum, but there’s going to be a lot of contact. And you know what? That’s why people come to short tracks every week because it’s a contact sport. One thing I learned from Bowman Gray, if you see a car at the end of the day that doesn’t have a mark on it, it’s either very slow, or it got out and got away from the pack and stayed there. And that rarely happens.”
Fox has already made three trips to the Coliseum to plan and determine camera locations. It will have roughly six broadcast locations around the stadium. As Landis mentioned, it has a six-hour window to fill on Sunday. It is a two-day event featuring practice, qualifying, and heat races before the feature race with 23 drivers, and Landis says there will be cool technology on display, such as super slow-mo or high-speed cameras.
“A sky cam that you see on football,” says Landis. “We’ll have one of those drones. We love our drones at Fox, I can tell you that. All of that has been painstakingly laid out – the cameras in the walls, our speed cameras… The planning process was pretty cool, I’ll be honest with you.
“This was a clean slate. We’ve done many football games at the LA Coliseum, but those camera positions aren’t necessarily conducive to covering a race. The technology, we had people showing CAD (computer-aided design) drawings that actually took you inside the stadium and gave you the camera view of where that came ria going to be placed. Really impressive stuff along with the construction of a track, which is amazing.”
Although it’s a new race with a new format, and there will be a lot of action leading up to the Sunday night green flag, Joy isn’t going to work fans into things slowly.
“I think right from when you come on the air, you just go full bore straight at it,” he says. “We’re at a brand new venue; we’re somewhere none of these drivers have ever raced before; we’ve got a car they’ve never raced before; we’ve got drivers who’ve never worked with their crew chiefs before. You want to see completely new in stock car racing? Here you go. Boom.”
The halftime break will serve as a time to reset for both Landis and his crew, Joy, Bowyer, and Tony Stewart in the booth. During that time, they’ll all confer on what was overlooked during the first half of the race, and plan for the second half.
“Usually, we only have a two-minute commercial break to get that done,” says Joy. “Now we’re going to have a whole halftime to take that break and figure out how we want to play the second half of the race. So, that’s helpful just like I’m sure it is to the racers.”
Joy has a simple goal for the Clash from a broadcast perspective.
“I want everybody who watches to put a big mark on their calendar for mid-February and be saying, ‘I can’t wait to tune into the Daytona 500 on Fox,’” he says.
Landis wants to help race fans further connect to a driver.
“They may already have their driver, and that’s awesome, let’s make it that much better for them,” he says. “But if we can connect a newer audience to some of these drivers, and the way I describe it is a short-term event with long-term gains. That’s what I hope to get out of it for the drivers themselves.”
Joy reiterated that the idea of the Clash is it can be exciting and fun, and it’s something new to do in Los Angeles. And it’s something that has many people talking in the weeks leading up to it.
“Everybody is coming up to me,” Joy said of being approached while in Phoenix last week for Barrett Jackson. “Everybody around the place, ‘Hey, what’s it going to be like at the Coliseum?’ There’s a big buzz about what’s happening. Two years ago, before COVID, nobody came up to me at Barrett Jackson in January and said, ‘Hey, who’s going to win the Busch Clash?’ But (now), a lot of people are talking about it; a lot of people are excited about it.”