Live From Daytona 500: SMT Enhances Analytics With Aerial Optical Pointers, Refreshed Videoboard Data for NASCAR

By Kristian Hernández, Senior Editor

Friday, February 17, 2023 - 2:11 pm

Already supplying an absurd amount of real-time data and information, up-to-the-second tracking and telemetry, team analytics, and more, SMT has found a way to augment its broadcast- and team-specific responsibilities for the Daytona 500 and beyond. On Sunday, onsite technicians and remote staffers will be handling three additions to the SMT technology: enhanced optical pointers that allow Fox Sports’ aerial cameras to access SMT’s tracking capabilities, development of the virtual GhostCar for internal team use within the NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series, and newly designed videoboard material for the entire 2023 NASCAR season.

“Broadcast analytics will be used heavily throughout the weekend,” says Paulus Weemaes, senior director, motorsports, SMT. “Team analytics will continue to be used by each and every team, and we’re excited that the NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series will be able to use them as well.”

Tracking From Above: Graphics Take to the Sky in Drones, Other Aerials

For this year’s Daytona 500, SMT’s enhancements include the company’s optical-tracking technology. For last year’s edition, artificial intelligence was used to create in-car pointers for camera angles on front and rear bumpers, and those pointers are taking an extra step toward being deployed on all broadcast cameras. Aerial cameras — live drones from Beverly Hills Aerials, the Goodyear Blimp, and others — can showcase driver identifications in real time.

This innovation will enable at-home viewers of NASCAR to watch all drivers on the field at all times at any part of the track. And SMT sees its potential for motorsports besides NASCAR.

“SRX loves using a live drone,” says Weemaes. “The coolest part about this process was developing it and going back and forth with them about how they’d want to eventually use it.”

Team Analytics: NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series Gets Virtual GhostCar Info

Along with real-time tracking, crews are relying on SMT’s team analytics to shave a few seconds off practice laps and other important areas of expertise prior to Sunday’s big race. During every Daytona 500 weekend, team analytics include detailed information about the car’s performance, but this area of SMT’s task features Virtual GhostCar. Consisting of graphical overlays of numerous cars to compare qualifying pace and other intricate measurements, the augmented-reality rendering of the track is available to every team in the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series. Those broadcasts also will spotlight the product.

One new wrinkle is its application to the NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series. Previously, this lower division of NASCAR’s pyramid wasn’t able to access the coveted information. After discussions with executives within the NASCAR branch, Weemaes and his crew, including Associate Producer Nate Karamanski and Digital Product Manager AJ Mead, were tasked with adapting the solution to serve the trucks.

Applying GhostCar to Cup and Xfinity Series cars, which look almost identical, was relatively easy. Reconstructing the aesthetic to include a different-looking vehicle was a challenge. As with last year’s remodeling of NASCAR’s Next Gen car model, the team was able to base the new model on NASCAR’s CAD (computer-aided design) files of the trucks. At previous races, Virtual GhostCars and analytics were approved for use during broadcasts only of the Cup and Xfinity Series, but, this year, live broadcasts of the Truck Series will receive the same treatment for fans to see at home. Luckily, SMT had this idea in mind in the past.

“Since we’ve been testing it for a few years.,” says Weemaes, “we gave [the truck GhostCar] race data from the last three seasons. It seems to be a small thing, but, for all the parties involved, it has been nice to expand [this feature].”

Videoboard Rebrand: SMT Powers NASCAR’s New In-Venue Data, Graphics Package

Besides broadcast- and team-based functions, SMT is once again in charge of supplying NASCAR Productions with real-time statistics for the videoboard presentation. Working closely with NASCAR Productions VP, Operations and Technical Production, Steve Stum, SMT Coordinating Producer Nick Rider was asked to create a new look for NASCAR’s in-venue graphics. SMT’s Creative Studio developed the concept, design and animation system alongside Rider for the in-venue graphics display.  Throughout the offseason, SMT put these graphics together from scratch, and, after constant feedback from NASCAR on SMT’s design, the crew transformed not only the way data is presented to fans at Daytona International Speedway but also the overall graphics template.

On the statistical side, SMT ingests its own timing and scoring feeds and disseminates the info in various ways: fans in the stands will see pertinent information like lap and time splits, personnel in the broadcast compound will receive it in a dedicated scoring prompter, and on-air talent in the pits will get a comprehensive setup with scoring combined with a program feed.

For this workflow, Rider is working with the only onsite graphics operator. Working from Fox Sports’ The Vault in Los Angeles, the broadcaster’s graphics team is using an onsite communications board to connect with Rider and other SMT operators working remotely. After the Daytona 500, the onsite staffer will join Fox Sports’ graphics staff at The Vault. With the graphics package itself, the biggest challenge is adapting the visuals for LED displays that differ in size depending on the venue.

“NASCAR came to us in the off-season and asked if we could upgrade their in-house product,” says Rider. “We came up with an L-bar concept that allows them the functionality to utilize the space.”

Automating the data allows NASCAR to place information according to the race being run. Along with different dimensions, Rider had the flexibility to take the board full-screen with whatever was requested of him.

“We’ve never done a full-insert package with our live software [before],” he adds. “Now NASCAR has the ability to go full-screen with whatever they want.”

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