2020 is the 20th year that Fox Sports is the sole broadcaster for NASCAR, and it's also the 20th anniversary of the first "hangar shoot" that the company put on. You know during the broadcast of a race when they'll show things like a short video clip of a driver crossing their arms in front of a cool background? The hangar shoot is when all that stuff is created. I got to go behind the scenes and experience the hangar shoot as it was happening earlier this week ahead of the Daytona 500, and it was fascinating.
The initial setup begins the Monday before the 500, but it starts getting really hectic on Tuesday. (I showed up on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after the drivers began arriving.) All the footage that's captured at the shoot will be used throughout the entire season, not just during the 500, so the team has to be thorough. The same team that works on the hangar shoot is also the same team that produces the Super Bowl, which also aired on Fox Sports this year, so the crew seemed just a little more tired than it usually would be.
This year's shoot consisted of four distinct setups inside the hangar, each of which were surrounded by a black tent. The elaborate setups are most akin to a music video set, something that crew members say is intentional. Every year the production team has a big meeting to brainstorm ideas for that year's hangar shoot, with people bringing examples from other forms of media, and music videos are always one of the most popular examples. The crew describes it like a car wash, where the drivers are corralled through the different stages.
One set had a large runway like something out of a fashion show, where the driver would walk down as lights flashed and pose at the end of the runway. Another had a background made up of American flag-esque red white and blue lights that were controlled by a technician, which the drivers would stand in front of. Then there was essentially a large box made of lights and screens that would change colors to match the driver's racing suit, and another set with large screens and Fox Sports graphics. The drivers would do poses like cross their arms and look at the camera, point or give a thumbs up, and laugh or smile.
Efficiency at the shoot is key, according to Bill Richards, executive vice president of production for Fox Sports. "People have walked in and they know what to expect, if we say it will take x amount of time it will take x amount of time," he said. "We're efficient, buttoned up, and we're all here for the same reason: to make these guys look like superheroes and make people want to watch this sport."
Racing is more of a personality-driven sport than people may think, so participating in the hangar shoot is a big opportunity for drivers to promote themselves. But in the early days it was apparently like pulling teeth to get drivers to come to the hangar shoot. Most drivers thought the idea was silly or a waste of time and that there was no point to it. Richards says Dale Earnhardt Sr. showed up that first year and found it very cool, though, and called up some other drivers and encouraged them to attend. Attend and enjoy it they did, and the shoot started gaining traction.
Richards says the biggest change since that first shoot in 2001 is that it has now gotten bigger than any one driver participating. "In the first few years it was new to everybody, and it took a few years to get going, but now it's an absolute part of your Daytona week and we have zero worry about someone missing it. If they miss it, it's more their problem than our problem." The savvier drivers have realized that it's the perfect way to promote themselves through both the TV and their own social media posts from the shoot.
At first, all the footage was captured on cassettes, which was a pain in the ass. Now, everything is digitized and well-organized by room and driver, making it all much easier -- no more losing tapes. The 500 was first broadcast in 4K six years ago, but only a few shooters were doing it. Now, the majority of the cameras on set (and at the race) shoot in 4K. The hangar shoot itself was much smaller and less elaborate in those first few years than it has now evolved to be, although it has been scaled down by a little in the past few years.
When it comes to the future of the hangar shoot, Richards says it's all about the technology. "We fight with the budget and then what's out there technology-wise. What technology is doing is amazing. You can have screens anywhere, you can walk on them, you can have rainfall all around except for the spot in the middle where the person is. Visually, there's people out there coming up with such amazing things, there's no limit for the hangar. There's probably way better to come."
Many of the famous and winning drivers that Richards grew up watching are now retired, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. andand Tony Stewart, and that ties into his favorite thing about producing NASCAR for TV: helping promote the young and up-and-coming drivers. "I look at the pre-race and the hangar ... our job is to help get these new names out there, and we need their help with personality and getting checkered flags. But TV should do their part to help these guys get as big as the generation before."
airs Sunday with the race starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.