In the 21st century, camera technology has come a long way. Cameras have long served as a part of NASCAR, and their evolution continues with the advent of the Next Gen car. Among their many other functions, you may wonder how NASCAR cameras are able to clean themselves.
NASCAR cameras clean themselves with the use of a robotic arm with a scrubber attached to them. When dirt and debris obstruct the camera’s ability to see clearly and track the cars racing near the driver whose car is installed with the camera, a screen around it rotates, and the dirt is cleaned off.
Below, we will give a brief rundown on how NASCAR cameras clean themselves. We will also talk about the history of cameras in NASCAR and the use of onboard cameras in particular. We will also discuss who supplies NASCAR’s cameras and how they have adapted to the Next Gen car.
How Do NASCAR Onboard Cameras Clean Themselves?
NASCAR onboard cameras clean themselves via a robotic arm. A motor-powered clear tube moves vertically to clean the camera when necessary, scrubbing off dirt and debris from the camera. It does this without changing the view of the camera, as it’s a screen that moves, not the camera itself.
There is a tiny scrubber behind the camera that does the job whenever dirt and other debris obstruct the camera’s view. Whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar, or Formula 1, these onboard cameras follow a similar process, except Formula 1’s cameras rotate horizontally instead of vertically.
The Purpose Of Using Cameras In NASCAR
NASCAR has been using cameras since they began televising the sport’s events in their entirety, and the overall purpose of using cameras in NASCAR is to provide fans at home with the best possible viewing experience, one that captures the action of all 40 cars to such an extent that it will leave the viewer feeling as though they are attending the event itself.
Throughout the years, the use of camera angles has changed drastically. Today, you will even find overhead views of the track from deployed drones, among other breathtaking vantage points. Cameras may also line the SAFER barriers, which puts viewers up against the wall as the cars rush by.
Ground To Make Up
What separates NASCAR’s use of cameras from those in other national and international sports organizations is that NASCAR must cover much more ground. The NBA and NHL only need to deal with enclosed spaces like basketball courts and hockey rinks. NFL and MLB crews cover more ground but nowhere near the extent of NASCAR.
NASCAR must cover an entire 2.5-mile stretch at Daytona International Speedway. Head over to Circuit of the Americas (COTA), and NASCAR must cover 3.4 miles of ground. Therefore, they need to have quite an accomplished camera crew making decisions behind closed doors to provide NASCAR fans with the best viewing experience possible.
A History Of Using Cameras In NASCAR
The use of cameras in NASCAR is drastically different from the history of using cameras in other sports. Until 1979, NASCAR was lightyears behind the NFL and MLB in popularity, while the NHL and NBA were only starting to gain mainstream attention.
That said, if you were a NASCAR fan before the 1979 Daytona 500, you probably weren’t going to watch the entire race on television. There was also no internet or smartphones available to keep you up-to-date on everything going on in the NASCAR realm.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports provided a full broadcast of only select NASCAR events. For example, they hosted a 200-lap race at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway. But you only saw highlights of most of the other races like the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500. At most, they broadcasted just the second half of the race.
The same held true for CBS Sports Spectacular when the late 1970s rolled around. Further, a syndicated show called Car and Track debuted in the 1960s. It became America’s first sports-related show geared toward NASCAR and auto racing. Car and Track also provided just highlights of the week’s events.
Enter Neal Pilson And Ken Squier
Pilson, President of CBS Sports, and editor Ken Squier concocted the idea of flag-to-flag coverage of the 1979 Daytona 500. The idea for flag-to-flag coverage stemmed from their collaboration with one another in which they believed Americans would be interested in watching the Daytona 500 in its entirety.
Given the race’s phenomenal ratings, it proved that Americans were indeed ready to watch entire NASCAR races. Since then, NASCAR and its TV partners have used several compelling camera angles to give fans the best TV product imaginable.
You get angles from the SAFER barrier and overhead, but you will also catch the action in the pit stalls, along with angles from the infield and even the grandstand. If you attend a NASCAR race and you have a good eye, you may even be able to spot a few of those cameras situated around each NASCAR track.
But it isn’t just the cameras around the track that provide NASCAR fans at home an epic viewing experience. There are also cameras inside some of the cars, dubbed onboard cameras.
History Of Onboard Cameras
There may be nothing more exciting during a NASCAR race than catching a view of the track from a driver’s in-car camera, often called the onboard camera. This gives you an idea that you are seeing exactly what the driver is also seeing as they race down the straight and into the turn.
The onboard camera first appeared in 1979 inside Benny Parsons’ car at that season’s Daytona 500. CBS producer Bob Fishman took the primary role in developing the camera, and in 1980, the onboard camera again appeared in Parsons’ car. Given their popularity, the 1981 season saw the cameras installed in Terry Labonte’s and Richard Childress’s cars.
These early cameras were huge, taking up nearly the entire passenger side of the car. It wasn’t until 1983 that CBS, in a partnership with Broadcast Sports International (BSI), developed a smaller camera. They installed this camera in eventual Daytona 500 winner Cale Yarborough’s car, allowing fans to gain a close-up of the initial celebrations for winning the Great American Race.
CBS’ Initial Concerns
Initially, CBS was concerned about FCC regulations at the time regarding any type of sponsorship advertising. The FCC only allowed a certain amount of advertising each hour, and CBS was further concerned about whether the FCC would see the onboard camera as CBS was constantly trying to display advertisements beyond their allotted number.
Therefore, CBS only allowed images from the camera to show only the CBS logo, the car number, and the driver’s name – quite a difference from what we see in today’s onboard camera. So how did ads end up in the onboard camera without an FCC crackdown?
Lyn Jeffers burst onto the NASCAR scene and provided a remedy for the issue. He proposed selling the onboard camera to a single sponsor per race (or per season) to bring them additional exposure. Come the late 1980s, Jeffers’ idea eased everyone’s concerns, prompting NASCAR drivers and teams to buy into the idea of an onboard camera.
Onboard Cameras: The Evolution Begins
Also, by the time the late 1980s rolled around, the onboard cameras shrunk so much that they could now fit four cameras into the cars instead of the 50-pound devices during those first few seasons. Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the onboard cameras and their respective angles remained relatively untouched.
The evolution continued in 2007 when Broadcast Sports International introduced the first high-definition cameras. Come 2011, they further expanded on the camera’s evolution with a dual-path system.
2013 saw the gyroscopic camera make its debut, while 360-degree cameras entered the fold in 2014. Also in 2014, NASCAR debuted new roof cameras. The visor cam returned in 2017, this time in high definition.
Cameras And Controversy
As we all know, innovations in the world today are always a subject of controversy, and onboard cameras are no different. In the 1980s, crew chiefs were apprehensive about the use of these cameras since only two drivers won races with them installed on the cars: Cale Yarborough (twice) and Geoff Bodine.
Crew chiefs contended that the cameras added extra weight, and in the 1980s, these first modern in-car cameras were substantially larger than they are today. While NASCAR mandated dummy weights for cars that did not have cameras, crew chiefs were still not fully convinced that they had any equalizing effect.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR has used cameras of some kind since the beginning
• Full races only started being shown from 1979 onward
• Cameras used in NASCAR include aerial cameras, ones that line the SAFER barriers, and onboard cameras
What Cameras Does NASCAR Use?
NASCAR uses a variety of cameras for the Daytona 500. Fox Sports uses Sony A7R IV mirrorless DSLR cameras with Sony FE-24-70 mm f/2.8 GM lenses. These are called Megalodons. In addition, they use the Ronin-S handheld. They also use 16 Sony HDC-P50’s and two Sony HDC-4800’s at 16x zoom.
To provide the best possible viewer experience, NASCAR must use a special type of camera. For the Daytona 500, Fox Sports employs Sony a7R IV mirrorless DSLR cameras and Sony FE-24-70 mm f/2.8 GM lenses. These live mirrorless cameras are also called Megalodons, and they comprise a surprisingly simple setup.
They also use the Ronin-S handheld, which is used to catch close-ups of individuals like pit crew members and crew chiefs. The DigiBoom hangs over the walls to catch the pit crew in action during a stop. They also deploy the Megalodon into the garage area to catch drivers’ and their teams’ body language while they prepare for racing events.
For the Daytona 500, Fox Sports uses 16 Sony HDC-P50’s plus two Sony HDC-4800’s at 16x. At the start-finish line, you will find a Fletcher high-speed robo, plus two Fujinon 8K lenses whose main job is to capture the Daytona sunset following the event.
As you can guess, this provides quite the setup. But Fox Sports does not just capture the Daytona 500 during NASCAR’s early season. They also capture Speedweeks, plus the Duels. In total, Fox Sports uses 74 cameras located all over the track to bring the action to viewers all over the world.
How Many Onboard Cameras Are There In A NASCAR?
NASCAR currently requires the usage of 4 onboard cameras. These can be found across the driver’s side, roof, bumper, and one at another angle. However, the exact angles of these cameras often change. During a typical NASCAR cup, between 4 and 6 cars will have these onboard cameras.
The final camera is at a designated specialty angle. However, the camera spots listed are always subject to change, depending on NASCAR’s and their camera providers’ tastes. Only between four and six cars have cameras during a typical NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series event. In the Truck Series, that number is down to two.
NASCAR’s Onboard Cameras
BSI continues to supply NASCAR’s onboard cameras. At the 2021 Daytona 500, they went with the standard 32-camera set, where eight drivers had four cameras employed in their car. That season, BSI also employed the visor cam, giving fans some cool insight into seeing a race play out exactly from the driver’s perspective.
The visor cam went right over the top of the driver’s helmet, located near the forehead area. They also placed a camera on the dashboard, and the final two went into designated points at the inside of the vehicle, which had the ability to map a driver’s current position.
Do Onboard Camera Angles Change?
In the past, you have probably seen the NASCAR onboard cameras at the rear ends of cars when they are riding with drivers before and during a crash. You also got some good angles via the dashboard cams, watching as drivers tried to avoid an on-track incident occurring in front of them.
As with anything in NASCAR, expect camera angles to change as they pertain to the fans’ tastes. You will see the most realistic angles, like the visor cam, remain since NASCAR fans can see exactly what the driver is seeing. This puts them right into the middle of fast-paced NASCAR action.
NASCAR’s end goal is to provide the fans with the most authentic experience that they are capable of giving them. So, if they can continue to find realistic angles that accurately reflect the overall speed and high-intensity atmosphere, expect even more different camera angles in the future.
How Do NASCAR Onboard Cameras Work?
NASCAR onboard cameras are installed by a team of highly qualified technicians before every race, and after each race are taken off of the cars to be placed in production trailer. The drivers chosen are those who are previously successful or very popular, as this is easier to sell to sponsors.
As you have seen, NASCAR’s cameras and onboard cameras provide quite an extensive setup. And we haven’t even touched on how NASCAR and its TV partners make these onboard cameras work to provide you authentic views of the heavy traffic and high speeds that NASCAR brings.
The first modern onboard camera debuted at the 1983 Daytona 500 in Cale Yarborough’s car. During Yarborough’s winning run at that season’s Great American Race, The RaceCam, as the broadcast called it, sent signals to an overhead helicopter. The helicopter relayed the signal to a nearby trailer, which was then relayed to the Daytona 500’s television audience.
Who Are The Lucky Drivers?
As the season wears on, the most successful drivers often get the honor. So, once the playoffs begin, it’s almost certain that drivers who are in the Chase for the NASCAR Cup will get cameras installed in their car. While the playoffs reach their Round of 8 and Championship Four, it’s a near guarantee their car will be equipped with a camera.
Sponsors Love It
If you have ever watched a NASCAR race through a dashboard camera, you may notice that a sponsor logo is in plain sight. And it isn’t always the logo on the driver’s hood. Instead, that idea proposed by Jeffers that we mentioned earlier continues to this day. Companies that aren’t sponsoring a car for the event may sponsor the onboard camera.
But this isn’t usually the case. Instead, the driver’s primary sponsor mainly pays another five figures worth of money, often between $30,000 and $50,000, and they will add their logo in plain sight of the camera. This gives the sponsor even more visibility among the race’s viewership.
How NASCAR Installs The Cameras
While NASCAR teams build their cars from the ground up, they do not install the cameras. Instead, a team of qualified technicians is responsible for the setup. These technicians work for NASCAR’s respective television partner broadcasting the event, and the setup has since become second nature to them.
Primary setup comprises the technicians to drill holes in the cars’ exterior panels. They will further drill holes into the interior dashboard, which, along with the exterior panels, hold necessary brackets and wiring. While it seems like a lengthy process considering all the components involved, it generally takes technicians about half an hour per car.
The same technicians will uninstall the cameras when the race finishes. Once uninstalled, the crews will pack up the cameras into the production trailer before preparing them for the next race.
From The Speedway To Your Television
NASCAR follows a similar setup today as it did in the past, at least from a signaling standpoint. The helicopters are gone, replaced with receivers situated atop the grandstand. However, just as with the helicopter, the in-car camera sends a signal to these receivers, which relays the signal to the production trailers. The signal goes to the network, which is then relayed to the TV audience.
Enter The Next Generation
Given all the changes added to the NASCAR Next Gen car, BSI had to adapt. One of the major changes NASCAR made to the Next Gen car was that they revamped the front and rear bumper. Unfortunately for BSI, the older camera models didn’t work for these front and rear bumpers. So, instead of doing away with the bumper cams, they went ahead and made new ones.
The issue was that the old cameras would have hampered the Next Gen car’s airflow. Cars running without the cameras would not have had this issue, and had everything remained as is, it would have provided an unequal playing field.
BSI then pulled their best Thomas Edison impression by experimenting with different models as they recorded what worked before tossing them and designing subsequent prototypes. Finally, they produced a smaller camera that did not disrupt the airflow.
Just like their predecessors, these cameras were robotic and were able to keep track of all the cars to the left, right, in front of, and behind the participating driver. A cable further reinforced the camera’s position in the event a participating driver found themselves involved in a crash.
No Changes To The Positioning
Although the Next Gen car operates differently, BSI made no further changes to the in-car cameras. They still captured the driver’s point-of-view from the visor cam. Another still caught their head and body, and the roof cams have remained too.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR onboard cameras are complex setups that require professionals to install them
• There are usually 4 cameras installed on various cars, usually the more successful or popular drivers
• The cameras often have to change in their construction and positioning to suit the design of the rest of the car
NASCAR cameras are robotic and have a small arm with a plastic tube and a small scrubber attached that will clean the camera. Onboard cameras as a whole have a long history in NASCAR, and self-cleaning cameras are also found in other motorsports like F1 and IndyCar.