2020 Daytona 500

New custom racing drone will capture Daytona 500 action while traveling 80 mph

Fox Sports will employ new drone technology as they work to innovate the way NASCAR coverage is shown to viewers.

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports

NASCAR is back for 2020, with the Daytona 500 kicking off the newly title sponsor-less Cup Series tomorrow in Daytona. For Fox Sports, NASCAR's television broadcast partner for the first half of the premier Cup season, Daytona is a field laboratory for trying out new technology for motorsport storytelling.

For the past few years, there has been a particular focus on drone technology. First it was a tethered drone, flying along the backstretch but connected to the ground. Then, last year, Fox flew an untethered drone for the first time. This was a major accomplishment, requiring coordination and permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the track, law enforcement at all levels, as well as the Daytona Airport which is literally adjacent to the track.

Fox Sports green screen Lindsay Czarniak Fox Sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak stands in front of new green screen technology employed during the 2019 NASCAR season.Photo by Jordan Golson

It was, according to Fox executives, the first time an untethered drone was flown legally in a "temporary flight restriction zone".

Fox Sports has long been a pioneer in on-air tech, launching the yellow First Down line in football more than 25 years ago — which is now standard across football — as well as other innovations that were a little less successful, like the FoxTrax glowing puck in hockey.

Last year, Fox launched a new green-screen "virtual studio" where an entire broadcast studio was generated with augmented reality. That required new tech to insert artificial backgrounds on the green screens of the set between the camera shot and the control room, as well as new makeup techniques to offset the green on presenters faces.

Though the untethered drone last year was an accomplishment, it didn't give the Fox Sports production team video shots it didn't have before. It floated over the grass infield of the backstretch at Daytona — well away from fans and the cars, which it wasn't allowed to fly over. It worked as a test, which was great. But it wasn't footage that couldn't have been achieved in a more traditional manner.

"We had this thing out there and it worked and it was good quality," said Michael Davies, senior vice president of Field & Tech Operations, Fox Sports. "But, we could have gotten that from a jib. So we scratched our heads and said is it really worth it?"

This year, they have an 80-foot crane between turns one and two that was partially inspired by the shots the drone was able to get last year. "You'd be hard-pressed to tell that it's not a drone," said Davies.

But to make things a little more exciting, Fox has partnered with Beverly Hills Aerials, a drone firm that specializes in television and movie drone shots. Below is some footage from their test shoot during a NASCAR practice session at Daytona on Friday.

They built a custom racing drone that can go as fast as 80 mph. It's little more than some propellers, a battery good for six or seven minutes of flying time, a flight camera for the pilot, and a GoPro Hero 4 shooting at 720p and 60fps. It is surprising that the team would be using such an old camera (GoPro is selling the Hero 8 these days), but reliability is most important and since it works for them, they keep using it. Also on board is a transmitter that sends the GoPro footage straight to the control room and that's about it.

"It's a racing drone. And with racing drones, your platform is your drone. There's no gimbal and the camera is totally fixed," said Davies in an interview this week. "The movement of the camera comes from the movement of the drone. There's no two-man operation. We needed something that was faster and more agile."

The goal, says Fox, is to help put the viewer in places they've never been before. They've pioneered things like the Gopher cam, a camera literally inside the hole on a golf course, as well as the lipstick cam in baseball to show interesting views of the pitcher or batter.

"We want to cover the game from the inside out, versus the outside in," explains Davies. "Typical coverage is cameras placed around the field of play or track or whatever. What makes it interesting is a little bit more access in terms of putting cameras in places people haven't seen."

Thanks to the rise in the popularity of video games, which can put a virtual camera wherever you want, viewers aren't satisfied with static camera views. Even in-car cameras are considered commonplace these days, so Fox is putting cameras right on the helmet of the driver, making it even more personal.

"We can push in terms of in-car technology to give people a more intimate view of the race," explains Davies. "Fundamentally, that makes my job and what I'm able to do at Fox kind of interesting." Though the camera might be used during the race, he's also excited for other things that the speed of the drone, as well as the unique camera-angle, makes possible.

"After what we see Saturday and Sunday, we'll come up with other regimens of things we'll be able to do," says Davies. "It's literally a flying camera, topping out at 80 mph." That's not enough to chase a 200 mph stock car down the back stretch, but it's enough to be one of the fastest cameras that Fox has ever deployed.

"It's interesting to keep finding different things to do," he said. "I think from this one, there's gonna be no mistaking it. This is what I'm excited about. There's no other way to get these shots."

Below is the video feed from Fox Sports featuring the crash at the end of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Nascar Racing Experience 300 on Saturday afternoon.

The ability for the drone to fly during the Daytona 500 is unique, not just because of the technology, but because of the presence of President Donald Trump who will serve as grand marshal. Ahead of the race, the FAA and the Secret Service are restricting all flights within 30 miles of Daytona International Speedway unless they are approved law enforcement aircraft or military aircraft directly supporting the U.S. Secret Service or the Office of the President.

Looking up at the race will also allow attendees to see a flyover from the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds — their 10th in a row and their 11th overall —and the Goodyear Blimp.

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Automotive auction

Mecum Auctions is ready for 2022

The Mecum Kissimmee Auction will feature a handful of rare, low-mileage supercars.

Mecum

Today marks the end of 2021, and 2022 is looking to be an exciting one for auto enthusiasts. Mecum Auctions, one of the most prominent and popular automotive auction companies around, is ready for the year with its Kissimmee 2022 auction. Though the event takes place over an eleven-day period, the automotive portion of the auction takes place from January 6 through January 16 in Kissimmee, FL.

2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale Low-mileage exotics are just the start. Mecum

Many auto auctions feature impressive vehicles, and this one is no exception. Everything from a 725-mile 2016 Pagani Huayra to a crew of classic Corvettes will cross the block, and there will be a few full-collection auctions. The Don Salmon Collection features 62 American muscle cars, including Corvettes, Impalas, Mustangs, and more. The Gary Thomas Collection is on offer as well, featuring 33 Ford and Shelby vehicles.

In addition to classic American cars, a collection of six low-mileage supercars are on offer, including #100/106 McLaren Speedtail with just 194 miles, a 2021 Ferrari SF90 Stradale with 57 miles, a 2021 Ferrari 812 GTS with 138 miles, and a 2021 Ferrari F8 Spider with 66 miles. Two Mercedes-AMG cars join that impressive group, including a 2018 AMG GT R and a 2020 AMG GT R.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe As usual, the auction will feature several rare American muscle cars. Mecum

If you're hoping to bid on a lot at the auction, registration is available online and on-site at the event. The cost to register is $200, but if you just want to look around, you can buy a general admission ticket for $20 in advance or $30 at the door.

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Electric vehicles

NHTSA looking into Tesla's in-car video games

Some owners have discovered that their car's video games work when the car is moving.

Tesla

Tesla's vehicles are among the most advanced and forward-thinking products of any kind, but serious innovation doesn't come with tradeoffs. The automaker has been in the news recently because of issues with how its advanced cruise control systems function, and now, Autoblog reports that the NHTSA is asking questions about Tesla giving drivers the ability to play video games and browse the internet while driving.

Tesla Arcade hands-on: the Model 3 is your video game console youtu.be

The feature is intended to be used while the car is parked, such as while charging, so the discovery that people can use them while driving is a serious one. Vince Patton, the person who filed the complaint with the NHTSA, tested his car and found that he could play Solitaire and a fairly involved action game while it was in motion. Internet browsing was also possible, meaning the driver could take their attention completely off the road ahead for extended periods of time.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla's screens offer advanced functions that many others do not. Tesla

Tesla was already under investigation over crashes involving its Autopilot feature. Several collisions have occurred between Teslas and emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road. Following the initiation of that investigation, the NHTSA raised other questions with the automaker over a buggy software update that was pushed out, retracted, fixed, and reissued outside of the normal recall process. Despite their names, it's important to clarify that neither the Autopilot nor Full Self-Driving features are capable of driving the cars without driver awareness and input.

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