FPV and Big Rig Drones Used to Bring the Action to Life at NASCAR

BY Zacc Dukowitz
18 February 2021

The NASCAR season launched last week, kicking off with the iconic Daytona 500 race.

One of the biggest stories out of the new season isn’t about the drivers or the cars—it’s about how the races are being covered.

Employing both FPV (First Person View) and heavy-lift drones, Fox Sports has teamed up with Beverly Hills Aerials to significantly amp up its coverage of the races.

The drones being used to cover the races are all custom builds.

While the FPV drones allow for footage to be captured while racing along the side of and over the cars, the heavy-lift drone provides cinematic shots of the action from a bird’s eye vantage point, showing the entire spectacle taking place on the 2.5-mile-long race track from above.

FPV Drone Coverage

The FPV drones being used to shoot the races are, appropriately, racing drones themselves, capable of speeds of up to 90 mph.

Of course, the cars can go even faster, with speeds of up to 200 mph.

But the racing drones’ agility and nimbleness help them capture some incredible footage of the races, with the FPV perspective making it feel like you’re flying beside the cars as they zip by.

The custom-built FPV drones have been equipped with Dream Chip cameras, allowing them to shoot high-quality footage despite their small size.

Not only does flying FPV allow for capturing fast action from the air, it also allows for tricky shots, with the camera zooming near structures and getting up close on the cars.

We’re already pretty familiar with the high-octane feeling these kinds of shots provide in the drone world—but for some NASCAR viewers, this could be the first time they’ve ever experienced this kind of direct connection with the action.

[These are] racing drones. Anything you can use to make the cars look as fast as they’re actually going is a big win in our book. It gives that sense of action and dynamics that we were looking for.

-Mike Davies, Senior V.P. of Field and Technical Management and Operations at Fox Sports

Want to see more FPV race car footage? Check out the tricky flying in this video from Beverly Hills Aerials (watch to the end to see what we’re talking about):

Heavy-Lift Drone Footage

Unlike the FPV drone, the heavy-lift drone has been used so far to capture cinematic footage of the entire race.

Here’s an example:

The big rig drones can also be used to capture more intimate, cinematic moments of the drivers when they’re not racing, as well as live, intimate shots of the teams and crew chiefs working in the pits to support the drivers from a distance.

At its heart, the use of these different drones helps create a broader spectrum of textures to draw from in covering the races.

We can speed alongside the cars and feel the adrenaline of the race, we can get sweeping shots from above of the entire event, and we can also get more intimate moments off the track, where we get a closer feel of the stress and sweat that goes into keeping these impressive cars on the road.

Image source: Beverly Hills Aerial

Cameras Everywhere

In total, Fox Sports had 74 cameras covering the Daytona 500 last week.

It looks like this use of technology is going to be standard going forward, with every bit of the race track covered by a variety of cameras attached to drones, stationary on the ground, or even attached to high-speed robots. (The robot is used to shoot cars as they cross the finish line, where safety concerns make it a preferred option.)

The majority of cameras that Fox Sports is using for this coverage are Sonys. Here is a list of some of them:

  • 16 Sony HDC-4300s
  • 16 Sony HDC-P50s
  • Two Sony HDC-4800’s at 16X

There are also cameras inside the cars.

A total of 32 robotic cameras are being used to capture footage inside each race car, with four cameras placed in eight different cars. One of these is a Visor Cam, which straps onto the driver’s helmet to provide a view of exactly what the driver is seeing in real-time while speeding down the race track.

The thing about covering a race . . . is that there are all these simultaneous storylines that are happening at once. And what I’m looking forward to is what I always look forward to: To bring all these toys like the drone, the super-slow-motion cameras, the high-resolution cameras, the broadcast analytics … and to see it all come together in a unique way.

– Mike Davies, senior vice president of field and technical management and operations at Fox Sports

Fox Sports will also be experimenting with its “Megalodon” mirrorless DSRL camera for shooting NASCAR (the Megalodon first got attention for its use in covering games in the NFL), as well as a DJI Ronin-S handheld and a DigiBoom to get close up shots of the pit and crew chiefs at work.

Excited about Fox Sports’ use of drones at NASCAR? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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