Imagine for a minute that you're sitting in your living room watching the World of Outlaws Sprint Car finale on television. There's Donny Schatz making a move for the lead around Joey Saldana. The camera is focused squarely on the battle and the two superstars are heading straight for it. You're sitting on the edge of your seat when it appears that both Schatz and Saldana's cars just jump out of the TV into your living room. They throw their cars into the trademark slide that defines most all forms of dirt racing as chunks of mud and clay fly past your head. The ensuing dust cloud envelops your La-Z-Boy as the pair race down the front stretch in pursuit of the checkered flag.
Sprint Car racing on television in 3D. Sound like a fantasy? It's more of a reality than you think. As this issue went to press, ESPN announced that in 2010 it will unveil the industry's first 3D network. ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match, featuring South Africa vs. Mexico. Other events to be produced in 3D include the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, college basketball and football contests, up to 25 World Cup matches, and the Summer X Games. ESPN also says that it will announce additional events to the 3D slate of offerings at a later date.
George Bodenheimer, the President of both ESPN and ABC Sports, said in a statement, "ESPN's commitment to 3D is a win for fans and our business partners. ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan's viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing."
The Connecticut-based sports empire has been testing ESPN 3D for more than two years, even showing a USC-Ohio State college football game in select theaters and to 6,000 fans at the Galen Center on USC's campus. But now the company is making it a reality and that has caught the eye of a larger industry.
"This is a turning point for 3D," Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro told USA Today recently.
While motorsports events were not part of the initial announcement ESPN does cover racing-a lot of racing. So it's safe to say that a racing event, be it NASCAR or otherwise, will at some point in the future end up as part of the 3D offerings of ESPN. But what exactly does it mean to the world of short-track racing?
In short . . . a lot-if we as an industry decide to capitalize on it. 3D TV is another technical advancement that could actually help promoters bring more people to the track. How you say? Imagine the scenario I outlined at the beginning of this column only this time it isn't you watching the TV. It's a father and son sitting on the couch, channel surfing, looking for something interesting. They're not racers or race fans but they catch enough of the wild 3D race that it piques their interest. Dad does some research and finds that the track, just 20 minutes up the road, is having a Sprint Car race the following weekend. The pair decide to take in the race, and guess what? They get hooked. They return to the track over and over and now that track has (at least) two more loyal spectators.
While that scenario may seem farfetched, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Technology can be the promoter's friend, just ask the folks at Bowman Gray Stadium. The North Carolina bullring is about to be thrust into the cable network limelight as the backdrop for a new television series named Madhouse that will air Sunday's at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.
Madhouse follows four teams of Asphalt Modified race car drivers, including legendary racing families the Myers and the Millers, through a season at the 60-year-old NASCAR-sanctioned track. History Channel's PR describe it as a "story about men who live life on the fast track, and the family, friends, and fans who are behind them every lap of the way."
While obviously not in 3D, that show will thrust short-track racing into a more mainstream arena that hopefully will create new fans for our great sport. But it won't happen automatically. While we're all waiting for 3D racing to arrive, track owners and promoters around the country should take note-tell your local communities to watch that show then watch them come to your track.