Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Meet The Original "Gopher Cam"

Veteran motorsports fans may have had a question occur to them as they watched the NASCAR on Fox telecast of the Daytona 500.

The "Gopher Cam" angle that Fox used during the coverage had some fans asking themselves..where did we see this before?

Though not exactly the same, and over fifteen years in the past, the first "on the track" camera angles were seen on ESPN in a much-beloved series called Thursday Night Thunder.

The producer was Terry Lingner, who now runs a well-known and respected TV production company in Indianapolis, IN. The Lingner Group reminded us that they introduced their "Tread Cam" all the way back in 1991.

This technology was installed at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indy and was subsequently used for NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Nationwide (Busch back then) events as well.

James Fishman was the Engineer at an Indy-based company called On Board Video who was instumental in developing the "Tread Cam."

When it first came out, it actually won a national Sports Emmy Award for Innovative Technical Achievement for Fishman and ESPN. That is the real deal, pictured above.

As recently as 2006, Lingner and Fishman teamed-up again to permanently install some "Tread Cams" at the new Iowa Speedway. Race fans may remember seeing them on the Indy Car Series broadcasts from that track.

The Daly Planet got a lot of mail about this new technology, and questions about how it worked. Readers also asked where they had seen this camera angle before. I hope this information helps put things into perspective, even after more than fifteen years.

Maybe we could ask Dave Despain if people still proudly tell him that they were "Thunderheads."

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Anonymous said...

And those camera shots came without goofy graphics.

E-Ticket said...

Amen Matt... Thanks JD for showing the boys at FOX that they are inovating well not much..

Anonymous said...

I want to set the record for FOX Sports' innovation track record. While they may have not created this idea, they are credited with inventing the race ticker graphic that is now used in almost every race broadcast, no matter what the network.

stricklinfan82 said...
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stricklinfan82 said...

Yeah, I didn't understand all the fuss and excitement for the debut of the gopher cam. I was thinking the same thing JD. We've seen this camera angle many times in the past, most notably on Saturday Night Thunder, and the Iowa Speedway actually has cameras impedded in the middle of the track surface, which I think is a much better camera shot. And even as far back as 1997 CBS used a similar camera angle in the Daytona 500.

In my opinion it was way too much hype for something we've seen many times in the past and there was way too much usage of it during the broadcast. The scared gopher animation was kind of funny the first time they unveiled the camera but to repeat that animation over and over every time they used that camera shot was definitely overkill.

To me, the gopher cam hype was much ado about nothing. What next, a camera on top of the roof of one of the cars actually competing in the race?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 10:37PM,

I don't think you are going to find anyone here that has a problem with that. Fox has been great for NASCAR from day one.


Anonymous said...

JD- Am I correct that none of the people involved with the Tread Cam were involved with FOX's Gopher Cam?

I understand the networks' and NASCAR's need to attract new fans. I feel that's a fact of life - but, how they go about it is the issue. I did not find the gopher irritating, but I have not been able to watch all of the race yet. I want to see the ratings stay up to an "acceptable" level to keep the quality up and, in particular, another quality network besides ESPN involved in carrying NASCAR. If a small cartoon helps attract and hold new fans - especially young fans - that is a price I'm willing to pay to keep the broadcasts at the FOX level. In fact, I would be willing to put up with a SMALL herd of gophers in place of Bill Weber.

Tom said...

I seem to remember the tread cam on some Winston Cup races, particularly at road courses (rumble strips at Watkins Glen). I also remember that quite often those cams could be disabled fairly early in an event! I'll tell you what, those guys at the Lingner Group were true innovators of racing coverage. Sometimes the techniques were great, sometimes not so much, but always interesting. I must say I am glad they didn't invent the draft tracker though!

Inverness, FL

Daly Planet Editor said...


They are two different groups. TLG is not involved in the current application that Fox is using.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to comment but Richard in NC has just forced me to tell him how funny his Weber comment is...(do gophers travel in herds, lol?) And I totally agree.

But I had never thought about the cartoon's appeal to kids...and I have to admit, you want to 'breed'
new fans. I always remember my niece watching a race at age 10 or so, saying 'they have cameras IN the cars? Cool!' So it's good to try and see through someone else's eyes. As long as they don't overdo. I will admit--it did remind me of a family of groundhogs living in turn 2 at Watkins Glen--I was there at an IRL race and the first few times the cars came around they all jumped in their hole, but after awhile they got used to it. And they were smart enough not to go on track...

The different camera angles are fine if used *occasionally* and not in place of real racing going on. Sometimes these guys are like little kids with a new toy.

Anonymous said...

I thought the little gopher animation was hilarious at first. But by the end of the broadcast I was screaming ENOUGH ALREADY! That said, I had the same issues with FOX's use of bumper cams and other angles that made it impossible to follow the action on the track.

I feel it is imperative at Daytona and Talladega to keep frivolous camera angles to a minimum and primarily use wide shots so we can follow cars moving forward or backward through the pack.

Also, I can't say I ever heard FOX claim this was "new technology", just a new FOX feature that got a test run last year at Dover.

On a final note, I sure wish ESPN (or someone) would bring back Thursday Night Thunder. Back in the 90s I rarely missed a show, keeping my Thursday (or Saturday) nights free to be with my tv. IRP was a great track for the midgets and sprints, but I really loved the rare occasions when they would race at Salem or Winchester.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, John. I remember the day they iinstalled and tested the "Treadcam" (I voted for "Splatcam") at the end of the front straightaway on the oval at IRP. They were using one of Bob East's Beast midgets to test it, and I took an IRP logo out there and stuck it on the front of the car so it would show in the tests. Also, you may recall that it was wiped out only once that year. In what was the Busch race, Kenny Wallace got into a situation and blew a right front tire on the front straightaway. The wheel was sideways when it hit the camera and took it right out. I still miss those days of working with Terry Lingner, Greg Oldham, and their people. Thanks for the reminder.
John in London, KY.

Geeze said...

It was a couple of years ago I think, that Fox did this at Dover. The second time they showed it, a car creamed it and gave us a view of the sky the rest of the race.

I believe they referenced it's demise on Sunday's broadcast.

Anonymous said...

How can you criticize Bill Weber when FOX/SPEED have so many unwatchable broadcasters. I happen to like Bill Weber. I have a problem with the goofy Waltrips , Larry MacScreech, Kenny Wallace,Spenser, etc. I don't see FOX as being on that high a level, there is a definite room for improvement. At least ESPN and TNT do not have any people who are way out of the box as far as antics and silliness goes. It does go back some to personal choice as far as broadcast styles. I have a lot of trouble with the above mentioned FOX crew, whereas I guess some people like it.

Kats said...

My roommate, MayBelle Honkers Louise, a treeing walker coonhound really liked the gopher...especially the little scream thing it did when it dove back in the hole. Of course, she likes DW, too. There's hope. She's only 7 months old.

Uncle Dan said...

Love the cool camera angles, but how about we take it to the next level. Suspend a cable mid track, above the cars, about twenty feet up in the air. Attach a camera that would be propelled at up to 200 miles an hour to follow a pack of cars around a track. It might really give the feeling of traveling as fast as the drivers. It would be great! And I bet it could be done.

Anonymous said...

In response to Seek:
Mike Joy gushed on the air, all over "his boss Bill Brown" the "creator of the gophercam" and went on and on and ON about how great, how innovative etc etc etc. He did that on Thursday...I think.

Why doesn't ESPN bring Mr. Lingner and his team back, if they were responsible for the great race coverage we used to get?

Finally, I am really hard pressed to belive that an animated gopher is going to create new, young fans of NASCAR.. Fox just used (and used and abused) that gimmick solely because they had built it, and nothing more. I submit-as proof- the fact that the director took that camera at leat 3 or 4 times when it was totally whited out by the sun. Hey, why let the fact that you can't see the cars on the track-or anything else for that matter- stop you from showing off that "cool, totally FOX innovation"?
The answer? Because they are all drinking the Kool Aid and belive their own self serving publicity.

Anonymous said...

How did everyone like the shot that was straight into the sun and you couldn't make-out which car was which and they showed this shot more than once! Great job! LOL


PLEASE Vote for KYLE PETTY for Most Popular Driver, at least every once in a while, he deserves to be in the Top 10 for what he does for the kids! Jr will not miss a few votes. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I liked the camera angle but when the gopher graphic appeared I couldn't help but think of the dancing pigs on Hee Haw.

Anonymous said...

the gopher cam,it was tw summerlin who said to name the gopher digger. and has it on myspace page,go to www.myspace/timthenutdriver.com

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I want to set the record for FOX Sports' innovation track record. While they may have not created this idea, they are credited with inventing the race ticker graphic that is now used in almost every race broadcast, no matter what the network.

Nope, wrong again.

ESPN introduced periodic full field tickers as early as 1992. In 1996, ABC/ESPN created the scrolling banner for IRL/CART/NASCAR. FOX wasn't even in the auto racing business yet.