For 14 years, fans saw and heard former driver Mike Dunn on television as ESPN’s drag racing analyst. Little did anyone know that Dunn was getting an education in television production that would later serve him well.
Dunn became president of the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) in 2016, not long after ESPN ended its drag racing coverage of the rival NHRA. Dunn was a key figure as the IHRA and ESPN came to an agreement for two days of racing from events in the 2017 IHRA Summit Sportsman National Championship to stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
Action from this weekend’s event at Keystone Raceway Park in New Alexandria, Pa., airs Saturday (1 p.m. ET) and Sunday (noon).
In addition to his other duties with IHRA, Dunn is now leading the four-person crew that produces the streaming telecasts at racetracks around the country. And he’s putting his knowledge to work.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” he said. “Working with guys like [ESPN senior coordinating producer] Shawn Murphy and [director] Bruce Watson – there were so many I can’t name them all, but we had a great crew.
“Shawn was a great teacher and gave me a lot of confidence,” Dunn said. “Toward the end, I was producing most of the tech pieces on the show, and I probably enjoyed the stuff behind the camera better than I did in front of the camera. I paid attention.”
Dunn hired J-Angel Productions, run by the husband-and-wife team of Mark and Joanne Walter, to handle the technical side of the IHRA telecasts. The Walters run the production at the racetrack, with Joanne operating the switcher for the five cameras, dropping in pre-recorded interviews and commercials and adding graphics. During race telecasts, Mark runs a camera on a scaffold near the end of the dragstrip to pan with cars, and he uses a hand-held camera for interviews and features. They also use three stationary cameras.
Dunn is stationed in the track’s control tower, communicating by radio with Joanne and standing beside PA announcer Fabian Brown, whose voice is heard calling the action on the telecasts.
“I coordinate with Fabian or Joanne to bring us in and out of commercials or lead us to the interviews,” he said. “It works well – Joanne does a fantastic job, and Mark has the experience of knowing how to shoot the car going down the track.”
The IHRA racers have received the telecasts well, with time spent viewing up over last year.
“At least when people are tuning in they’re sticking around and watching,” he said. “We’ve developed a format that I think has been pretty well-received and now we’re just tweaking it and trying to do good stories to make it interesting.”