INDIANAPOLIS — When ESPN NASCAR producer Jim Gaiero is on the “hot seat” in the production trailer during a race telecast, he’ll probably make more decisions in three hours than most people make in a month. Such pressure goes with the territory of televising a sport that doesn’t have timeouts.
That’ll be the case twice this weekend as he produces Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the first of 17 races in NASCAR’s top series airing on ESPN networks to close out the 2013 season. He’ll also produce Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at IMS.
“In NASCAR, you’re telling the stories of 40 to 43 drivers,” said Gaiero, who joined ESPN in 1995. “I had a former producer describe it as being an air traffic controller trying to land 43 planes at once, while still trying to get your commercials in, and while still trying to do so many other things.
“Other sports have halftimes, or between innings, or a flow that you know you’ll get every single event,” he said. “In baseball and football, there’s always a stop in action.
“For us, we don’t know when our stops in action are going to happen so we have to be ready for those moments,” Gaiero said. “It’s usually because something’s happened on the track, a caution or wreck, so when that happens, we have to be able to tell how it happened and why it happened, and then we start thinking about getting our commercials in. You have to do what’s right for the show but you also have a certain number of breaks to get in.”
Gaiero is in his first full season as ESPN’s lead NASCAR producer after having produced Nationwide Series and some Sprint Cup races the past two seasons. The job entails many responsibilities that take up almost seven days a week.
“Basically you’re in charge of all the storytelling and elements of a show, the creative style of the show and making sure you’re telling the story of the show while telling the story of the race and providing our fans with the best overall content and product,” he said.
Gaiero worked his way up through the ranks at ESPN, spending five years on College GameDay first as a production assistant and later as an associate producer. He then switched from studio to event production, working on X Games, NFL Draft, college football and other programs before being assigned to NASCAR in 2006 as ESPN prepared for its return to the sport in 2007.
He spent 2007 as tape producer, then was pit producer from 2008-2010 before he began producing Nationwide Series races in 2011.
Interestingly, the Massachusetts native instantly became a fan of a sport he knew little about.
“I’d never been to a race nor had I watched a race,” he said. “I knew they were on, and I had seen highlights on SportsCenter, but the first race I ever watched was Feb. 17, 2007, our first race at Daytona when we got NASCAR.”