Behind The Scenes

St. Petersburg street circuit presents challenges for ESPN IndyCar director

ESPN's Bruce Watson is  a versatile director. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)
ESPN’s Bruce Watson is a versatile director. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When Bruce Watson slides into his chair to direct the telecast of the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener here (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC), he will be facing a unique challenge in sports television.

For the IndyCar races, you’re live for anywhere from two to four hours, and there’s no time to lay out and gather your thoughts. And we’re side-by-side during commercials, so we’re still constantly cutting.
– Bruce Watson on the challenges of directing IndyCar

In basketball or football, cameras situated high above the play can show all of the action. And at an auto race run on an oval track, the same is true.

But with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race run on a 1.8-mile temporary racing circuit that includes some streets in the Florida city’s downtown area as well as part of an adjacent airport, Watson will not have access to any cameras that can see all the way around the track.

“If you’re at an oval track, cameras on the roof see every car on the track,” said Watson, who’s been directing telecasts for ESPN since 2001. “Most importantly, Camera 1 on the roof follows the leader for the entire show, so if you ever get mixed up, you can always cut to 1 because it’s always on the leader.”

For the St. Petersburg race, in order to follow the race leader on a complete lap around the circuit, Watson directs 13 camera cuts as cameras located in various places pick up the car when it enters that camera’s field of view.

“It makes for a challenge,” Watson said. “And for the IndyCar races, you’re live for anywhere from two to four hours, and there’s no time to lay out and gather your thoughts. And we’re side-by-side during commercials, so we’re still constantly cutting.”

In addition to directing the ESPN-produced Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts that air on ABC, including the Indianapolis 500, Watson has been directing ESPN’s coverage of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for 15 years. He also directs college basketball telecasts, including some recent games in the NCAA Women’s tournament, and the X Games in summer.

He especially looks forward to the May 24 Indianapolis 500, which he will direct for the sixth year. ESPN Monday Night Football director Chip Dean will direct the pre-race show.

“The opportunity to work side-by-side with Chip has been great for me,” Watson said. “He and I communicate often. He’ll call me after I’ve done a basketball game and we’ll talk.

“The Indy 500 is absolutely the biggest event that I have ever directed for ESPN/ABC, and to be honest, I can’t imagine any other thing I will direct that will be bigger than that.”

For the St. Petersburg IndyCar race SUnday, ABC's coverage will rely on 13 cameras to follow the race leader a complete lap around the circuit.  (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)
For the St. Petersburg IndyCar race Sunday, ABC’s coverage will rely on 13 cameras to follow the race leader a complete lap around the circuit. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)
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