CONCORD - If fans at Sunday's eliminations at the Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway @ Concord hurry home following the final rounds, they can tune to ESPN2 and see Shawn Murphy's work at his first National Hot Rod Association home game.
Murphy moved to Charlotte 13 years ago to serve as producer for the network's "RPM 2Night" motorsports news program. Now, he's the senior coordinating producer for ESPN2's drag racing coverage.
"You look at the NHRA and it seems to be pretty straightforward with two cars going straight down the track," Murphy said. "But if that's all we ever showed it would get monotonous."
Murphy has 16 cameras, plus five cars carrying three in-car cameras each at his disposal during a broadcast. He also has to work against the clock, since the coverage airs in a three-hour window on same-day tape delay. Coverage of Sunday's events will air from 7 to 10 p.m.
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Theoretically, that should mean Sunday night's show would begin about 90 minutes after the final car goes down the track. But it doesn't always work out that way.
Saturday's drag racing coverage aired from 4 to 6 p.m. Final qualifying runs were still being made at 4 p.m., so Murphy's team was actually feeding its first hour of coverage while still taping the second hour.
The crew works "live to tape," meaning the announcers and reporters are calling the events as they happen. Two people inside the ESPN2 control room inside a truck parked near the track are editing that down for time on the fly.
Murphy said he's not sure the NHRA is hurt by the fact its races aren't on live TV. "If we were (Sunday) and we were on against the NASCAR race at New Hampshire, how is that good for a race fan?" he said.
Murphy said it's tough to bring the full impact of drag racing to a viewer at home.
"It's the greatest sensory sport on the planet," he said. "We do speed shots and we pretty much tell the announcers not to talk during the burnout or during the run. We'll try to listen to a warm-up in the pits. But there's no way to capture the smell of nitro on TV."
A higher tide floats all boats
There's a lot of drag racing history in North Carolina, but it's safe to say that Saturday was the biggest day the sport has ever had in this state.
There was, of course, the sellout crowd topping 30,000 that gathered for final qualifying rounds for the Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway @ Concord. But that wasn't all.
About 80 miles down the road, meanwhile, another 7,000 or so gathered at Rockingham Dragway for the American Drag Racing League's Dragstock V.
Steve Earwood said he knew Saturday was going to be a good day when he first arrived at his drag strip. "You can tell," he said. "If you get here at 7 and there are already cars in the parking lot, that's a good sign."
Having an event at his track at the same time as the inaugural event at the new $60 million showplace in Concord is competition for Earwood, but since he's also chairman of the N.C. Motorsports Association, the success of the new place is also a good thing.
"I think it shows how strong drag racing is here in this state," Earwood said. "It shows what I've said all along, that we can co-exist."
Earwood said the attention being paid to drag racing this weekend in the Charlotte area has already raised the sport's profile. "We've gotten more e-mails about our events here in the past two or three weeks than we have ever had," he said.
Fans who get a taste of the sport this weekend in Concord and find themselves wanting more can feed that appetite at Earwood's track next month. The International Hot Rod Association's season-ending World Finals will be Oct. 17-19 at Rockingham Dragway. For ticket information, visit www.rockinghamdragway.com.
Hammonds on advisory board
Pro Stock driver Tom Hammonds, who played basketball at Georgia Tech and briefly for the Charlotte Hornets, will join the motorsports advisory council at North Carolina A&T State University.
N.C. A&T offers a four-year degree in motorsports technology in a program that has been in existence since 2002. The advisory council has eight members, with each member serving a two-year term.
Hammond failed to make the field for Sunday's Pro Stock eliminations.