TMS Thinks ‘Big Hoss’ To Be Bonanza For Fans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 20 2014

Texas race fans got a pre-viewing of the latest TMS amenity. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas –With the click of an oversized remote control button and accompanying fireworks, Speedway Motorsports Inc. officials unveiled the “biggest, baddest HD video board on the planet” Wednesday night.

“Big Hoss TV” lit up the cool March air from its backstretch perch at Texas Motor Speedway, as several thousand fans either standing or seated in lawn chairs cheered what SMI President/COO Marcus Smith declared as “the future of motorsports.”

Ironically, racing momentarily took a back seat to an appearance by A&E “Duck Dynasty” reality TV stars Willie and Korie Robertson and a live airing of the night’s half-hour episode. But “Big Hoss” is being projected as a major magnet by SMI officials eager to get fans off of their couches and into TMS’ grandstands for the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend April 3-6.

“To me, it’s the ultimate fan amenity,” TMS President Eddie Gossage said during a news conference in the Infield Media Center prior to the “Go Big Or Go Home” unveil on an outside stage. “And to have the biggest one in the world, that’s just another one of those ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ stories that we’re really proud to be a part of.”

“Big Hoss” is a reminder that size really does matter. Built by Panasonic, the screen measures 218-feet by 94-feet and weighs-in at 960,000 pounds, with its Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) video display accounting for 216,000 pounds. The video board features 14,376,960 LEDs on the face of the display, 4,792,320 pixels and 281 trillion available colors.

“I counted them,” Gossage confirmed. A total of 373 Cup cars could fit inside the 20,633-square-foot screen, which is bigger than the Lincoln Memorial . Even more importantly in Eddie’s World, “Big Hoss” is 9,000 square-feet larger than the Dallas Cowboys video board inside AT&T Stadium, otherwise known as Jerry’s World in nearby Arlington.

“It’s a 12-story building with these modules mounted on the side,” Gossage said of a structure that also is twice as tall as 125-foot Big Tex, iconic symbol of the Great State Fair of Texas . “Everybody in sports is competing with the ever-improving technology that we all put into our houses with home theater. This is a big, big place. You can be watching somebody race down into Turns 1 and 2 and something occurs up in Turn 3 and you completely miss it. You can miss a moment on pit road. Now with the big screen you’re not going to miss a thing because you’re going to see the replays, you’re going to see the up-close type shots.”

The average viewing distance for “Big Hoss” is 2,000-feet. “It is crystal clear,” Gossage said. “Our intent – our hope – is that those people that are possibly considering, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll stay at home, I’ll watch it on television’…there’s nothing like attending a live sporting event. This means that you won’t miss a thing.”

“Big Hoss’ ” display size has allowed TMS to displace sister SMI property Charlotte Motor Speedway (16,000-square-feet) as owner of the world’s largest sporting venue hi-definition video screen.

Richard Ballard, Panasonic’s VP of Eco Solutions North America, said “Big Hoss” is the perfect example of “right-sizing” a considerably larger-than-average TV. “Eddie’s visual of this was not necessarily to set a world record, but he did because it’s such a massive facility,” Ballard said. “To ‘right-size’ it in a live-event venue, you can make them as big as you want. I think we ‘right-sized’ with the help of the folks at Texas Motor Speedway; at most of our venues we like to ‘right-size’ first and then go from there and it just happens to be a world record.”

The final bill submitted to O. Bruton Smith, SMI chairman/CEO? “A lot,” Gossage deadpanned. “But we got the 12-month warranty thing over at Best Buy to go with it, so we’re in good shape.”

Indeed, Bruton Smith joined Ballard in reiterating that the only thing limiting the size of this type of fan amenity is the money SMI has been quite willing to spend.

“What we do in racing, and you’ll hear it more and more and more, is fan-friendly,” the elder Smith said. “We want to go to the extreme of being fan-friendly. All of our speedways we go to an extreme and spend a lot of money on being fan-friendly and this is a giant step in that direction. I hope all of you appreciate what we’re doing along that line.”

Drawing upon his experience with the big screen at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Marcus Smith said “Big Hoss” will allow fans at TMS to “be engaged like never before” with all forms of race-day activity.

“You’re going to have this constant reference point in ‘Big Hoss’ that’s going to provide a live, bigger- than-life HD look-in view,” said Marcus, son of Bruton. “From the production end, if you’re at home the producer has to deliver to you what it feels like to be at the race. When you’re here at the track, we’re going to focus on what it feels like to be in the car. The fan’s already at the race – they can see it, they can feel it, they can hear it. But when you’ve got the biggest TV in the world right in front of you, you can watch the cars and feel what it’s like to be Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. going through Turn 2.”

Neither of those NASCAR superstars was in attendance, but Cup regular Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing and Verizon IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves of Team Penske were and differed on the idea that “Big Hoss” would present an in-race distraction from their respective cockpit offices.

“That could be a possibility,” said Castroneves, who racked-up his IndyCar Series-leading fourth win on TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval during last June’s Firestone 550 night race. “The experience I have with the screen, most of it has been at Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) in Turn 4. Obviously, it’s not even close how big to this one here, but you can see it. It definitely can distract you.

“I remember with four laps to go in 2009 when I won my third Indy, I just glanced a little bit at the TV and saw my family holding hands and I’m like, ‘Is this for real? I’ve got to focus.’ Now with that size TV up there, we’re going so fast on the back straightaway that it would be hard for us to try to look. And this place is so busy, especially with the package of downforce that we have, I feel it’s going to be hard for us to take our eyes off the track. Hopefully, when we come back here in June I can see myself on the Victory Circle on that TV.”

Castroneves, a 38-year-old native of Brazil, has logged 12 top-10 and nine top-five finishes during his 16 career starts at “The Great American Speedway.”

Busch, who counts a track-record six Nationwide Series wins among his nine total victories at TMS, noted it’s a bit harder to see out of his No. 18 M&M’s/Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry than from Castroneves’No.3 Shell-Pennzoil/Hitachi/AAA Dallara/Chevrolet.

“Helio doesn’t have a roof over his head,” said Busch, defending champion of the Cup Series Duck Commander 500 and Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. “So he’s got to be able to see it maybe a little bit better than us with all the restraints and everything in a Cup car, the seats the way they are, the headrests and the roof being over your head.

“To be honest, unless you’re under yellow and really putting a crimp in your neck to try to look over down the front straightaway, it’ll be hard to see what’s happening on the screen. But when you come through Turn 2 and you go down the backstretch, you definitely see a flash and see a reflection of what’s on the screen that shines down on the racetrack, especially in night races.”

Busch, a 28-year-old native of Las Vegas, has logged seven career top-10 and six top-fives at TMS, including a win in last April’s Cup race.

Between races back home in Mooresville, N.C., Busch said he watches programming on a 75-inch TV. As impressive as that unit might be to the neighbors of Kyle and wife Samantha, Gossage said “Big Hoss” offers another key selling point.

“During the race there won’t be 30-second commercials and things of that nature,” Gossage said. “Our sponsors, and right now I believe there are four that we have sold on the screen, will come in the form of graphics, leader boards, things of that nature. We don’t want to interrupt the action. When the network goes to commercial _ 14 camera feeds from the television network and several more (five) ourselves _ we’ll continue to show the race on the big screen. But it will not be interrupted by television commercials.”

Gossage said he expects “Big Hoss” to make TMS attractive to a new slate of corporate customers. ”It’s going to open the door to other kinds of events,” said Gossage, referring specifically to the inaugural Red Bull Air Race World Championship scheduled for Sept. 6-7. “They are beside themselves over the ability to put it on the big screen. The only concern they have is they don’t want to fly into it.”

Gossage said “Big Hoss” also likely will be used by clients during track rentals to display their corporate logo, for example, or for something so Americana as showing movies in a 1950s-style drive-in theater setting. “Those are the kind of things it opens the door to down the road,” Gossage said. “You’re limited only by your imagination; it’s an exciting creative tool.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 20 2014
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