The Frontstretch: Cable Catastrophe ... Or Was It? Keeping It All in Perspective by Summer Bedgood -- Monday May 27, 2013

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You know that commercial that runs several times a race … “Anything can happen, and usually does?”

Well, it did. And it was really, really strange. You don’t typically give much thought to the cameras on the racetrack, instead relying on the view they provide to keep up with the on-track competition. Aside from the armchair producers who analyze things like camera angles and zooming in and out, no one really thinks much about them.

NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, in 2013 will forever be defined by these two words: fallen cable.

That is, until they become a part of the race and not in a good way. In what has to be one of the most bizarre red flags in NASCAR history, a cable somehow detached or snapped from the aerial view camera that FOX uses to give fans a bird’s eye view, landing on the racetrack with drivers at full speed. It wrapped around the cars of Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose, causing further damage to the cars of Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne. NASCAR threw the caution, then put out the red flag to get the cable (which was actually rope) removed from the racetrack and even allotted the teams 15 minutes to repair any damage they had sustained from said rope.

However, the damage was not limited to on track alone. According to varying reports from the track, when the cable snapped, it whipped into the crowd and hit some of the spectators. The official count is that ten were injured from the debris, with seven of them being treated and released from an at-the-track care center and three being transported to a local hospital with minor, non-life threatening injuries. All have now been released.

FOX issued a statement saying, “We certainly regret that the system failure affected tonight’s event; we apologize to the racers whose cars were damaged, and our immediate concern is for the race fans. We also offer a sincere ‘thank you’ to the staff at CMS for attending to the injuries and keeping us informed on this developing situation.”

Though Charlotte Motor Speedway issued a statement as well, they can hardly be blamed for an incident that had nothing to do with their racetrack or equipment.

However, it’s difficult to place a whole lot of blame on FOX either. After all, this camera has been around for a while and has never once created any controversy let alone injured anyone. It was never considered a threat and in fact was a neat little angle that was incredibly fun to watch on restarts. My favorite track where they use the camera is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (even though that’s usually ESPN’s race) where the long, sweeping straightaway allows the camera to follow the cars for several seconds. Even when I saw the camera in person, never once did I think about the possible safety implications.

And why should I? The FOX crew is one of the best in the business; a well-oiled machine, if you will. Don’t ask them to average any finishes, but when it comes to the technical flow and the finished product, they are almost always on top of their game. We don’t routinely hear of their cameras malfunctioning or parts flying around. In fact, we almost never hear about anything in terms of the FOX and SPEED crews because this sort of thing never happens.

So it was really frustrating to me when I saw Kyle Busch say, “Maybe now we can get rid of that thing,” referring to the camera in his mid-race interview after his engine let go. Though he wasn’t lashing out at FOX about the incident, the comment caught me off guard. As long as the camera — referred to as the “CamCat” — has been around, how many times has he noticed that it was there? Does it really bother him while he’s in the race? Why has he not said anything before if he “finally” wants them to get rid of it?

It could very well have been a heat of the moment quote, a frustrated Busch speaking out of turn, but it was such a strange comment for such an isolated incident.

He wasn’t alone, either. Though I wouldn’t say they were in the majority, I saw several fans, popping up all over social media being incredibly critical of FOX for what happened. They were comments such as, “Incidents like that show FOX isn’t competent enough to do this” or “Those fans should sue.”

I mean … really? Would you like to elevate yourself to that height every week and perfectly set up that camera every race? That’s what FOX has done, by the way up until this point. While the network has said they’ll investigate the incident, which means we don’t actually know what happened right now, I don’t think they deserve this criticism. This collapse could easily turn out to have been a freak accident, a random failure such as what happened to Busch or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the race itself. I hardly think this crash is an accident derived from incompetence or — excuse my French — half-assing the setup.

My entire point is that we really shouldn’t jump to conclusions on this one. It’s easy to do so considering there are fans who had to go to the hospital because of the detachment. But you can’t focus on one incident out of who knows how many and use it as evidence that this camera has been a problem from the start. It hasn’t. The camera was for aesthetic purposes only and I’m sure the setup team takes safety into consideration every week when they put it all together. For whatever reason, this week it became part of the story.

So give FOX a break and let’s wait to see what they uncover. I don’t imagine that they consider this good PR and that the behind the scenes team would like to stay behind the scenes. Everything turned out just fine in the end, with very single injured fan heading home, and I’m sure we’ll all share a laugh about this one at the end of the season. Obviously, we’re all very curious as to what happened with the camera and will be eagerly anticipating any release from FOX. But I hope logic prevails in this.

In fact, I really hope they still have the camera set up in Dover. It provides a great view and is 99% of the time completely harmless. Address the problem, fix it, and move on. We won’t even know it’s there the next time around.

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Kevin in SoCal
05/27/2013 01:35 PM

They wont set it up for Dover. They’ve only used it for a few “big” races this year. I’m sure its cost-prohibitive, and it takes 5 days to set up. It was an accident, nothing more. Stuff happens.

05/27/2013 05:39 PM

of course the fans are over reacting again, Summer, but then, we’re not allowed to be critical of anything about racing these days are we?. According to you, all we worthless fans do is complain. I guess we should just sit quietly and then say how wonderful it all is or maybe we should just send our money to the tracks and not show up.

Personally, I went out to dinner with friends so missed most of the race and the red flag. I got home just in time to see Gordon get wrecked when Almirola got turned into him. At that point, I turned it off and went to bed.

However, I am quite sure that the line failure was an accident, but it is someone’s job to make sure that equipment doesn’t fall onto the fans or the people. Usually Fox does pretty well with their equipment, its their booth personnel who need a re-work.