Since 2004, SPEED has enlisted JHE to execute its experiential activation program at all 38 NASCAR events a year, making the display one of only two that fans can visit every week at-track. Charlie Roberts, SPEED tour manager at JHE, takes us inside a week on-the-road with the display.
Day One and Two: The week starts at the track with JHE’s professional drivers. We get four tractor trailers, one TV truck and one bus from one location to the next in a safe manner, knowing that most of the items on-board are one-of-a-kind, custom-built pieces. The JHE drivers take great pride in what they drive and what they do.
When we arrive at the track, I always keep in mind the camera shots when parking. I picture what the stage would look like set-up, taking into consideration the camera locations and the background for each shot. The drivers use their professional skills and equipment knowledge to hit the marks I give them. Sometimes it is a simple maneuver and other times, the drivers must rely on my step-by-step instructions and trust what I’m telling them to get the right angle for the best camera shot.
After all the units are parked and the client has approved, we get to build what the fans enjoy at-track and the viewer’s get to see on TV at home.
Day Three: The primary focus for day three is building the stage, backstage awning and the B-unit green room, a 53-foot Featherlite trailer with an upstairs office for the SPEED marketing team and a ground floor office for the SPEED executives and talent, including John Roberts, Kyle Petty, Rutledge Wood, Kenny Wallace, Kaitlyn Vincie, Krista Voda and Larry McReynolds. An outdooring awning serves as the green room for the show’s guests to prep and relax before show time.
Shep Lindsay, who hauls the stage, is responsible for safely building the stage each week which takes about four hours. It starts with leveling the stage, taking into account any slopes in the ground and making sure to get the trailer a minimum of four-feet off the ground. After this is complete, the floor rails are installed and the side of the trailer is opened and extended to create the 24-foot stage floor. The structure is built next, including putting each piece of roof structure and the awning in place.
After the stage build is complete, the team usually splits into groups: William Navey builds the B-unit green room; Eddie White builds and installs the display’s awnings; Kevin Banks cleans and fuels the Freightliner trailer; and I set up the fence around the perimeter. Everyone works together to get the stage elements, from speakers to signage, installed.
Day Four: We have Wednesday off to rest and enjoy the local city. Occasionally, we have a curveball, like rain or wind, which delays our progress and causes us to use the fourth day to catch up on work and complete the build.
Day Five: We use the fifth day to complete the final elements of the build. Casey Peacock, who drives the TV truck, builds it and gets it ready for the weekend’s shows. The lighting, audio and video crews arrive and build their portion of the stage, finishing before noon so our team can get the stage roof in place.
Final marketing elements are put in place, including testing the media wall to ensure all marketing screens are showing the proper social media sites and webpages. By the end of the day, we are TV ready.
Day Six: Half the crew gets Saturday off while the other half of the crew works the shows and autograph sessions for the day. We always have one person on-stage to assist the stage manager if needed and everybody else manages the crowd and escorts the talent.
The JHE crew also handles the flip which is where we take the entire look that we just built from FoxSports to RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco, including changing the stage backdrop, switching display signage and moving in additional props for Sunday’s show.
I rotate the schedule around so the crew that works on the sixth day always changes. There are no specific assignments; collectively as a team we know what needs to be done and everyone jumps in and tackles the tasks at hand. We can usually transform the entire display in one to two hours.
Day Seven: Race day. The crew that was off on Saturday works Sunday beginning with an early crew call to get ready for the two-hour RaceDay show.
Once the show wraps at noon, the entire crew comes back on-duty to strike and load out. It is important that we follow a specific order, working together and efficiently to get everything loaded.
During the strike process there is also one more show we are prepping for, Victory Lane. In the middle of the race, I head to Victory Lane to set up for the show. The show airs for about 30 minutes to an hour after the race, then I strike that set and return it back to the main stage area to finish loading out. It typically takes us seven to eight hours to strike a week’s worth of work.
The JHE team averages about 186 hours at each track before we start all over again heading out Monday morning to bring the show to the next NASCAR track.
– Charlie Roberts