FOX NASCAR’s Larry Mac takes on virtual challenge heading into FOX coverage of the Daytona 500

‘The only limit is the team’s imagination’

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Former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds has been a mainstay on the FOX NASCAR broadcast team since the network’s first race, the 2001 Daytona 500, but never has he had an offseason quite like this one. As the official translator between automotive engineers, race teams and crewmembers and the FOX Sports graphic artists in Charlotte and Los Angeles, “Larry Mac” has been hard at work since last summer creating a virtual cutaway car for the highly anticipated Virtual Studio in Charlotte, N.C.

In October, FOX Sports announced a major investment in its Charlotte studio capabilities, outfitting its facility with a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose virtual studio set. The ultra-customizable 60’ x 60’ facility allows for instant 3D analysis of racetracks, cars, race shops and more, with the ability to create unique and changeable spaces within the high-tech studio environment in a matter of hours.

The new set debuts today, Feb. 4, on FS1 as home to “NASCAR Race Hub,” the most-watched NASCAR news and information program; “NASCAR RaceDay”; and other NASCAR programming.

“Innovation and ‘what’s next’ thinking have defined the FOX Sports approach from Day 1,” said Mark Silverman, President, National Networks, FOX Sports. “Working with industry leaders and integrating cutting-edge technology has produced one of the most advanced studios in sports. We are extremely excited to show it off early next year as we get viewers ready for the 2019 Daytona 500 on FOX.”

A sneak peek at the new virtual studio

The weight of preparing to unveil new technology as the sport prepares for the “Great American Race” is not lost on McReynolds, a two-time Daytona 500 winning crew chief, so we asked him to walk us through the process of stepping into virtual reality, and what viewers can expect when they turn to FOX on Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2:30 p.m. ET, for the 2019 Daytona 500.

When you first heard about the virtual studio and the role they wanted you to play, what were some of the first things that ran through your mind?
It was a little intimidating. We’re creatures of habit and change can be a little bit scary. But [former NASCAR team owner] Robert Yates pounded on me the entire six to seven years that I worked for him, that the group or the person that takes change and looks at it and says, ‘I’m going to make this better, and I’m going to make this good,’ that’s normally the group that will prevail … and it’s one reason I am proud to work for FOX Sports. I’ve been here now going on 19 years, and this team is not afraid of change. We embrace change, trying something new, being unique and being different.

Larry McReynolds

How did you play a part in the development of the virtual studio?
My biggest role has been working with the artists in Charlotte and Los Angeles in reproducing a 100 percent full-scale, all-components, locked-in virtual car. It’s been a challenge. These guys and girls here in Charlotte and in L.A., they’ll work 24/7, but I’ve been trying to convey as many different components through emails, pictures and shop tours — any way possible I can convey what a part looks like or where a part goes, how big this part is or what function this part serves, to people who will work their guts out but who have never really been around a race car. It’s a steep vertical mountain, but it’s been a fun mountain to climb with the team.

It’s the first time that I really felt like I had stepped back into my crew chief days, because my offseason did not exist this offseason. We started this project of building the virtual car last summer, and it is going to be very different. With this whole virtual studio, with the virtual car and everything about it, the only limit is the team’s imagination.

How will the virtual studio evolve as the NASCAR season progresses?
It’s endless what we can do, but I think we are all going to be smart enough not to get too fancy and too creative in the beginning. It’s almost like a race team – let’s get the basics right first. We want to step into the shallow end of the pool and walk in. We don’t want to go to the far end and just dive in head first, because that’s where we can get ourselves in trouble. It will be a steady evolution. It will be better when we get to the West Coast than it is in Daytona. It will be better in Charlotte than it was on the West Coast, and by the time we finish our half of the season at Sonoma, it will be the best it’s been all year. We are going to learn as the process evolves.

All that exists out there is a big green room, and the only other things that are in that green room are the human beings and maybe some furniture. They can have us sitting on the start/finish line at Daytona. They can have us up on the hillside at Sonoma. They can have us right down there in the turn at Martinsville, and I can show you any and everything about the cars and the track they are competing on.

How detailed is the new virtual cutaway car?
I can walk over to my area in the studio and it can push to the hood of a race car. It can push under the hood of that virtual car to the air cleaner. It can push beyond the air cleaner to the throttle body. In addition, it can push internally into the engine and show you the cranks, pistons, and rods, and yet there is nothing there but my hand hopefully pointing to the right place — which is going to include a bit of a learning curve. I’ve got one end of my little toe wet; now I have to get my entire body wet with this project in time for the Daytona 500.