Live From Iowa: ShortTrackWorld

On July 19, the annual Harris Clash in Knoxville, Iowa will bring together drivers, crews, and thousands of fans to watch modified cars race on a short, oval, dirt track. It promises to be good family fun, but if you can’t make it Iowa, the next best thing is catching the race live on ShortTrackWorld.com — a new web network dedicated to the sport of short track racing.

I’ve been to a dirt track race or two myself, and the astoundingly popular NASCAR got its start on tracks just like these. “People miss that, I think, and they don’t realize it’s still out there,” ShortTrackWorld’s Joe Tate told me over the phone. Along with equal partner Jim Wilson of the World Dirt Racing League, Tate created the site and set up the broadcast system.

While there are a few other broadcasters covering events at particular tracks, Tate customized an RV with a satellite internet uplink developed by Brian Clark of Carolina Satellite. Originally made for NASA, Clark’s technology allows up to 512 kilobits per second in upstream bandwidth for around $1,000 a month. Whereas satellite news trucks can run well past six figures, Tate’s broadcast system was put together for around $60,000 and allows him to travel to rural tracks that may not have high speed Internet access available.

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The live video stream is available as a pay-per-view service, and race footage is archived and available as paid downloads at Cruxy. Since the first broadcast just a month ago, at least one race has attracted an audience of 50 live viewers, which is the break-even point for the business. The site imposes a blackout on zip codes within a hundred miles of a race to keep from competing with the race venue.

Rather than drive from state to state on the circuit, ShortTrackWorld is “trying to save them money and still keep up with their local racers,” by letting fans tune in from home. “We’ve actually had emails from people in Australia and stuff who just like to watch this kind of racing.” With four years of experience producing race coverage for a local show on MediaCom Cable, the video has professional polish.

He shoots spots before the race to air during caution flag laps and other downtime one the track, and brings winners into the “studio” in the RV for post-race interviews. The site enables real-time interaction with fans — during the race, a chat board allows people to send questions to the hosts and interview subjects.

While viewers would still prefer to watch the coverage on their living room sets, “this is the next best thing,” Tate’s been told by the audience. Besides being limited to the computer screen, ShortTrackWorld’s feed is kept around 200kbps since many DSL users, especially in the rural Midwest, can’t get faster access than that. Tate says he plans to provide multiple feeds at different bitrates in the future.

Tate is also open to letting people check out the system in order to put together their own, and is also happy to lease it out for other events. ShortTrackWorld demonstrates the the future of television isn’t just being developed in media capitals and Silicon Valley — Midwestern gearheads with a passion for racing are changing the game, too.