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Speedway's hi-def TV a def must-see

ThatsRacin.com Opinion

- sfowler@charlotteobserver.com
Tuesday, May. 10, 2011

Charlotte Motor Speedway likes to do things big. It blows up big stuff during prerace shows. It runs a track so big that, according to speedway officials, four Bank of America stadiums could nestle inside of it.

Those officials said Tuesday with straight faces that the next two weeks worth of events at their speedway will be the "biggest two weeks in all of sports."

"Twice as much as what a Super Bowl or a World Cup has to offer," proclaimed Marcus Smith, the president and general manager of the speedway.

Hmm. But while the speedway's penchant for hype is unrivaled, it is true that this time the place has outdone itself.

After four months of construction, it unveiled the world's largest high-definition television Tuesday. If you've ever wanted a bigger TV in your home - and what sports-loving American male has not? - you'll love this high-def monstrosity.

They won't say what it cost. But whatever it was, it was worth it.

This will improve the fan experience dramatically, so much so that the speedway should guarantee at least a 20percent refund to all fans if the big screen is ever non-operational for a race.

At 200 feet by 80 feet, the Panasonic HDTV's screen size is more than 30percent bigger than the much-lauded video boards at Cowboys Stadium in Texas (which cost $40million).

I've been to Cowboys Stadium, too, and the screens there actually look just as large. But that's because a football field is tiny compared to the vastness of a 1.5-mile NASCAR race track.

This screen - across the backstretch between Turns 2 and 3 - is truly enormous. And incredibly clear.

From now on, anyone who sits in a seat during the major races at CMS with no view of the TV will do themselves an extreme disservice. Many fans at the track will end up watching the TV rather than the race (this happens frequently at Cowboys Stadium, too).

Other than making sure you build enough bathrooms and exit roads, massive video screens have always struck me as the best investment a sports venue can make.

You need to be able to argue with fans who say, "I can see it just as well at home, and for free." You need to be able to tell them honestly that they can actually see it just as well in person, plus get the adrenalin rush of a live event.

That's what the speedway has done.

"Nobody knows how to promote a race or sell an event like the guys in Charlotte," said NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who added another hype stripe to the event by showing up to play some video games on the new screen.

Now I'm not a gamer, so watching Junior play a video game on a 16,000-square-foot screen struck me as about as much fun as watching Nationwide Series qualifying. But when race highlights ran on the big screen, I was riveted.

After the news conference, I drove to the frontstretch and looked at the screen from afar. If anything, it was even more impressive, because it remained easy to see even in bright sunlight.

I certainly acknowledge the speedway has made some serious missteps and silly exaggerations in the past. Ask speedway officials to estimate the number of people in a standard jury box and you might get back, "Around 1,000 - remember, there are a lot of people who aren't in their seats."

But I also give the speedway full credit for this home run. The hype actually matches the reality with this big daddy of HDTVs.

When you pay good money to go to a race track, you want to marvel at something.

This sucker is marvelous.

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