Like to ogle old ’Vettes and ’Cudas, but can’t make it to the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction this week? You don’t have to miss a thing. SPEED, the all-things-automotive cable channel, is bringing all the excitement of the world’s biggest collector car event to your TV.
Car lovers’ favorite broadcasters have set up shop in a complex of trucks and trailers behind the main tent at Scottsdale’s WestWorld, where Barrett-Jackson is selling more than $100 million worth of cars and another $1 million worth of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia. The hoopla started Monday. It all ends Sunday after the last of the 1,240 cars crosses the block.
At least 250,000 spectators are expected to show up during the week, but you can watch 40 hours of the auction action live in climate-controlled comfort with as good a view of the pricey vehicles as the bidders that crowd around their potential purchases.
Maybe even a better view. SPEED has 15 cameras trained on Barrett-Jackson, including one below a big hole in the stage so car fanciers can check out the under-carriage and a “robo-cam” mounted overhead so when the hood is lifted they can get a close-up of what’s underneath, said Rick Miner, executive producer.
Another camera is mounted on the auctioneer’s dais to catch the gavel pounding, and one runs along a rail on the overhead supports from the back of the main tent to the front — moving from panorama to close-up. Two more cameras hang from the ends of 40-foot-long jibs — rotating crane-like structures used to get the overall perspective.
”It’s difficult for people to get how big this is. It’s six football fields long,” Miner said. And that’s just counting the string of seven tents that stretch for 1,800 feet and house the auction, most of the 300 or so vendors, the sponsors’ new and concept car areas and a few dozen of the priciest for-sale cars.
It doesn’t include more than twice as much outside stuff to see and do from the polo fields packed with most of the other 1,000-plus cars for sale to the Ford test track to vendors selling everything from sunglasses to sun destination cruises.
Several hand-held cameras follow the on-air SPEED guys throughout the massive spread. It takes a crew of 80, five to 10 miles worth of cable, a satellite truck, three tech trucks and four live-in-size trailers for offices, on-site editing, and other operations, Miner said.
The heart of the SPEED operation is in a traveling control room — about an 8-by-10-foot space carved out of the center of a truck. A dozen people cram into the tight quarters, each facing their own mazes of buttons, lights, plugs, wires, and other tech devices. And they all wear headsets which they talk into simultaneously. The front wall of the control room sports 74 monitors.
The on-the-spot decision makers — the producer and director — have front row seats. They make the decisions of when to cut away to a commercial or insert a backstory, what camera should be on air, and what the on-air talent should say or do next, Miner said.
On-air commentators get the live broadcast in one ear of their headsets and directions from the control room in the other ear, Miner said. You can spot a relatively new broadcaster, he said. He may nod or even talk back to the control room without thinking, he said.
Miner, who has a tiny office in a trailer with plenty of buttons of his own, gets to step in as big-time problem solver.
For example, last year when Saturday night auction happenings were too exciting to cut away, the show went for 48 minutes without a commercial, Miner said. Usually five or six would run in that time frame. Sponsors are only so understanding, so Miner had to OK staying with the action and explaining it later to the sponsors.
Miner wouldn’t reveal the budget to put on the show. “It’s expensive, south of seven figures,” he said. But worth it.
“It’s one of our most popular programs,” Miner said. “And we maintain a significant audience for the entire week. That’s what is so unusual about it.”
And it has a wide breadth of viewers from people just considering car collecting and those who spend millions annually on their hobby or investments, he said.
That’s why SPEED upped its coverage from 33 hours last year to 40 hours this year, Miner said.
For the auction, the benefits are just as important, said Gary Bennett, Barrett-Jackson senior automotive specialist.
SPEED’s coverage has brought Barrett-Jackson new spectators, new bidders, the most coveted cars and consignors, and helped turn the annual Scottsdale event into a Super Bowl-like extravaganza, said Bennett, who was a Barrett-Jackson customer back in the 1970s.
“We were car guys, and it was a small world back then. SPEED exposed our little world to people outside and let them know they can be part of this,” he said. “It changed the whole playing field.”
SPEED live coverage of Barrett-Jackson:
• 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
• 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday
• 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
• 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
• SPEED airs on Cox Channel 66, Qwest Channels 38 and 607, and Channel 150 for Dish Network customers.