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On Cue Systems

(Arizona, USA)

NASCAR Races At The Speed of Sound
Reprinted from Pro Sound News June 16, 1997

Stock car racing is the number-one spectator sport in the U.S. today. As exciting as it can be, though, watching modified Chevys and Fords zip around an oval track 250 times can sometimes get tedious. Which is why NASCAR races are, like other major sports events, increasingly accompanied by live music shows. This summer, a major series of performances will play on a double bill with stock racers; country singer Mark Chesnutt and rock veterans the Doobie Brothers are among the artists that are performing the 12-show Speed of Sound Tour, sponsored by consumer electronics maker Kenwood and electronics retailer Circuit City. Shows will cover the U.S. from the Talledega Motor Speedway in Florida to the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to the newly constructed Los Angeles Speedway. Aside from the music and the cars, what will these venues have in common? "Noise, and lots of it", laughs Mark Cockriel, president and chief engineer, On Cue Systems, a Phoenix-area SR company supplying sound for the tour. "Ten of the shows are before the races, and that's when you can really hear what engines sound like. It makes it interesting getting ready to do the show."

In order to fight that situation, Cockriel used a JBL HLA (Horn Loaded Array) Series speaker system and said it made a difference in the clarity, projection and intelligibility of the music shows. "I was pretty amazed that we could get an open-air venue like a speedway to sound that good," he said. It was On Cue's first commercial implementation of the HIA system and only Cockriel's second use of a production model (he had worked with a JBL prototype previously); On Cue did a system demo with a flown cluster rig only the week before.

The HLA system for the NASCAR shows consists of 32 boxes dispersed on 10 wheeled, aluminum carts, with two top cabinets and one sub per cart. Every other cart has an amplifier rack feeding two carts with JBL SR 6670A amplifiers; crossovers are BSS Omnidrives, as are the Varicurve EQs. Each cart also has an Aphex Dominator system as part of its front end.

The FOH position has a Crest VX-52 console; the monitor consoles run by On Cue monitor engineer George Blake, alternates between a Soundcraft Series 4 and a Ramsa WR-S840, feeding On Cue's proprietary monitoring system.

"The cart approach helped us get the system set up quickly under the circumstances," explained Cockriel. "The cars aren't the only things that have to be fast on these shows." He added that the carts also solved the problem of width of coverage. "We had to cover a large portion of the grandstand, so there was a wide area to get sound to," he said. Spaced 50 feet apart in front of the 50-foot stage, the cart's components were splayed at approximately 30 degrees, "And from that we let coverage overlap naturally" he said.

The resulting sound, however, was better than he expected for a ground-mounted system. "That's the incredible part," he recalls. "For a festival type of venue you'd at least want the speakers in two stacks on either side of the stage to help with projection. But the HLA system simply didn't need that. It's a horn-loaded system that doesn't sound like a horn. You get the projection of a horn but the sound quality of a great speaker cabinet." Cockriel grimaced at the fact that to extend coverage around the sides of the grandstand, he had to route a small amount of the mix through the two side speaker zones of the track's own sound system. "It was designed for racing, [speech] not music," he says. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram concurred, giving both Chesnutt's show and the sound a high rating.

One complication was that the FOH position was located 200 feet away from the front of the stage due to a flooded infield from Texas-sized springtime rains. "I was checking the sound from 400 feet away for this show," Cockriel says. "I knew that not only was the grandstand far away but the console mixing position would be, too." The elements proved not to be a problem beyond that, though. Cockriel said there were minimal lobing or phase-shift problems due to gusting wind. And, he added, just as well, since he had his hands full getting the stage set up and trying to catch the race itself after the show. "We saw every wreck that happened," he says. "But fortunately none of them were on stage."

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