NASCAR docu on track at ABC News


NEW YORK -- ABC News' long-form programming unit is getting out on the track with a documentary series scheduled to air this summer that will take a behind-the-scenes look at the world of NASCAR.

The series, with the working title "NASCAR in Primetime," began shooting Friday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with an eye to four to six hourlong episodes that will air this summer and early fall on ABC.

"The idea is to basically do a primetime drama where the main characters are NASCAR drivers, and find drivers whose stories connect beyond the sport," executive producer Michael Bicks said Friday. Bicks said that the series will be produced not only for fans but the millions of Americans who aren't NASCAR enthusiasts by telling stories that are universal and not just about cars going around the track.

One such driver could be Mark Martin, a 49-year-old driver who finds himself as of Friday the Nextel Cup points leader over much younger rivals but who eyes a life after racing. Another could be Juan Pablo Montoya, a Columbian Formula One driver attracting lots of international attention for his first season as a NASCAR driver.

"We're looking for drivers with stories like that that connect with an audience and stretch them across the episodes," said Bicks. "Once you know the drivers and care about them it's a completely different experience."

It's one thing that attracted NASCAR to the idea of the documentary series when Bicks approached them about two years ago, said Sarah Nettinga, managing director of film, television and entertainment for NASCAR.

"We think they're going to do a great job telling the non-fan what NASCAR is all about," she said.

While heavy TV and film exposure is nothing new to NASCAR -- from NASCAR-themed series running on networks as diverse as FX, CMT and Biography -- this documentary breaks new ground. It will be the first time that NASCAR has allowed unfettered access to its behind-the-scenes workings and won't have editorial control over the finished product.

"We don't have editorial or approval power over the piece but we believe our sports has so many compelling people and stories that they'll come out with great stories," Nettinga said. "We're not really worried about anything."

NASCAR entered into a production consulting deal with ABC News in connection with the series; ABC News and NASCAR say the money goes to license race footage as well as help defray some of the costs incurred by the league for the documentary's production. Neither ABC News nor NASCAR would discuss the financial aspects of the deal, although sources said it was minimal.

The unit, recently renamed the All Media/Longform Unit, produced documentaries for ABC like "NYPD 24/7," "Johns Hopkins 24/7" and "In The Jury Room." Its director is Rudy Bednar, who is the senior executive producer of "NASCAR in Primetime."

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