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DirecTV to take NASCAR fans inside the car
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The sport that already offers unprecedented fan access is going one step further in 2007, allowing DirecTV viewers to watch an entire NASCAR race from behind the wheel.
    NASCAR HotPass will debut on DirecTV at the Daytona 500 in February and offer fans at home the opportunity to watch a race from a driver’s vantage point. Subscribers will have access to five channels dedicated to individual drivers, who will change every week.
    Each channel will have up to six cameras and two isolated announcers focusing solely on one driver for an entire race. Viewers will have access to in-car audio communication, real-time statistics and cameras covering every angle from inside the race car to the pit box and all around the track.
    HotPass is the brainchild of Fox Sports chairman David Hill.
    ‘‘There was this moment for me when the lights went on, and I thought ’This is why NASCAR is so popular — because you can buy a seat and sit down and watch your guy go round and round,’’’ said Hill, who worried his network coverage was lacking because it didn’t showcase the in-car conversations between a driver and team. That audio is available to fans at the track through scanners and FanView devices, but isn’t offered to television viewers.
    ‘‘In one fell swoop it was so obvious, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t picked up on it before,’’ Hill said. ‘‘We had to find a way for the fan to sit there and watch his car for an entire race.’’
    He tried the idea in 2005 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he had multiple cameras follow winning driver Tony Stewart from flag to flag. He liked the results but still felt the effort was missing perspective.
    So Hill tried it again at Las Vegas in March, adding two dedicated announcers to the Dale Earnhardt Jr. coverage. The announcers explained everything Earnhardt was doing, debated strategy, called pit stops and even chatted with the driver during cautions.
    Pleased with the effort, Hill took it to NASCAR, which awarded DirecTV a three-year contract. But with NASCAR’s TV ratings declining, Hill knows HotPass is a risky venture. DirecTV must persuade fans to pay $99 for a season pass with no guarantees on which drivers will be featured.
    Hill is hopeful the behind-the-scenes access will entice fans to sign up for the venture, which will require an additional 70 at-track employees and 10 announcers.
    ‘‘It’s a big gamble,’’ he admitted. ‘‘While we are quietly confident, the encouraging thing is that no one has said this is a really stupid idea. So we sort of believe it will be like pet rocks, hula hoops and yo-yos — brand new, but people will say ’I’ve got to have one.’’’
    DirecTV isn’t the only medium offering new access next season. Sirius Satellite Radio plans to offer 10 driver channels that will combine the overall race broadcast with driver-to-pit crew chatter in 2007.
    ‘‘By layering the driver chatter over the race broadcast and alternating between the two, we’ll provide a way to follow the race like never before,’’ said Scott Greenstein, president of Entertainment and Sports.
    Dick Glover, vice president of broadcasting and new media for NASCAR, said the DirecTV and Sirius deals show how committed the sport is to providing new and exciting ways for fans to enjoy it.
    ‘‘We have always tried to be out front in bringing innovation into how our sport is covered,’’ Glover said. ‘‘It’s long been our tradition to work with telecasters to get our fans into the cars and closer to the action. This is the natural evolution.’’