I’m going to deviate a bit from the norm for today’s post on PRC, but it’s a subject I really want to expand upon considering this topic might be highly relevant to a solid chunk of our readers – whether they’re wanting an on-board camera for their amateur race car, or making use of it for a different activity altogether.
Though YouTube in 2017 has already replaced cable television in terms of sheer popularity, and there’s one major brand selling high-quality action cameras at a very affordable price – allowing you to record and inevitably upload your public karting escapades in all their glory – I’d wager that roughly 65% of GoPro owners have no fucking idea how to use these pocket sized devices to their fullest extent. Often taking on the role of stocking-stuffers over the holidays, last minute birthday gifts, or pre-season surprises from a friend or family member, the sad reality is that the majority of GoPro cameras live very dull and pointless lives; either sitting in a drawer or awkwardly strapped to someone’s car or helmet, but never venturing past the so-and-so bought me one for Christmas, but I haven’t really configured it yet or tried recording anything big” phase. After being blessed with a fleet of miniature GoPro session model cameras courtesy of Slightly Mad Studios, and promptly attaching them to a bunch of cars, these were the same sentiments I commonly heard popping up around my local pit area – everyone seemingly owned a newer model GoPro, but I appeared to be the only guy who knew how to make use of them.
And it’s a damn shame, because in an era where auto racing – and I guess to cover a broader topic, outdoor activities – are declining in popularity, with track owners and miscellaneous promoters struggling to figure out how to attract an audience to their circuit (I was invited to some country bar to striptease for “racer’s night” as a way to promote the Pinty’s event), GoPro’s are literally invaluable in what they can accomplish. I’m not talking about just in terms of bringing an audience out to a race track by making it look like a great time through wild on-boards – because that’s a given – but also in how they can help you better your skills as a driver, and save your ass when the officials get it wrong.
Unless you are seriously strapped for cash, pinching pennies just to keep the car running, and cannot part with $200 plus a tad extra for a MicroSD card, you owe it to both yourself and your local race track/karting complex to purchase a GoPro, as well as get everything you’ve recorded up on social media. It’s the correct, honest way to promote your local auto racing scene, whether you’re a part of it or not.
Before making this venture in the first place, it’s absolutely essential to obtain some sort of proper video editing software such as Sony Vegas, and then take the time to learn how it works – usually by messing around with clips of sim racing footage – just to ensure you’re familiar with the editing and rendering process. The reason for this is that GoPro cameras naturally “chapter” video clips, so even if you think you can just hit record, walk away for forty five minutes, and then press stop when the action has ceased, this isn’t exactly the case; GoPro cameras split recordings into twelve minute chunks, meaning you’re the poor bastard who has to piece them all together. Again, in my experience this is one of the points where a lot of racers simply give up on their ambitions of uploading their adventures to YouTube, as you’d be surprised how many are computer illiterate and deem this to be too daunting and time consuming.
This is where it helps to be a sim racer, or that special sim racing friend to assist your bro; if you’re regularly recording your own personal iRacing hotlaps and then busting out something like Sony Vegas to add visual effects, music, or multi-angle shots, importing MP4 clips from the camera into Vegas or Premiere, chaining it together, trimming it down, and disabling the resample effect when necessary, is literally a two minute job. But of course, it’s something that needs to be done so the footage is presentable on social media, and not a 38 minute odyssey of static pit area shots before the ignition switch is finally flipped and the action commences. Again, I’ve seen others do this, and it’s shitty. Nobody wants to watch that.
GoPro as a company have a pretty wide variety of cameras available – with price ranges skyrocketing for newer models – but the reality is that for any on-board footage of yourself karting, mountain biking, road racing, or a buddy of yours running his amateur car, you simply do not need anything more than a Hero 4 Session, pictured above. These things are tiny as fuck – so they’ll fit basically anywhere without feeling like a bulky, awkward extension on your helmet – retail for just over $200, and are idiot proof to the max; with just one primary button, a single press turns the camera on and begins recording, while another press ends the recording and shuts the camera off. In my opinion, the more expensive GoPro models are an exercise in diminishing returns; sure, you can shoot at 120 frames per second with the Hero 5 Black, and there’s a touch screen display on the user side portion of the camera, but what exactly does this add to the experience for your average consumer wanting to crank out videos? Absolutely nothing is the correct answer. The higher priced cameras are really only intended for amateur film makers, as the increase in framerate aids the fluidity during slow motion scenes – and even then there are tricks in Vegas to work around this.
Each camera also features a pretty stout array of settings that can be changed both on the camera itself, as well as within the PC-based software that can be downloaded from the GoPro website, but the reality is that there’s basically one universal setting on the session models which provide the best all-around outcome – and that’s ideal if you’re low on videography skills and just want to hit record & forget about it. I’ve found that an image quality of 1080, framerate of 30, and the field of view set to medium warranted solid results with reasonable file sizes and acceptable battery consumption. Again, anything above is pretty much useless; it’s not like you’re not shooting a movie for Ron Howard.
So anyways, let’s say you’re at the point where you’ve picked up a GoPro Session, grabbed yourself a MicroSD card between 16 and 64 gigabytes, messed around with Sony Vegas (or another relevant video editing program), along with a bag of mounts from a place like London Drugs, and are now ready to start documenting your summer adventures. How do you ensure the footage you capture is actually worth anybody’s time?
The first thing I’ve gotta talk to you guys about is angles, and a video of my teammate from pre-season testing earlier this year drills home how important getting the right camera angle can be. Browsing for amateur racing on-boards on YouTube, I often come across videos – such as my own above – that don’t show anything because a lot of guys fail to think through cockpit shots. Justin wanted the camera placed on the rear hatch of his Sunfire so he could review his driving inputs, but the end result was very uninspiring and extremely boring for third parties to view; even if we were to zoom in on the front windshield via Sony Vegas, you can’t physically see a lot of what’s occurring out on the track, and it’s not entertaining footage by any stretch of the imagination. There’s no sense of speed, nothing exciting to look at, and any action that does take places, does so in a little tiny window in the center portion of the screen, roughly 5% of the overall image.
That’s shitty. Don’t make people sit through that.
What I do personally, is to try and place cameras where third parties viewing the clip, not knowing who myself or Justin are, can still watch the race and become invested in the on-track product. And the way I’ve accomplished this is by drawing inspiration from Gran Turismo’s roof cam; it’s something all sim racers are familiar with, and to spectators, it provides a very clear view of the action both in front and directly beside the car in question – giving the on-track product a chance to entertain & captivate them, and possibly enticing locals to check things out for themselves. I accomplish this by mounting the GoPro in the dead center of the windshield, and then aiming the lens about twenty feet in front of the car.
The end product looks cool because sim racers instantly think “ah, Gran Turismo”, while a third party audience – family members, friends, other racers, or locals curious about what the track has to offer – can actually see a lot of what’s going on and get involved in the race.
It’s also an angle that helps to convey the pitch and the attitude of the car, so viewers can comprehend elevation changes, line choices, and general car stability more accurately. I’m not saying roof cam is the be all, end all solution that should be mandated for those running onboard cameras, but before you start experimenting with artsy shit, it’s nice to have footage that clearly displays what’s going on. Roof camera solves that.
Some guys will experiment with dashboard camers – I did as well – but there’s one fatal flaw. Dash cameras lack peripheral vision, which means that if there’s any side by side battles that may occur (and they certainly will), you’re simply not going to see them. You lose the excitement of cars running door to door – both trying to inch ahead of one another – because the opponent’s car has instead completely disappeared from the shot at the most inopportune of times.
But of course, roof cams are only useful in tin tops, and some of you guys reading this might not have the privilege of competing in a full-bodied car, possibly just wanting to record your karting adventures with your mates. In that situation, helmet cameras are certainly the way to go, as GoPro mounts will stick to literally anything, but I’ve found what a lot of people get wrong is in where they mount the camera to their helmets. Most opt to stick the camera right on top of the helmet, but this results in a ridiculously high vantage point compared to what the driver actually sees, and thus reducing the sense of speed. I’m not a fan of telling people “it feels much faster when you’re actually driving” when it’s much easier to just put the camera in the correct spot the first time and convey it through the video itself.
And given most karting facilities mandate you to use your visor at all times, this can be accomplished by placing the sticky mount as far forward as possible, and then tilting the camera upwards. Don’t be that guy with the GoPro on the top of his skull, I promise you the footage looks absurdly goofy.
This is also what many simulation developers fuck up when trying to replicate a proper cockpit view in their respective Go Karts on the vehicle roster. Teams opt to try and convey an ultra-high GoPro eyepoint that makes you feel as if you’re towering over the other karts, when in reality the view should be much lower. Let’s be real, when you head to an indoor karting complex, the wheel is directly in front of you, not in your lap like the teacup ride at Disneyland.
Now at this point you’re probably wonder if it’s possible to combine the two – running a helmet camera inside the car – and I’m here to confirm that yes, it’s certainly possible, but you have to take into consideration the roof height, and your overall level of visibility in the cockpit.
Because there’s a giant piece of sheet metal above your head, using the same mounting point as what you’d make use of in karting just doesn’t work, because every time you move your head, there’s a chance you’re going to bump the camera, or exert enough force on the mount to completely detach it from your helmet, which would obviously result in a $200 piece of equipment rolling around in the car, and sanctioning bodies typically aren’t too fond of that. Now provided you’re enough of a manlet like I am, where a high mounted camera wouldn’t run the risk of clipping the roof, you still run into the problem of creating an awkward, jacked up view point that doesn’t really resemble what the driver sees. Part of the fun in running a helmet cam is being able to convey to friends and family exactly how you’re able to interpret the situation around you. I’m not towering over the nose of my car from inside the driver’s seat.
The solution I used, at least in Hornets, was to mount my GoPro to the side of my helmet, less than an inch away from the visor slot, and then angle the camera inwards so you can still see out my driver’s side window – plus the entire windshield – despite the camera being mounted away from the driver’s side door. This also naturally induces a sort of look-to-apex effect, without the need for any Sony Vegas wizardry.
However, the helmet camera vantage point isn’t always effective. If you’re in a car with super low visibility, whether it be due to the windshield height, or running a containment/partial containment seat, there’s only so far a Need for Speed Shift-like camera can go before you’re back at square one, and can’t see shit. The key for this viewpoint to work is to have a giant cockpit area – something you’ll find in abundance in Chumpcar, LeMons, Hornets, or any discipline of racing that makes use of passenger cars. Late models, not so much, although it’s good for a clip or two to drill home the drastic change in environment from something significantly less radical. At the end of the day, the audience is going to want to see what’s going on out the window to provide context to the driver’s inputs, and if they can’t, they’re not going to stick around for long – the “oh my god you’re wheeling it” element only lasts for a couple of laps before people get bored.
Assembling the videos into something presentable on YouTube isn’t an area you’ll need to dedicate several hours, but it certainly helps retain your audience. People have significantly shorter attention spans compared to twenty years ago, so every last second of your on-track footage needs to be relevant, or at least showcase actual racing. Unless you know what you’re doing and can craft the downtime portions into something ridiculously artsy, viewers don’t want to watch you tightening the belts, sitting in the staging lanes, conversing with an official, turning pace laps, or mindlessly idling around under caution. Auto racing is an already difficult sell to millennial viewers, so this is the part where you really do need to learn the most rudimentary Vegas operations of cutting out stuff that does not serve any purpose whatsoever.
Unless you’re like, screaming in your helmet under caution. In that instance it’s hilarious.
This season I’ve slowly messed around with inserting basic graphical elements just to keep viewers informed about what’s actually happening in the race. As a racer, I often find myself bored to tits watching on-boards from other people, and this led me to inject simple green/yellow/white/checkered flags, along with labels of each session, to give a very basic outline of what point we’re at in the evening. For late models I’ve tried doing this thing where I have a results screen pop up in the center like the EA Sports NASCAR games once you cross the start finish line, but some may not be comfortable revealing their real name to the outside world. I run a website with a shitload of viewers, so I’ve sort of waived that right to privacy, but it’s not something that’s essential by any means.
Basically, you want your GoPro footage on YouTube to be accessible to the point where some random guy prowling for on-board footage can click on your video and be entertained for five to ten minutes, even if it’s just you and your mates slugging it out at the local karting complex.
Throughout this article I’ve talked a lot about retaining an audience and keeping “third party viewers” engaged, and there are two key reasons for that.
Obviously, on-board cameras are a powerful tool to help refine your driving skills and/or settle disputes with other drivers/officials at the race track, but when used to their fullest extent, they’re also a very underrated marketing tool. The reason your local karting track does Date Night, or your local race track does shit like Kids Under Ten Get In Free is all down to marketing; most circuits, save for massive facilities like Daytona, the Nurburgring, or Bathurst, have no fucking idea how to promote local racing or even go-karting to a potential userbase who are otherwise apathetic towards auto racing as a whole, so they basically throw a bunch of shit at the wall to see what sticks – and sometimes the results are pretty fucking ridiculous.
Whether it’s for a karting complex or a local track, aggressive, hard racing is going to reel people in faster than any $1.50 for a hot dog & drink for #Canada150 scheme ever will. If you can use your base model GoPro to capture this sort of racing in a manner that’s easily digestible for the average person with a passing interest in auto racing, and not force them to click through fourteen minutes of your car sitting in the pits because you’re unsure of how to work Adobe Premiere and cut the clip, that’s usually enough to compel them to come out and bring a bunch of their friends – meaning four tickets sold, and a shitload made at the concession. More importantly, it also means less awkward, forced marketing campaigns that have nothing to do with racing.
It’s also an integral tool in securing potential sponsors. Throughout the 2016-2017 off-season, three of my bros who race hornets were able to secure pretty substantial sponsorships from a wide variety of companies just by approaching local shops, introducing themselves, and being able to pull up footage of us beating the shit out of each other on YouTube. Every car guy with a business and a bit of money wants to have their logo on a race car of some level, but the biggest problem is they want to associate with someone they can cheer for and feel like they’re going to win every weekend, which is pretty difficult to do if they can’t immediately see you in action. Yet if you can show them crystal clear footage of yourself – or the entire class – racing three wide to the stripe, or have some sort of compelling video that introduces your discipline as immediately captivating, that’s the extra push they’ll need to hand your operation some cash.
So if you happen to be a sim racer who also campaigns some kind of amateur car on the side, or you’ve got a friend who’s into amateur auto racing and his girlfriend buys him a GoPro for Christmas, don’t let that opportunity go to waste. Learn how to work editing software such as Sony Vegas, take the time to mount the cameras in a position that gives the best view of the action possible, and upload as much as you can to YouTube in a manner that can be easily digested by the common motorsports fan – it’s the correct way to promote local racing, and it’ll settle a lot of fights in the pits, too.