Meet Supercars’ man behind the camera calling the shots
Sunday 24th October, 2021 - 3:06pm
The Supercars paddock has plenty of unsung heroes, none more so than the television crew putting together hundreds of hours of action year in, year out.
There’s one name that most fans probably won’t know but is fundamental in fans enjoying the sport from the comfort of their couch.
Nathan Prendergast is the category’s general manager of television and content. Basically, he’s the guy calling the shots when it comes to Supercars broadcasts.
From humble beginnings as a commentator at his family’s drag strip, Prendergast has worked his way up the ranks working on some of Australia’s biggest events; the AFL Grand Final, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Australian Open, Summer Olympics and of course the Bathurst 1000.
For as long as he can remember, Prendergast has always had an affinity for motorsport.
“I was born and raised in Western Australia in Perth, and my background from day one has been motorsport,” he told Speedcafe.com.
“My family owned and operated a drag strip in Western Australia called Ravenswood Raceway and I was essentially brought up at the drag strip.
“Then, in 1991, when Eastern Creek Raceway was completed, my father was headhunted to run the drag racing at the venue.
“I actually lived at the racetrack itself on the back of the property for the first 18 months I was in Sydney.
“It was fantastic because I would come home from school, drop my bag, and walk through the back of the paddock and the entry gate was at the top of the main straight.
“In those days, there were Group C cars, MotoGP bikes, Supercars, you name it, every single thing was testing there. And every day of the week, there would be something unique on the track.”
Prendergast had a brief spell on track, purchasing a Formula Vee at a young age.
However, that didn’t last long after a mammoth crash due to a brake failure at Amaroo Park when he was 17 broke his kneecap in seven places.
Prendergast soon found his passion lay on the sidelines in television.
Having dabbled in commentary at his parents’ dragstrip in Perth, Prendergast continued that in Sydney.
Living so close to the circuit, he knew plenty of what was going on, who was who and what was what.
“I was always commentating on the drags and in those days, there was a show called Pole Position, which evolved into Speedweek.
“I was 15 years old. I remember, they needed someone to do an interview with one of doorslammer guys and I grabbed the cameraman and s mic and then went and did an interview and a piece-to-camera on what the engine was.
“And I remember them going, ‘Wow! Do you want to do more of these?’ So when I had just turned 16 I started commentating on drag racing on the show.”
In the early days of subscription television, Prendergast found himself working for the Horizon Learning Channel with Optus Vision.
The job was simple. Press play and press stop on the tapes for advert breaks. It wasn’t a dream job by any means, but it gave him a chance to get into the editing suite.
“The editing suite next door to where I was working housed all the drag racing master tapes. In my spare time, I could go in and grab the masters and I was editing my own music clips,” he explained.
“So I was editing my own drag racing to Mötley Crüe – Kickstart My Heart.
“At the same time, I was still commentating on Speedweek and I would go in and show them VHS tapes of my music edits.
“I can say this with true honesty; I wasn’t trying to get a job, I was just showing off what I’d been cutting.
“They said to me, ‘Do you want to want to be an editor?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure, I’d love to be an editor.’ And they were like, ‘Can you start next week?’
“So I was like, sure, and I went in thinking that I was going to be trained up as a junior editor under the guy that I had worked with for a few years only to find that they’d sacked that guy and they put me on as the main editor with no experience at all.
“I remember they sat me down and said, ‘This is an input, that’s an output’. And this was cutting races from ISO tapes. So each individual camera is shot and you have to piece it all together camera by camera.
“The very first thing I edited was the Australian Superbike Championship from Lakeside Park. A track I’d never been to. I cut Troy Bayliss’ Superbike races including a big highside he had at the bus stop.
“I had a track map that was printed out next to me and I had to work out from lines in the road and marks on the track where one camera ended and the next camera started.
“I edited four races in my first week which made up the one-hour show. I had never done any of that in my life and I couldn’t believe it.”
Prendergast would stay at Speedweek for nearly 10 years, starting at show 72 and leaving at show 479.
In that time he shot, commentated, directed, edited and was a senior producer of the show.
By the end of 2005, Prendergast had had enough of Speedweek and was ready to take on a new challenge. Supercars.
It came at an awkward time though. Less than a month after leaving Speedweek it was announced Supercars would move from Network 10 to the Seven Network.
Thankfully, an interim position came in 2006 with a view to the following season.
Despite being an experienced head in the television game by then, Prendergast found himself in a junior role as an audio assistant on the BigPond in-car channel.
“I was getting $100 a day or $125 a day, and mate, it was challenging,” he explained.
“I had to sell my house. It was really, really hard. I had a nine-month-old daughter, but I did it and I did every single round of the championship in 2006.
“I met a lot of really good people and you know that’s why the audio guys at Supercars, I’m like an honorary audio brother because I started there.”
With his foot in the door, Prendergast soon climbed his way up the ladder and by 2009 was given the nod to become the championship’s broadcast director.
Prendergast held that role until 2017, at which point he became the general manager of television and content.
Directing will always be Prendergast’s first love, though events like the inaugural Sydney SuperNight give him great satisfaction.
“The one thing I love about going from the director to the GM role is having input,” he explained.
“Being on the leadership team, being able to have input into the board and running the business, to be given events and trusted to make events like the Sydney night race work in 2018, that’s one of the proudest moments of my life.
“I don’t know how the **** we pulled that off. We did that with a bunch of generators and stand-up lights, and mate, we got away with it and it ended up getting the joint lit and now it’s amazing.
“To pull that off and to have the fireworks and the driver intros and all this stuff which was the vision that I had for it, to see that come to fruition, that was one of my proudest moments.
“I only got that opportunity because I’m in this GM role to be able to grab an event like that and be able to deliver something,
“There’s nothing in the world like live television, it’s the greatest buzz in the world, and the job is the most rewarding and there is probably not many feelings that are greater than getting it right with the team,” he added.
“So when you pull off an incredible race, and everyone’s delivered and done a great job and the race cut is fantastic and the camera guys are on fire and the team find the great replays and the graphics guys are all firing – I mean, when it all comes together, it’s absolutely the best.
“It’s also extremely frustrating because, given the complexities of a live broadcast, it’s very rare that everything goes perfectly. That said, there is probably not a bigger buzz than doing what I do.”
One way or another, Prendergast says he’ll would have always been involved in motorsport.
And had he not found his way into the sport?
“If I sat in Perth I’d probably be fitting tyres or something,” he laughed.
“I often wonder what I would do if I didn’t do this because I kind of fell into this role.
“Everyone says that if you love the life you live you’ll never work a day in your life… I’m very lucky that I really love what I do.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not hard and this is a challenge. My ex-wife would say, ‘But you love your job’. It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, but I do love it.
“I reckon I would have always been involved in motorsport somewhere. I think that was always going to happen for me.
“I’m absolutely astounded at how lucky I’ve been. But you know what they say? The harder you work the luckier you get.”