Friday, July 31, 2020

Finally: A Race to Photograph

USAC Sprint Cars - Terre Haute Action Track
USAC Sprint Cars at Terre Haute
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fter what has seemed like an eternity, I finally got a race to photograph this week and I feel better already.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on every kind of event and motorsports has by no means been exempt. My entire year's plans went up in smoke when the pandemic quarantine was initiated back in March and until Wednesday night July 29th, I had not been to a race since the ARCA Menards Series finale at Kansas Speedway last October 18th. That's 285 days without a race car photo. For someone like me who thrives on the excitement and creative joy of shooting races, that is a record-setting duration to do without. Thanks to the fine folks at racing promoter Track Enterprises and the help of Speedway Illustrated magazine, I made it to the Terre Haute Action Track for Round 4 of the USAC Indiana Sprint Week Wednesday night so I no longer suffer from a dearth of 2020 racing photos. At least I got something, but I have to say I felt a little rusty and out of sorts.
The view from outside Turn 3 at Terre Haute

Last year I worked a total of 21 race events and for Terre Haute to be my first of 2020 at the end of July is almost unbelievable. Terre Haute is less than a 200 mile round trip from my home in Indianapolis, and it turned out to be my very first trip to the Action Track, although I have known of its existence for decades. I'm not sure why I had never been there before but I'm so glad I finally got to shoot a race there. It's a nice little fairgrounds track which is a true oval since there are two looping corners connected by two straightaways in its half-mile length. The clay smelled fabulous and I didn't mind getting pelted by some flying bits of mud when I was shooting on the outside during hot laps.

Ve rapido!
It's been awhile since I've shot a dirt sprint car race and I will never cease to be amazed by how those drivers throw those non-winged sprinters into the turns. They say you have to know how to turn right to go left on dirt and some of these guys were flicking their machines sideways at the start-finish line and flying into turn one completely sideways! The sound those USAC sprint cars make was music to my ears, as the drivers blipped the throttle to help set the car into its slide and then drove through the corners mainly with the gas peddle. I love seeing the drivers work in the cockpit too since they are sawing at the wheel seemingly all the way around the track on the very edge of being out of control. Perhaps most amazing was the fact that there were 42 cars entered and there was not a single flip or wall contact all evening.

A unique push vehicle!
So where did my feeling rusty come into play? As with anything else, practice and repetition are necessary to hone any skill and shooting motorsports is no different. I had a hard time getting my camera and my Canon app on my phone to communicate so I was unable to send out photos to social media until the evening was almost over. I managed to get two photos downloaded and posted, but it was a good exercise to remind me of the steps that are needed for the technology to work properly. I also struggled getting my flash set up to work the way I wanted it to since the lighting during the feature was not very good. Shooting night racing in those conditions has always been a challenge and I never invested in a big Norman flash unit, so I needed the practice. I got it figured out as the night wore on so by the time race winner Justin Grant climbed on top of his car in victory lane, I was in good shape. Shooting during the daylight hours was like riding a bicycle. I was back in the groove almost immediately and happy to have the opportunity.

Beautiful Indiana clay in Vigo County
Before I went to Terre Haute, I had posted on social media that I was going back to my roots at a dirt track, and there were multiple times I thought of my grandfather and the little dirt track he helped get constructed at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana. My Grandpa Jay Shue, my namesake, was on the County Fair Board and started taking me to the races when I was four years old, so the feeling I get now when I feel the clay on my face is the same I got when I was a toddler. I have come home again.

I have no idea what the rest of 2020 will entail for me in racing photography, but I am available for assignments! This year has already been the least busy one of my life as far as motorsports assignments are concerned. My staple has been the ARCA Menards Series the last five season but it's clear that the decision-makers there do not plan to use me for any races this year. It doesn't look like I will be among the few photographers who are fortunate enough to get media passes for the Indy 500 in three weeks. To top it all off, my dream of going back to LeMans in September was recently scuttled when my French friends learned they would be limited on credentials too, never mind the fact that flights from America to France are still highly restricted. People say the only constant in life is change and this year has sure served up a bunch!

My personal mantra for 2020 has been "Go Beyond" which I chose long before the Covid-19 pandemic reared its ugly head and that's exactly what I plan to do. Lots of other photographers have had to re-invent themselves so I am working hard to craft some breakout plans in new areas for the rest of this year and concentrate on new opportunities for the future. Maybe I'll see you at a racetrack or maybe I won't, but you can be damn sure I will be taking pictures. See you soon. Wear that mask! Most importantly, whatever you are doing be safe.

To see more photos from this race event, please check out this Google photo gallery.  

Winner Justin Grant
C. J. Leary on the rail in Turn 1

And they're on it!
Getting down and dirty!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Racing COVID-19

Dawn at Indy in 2019
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arch 13, 2020 was a Friday when they shut down the school where I teach. At that point, the whole world changed as Indiana went into a lockdown quarantine for the coronavirus COVID-19. Now nearly four months later, my son has lost his maternal grandmother (my ex-wife's mother)  and paternal grandfather (my father) to the coronavirus and the world is still in the grips of the worst pandemic in my lifetime. Social unrest over unfair treatment of minorities and police brutality against African-Americans has only added to the anxiety that many people are feeling over the state of society. Even my hometown of Indianapolis experienced rioting and destruction of property, which is highly unusual for this sleepy Midwestern capitol city.

In the grand scheme of things, the erasure of my 2020 racing schedule is a small matter, but I had big plans for this year which all got scuttled with the global shutdown. The Indycar Grand Prix which normally kicks off the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is being run this weekend with NASCAR's Xfinity Series on the IMS road course but fans will not be allowed and media restrictions are in place so I will be unable to photograph the race. The Indy 500 which is normally the centerpiece of May and spring in Indianapolis has been postponed to August 23rd and fans will be limited to 50% of capacity. Media status for the 500 is unknown but I hope the fact that I will represent a French media company and the defending 500 champion is French will mean something. At least I know I will have seats for the race if all else fails.

By this time last season, I had been to Daytona, had lung cancer surgery, then went to Salem, Talladega, Nashville, Charlotte, Toledo, Pocono, Michigan, Madison, Gateway and Chicagoland to shoot races for the ARCA Menards Series in addition to the Indycar Grand Prix and Indy 500. This year I haven't even taken a single race car photo or been to any tracks because of the coronavirus. I don't know if I will even get any ARCA assignments at all this season after working 19 of 20 races on the ARCA schedule last year. The only good things about that situation are I haven't hardly put any miles on my car this year and I've only put gas in her twice since the lockdown in March.

I should also have been to LeMans, Paris and Marseille in France and Athens, Greece this month if my original plans had held up. I made plane reservations the first weekend in March for that trip which was planned to take more than three weeks in June. Barely a week later the global shutdown hit so I had to cancel those flights. I still hope I can make it to LeMans this Septemeber on its rescheduled date but the remaining trip for my Lilly Endowment project will just have to wait until June 2021. The airlines have been helpful by giving credits for the flights I reserved that are good for up to two years. Even LeMans has announced it will reduce the number of fans allowed at the race and I still have no idea if I will get a photo credential for my second LeMans or not.

Life is full of uncertainty normally anyway, but it feels like it's all piling on now. With my school year set to resume next week, I don't know what to expect so perhaps the best advice I could give to myself  is to just live today. Another good thing about the coronavirus shutdown is I have finally been able to get my manuscript 90% complete of a story I have been working on for most of my adult life but never had time to really focus on before now. I will have much more to announce on that score soon, as I intend to pursue self-publishing of the book. When that will happen, I don't really know, but it will happen come hell or high water. Or Coronavirus pandemic.

Stay tuned race fans. And stay safe - wear a mask.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

WTH? No Indy 500 Memorial Day Weekend?

Happier days lie ahead
My, my. How quickly things change. Two weeks ago when I last wrote, I was feeling pretty good about getting through this coronavirus pandemic and planning for Europe. In the last few days, the 24 Hours of LeMans has been postponed to September and today the Indy 500 was postponed to August. My plans just went kablooey and now I have plane flights, lodging and train reservations to change or cancel. I suppose I was like a lot of other people in the United States who treated this virus as no big deal, but recent events have turned out to be anything but that. It has turned into the biggest deal of my lifetime and I have paid attention to the warnings and the "shelter in place" editc here in Indiana.

Technically, this is my Spring Break week from teaching and our building is shut down until at least May 16th since my school is in a facility owned by Ivy Tech. When school does resume the week after next, we will be teaching remotely utilizing online curriculum. That will be a major shift for our Excel Center staff and students, but that's probably the easy part of this situation. My fiancee works in health care and I hear her every day working on procedures and discussing preparations for the expected onslaught of COVID-19 patients in Central Indiana. I am thankful that right now she does not have direct patient contact but everything in her world is in such a state of flux that it's hard to know what tomorrow holds, let alone next week or the week after.

I had said in my last post here that I was not that concerned about some flu-like bug but I have changed my tune as the numbers of infected and dead continue to mount. What does all of this have to do with racing? That is normally what I write about here and my plans for 2020 have been totally upended by this virus. I am in a high risk group so my plans have become the least of my concerns. Over the last 48 hours, I have only gone out of the house to take a walk, to work in the yard, and today to ride my bicycle. It is just so strange not being able to plan anything for the weeks and months ahead. None of that matters if I get sick. Not only did I have part of my right lung removed in March 2019 because of lung cancer, I was diagnosed with emphysema which puts me squarely in the high risk category. I wasn't concerned two weeks ago when I said the virus wasn't going to keep me from living my life, but that is not the case anymore.

Thanks Helio!
The good news in all of this involves the time I suddenly have had to organize at home among other things. I've been working on a book project for quite some time and I've been able to do more writing on it this week than in the previous six months put together, so that's a real blessing. I've also had time to use the Google Scan app on my phone and scan a huge number of photos that I shot on film which had never been digitized before. That makes me very happy and came with an unexpected side benefit of posting photos on social media: I got a digital autograph on one of my scanned photos from Helio Castroneves! I hadn't even requested it, but there it was in my Twitter notifications. So for now, I will leave you with a few more of those old photos that I've recently digitized. You're seeing them here before I can get them posted on my website but stay tuned for more. Here's hoping we can get back to racing soon.

Al Unser Jr.'s team celebrates winning the Indy 500 pit stop competition in 1989
Sports car racing on the streets of Columbus, Ohio 1985
The late Scott Brayton was always quick at Indy
Lewis Hamilton
Emerson Fittipaldi on the streets of the Motor City in 1989