Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chandler Smith Dominates Salem Speedway ARCA 200

Chandler Smith dominated the Salem high banks
I can't really say I was surprised that Chandler Smith led 199 of 200 laps at Salem Speedway recently to win the 104th ARCA race at that venerable old southern Indiana racetrack. I am surprised how easy he made it look as the 16th year old is rapidly rising into the category of phenom as far as I'm concerned as his pace this year has been phenomenal. Seemingly coming out of nowhere this year, this kid knows how to go fast with multiple pole positions this season in a limited schedule with Venturini Motorsports. He "only" started second this race but jumped pole winner Zane Smith at the start and never really looked back, which is a good thing as there was some serious craziness going on behind him as the evening unfolded. Series points leader Sheldon Creed managed to stay clean all night and left Salem with a nearly insurmountable lead in the points with only two races to go this season.

Pole winner Zane Smith would have a rough night
And then there was Zane Smith. Zane oh Zane. After taking pole position, his race unraveled in a big way as he got into a shoving match with Michael Self which damaged his car and he rejoined the race dozens of laps down to retaliate. He ended up taking both himself and Self out with an intentional crash in between Turns 3 and 4. As you can imagine, the ARCA officials were not pleased with Zane's behavior and neither was Self''s Venturini crew which had words with Zane and his MDM Motorsports guys. Zane's lapse in judgement was penalized by ARCA with a loss of points and a monetary fine which helps Creed in the season standings. It was interesting reading the comments on social media following the race and it reminded me of a similar incident between Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., a few years ago. With the rescheduled Shore Lunch 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway coming up October 6th and the season finale at Kansas Speedway October 19th, it will be interesting to see how these guys race from here on out. Sheldon Creed will most likely take the series championship at Lucas Oil Raceway and enjoy Kansas as a victory parade.

Michael Self
To Zane's credit, during the race I noticed that Michael Self was putting a fender to a lot of different racers throughout the night but never spun anyone out that I saw. Retaliation is never a good idea, although it does seem to happen in all levels of motorsports - but especially in stock car racing for some reason. I often wonder if that's due to the apparent safety of modern stock cars and the drivers getting a feeling of immunity from harm when they are able to routinely walk away from what appear to be big impacts from the outside. I've never raced a stock car let along crashed one so I can't say I'm an expert by any means, but retaliation would never occur in Indycar for instance because the risks are so much greater in an open cockpit race car. Drivers are somewhat cocooned in a stock car compared to open wheel machinery and I'm sure the perception of risk is different for every driver no matter what series they race in. Accidents do happen in all forms of racing and nobody likes to see drivers get hurt so I hope the guys I cover in ARCA can get things worked out and finish the season on a high note.

Sheldon Creed leads the ARCA season standings with 2 races left

By my count, this race at Salem was my 24th ARCA race there since I started going on a regular basis back in 2006. The track has grown on me over the years and has consistently produced memorable racing with the quality of competition improving noticeably in ARCA the last few years as all the young kids come into the series. After the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Salem now is the track I've visited second most since I started shooting motorsports in 1984 at Indy. The fall ARCA race is always special since it's a night race and teams often put together "throwback" paint schemes to honor the history of ARCA at Salem which goes back to 1956, a year before I was born! Believe it or not, they used to run 500 laps at Salem which is incredible given the high banks and bumpy old surface. After we finished our race photos editing Saturday night, I walked to my car through a deserted pit area and decided to take a lap around the track before I hit the highway. I was amazed at how hard it was to see around the corners at Salem due to the steep banking. I didn't push my luck (or my speed) as I didn't want to hurt my Civic so I pulled through the gate and headed home to Indy after a single lap. I got to pass some cars on State Road 56 heading east to I-65 so I was happy and had my need for speed thoroughly satisfied. I was also very tired after a long, hot day in southern Indiana, a day which started with my alarm at home in Indy going off at 5:00 a.m. and ended with me rolling back home and into bed after the race at 1:00 a.m. the next morning. In between, I shot about 2300 pictures and walked over 18,000 steps so it was a good days' work.

Zane Smith laps during practice on the Salem backstretch
The ARCA series hasn't officially announced its 2019 schedule yet but I have an idea of what is coming. I plan to make every race I possibly can in what will likely be a transitional year to NASCAR's full ownership and control of the series. So far, only Daytona, Iowa and Michigan race dates have been announced for 2019. I know I will be at Daytona in February since it is the home of NASCAR  and I am really looking forward to that. I am excited to finalize my schedule for next year and already it looks like 2019 could be my busiest year ever as a motorsports photographer so if you need my help next season, you better contact me soon! Until next time, come say hello at Lucas Oil Raceway October 6th and enjoy these photos from Salem.
Late summer skies were spectacular at Salem
A healthy crowd saw the ARCA "kiddie corps" put on a great show
Michael Self (55) leans on Riley Herbst in Turn  1 in this shot but that's racing!
Zane Smith (41) and Michael Self are probably not going to be exchanging Christmas cards this year
I got a little wet in the post race celebration and it felt great!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Bring on the Dirt!

Joe Graf, Jr. got super aggressive to win at Berlin
Since I got back from Berlin Raceway outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan this past Sunday from the weather postponed ARCA race, I've had some time to think about the events of the past month. The Berlin race was originally scheduled for 200 laps on July 21st, and as I drove through pouring rain in Indiana this past Saturday to go back to Berlin, I was a little concerned that we might have more weather delays. But the weather Gods smiled upon us and we got the whole race in at last! As it turned out, Berlin became the second race of a five week stretch of races that will represent the homestretch for the 2018 ARCA season. And the Primera Plastics 200 had one helluva finish as rookie Joe Graf, Jr. barged through traffic on two late restarts to get his first ARCA win after finishing second in a couple of photo finishes earlier this season. He really pissed off some of the other teams and drivers with his driving tactics at the finish and it kicked off a firestorm on social media that only seemed to die down after everyone saw what happened in the trucks race at Canada the next day. The term "bump and run" took on a new meaning last weekend and I hope everyone will be calmed down for our next race.

Joe Graf, Jr. beat Zane Smith in controversial style
The crazy thing about life on the road sometimes is how fast things can hit you from back home while you're away. That first Berlin weekend was supposed to be a one day show with practice, qualifying and the race all on the same day, and then an easy drive home on Sunday morning. That all would have worked out great except for Saturday's weather was godawful with loads of rain surrounding the one practice session we were able to get in. Then as I'm driving home to Indy Sunday morning, I got a call from my fiance who tells me "we don't have any water." Since our house is on a private well, I knew that was not good and I still had about three hours to drive to get home after her call to think about what to do. If you've always been on city water, then perhaps being without water is something you've never experienced. Trust me, you should be thankful for that as repairs for wells are potentially quite expensive and there's no guarantee of a permanent fix. The well problem eventually got fixed but we had to endure a week without running water which made getting ready for work and doing simple things like washing dishes a challenge.

Christian Eckes looked strong in the #15 Venturini Toyota to win at Springfield
Almost a month after that Berlin rainout, I finally headed over to Springfield, Illinois August 18th to work for ARCA again at the Allen Crowe 100 on the mile dirt track at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. It was good to get back to a racetrack and that weekend my brother joined me as we try to get together for at least one ARCA race per season. He loves that dirt track event as much as I do so we had fun together and the weekend came off without a hitch. Christian Eckes was the surprising winner as he has almost no dirt track experience and held off several other drivers like Sheldon Creed who could rightfully be called dirt track specialists. That set the stage for the actual running of Berlin August 25th (finally) and now we are looking at another dirt track race on Labor Day. This time it's the "Magic Mile" in southern Illinois at the DuQuoin State Fair. I am looking forward to this weekend for a couple of reasons. First, to see if there are any leftover hard feelings from the Berlin finish, and second, because I will go over early to shoot the Silver Crown race on Sunday night. I haven't done that event in years so it will be fun to see all the guys who regularly shoot USAC to catch up on what they've been doing. I expect two great 100 lap events at DuQuoin and hope you can make it over there too.

My view of the field approaching the green flag at Berlin 
One of the most fun things I've done in awhile at a race occurred at Berlin last weekend: I got to ride in the back of the pace truck and shoot photos of the pace laps! I've been asking about doing that at seemingly every ARCA race the last couple of years and thanks to the pace truck driver running the traps for me, I got the approval to do it. The pace lap speed was only 23 miles per hour so I wasn't doing it for the sense of speed; I wanted to get those rows of two lined up right on the truck's bumper with the full grandstands and the night sky in the frame which I was able to do. It's been over 10 years since I've had the chance to do that so there are a couple of things I would do differently next time. I hope there is a next time and I hope it's soon! It would have been nice if the rising full moon had been up during those laps but it came out later so I did eventually get some photos with the moon in the frame. Maybe that full moon was the cause of the craziness at the end of the race!

There's something unique about stock cars on dirt
After DuQuoin on Labor Day, the turnaround is short as we race at Lucas Oil Raceway the following Friday and then we go to Salem the Saturday after that to wrap up five straight weekends of racing. The Salem weekend leaves only Kansas to follow in October and it will be time to start making plans for next season! It's an exciting and fun time of year with ARCA visiting tracks like Springfield, DuQuoin and Salem which have a lot of history with the series and a championship battle at stake. Until then I would encourage everyone to check the ARCA website for more news and our photos. Until next time, I leave you with a few photos from Berlin and Springfield. Or follow me on Twitter for regular updates and more racing photos!

Joe Graf, Jr. didn't make many new friends at Berlin last weekend
Travis Braden has been on a roll lately with Top 5 finishes for RFMS Racing
The pace truck ride was awesome; so was the photo opportunity
Not necessarily the view you want on a dirt track
Carson Hocevar had to wait almost a month to race from his pole position at Berlin
Gus Dean won the pole at Springfield 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Creed Rules ARCA at Iowa Speedway

Sheldon Creed celebrates another win
This past weekend I was happy to get back on the road with the ARCA Racing Series after being away since Talladega in early May. It was great to see everyone again and the teasing started right away at the hotel Friday night when people started asking "who's the new guy?" But I played along and that became the running joke through the weekend. I love going to Iowa Speedway and apparently so does Sheldon Creed as he swept the pole and the race for  MDM Motorsports Saturday in the Fans With Benefits 150. Creed drives for the team with the most impressive record this season. That trend continued at Iowa with Creed getting his third win this season and MDM drivers taking three of the top four finishes as Chase Purdy took third and Zane Smith placed fourth. Youngster Chandler Smith continued his great short track runs with a second place finish for Venturini Motorsports. It's no surprise that Creed, Zane Smith and Purdy occupy the top three spots in the season standings with 12 races in the books. I've enjoyed watching MDM come into ARCA the last few years and "dabble" in the series by entering a few races here and there and doing quite well. Their results this year have been all the more impressive because of the enlarged scope of their participation and increased commitment to a multi-car entry at every race. That bodes well for the team in terms of season awards with eight races to go in 2018.

Riley Herbst got spun after a mid race restart but came back to finish with a damaged car
The 7/8ths mile Iowa bullring bills itself as the "Fastest Short Track On The Planet" and the racing here is typically quick and frantic. The 150 laps went by in a hurry with only a few on track incidents so the race really came down to track position and managing tires. Riley Herbst is third in season points so far but did not have a good race at Iowa. Another thing I love about Iowa is the variable banking which allows drivers to use multiple different lines and creates opportunities for lots of two wide and three wide racing.

James Hinchcliffe won the Indycar race as I grabbed a few pix on Saturday
The Iowa race weekend is the only time all season that ARCA and Indycar share the same venue which I dearly love. I wish I could have stayed for the Indycar race on Sunday but I had to get back to Indianapolis since I had professional development for teachers at our school set to begin on Monday. Now if I had a paying client for the Indycar race, I probably would have stayed but for once I chose not to banzai a late drive home and start off exhausted for the work week on my regular job. It was a good decision and I still got home in time to watch the Indycar race on television. As it was, I only got about five hours of sleep after finishing editing my ARCA photos at the track Saturday night and was glad to get home.

Perfect weather greeted us in Iowa
Everyone knows I'm a numbers guy - after all, I am a math teacher - so here goes! This was my fourth ARCA race at Iowa and this weekend had the best weather by far of any of them. Usually the Iowa race feels like working in a furnace but temperatures were only in the 80's so it really felt quite comfortable. We started race day with a 7:00 a.m. officials meeting before the teams started loading in at 8:00 and I didn't get back to our hotel until about 11:30 local time, so Saturday was nearly a 17 hour day. I did three full laps around the perimeter of the track while walking to photo locations during practice and the race and logged 18,042 steps for the day. While that was not a personal record for step count, I was definitely feeling it on the drive home Sunday once the adrenaline and Excedrin from race day had worn off. I ended up driving 953 miles from Friday to Sunday but my Civic Si was more than up to the task and I averaged over 34 miles per gallon.

We were blessed with a nice sunset Saturday night under clear skies
In addition to the weather being Chamber of Commerce perfect all weekend, the lighting all day Saturday was just beautiful. My habit during practice for an ARCA event is to go outside the track and shoot the cars going through the corners or coming straight at me. That view is one the teams like since the shots will show the attitude of the cars entering and rolling through the turns. For night races, I am always hopeful of getting a nice sunset shot during the race to show off a more artistic side of the event, and the sun sure cooperated this race. We got some fantastic golden light in the middle third of the race and I was joyfully going from spot to spot on the outside of Turn 3 to shoot down the backstretch while the low angle sunlight lit up the interior of every race car that came toward me. From the other end of the track I got a few sunset shots and then headed inside for the last third of the race to shoot the front stretch and pit stops. I tend to follow a "10 laps and move" strategy to get a variety of angles during a race and sometimes every move I make works out just right. Last Saturday was one of those nights and at the end of the Victory Lane celebrations I knew I was where I belonged as I had had a fantastic day shooting.

I don't really believe in coincidence anymore and I had an experience on the road Friday which was clearly just meant to be. After being on the road for less than an hour Friday morning, I hit a spot in a construction zone on I-74 where traffic came to a complete stop. As drivers in front of me started getting out of their cars to see what was going on I shut my car completely off and just sat there for about 30 minutes. Eventually I saw people snaking their way between big rigs to turn around and go over to the eastbound lanes of I-74 so I joined that caravan and was able to create my own detour. Apparently a wide load rig had gotten itself stuck on the bridge they were working on where both directions of traffic share the road but thankfully I was close enough to the front of the traffic jam that I could use the construction lanes to get out of there. As I backtracked over to US 136, I was happy to be rolling again and as I went through Waynetown, Indiana, I saw an old cemetery by the road as I entered town. Since I am working on a photo project called "Hoosier Cemeteries" (hashtag #HoosierCemeteries or on Facebook), I had to stop and take some pictures and I am so glad I did as the graves there went back to the 1820's. I made a note to return here again as there were Civil War veterans, veterans of the War of 1812, and a man who was in the Lewis and Clark expedition! I didn't know anything about that cemetery before the trip so this was a bonus find and well worth the inconvenience of a driving detour.

On the way home Sunday morning, I kept the windows open and enjoyed the flat, farmland scenery rolling by in Iowa and Illinois and since there was very little traffic it was an enjoyable drive. On long drives like this one, there's always lots of time to watch the world go by and I started noticing some airplanes in Illinois doing acrobatic loops and turns over farm fields along the way. As I got closer, I realized that those little planes were crop dusters, something I don't remember seeing very often in fields in Indiana. It looked like those pilots were having a lot of fun but I had no illusions about wanting to do anything like that myself:  drive a race car, yes, but not fly little airplanes like those daredevils. Compared to most of my ARCA friends, I had an easy weekend as the series was grinding through Week 8 of 11 straight weeks with a race. I will miss the next ARCA race at Elko, Minnesota this weekend but I'll rejoin the series at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan the following weekend and then work six of the final seven races of the season.

The "golden light" from the setting sun lit up the cars beautifully during the middle part of the race
Our days at ARCA races start early with an officials' meeting which covers that day's event rules, schedule and expectations
Winner Sheldon Creed had a tidy little burnout in just the spot I like for photos!
The "Fans With Benefits 150" got some lucky Iowa fans into Victory Circle with winner Sheldon Creed