Monday, October 16, 2017

One More Race to Go: Planning for 2018 Already Underway

Prototype racing at Daytona is incredible in person
What a year in racing this has been for me! My 2017 racing season as a photographer began in January and now I am only four days away from its conclusion. It all started at Daytona International Speedway where I was fortunate to get to shoot the Rolex 24 Hours race in the IMSA WeatherTech endurance series for This coming Friday, I will complete my 13th ARCA race of the season for the series at Kansas Speedway and it is hard to believe that this season has gone by so quickly. It seems like it just began. I guess being busy at 19 race weekends since the end of January will do that to your time sense! Now I have just one race left to photograph and my season will be over. This weekend  the ARCA season finale will see the 2017 champion crowned, and various other awards such as Rookie of the Year will be decided.

Steve McQueen said "Racing is life."
This year was the second time I had shot the Rolex 24 race and I am planning to go back in 2018 to work it again, this time for Associated Press.  The 2017 edition turned into a sprint at the finish with an epic pass for the lead with only a few minutes left in a frantic 24 Hour event. It was a fitting way to start the year and I have seen a lot of great races throughout this season. The highlight of my season was getting the chance to shoot the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. My fiance and I were able to turn it into an extended visit to France and Italy this past June. Neither of us had ever been to Europe before this trip so saying that it was an epic adventure would be the understatement of a lifetime. I am working on going back and I sure hope I get that chance.

Road racing at Indianapolis is still a bit hard to get used to
From the beginning of the year, my racing stops this season were as follows: Daytona Rolex 24 Hours, Nashville (ARCA), Salem (ARCA), Talladega (ARCA, NASCAR Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup), Grand Prix of Indianapolis (Indycar), Indianapolis 500 (Indycar), 24 Hours of Le Mans (World Endurance Championship), Iowa (ARCA), Lucas Oil Raceway (ARCA), Winchester (ARCA), Springfield (ARCA), Road America (ARCA), DuQuoin (ARCA), Salem (ARCA), Chicagoland (ARCA), Kentucky (ARCA) and soon Kansas (ARCA). From January to October, I logged plenty of miles behind the wheel of my Civic Si and logged some major miles flying to Daytona and Europe. In the process I shot races on paved ovals and dirt ovals, on road courses and at  historic venues. Next year is shaping up to include more of the same and I am excited to see what the new year will include.

It was great to get back to Road America again this summer
I have said for years that I would love to make a living as a motorsports photographer as very few people can say they do. I have been blessed with some great opportunities the last few years and there are times I wish I'd gotten more serious about it at a younger age. That may sound strange considering as how I've been shooting racing for media outlets since 1984, but the driving force in my life back then was making money to support a family and I didn't think photography would do the trick. What I have come to understand though, is that I have to do the things that I am passionate about no matter what, and there's no questions that I am passionate about photography in general and about motorsports in particular. The "joke" I like to tell on myself is that after my marriage broke up in 2005, I bought camera equipment and went racing again instead of buying furniture. Those of you who know me understand how true that is. So these last few years have brought a new determination and focus on what I love to do and I have had to figure out a way to go do it. I'm one of the fortunate ones who's figured that out and I am able to do what I love, even though it remains an avocation and not my full time gig.

Dirt miles at fairgrounds tracks are part of the lure of racing
There's so much more I have planned: creating multiple photo books, publishing an e-book or two, shooting more international races, finishing a novel I started many years ago, etc. Even this blog is a part of that desire to produce and publish creative works, as I decided long ago that if I was going to be a writer, then I needed to write. So you get this blog. If I'm going to be a racing photographer, then I need to shoot races, so I do that too and share the results with the world through traditional media outlets and through social media. Somehow I feel compelled to do these things and leave a legacy of my vision for others to hopefully enjoy. I see things differently and I know that. I hope you see that too when you read my posts or see my photos.

If you want to see more, then please hire me. You will not be disappointed. See you at a race somewhere soon.

From Formula One in 1984... flying Indycars at Indy in 2010... sports cars racing through city streets... fire...
...and rain, I have shot them all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Theriault Does It Again: Grabs Win #7

Austin Theriault Celebrates Win #7
This is no Lucky 7 I'm talking about, even though the number on Austin Theriault's car, 52, adds up to seven. I'm talking about a champion in the making who came out of the pack late in the race once again to win an ARCA Racing Series race for the seventh time this season! This time he did it at Kentucky Speedway after another green-white-checker finish. Now there's only one race left in a 20 race season that has turned into the Austin Theriault comeback show and I have enjoyed every minute of it. He's won four of the last five races so his hot streak has come at exactly the right time to stake his claim to the 2017 ARCA season title. And this win comes at the conclusion of a grueling stretch of six races in 33 days that has shown the true mettle of the Kenny Schrader Racing (KSR) team and showcased the experience of their driver Theriault against his mostly younger competition. As the Chief Photographer for the ARCA series, I have witnessed this run and it's almost been like watching a modern day tortoise and the hare story. Austin lets the young guys rush out in front and burn up their tires while he bides his time and waits for the right moment to pounce. Don't forget he finished second in the other race of these last five and he's built up a nearly insurmountable 400 point lead in the championship chase heading into the finale at Kansas Speedway on October 20th. I can't wait to see the entry list for the Kansas race fill up and see who decides to join in the hunt for the checkers one last time this season.

The 2017 season as a whole has kind of followed the same pattern as Theriault's racecraft. Youngster Dalton Sargeant started off the season on a hot streak and won three races but hasn't been able to get his Cunningham machine to match Austin's pace when it counted. Sargeant's results have been good enough to place him second overall this season but I'm sure he was looking for more than that this year after taking over the #77 machine that Chase Briscoe drove to the season title last year. Sargeant's teammate Shane Lee hasn't been able to muster a win but he's still third in points after posting 13 Top 10 finishes in the 19 races run so far. I know he's chomping at the bit to get the 22 car into Victory Lane, but Theriault's dominance has been such that only one other ARCA regular has been able to win a race in 2017, and that was rookie Riley Herbst at Pocono in June. Herbst is currently fifth in series points behind his main competition for Rookie of the Year, Gus Dean. That battle will go right down to the wire since their points totals are extremely close with just  one race remaining.

Sheldon Creed tried to run and hide but couldn't get the win
This season ARCA regulars have accounted for 11 wins of the 19 races contested and Austin Theriault has seven of those. The remaining list of eight race winners reads like a who's who of stock car racing's future stars with Justin Haley winning both times he raced this year, 2015 ARCA champion Grant Enfinger, Christopher Bell and Harrison Burton each winning in the only races they ran, plus Chad Finley, Kyle Benjamin and Brandon Jones each swooping in for a race win apiece. I admit that I am biased with my insider's view, but I tell people all the time that you need to get out and see these kids run for yourself. I'm sure you will be favorably impressed with the level of skill and the quality of equipment at the front of the field. Most importantly, I know you will enjoy the racing as these kids get after it, especially as the laps start to wind down and they sense it's time to go. I love it and after more than 10 years covering the series as a photographer, I believe the series has never seen better racing and it just seems to get better every season. Granted, ARCA is regarded as a training ground for drivers, mechanics, crew members and team owners, but the talent level is there and there is no questioning the desire of everyone involved.

The MDM team with drivers like Vinnie Miller (41) has been impressive at every race
The biggest challenge for me at each race is just getting editing done once the race is over. By the time we are done shooting Victory Lane and we get back to the ARCA trailer to edit, any ARCA staff who aren't involved in post-race tech inspection are busy packing up all the gear in the semi trucks and getting ready to hit the road. Our first priority is to get a Victory Lane photo or two out to marketing for use on the ARCA website. Once I start editing from a race, I usually have 700 or more photos to comb through which includes everything from pre-race festivities through the completion of the extensive hat dance in the winner's circle. We have to download files, select the best images, export them to folders, then copy all the files onto ARCA's external hard drive in less than an hour. This means hardly anything can be cropped or adjusted so I mostly pick the ones that are correct coming right from the camera and skip the rest for another time.

Ty Majeski has looked like a winner in his ARCA appearances this year
I do wish I had more time to be even more selective - to crop more images and set them up the way I'd like - but we just don't have that luxury right now. Maybe someday we will. My main goal shooting for the series is to showcase ARCA with the best quality images we can produce and I think our photography work would stand up against that being done by about any other racing series out there right now. I am quite proud of that and it's a true blessing to get to work with other photographers like Doc Hunter, Rich Corbett and Doug Patterson who share the same philosophy and passion. It's all part of the job and I have no complaints as not many people get to do what we do on a regular basis so I am very grateful for these opportunities. It's surreal to think this season is almost over, but it's been a whirlwind which began with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona back in January for me, but that's another story which I will leave for another day. For the time being, I am going to enjoy being at home for the next few weekends before I start officiating girls basketball! Oh yes - did I mention I registered 21,873 steps on my pedometer app at the Kentucky race? Yeah baby! Now I can relax a little.

This effect was done in the camera and not with Photoshop or Lightroom
This was originally a color image that I transformed in Lightroom
Restarts were crazy at Kentucky
You know you're in Kentucky when you see the Colonel

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fantastic ARCA Finish at Chicagoland Speedway

Christopher Bell celebrated his Chicagoland ARCA win in style
This past Thursday, the ARCA racing series raced at Chicagoland Speedway and the future stars of stock car racing put on one helluva show with Christopher Bell sweeping around the field from 8th on a final green-white-checker restart to steal the win. It was yet another fantastic finish for the series in 2017 and this one was set up by the misfortune of Michael Self who blew a right front tire with less than 10 laps to go while leading to spoil an otherwise brilliant run for the Sinclair Oil "Dino" schemed car fielded by Mason Mitchell Motorsports. It was a mad scramble for all the top 10 positions on the final restart and Austin Theriault had jumped to the front when the green flag came out but Bell's Venturini team had fitted Bell with four fresh General Tires under the caution for Self's misfortune. With grip and a clean lane on the outside, Bell simply motored around everyone to nab his third win in his last four ARCA starts. Theriault continued to cement his season points lead with a second place finish and it's hard to believe that Bell's win was the first one for Venturini all season. But it came at a good time and location at the "home" track for the family run team and there was genuine excitement in Victory Lane. Plus Big Bill Venturini got to land his trademark kiss on Bell during the post race celebrations and you knew that was coming!

The final restart was crazy!
Brandon Jones had won the pole in another of his periodic ARCA appearances but faded at the end on worn tires. Noah Gragson brought another Venturini entry home in fourth while Nashville winner Chad Finley rounded out the top five. The race had included quite a few drivers who were dropping in for the experience and as a result there was a lot of good, strong equipment at the front of the pack. Travis Braden got a shot in the 27 normally driven by AJ Fike and led quite a few laps. Myatt Snyder made an appearance and looked really good on the 78. Most impressive to me was ARCA Midwest Tour champ Ty Majeski in the 99 for Cunningham Motorsports. Ty was very imprssive in leading a bunch of laps in the first half of the race and really looked like he might win even up until the final restart. Kyle Benjamin had a strong night as well. The addition of this kind of driver talent to the regular roster of ARCA drivers is another reason why I enjoy working for the series so much. You never know who's going to show up, top flight equipment is available, and you can come in and win even if it's a one-off appearance to gain experience. I am pretty sure that our next race at Kentucky Speedway this Friday will involve more of the same.

We were greeted by fog in the morning when we got to the track
After a night of furious but clean racing, my post race editing was a challenge as I started out in the flagstand and worked the outside of the track until about 20 laps to go. You would be surprised how fast a 100 lap race goes when there are only a few cautions and non of them are very lengthy. By the time my day was over at Chicagoland, I had logged 21,365 steps on my pedometer app so I got plenty of exercise and I had taken about 2100 photos for the day! The day had started off foggy and I knew I had two driver headshots to take before practice started, but the fog was wreaking havoc with some teams' travel schedules as many flights into Chicago were being delayed. I got the last headshot done just as our only practice session began and what had begun as a more laid back morning became a scramble for the rest of the day. I had worked the outside of the track during practice, then pit road during qualifying, and then shot a hospitality gathering with drivers and sponsors. All of a sudden it seemed, it was time to go racing!

Scott Towels sponsored the race and their people got the race started
After the race, I drove straight to Indy from Joliet and got home about 3 in the morning Friday so I could get back to my teaching job later that day. I have to admit that I have begun to feel the effects of the dual schedule of my teaching and racing jobs lately. There have been 27 calendar days between last Friday when I got home from Chicagoland and the day I went to Springfield, Illinois August 19th to work the dirt race there, I had 11 days traveling to or from or working at a race (five races altogether in three states), 14 days on my teaching  job and just two days off. There was a movie in the '60's titled "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" and I have kind of felt like that lately as there have been mornings when I woke up and wondered what day it was and where I was supposed to be. It got so bad last weekend that I got all the way to the hotel in Joliet Wednesday night before I  realized I had left my flash at home, along with the pouch that held all of my memory cards. Luckily I had left a memory card in each camera and my colleague Rich Corbett had a second flash I could use for Victory Lane so it all worked out. I don't know if that qualifies as a senior moment or whether the short turnaround from Salem had gotten me out of my regular routine, but it's been a crazy and hectic period.

Getting up close and personal on a restart is quite a thrill
The good news is, I love it, and my ARCA boss has already started talking about next season so with only two races to go, it's about time to start planning for 2018 believe it or not! So I will make sure all my gear gets packed this week as I will be back on the road Thursday evening for Kentucky Speedway. Every time I go to one of these tracks, I find my mind drifting back to memories of prior years and Kentucky is no different. I went to the very first Indycar race ever held there in 2001 and have shot a variety of races there since then. At Chicagoland, I couldn't help but think of the ARCA race in 2014 when the rains hit us in Victory Lane and I had to race to Akron, Ohio to be with my Mom who had been admitted to the hospital the day before. Granted it's not always good memories that get conjured up on the road, but when you have a lot of windshield time on the highway getting from Indianapolis to tracks all over the place, the mind does tend to wander. I love that part of the job too and I always tell people I love to drive. But I love taking photographs and writing even more. See you again soon and spread the word!

Pole winner Brandon Jones won the first ARCA race he ever entered and I was there to photograph it in 2014
Gus Dean had his game face on at Chicagoland and could win Rookie of the Year
The view from the roof of the main grandstands is spectacular
Scott Towels did a great job with the race sponsorship and team support; here Bret Holmes collects some shop towels