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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Special Photo Projects Ahead: Get Involved!

History in stones
I haven't worked a race since the Indy 500 at the end of May but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy with my cameras. My fiance and I spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina on vacation the third week of June so I had the opportunity to add to my travel photography portfolio. While we were in Charleston, I was notified that a grant I had applied for through the Indiana Arts Commission had been approved. I was surprised but happy to get that notification as I really didn't expect to be approved given the review committee comments I had heard a couple months ago. With that grant approval, I now have a longer term photo project to complete which I am quite excited about.

If you have an interest in Indiana cemeteries or genealogy, then perhaps you will be interested in my project as well. If you would like to be kept apprised of my progress, or you know of any especially interesting cemeteries that I should check, then please email me here or leave a comment on this blog or any of my social media accounts such as Twitter. I am especially interested in photographing pioneer cemeteries or older cemeteries which have been virtually abandoned, or surrounded by modern development. I have been researching locations on the internet and have several in mind around central Indiana already. My goal is to produce a photo book for public distribution at the end of my project and I'm really excited about the challenge this project entails. I plan to experiment with lighting as well as shoot lots of black and white images, so this project is outside my normal comfort zone photographically.

Older cemeteries often contain hidden gems I hope to find and photograph
As fate would have it, we got the chance in Charleston to visit some very old churches in the "Holy City" and each one seemed to have its own little cemetery. At the time, I hadn't found out about the grant award yet but I was already thinking about the project so I made sure to take a few photos at each graveyard. I didn't know why Charleston was called the Holy City before this trip but I overheard a horse drawn carriage driver tell his passengers that the name was a result of the numerous churches in the historic old city. When we were in Europe last summer, churches were regular locations for us to visit so checking them out in Charleston seemed natural. I don't consider myself a religious person but I often feel a spiritual presence in these old places of worship so that is a big reason I find myself drawn to these places. Is it any wonder I have devised a photo project with a spiritual element in visiting old Indiana cemeteries?

For next year, I have an even bigger photo project in mind that will also involve churches so stay tuned for more on that over the summer! Next weekend I am back to racing with the ARCA series at Iowa Speedway where we are paired with Indycar so I am looking forward to getting back to work!

The interior of St. Michael's Church in Charleston

Thursday, May 31, 2018

More Penske Power in Indy 500 as Will Wins His First

Will Power got his first Indy 500 win on the hottest race day ever
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway continued to be a Penske playground this May as Will Power waltzed into Victory Lane at the Indy 500 to take his first ever win on the big Indianapolis oval. This was the 102nd rendition of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and most teams struggled to find grip on the melting asphalt of what some said was the hottest Indy 500 in the history. While it was Will's first Indy 500 win, it was Roger Penske's 17th win as a team owner, and there has rarely been a more excited winner than Willy P. Will's usual demeanor is all Aussie cool but he was going absolutely nuts in Victory Lane which was so out of character for him. During his lap around the track for the fan salute after he drank the winner's milk, he just kept saying "I can't believe I won the Indy 500". He did it in style with a calculated victory as other top contenders dropped out with self inflicted crashes or couldn't make the fuel numbers work to pull off a win similar to Alexander Rossi's two years ago. It was an amazing display of emotion from a guy who is usually as outwardly emotional as dry toast and it was awesome to be there to photograph it. I'd love to see more emotional displays like that from Will when he wins and I'm happy to see him finally grab the big prize at Indy.

Danica did well after being away from Indycars for several years
One of the big stories before this 500 was the fact that it was Danica Patrick's last race. She held station early on but crashed out on her own when her car snapped loose in Turn 2. Defending champion Takuma Sato had gone out just a few laps before Danica after running into the back of James Davison's awful handling machine in Turn 3. Before the day was through, there would be several other incidents involving some surprising names who struggled with the handling of their Dallaras with the new aero kits. Helio Castroneves spun and crashed on his own. So did Tony Kanaan, Sebastian Bordais, Ed Jones and Sage Karam. Danica couldn't explain what happened in her crash and it seemed to be the same mystery for just about everyone. From the outside it looked like a combination of factors: a ridiculously hot day, lack of grip on the slick surface which had been washed clean by a downpour the previous day, and the cars would suddenly get loose coming off the corners as a result of lower downforce levels, especially when drivers were running in a group. The most impressive drive of the day was put in by Rossi who came from 32nd starting position to finish second. He seemed to have a handle on his car like no one else and I saw him make some crazy outside passes in Turn 1 that had me flinching when I was shooting down there, but he made it work in spectacular style.

Sunrise on race day is special - quiet before the mayhem and roar of the event
It was a fun race for me and everything seemed to fall into place as the day went along. I got to the media parking about 5:00 in the morning and went into the track about 45 minutes later so I could shoot the sunrise over the Pagoda Tower. There are usually a lot of other photographers in the Penthouse sections on the front straightaway doing the same thing and this year the sunrise was absolutely gorgeous. That was a portend of things to come for the day as the skies above central Indiana were powder blue with cotton candy clouds all afternoon during the race which made for some spectacular scenic shots. My initial shooting position for the race has been the same since 2013 and even though I don't like heights, I am going to keep going up on the Penthouse roof over Stand E to shoot the pre-race pageantry and the start. The view from up there is incredible and though I only stay up there for about the first 10 laps, I love starting my race from that vantage point.

I managed to get photos of Simon Pagenaud's final pit stop
I more or less followed my normal "10 laps and move strategy" as the race went on since I was the only photographer representing French media company MPS Agency in order to get some variety in my photos. For the day as a whole I shot roughly 2600 images and walked over 15,500 steps by the time I got back to my car at 7:30 that evening. After starting on the roof, I went trackside at the end of the front stretch, then around to the outside of Turn 1 and then on a yellow, went inside Turn 1 for awhile as I had a feeling there might be a crash there. When that didn't materialize, I went to the inside of Turn 2 past the halfway point and then to the pits around lap 125. At the time I was debating whether to go on the top of the stands behind the pits or go directly to pit lane. I decided to go straight into the pits and am glad I did, as not long after I got there. I could see teams on the south end of pit lane were laid out and pole winner Ed Carpenter soon came in for service. I love shooting pit stops in Indycar and capturing the air guns as they get tossed aside and the smoking tires as drivers peel out to get back in the race. I continued to work pit lane or on the top of the stands behind the pits until about lap 180 when I decided to look for an angle to shoot Victory Lane since I did not have a reserved spot this year.

Will Power had calmed down by the time of the winner's photo shoot Monday morning
I went into the media center to grab a bottle of water and see if I could get a vantage point from one of the balconies but there were already too many people gathered around so I went back to ground level adjacent to the photographer's stand and just waited for the finish. It was cool to watch the late race fuel gamblers drop by the wayside and I was especially happy that Stefan Wilson led some laps but he couldn't stretch his fuel far enough, nor could Jack Harvey or Oriol Servia, Will Power was there to claim victory when those guys all had to pit for a splash of fuel in the last 10 laps. I wasn't finding a decent angle to shoot the winner's celebration so I decided to take a gamble on positioning myself next to the photographer's stand. That decision paid off as I got some great celebratory shots of Will when he first got out of the car. After his lap around the track, and the kissing of the bricks ceremonies, I went back by Victory Lane and got invited in to photograph the remaining hat dance and trophy celebrations, so I got photos I hadn't even planned on when the race started. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but on this race day I felt I was both. I trusted the universe Sunday and I am grateful that everything woked out so I could do a good job representing MPS Agency.

My view from the roof
With the Month of May now in the history books, I finish out our school year in a couple of weeks and then get to take a week's vacation so it will be nice to relax and unwind. I gear back up in July to work more races for the ARCA Racing Series and work on 2019 which I hope will include Sebring, Indianapolis and Le Mans for MPS Agency. I turned 61 the last day of May and I am not ready to slow down by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm excited about what the future may hold. In the meantime, enjoy a few of my photos from the 500 or go to the MPS Agency website to see all of the photo galleries I contributed this month by clicking here. Come on out to a race sometime and say hello. I'll take your picture!

I was surprised that Josef Newgarden (1) wasn't more of a factor
Will Power (12) had the car to beat all day
Alexander Rossi seemed to be able to pass at will during the race
Passing this year occurred mainly on the straightaways and made for great photos