Thursday, September 3, 2020

All Eyes on 2021


Kody Swanson was quickest in Silver Crown at LOR
My last blog post was looking ahead to the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and deferring to friends who got to shoot the race. Afterward, I saw lots of amazing photos from my photographer friends who were allowed to cover the race on August 23rd. Unfortunately, I was not at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that weekend but I was able to watch and listen to the race. Most importantly I got the opportunity to shoot two USAC Silver Crown races as bookends on the weekend. I was really happy to see Takuma Sato win his second Indy 500 and I know my friends at Autosport Japan magazine were too. When Taku won in 2017, they used a lot of my photos so this year I could have perhaps had another nice payday with his win. It was not meant to be, however, so we move on and that's what I've done.

Kody Swanson set quick time in Pro 2000 also

 As it turned out, I got to see lots of great racing over the weekend after all, on two very different kinds of race tracks. They got my creative juices flowing and with my family having the ability to finally have a memorial service honoring my late Father on Saturday, the whole weekend brought a sense of closure and peace about all the loss I've dealt with this year personally and professionally. Added to the two other recent races I shot at Terre Haute at The Action Track, the two around Indy 500 weekend brought my total for the year up to four races photographed. That's a far cry from what I worked in 2019, but it's still way better than nothing. The first event of the weekend was Friday night August 21st at the paved 5/8ths mile oval at Lucas Oil Raceway and featured the USAC Silver Crown cars and the Road to Indy F2000 and Pro 2000 series. Sunday the Silver Crown series moved to the venerable one-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Hoosier 100, a legendary open wheel race which at one point had been canceled by the State. I've been shooting races at both these tracks since I started in motorsports photography in the 1980s. It's still a thrill to stand next to the guardrail as the Silver Crown beasts roar past me just inches away and fling dirt all over me and my camera gear. That never gets old.
Kyle Larson set fast time and took the win

I have to give a big shout-out to my friends at Track Enterprises, the promoter of both events, who I had gotten to know during the years I served as Chief Photographer for the ARCA Menards Series. They made it possible for me to shoot both these events. I was joined by my former ARCA colleague Rich Corbett at the Hoosier 100 who got some spectacular shots of two accidents on the backstretch. Both events gave me the chance to shoot night racing, to work more on my flash photography, and try some experimental photos that I might not normally get to do when I am concentrating on editorial and documentation style photos. Ironically, the Hoosier 100 was the first time that former NASCAR driver Kyle Larson had raced in Indianapolis since his now infamous utterance of a racial slur during a virtual race earlier this year. I am not condoning his use of racially derogatory language in any way. Seeing him sling that Silver Crown car around on the dirt was a sight to behold. I know Kyle has applied to be reinstated by NASCAR and I hope there is a thorough vetting of his application. As a motorsports photographer, having Kyle race on the Indy mile was newsworthy so I made sure I got photos.

Back to racing at the Fairgrounds again!
Being able to get back to racing of some sort was a real Godsend for me. This has frankly been a shitty year for me in many ways and it has affected my outlook on life and my relationships with people around me. Call it grieving or depression or whatever, it sucked and these races, along with my Dad's service, and some counseling help through my EAP at work, have helped me turn the corner on a year of emotional turmoil. Being in a high-risk group during the Covid-19 pandemic has added a layer of anxiety that just won't seem to go away but if you really know me then you know how important my photography work, especially in motorsports, is to me. If you think it's fun hobby that I dabble in then you really don't know me at all. I'm still in good shape physically, I have proven what I can do for more than 30 years, and I will travel. I just need an assignment and I will be there.
Pro 2000 at LOR reflections

This blog post title refers to what's next for me. I don't have any idea. I'm still going to be teaching full time as I have a few more things to accomplish in that field before I am ready to retire. Rest assured I will be taking photos, whether it's increasing my stock photo offerings, boosting my social media presence, ramping up my sites with Canon and Adobe, or contributing to Google Maps. I expect to be looking for new opportunities in motorsports and will be back shooting the Indy 500 next year for some media outlet. I also plan to return to LeMans but it is not clear what MPS Agency plans to do in 2021. The help and assistance of my friends in France at MPS will never be forgotten and I look forward to seeing all of them again next June. As crazy as this year has been, I am certain that next year will be exactly the opposite. When I said, I had turned the corner, that last statement says it all. See you at a racetrack somewhere soon. When you see me, be sure and say hi. I'll take your picture.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

7 Days to the Indy 500


7 days to the Indy 500. I took this photo of Brian Herta in 2006 so I am declaring my support for his son Colton to win the 500 next Sunday.

I am incredibly disappointed about not getting media credentials to photograph the race, or even being able to attend, and that disappointment has added a foul edge to my life recently. As a result, I have decided to stop my daily countdown to the 500 after this post. I am going to try and let that disappointment go and support my photographer friends and colleagues who were lucky enough to be chosen to document the event. In addition, I will not be posting any more of my Indy 500 photography, which dates back to 1984, until this year’s 500 is over in order to defer to those who are out at the track working this race. .As the late Dave Martin at AP used to say, “Go make some freaking pictures.”

My close friends and family know why I say this most recent disappointment has tainted my life, but people who only casually know me may not understand why missing the 500 is such a big deal. For context, I would suggest the last 18 months of my life needs to be considered as a backdrop for this most recent punch in the gut. In February 2019, I had lung cancer surgery to remove part of my right lung; I had found out earlier in the year that I also had emphysema. As such, all of this year during the pandemic I have had to live with the knowledge that I am in a high-risk group and consequences could be dire if I were to contract the coronavirus. So try to imagine living under the cloud of constant anxiety every time you go out in public.

At the same time I was dealing with lung cancer recovery last year, my fiance was preparing for her own surgery after finding out she had breast cancer. So we were both trying to recover from major surgeries most ofl last year. Earlier this year, my fiance’s brother died of lung cancer. While he was struggling and ultimately succumbing to his cancer, my 85 year old father was in a rehab facility in Indy for a variety of illnesses. The last time I was able to see him in person was February 29, 2020. Meanwhile, a trip we had planned for France and Greece, and a return trip for me to shoot the 24 Hours of LeMans race, was scuttled and the Indy 500 was postponed because of Covid-19. On May 12th, we learned that my Dad had contracted the virus. The last time I talked with my father was on my birthday, May 31st and then he died June 10th as a result. In that last conversation he told me that 19 people in his facility had died from the virus, so watching him fight the virus on top of his other infirmities added stress all year long.

Within the last two weeks, I learned I would not be able to go to the rescheduled LeMans in September, nor would I get credentials for the 500. My string of consecutive Indy 500 races started in 1976 and was unbroken prior to this year, so missing out has just been the straw that broke the camel’s back. So if I’m curt or snap at you, then know in advance that I’m sorry. Try as I might to control my emotions, they burst through sometimes. If I am more of a jerk than normal, it’s because my nerves are raw. Living in a constant state of anxiety can only be done for so long before something has to give.

Being forced to miss The Race is no joke. Did I also mention that my work as Chief Photographer for the ARCA Menards Series totally evaporated this year as well? Loss after loss after loss these last 18 months has exacted a toll on me that’s left me feeling exhausted, constantly angry and nearly broken spiritually. But I am getting help and am grateful for the people in my life who can prop me up and point me in the direction I need to go. If I hadn’t been able to go out and ride my bicycle this spring and summer - and I’ve been riding the wheels off of my Trek  this year - I hate to think where I would be mentally.

I write this now not to make excuses for popping off but to explain the precarious state of mind I’ve been living with. The sarcastic joke in our family is that the “Shue Grit” combined with the Alley stubbornness is a double whammy.  I was raised to figure things out myself so it’s hard to ask for help. I do not normally show much emotion and I don’t get too close to very many people. Moving from town to town frequently as a Methodist’s minister's kid is partly responsible. My training as an athlete is behind some of that too - you can’t let people know when you’re upset or that you’re nervous; you have to keep your cool to perform when the pressure’s on. If you know me, then you know the things I am passionate about and motorsports photography is at the top of a fairly short list.

Like a bad country music song, when the things you love are stripped away one by one, what is left? I’m still trying to figure that out but I guarantee you I will. Once I do, I’ll be able to play that song in reverse and get back most of what I’ve lost and come out the other side a better and stronger person.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Finally: A Race to Photograph

USAC Sprint Cars - Terre Haute Action Track
USAC Sprint Cars at Terre Haute
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!