Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mr. Photographer At The Track

Every season I try to have a pet project to work on. It helps keep things interesting when there's downtime, and lord knows if you go to enough races there will be downtime. One year I shot license plates on cars parked in the infield at the Indy 500. Another year I shot flags. Sometimes it has been fans. I love rain puddle reflections and sunsets at tracks too. So this year my pet project was to try and get yours truly at as many events as I could. That is, when I remembered. Thankfully, I had a fantastic assistant at some races who took a few of these, although most are self portraits. Thank goodness I have long arms! It may seem silly but how does a photographer get his picture taken? I'm always on the other side of the lens so it's nice sometimes to be the subject matter. This particular shot was at the season opener at Salem in April for the ARCA race - cold and wet, this the gloves and jacket. Salem marked the first of numerous road trips and hundreds of laps. 220 miles round trip from Indy. 200 laps.

Then Winchester. 150 miles round trip. Rain interrupted the USAC sprints and CRA stock car show during hot laps, so back I went the next weekend, another 150 miles. 100 laps for the CRA contingent, multiple heats and a 30 lap feature for the sprinters.

Next up was Indy. Lots of trips in between raindrops. Only 40 mile round trips but probably 8 of those for 320 miles. Walking the garage area day after day looking for something different. Trying out Canon gear. Awesome baby! Then 200 laps and 500 miles for the IRL main event, after a rain shortened carb day and postponed Indy Lights Freedom 100 on the day before the 500: 40 more laps.

In between the Lights race and the 500, I drove to Kentucky Speedway for the Kimmel Street Stock Enduro, roughly 300 miles on the road and 100 laps (150 miles) in the race. In June, I made the first of two trips to Mid Ohio, first for the Rolex sports car series. It was about 600 miles round trip on the road (with a detour to the worst hotel ever) and two straight days of racing in the rain. Too many laps to count with all the support races and the main event with the DP & GT machines.

Then in July things really got busy. 650 miles to Nashville and back; more rain and a shortened IRL event from 200 laps to 178. Back to Mid Ohio the next weekend for the ALMS and IRL events. Another 600 miles on my Integra, plus the 3 hour ALMS race and 200 miles for the IndyCars.

The next weekend I got to sleep in my own bed with the Brickyard fiasco in Indy so that was only three 40 mile round trips (120 miles) and 160 laps in the parade, I mean NASCAR "race". Two weeks later (now we're in August) it was back to Kentucky for the IRL and another 300 miles on the road and 200 laps on the racetrack. Then in mid-September, it was off to Joliet for the Chicagoland IRL event with my assistant - probably 400 miles or more on the road with the long distance trip to the hotel in the middle - and a fantastic (200 lap) 300 mile race that decided the season championship, Helio charging from worst to first in a photo finish to win the race but Dixon took the season title from second on the track.

The next weekend was an Indy-Salem doubleheader, shooting MotoGP in the rain on Friday (40 miles) and traveling to Salem the next day (220 miles) for another 200 lap ARCA event. And that was that. Which also explains why I haven't written much here since then: I haven't been to any races and now it's almost Christmas with New Year's around the corner so I figured an update was past due (even if my assistant is the only one reading these!) But that's OK. I had a great year for American Motor Journal and had 8 pix used in their season ending "Best Of 2008" issue. I'm grateful for the opportunity to do this kind of work. It's nice to be passionate about what you do. And this is what I do.

So after all that, what is the tally? Roughly 4070 miles on the road to go racing. Roughly 2140 laps of racing. And that doesn't include all the practice laps at Indy or any of the other tracks. Probably more than 10,000 images shot on digital.

I'm exhausted just writing about it. But it's all good and I can't wait to pack up and hit the road again. Is it May yet?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: A Racer's Racer - May He Rest In Peace

The racing and entertainment worlds have lost a giant of a man: Paul Newman. We will miss him at Indy and on the big screen. God rest his soul and bless his family in their loss.

My connection with PLN is minimal - I'm just a Hoosier and a lowly photog. But I have had the chance to be near this legend in the pit lane at Indy on many occasions, to shoot him racing in the Trans Am series at Detroit and elsewhere back in the 80's, and my greatest memory is not from the racetrack at all, but from the movie theater.

I was about to turn 12 when the movie "Winning" came out just before Memorial Day weekend in 1969. I remember my dad asking if I wanted to go see it, and then getting a discount ticket for the last time as a person less than 12 years of age. Watching the movie itself I was completely spellbound, and it remains one of the great racing movies of all time, along with "LeMans" (Steve McQueen) and "Grant Prix" (Jim Garner). It will always rank above the others IMO since it was about the Indianapolis 500.Frank Capua. Lou Erding. In-car camera views for the first time. Swatches of several Indy 500's montaged into the film. The first lap wreck in 1966. The Speedway motel where the infamous affair occurred that added to the personal drama for Newman's character that mythical month of May. And so much more than just the story of a racer.

For me that pretty well sums up his life. Lived on a grand scale, but always humble. You were lucky if you got a shot of him without his sunglasses on and I never saw him sign an autograph, but he was never rude or uppity when someone asked - he would just say, "Sorry, I don't sign autographs." I don't think he believed in his own celebrity and his charitable work is second to none, so the kids who benefited from his salsa's and salad dressings don't know how lucky they have had it to be the beneficiaries of this great man. I have some of his back bean and corn salsa in the fridge right now as a matter of fact...

PLN. Indy wasn't the same without you after the IRL-CART split and it won't be the same now without you in the future. I'm so glad you had the chance to grace us with your presence again this year for one last lap at the Speedway. If only your drivers had won Indy during your lifetime. So close but yet so far - Mario and Nigel among the best ever. Just like you. I miss you already.

The pic above is from Indy in 1986 at the pole draw as is the one which follows where he is being greeted by Roger Penske (in red shirt). And I had to include one from Detroit in 1984 in the Bob Sharp Racing Nissan. God bless and thanks for the memories.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kimmel Wins at Salem ARCA 200

My 2009 racing "season" ended where it started exactly 5 months earlier: Salem Speedway in southern Indiana. Only this time, instead of cold and rainy conditions, it was hot and steamy. And the ARCA master, Frank Kimmel, drove like a bat out of hell to win for the 9th time at Salem. The car count was lower than for the spring race but the crowd was much larger and we were treated to a typical ARCA short track show:  close racin' among the top 10, some wreckin', and lots of paint being traded. I still can't figure out how Dexter Bean finished 3rd after causing the big red flag wreck of the night. Pit sequencing was a complete mystery as the teams only needed one fuel stop to go the distance, so fast guys like Scott Speed and Justin Allgaier ended up back in traffic as often as not. It bit Speed the most as he got dinged in Bean's smokescreen-induced pile-up on the backstretch but still managed a top 10 finish. Looks like he will be series champ as well as rookie of the year for ARCA this year.

So now I am left with the task of sorting through the several thousand images I shot this year for American Motor Journal to come up with 20 or so "best of" images for their year-end special edition that will come out in a couple of months. I'll do a couple of recaps here of my season on the road, display some more pix from all the tracks and series I shot this year, plus add a few pix of Mr. Photographer" at the track too just for giggles. You'll love the hats!

I thought Talladega was a possibility again this fall but I just can't swing it with work and other demands on my time being what they are, not the mention a long solo drive and the cost of gas. Even my Integra needs a rest every now and then.

Rossi Wins Red Bull Indy MotoGP; Hayden Second

Valentino Rossi sliced through the remnants of Hurricane Ike in Indianapolis Sunday to win the first motorcycle race at the Speedway since the track opened in 1909. While I was only able to get to the track for a couple of hours on Friday, I was thoroughly impressed with the bike control exhibited by the GP and 125cc riders. It was a typical Indiana weather weekend too - intermittent to pouring rain Friday, 90 degrees and steamy on Saturday, then hurricane winds and driving rain for the main event Sunday. If you don't like the weather around here, then wait 5 minutes and it will change, or so they say...

There was an excellent crowd on Friday and from all reports I've seen, IMS officials are happy with the first running of this event. There's talk of changes to Turn 5 to give more runoff room for next year, and with the race scheduled for the last weekend in August, maybe the riders will get the "dog days of summer" heat & humidity all weekend instead of just Saturday. It still looks like the esses leading onto the south short chute are too slow, but what do I know? I'm a car guy.

And 2009 will be 100 years since the track opened with the two-wheelers, so it should be an even bigger event. I had to go shoot the ARCA stock cars at Salem the next night so I had all the racing (and wet weather) I could stand for one weekend after Friday. I was thinking if I stayed away, then maybe the rain wouldn't follow me but it didn't matter to Ike. Or the roughly 100,000 fans who showed up at IMS Sunday. There's no place like Indy. Ya'll come back now, ya hear?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Helio Last to First at Chicagoland; Dixon Takes Season Spoils

Not quite 48 hours after returning home to Indy from Chicagoland Speedway, I'm still amazed by what I saw Sunday as the Indy Racing League put on its best show of the season. With a unified series putting 28 cars on this fast track, Helio Castroneves ran the race of his life to win by a nose from last place after his qualifying run was disallowed. Scott Dixon and the Target team were up to the challenge however, taking the lead on the final fuel-only pit stop only to lose out for the race win on Helio's last lap high side pass at the finish line in the second closest finish in Indycar history. Chicagoland has a reputation for highly competitive races and close finishes and Sunday's race was one for the ages.

Frequent three wide racing, lap after lap, not just among the leaders, but back in the pack as well. Too much side by side racing to shoot it all, even with a 4 gig card in my 40D. Close calls on the track and in pit lane. Packs of cars screaming by in unison, one long Honda whine until the next pack came through. I thought last year's finish was spectacular when Dixon ran out of fuel on the last lap, but this year's event topped it by a bunch. Helio's charge was a thing of beauty. He was 12th by lap 12, blowing by people high or low. He was clearly on a mission and did everything he needed to do to give himself a chance to win the race and the season title. But for the blocking call at Detroit last weekend, he would have a three race winning streak, and his reaction in victory lane after being told he had in fact won the race was pure Helio. I've always enjoyed watching his pleasure in racing and pure joy in winning, and he never seems to get down no matter what is going on. True to form, the top teams fought it out right to the checkers so it was a perfect ending to a very interesting season. Now they can all go to Surfer's and let it hang out for bragging rights on the street course with nothing on the line but a win.

One of my best moments for the weekend came Sunday morning after the photo meeting when I went outside the media center to smoke. I saw Jack Arute walking up and I mentioned he had a great interview with Helio after the Detroit race - the "Save me Jackie" comment in particular. He responded that the joke was going around with the TV crew that they were going to get t-shirts printed up with "I Have Nothing Smart To Say" on them to sell on the circuit. I'd buy one, for sure. And that's one of the greatest things I've experienced the last couple of years since getting back out into the racing world with my camera. Seeing people only at the race track, some whose names I know and most I know only by facial recognition, always ready to talk or share a story of what they saw. Hanging out in the media center getting hydrated again after the race and listening to the driver and owner interviews. Having someone to talk with about the day on the drive home - that is especially true for me as the sounds of race cars buzz through my brain for hours afterwards. As with so many other things in my life the last few years, I've been blessed with a second chance to pursue something I love and there are few things that get me jazzed up like chasing race cars around the midwest, seeing the results on my cameras immediately, and posting them on the computer later. It doesn't get much better than this, and if I die tomorrow, then I know I've been taken care of.

I miss Michigan being off the schedule, but Chicagoland is fast becoming my favorite track in the series outside of Indianapolis. I'll have more from this race to post once the American Motor Journal edition comes out, plus I get to go to Salem to see the ARCA race this Saturday, and MotoGP at Indy Sunday, so if anyone's out there reading this, I hope you come back or leave me a comment. Meanwhile, congratulations to Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing for another fantastic season in the world's best open wheel series. Anyone who says the races on these 1.5 mile tracks are boring needs to get off their butt and go to the race track and see the action up close and personal. You might have a different view than the one from couch racing.

But then, I have nothing smart to say...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wilson Takes Belle Isle: Indycar Finale Hot for Chicagoland

Congratulations to Justin Wilson for taking the street course race at Belle Isle in Detroit. I felt bad for Helio that he didn't get a warning from IRL officials before being penalized for blocking, but anytime you make two moves, it's hard to justify keeping the position. Barnhart's explanation after the race was reasonable and Helio's ABC interview was priceless but you knew he was mad when he said "Save me Jackie. I don't have anything smart to say!" I'm sure the Penske brigade wasn't happy either since their ALMS team got a penalty for blocking in the Saturday race at the Isle. But seriously folks: is that a real race track? Give me a break. Nowhere to pass. Lots of empty area with no fans along the riverside. I've seen better events on I-465 here around Indy. At least there's some passing. Anyway, good job Newman Haas Lanigan. That's two now for the pre-eminent former Champ Car team and they have managed to upstage KV Racing in terms of results this season. Good for them!

The other big news this week was about drivers for 2009. Ever the bridesmaid, Vitor Meira is out at Panther and Wheldon is in. Dario Franchitti is back from his aborted NASCAR foray in the other Target seat. How odd it will be to see him teamed with Dixon next year when they fought it out to the last corner of the last lap at Chicagoland last year. It will be good to see him back in open wheel racing. Maybe Penske can bring back Hornish now and all will be right with the world. At least until Tony Stewart decides to let someone else drive his Stewart Racing Sprint Cup car and come back to Indycars where he belongs...

So now it all comes down to one race and two men with a shot at the championship: Helio and Dixon wheel to wheel. 30 points between them so if Dixon finishes 8th or better, Helio has to accept second. Meanwhile Scott Speed and the ARCA boys will run Saturday night in the prelim that should be quite exciting. This race was a crash fest on Saturday afternoon last year and I'm glad they moved it to the evening for Speed TV this year. Then Sunday the action starts early with Indy Lights warmup and race before the Indycar "hot laps" and the main event to wrap things up in the afternoon. I'm looking forward to it all, but the schedule is so jammed Sunday I doubt I will have time to post anything from the race track like I did from Kentucky. We'll see.
Maybe I'll see you there.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Indycars go to Detroit: 2 to Go - 2 Man Show

Will Helio and Dixon be on a collision course this weekend?

Will others play a role to preserve the championship race one more week? Will "one of them misfortunate things" (as AJ used to say) befall one or the other? How will team tactics play out? What about an "inadvertent" bump or spin? Don't forget all the furor about the "intentional" spin from last year's race folks. By now, Dixon must be lamenting his St. Pete finish. And his screw up at the Glen. And last week's slow going at Sonoma. So what was a large points lead not all that long ago is now down to less than one race worth of points. And Helio finally got a win to go with his remarkable record of 7 second place finishes this year. I'm sure both teams will pull out all the stops this weekend, and both Dixon and Helio will want to be on the front row since track position will be essential at Belle Isle. That should make Turn 1 interesting!

Back soon. I'm couch racing this weekend but I'll have an opinion anyway and I'll be at the Chicagoland finale next weekend for the third year running. I hope it goes down to the last lap like the last two years.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Indy Racing League Kentucky Follow-up

I am off the road now for a few weeks and have had an awesome weekend at the Indiana Dunes to recharge and get ready for the wrap up of my racing season over the next month. I'll do some of the US Nationals at ORP over Labor Day weekend, then head to Chicago the next weekend for the ARCA/IRL show and I am excited to see they are running the ARCA event at night that weekend. SPEED TV probably dictated that. Then back to Indiana roots at IMS for the MotoGP event wrapped around the ARCA Salem fixture. Then it will be time to edit down my best of the season for American Motor Journal and start thinking about next year. By Christmas, I'm sure I'll be asking the tired old question:

"It it May yet?"

Here's a slideshow with some keepers from my Kentucky IRL work. I love shooting from the outside at that track and I managed to cover everything with a little legwork and sweat. Well, maybe more than a little. See ya next time!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Battistini Takes Kentucky Indy Lights Win

Dillon Battistini held off fierce challenges from James Davison and Arie Luyendyk Jr. to win the Kentucky Indy Lights 100 mile event tonight. Indy winner Battistini controlled the pace of the race from the front, leading every lap except the first one. Lots of drivers had trouble on a night when three and four wide pack racing was the rule rather than the exception. It looked like the race would end under yellow when a backmarker spun with less than two laps to go but he got out of harms way and the Indy Lights officials waved the white flag anyway. After the gift Davison got at Mid Ohio last month, he seemed pleased with a second place finish and was gesturing madly prior to the podium ceremonies about what looked like close calls and wheel banging during the event. These young guys sure can put on a show given the chance.

This is my last post for the evening before I hit the road for Indy. Thanks to Don Hamilton and American Motor Journal again for the opportunity. I'm loving every minute of it. It was a beautiful night for racing. Next year, they need to run the IRL race later so we get the added thrill of the bright lights. Maybe the new contract with Versus will get that changed. I'm sure the Lights guys enjoyed it. They probably felt like they were the feature, even though the stands were half full when they ran.

One last observation: for a race they said was sold out, there were a lot of fans dressed up as empty seats tonight. I wonder what that was all about.

The US Nationals are next up for me. Night qualifying. Awesome. Loud. Earth shaking. Flame throwing. My one night of the year for the straight line brigade. It should be fun!

Dixon Lucky & Good at Kentucky!

Scott Dixon overtook Helio on the last lap tonight after a Penske fuel gamble backfired in a desperate attempt to get the Brazilian into the winner's circle. Marco Andretti ran one of his strongest races in a long time and battled Dixon throughout the race. Late fuel stops scrambled the leader board several times and the outcome was in doubt to the very end. I covered a lot of territory tonight and was in Kanaan's pit for his final splash & go. Too bad for Mutoh that he had mechanical problems as he looked good early. Next up is the Indy Lights race and perhaps Ana Beatriz can pick up another win for the fairer sex. She looked great at Nashville and this should be another good test. Matos is on pole again and he has been tough everywhere in the AGR "junior" team so keep an eye on him too.

Back to work!

Kentucky Speedway IRL Update

I just took my first walk through pit lane and the garage area. I like to walk the pits to see who's pitting where and there hasn't been much mystery this season. It's usually the Target team, Penske and AGR at pit out and today is no exception. Mutoh has the pit closest to pit out of any of the AGR drivers which could be an advantage for him.

Not many drivers out in the garage area yet but the bombs are going off now for the start of pre-race festivities. There's supposed to be an ATV jump in front of the driver intro stage on the front stretch which should be strange. Must be a Bombardier tie-in. I only saw Scott Dixon in the garage are by the team haulers but he was surrounded by autograph seekers. He looked confident and even a little cocky, judging by the look on his face at right. There was the usual crowd around the Danica hauler but she never comes out until the last minute and is always mobbed. I'll get her in driver intros.

Sarah Fisher's car looks gorgeous, with Dollar General sponsorship and a bright yellow paint job. She's back in 16th starting position but after her unfortunate run-in with TK at Indy, I'm sure she's glad to be back on track. She's won pole here at Kentucky before and has run well in the past so it could be a good night for her.

I've got to go out and get ready for the festivities now and go to work so I'll be back later.

Live from Kentucky Speedway: 2 Hours to Pre-Race

A great day for a drive today from Indianapolis down I65 through Madison, Indiana and along the Kentucky side of Ohio River. Right now I'm live from the media center at Kentucky Speedway. When I got to the credential building at 2:30, the line was out into the parking lot and traffic was already backing up with fans getting to the parking lot. I've heard the race sold out yesterday and they started selling some standing room tickets today. The green flag flies at 6:36 tonight and they'll run into the twilight under the lights. I'm loving these Saturday night races!

It should be a great show with 26 cars starting the race behind Scott Dixon on pole with Meira 2nd and Wheldon 3rd. I'm sticking with my darkhorse candidate, Hideki Mutoh, to contend for the win. He will start 4th and has so far this weekend outshone his other AGR teammates, with Kanaan 7th and Marco 9th. Danica is starting shotgun on the field after crashing in practice and missing qualifying, so it will be very interesting to see how she fares coming up through the pack. She may have to play a track position game to make up ground. She'll have to wend her way through a number of the transition team drivers as they did not qualify well. The biggest surprise to me was Marty Roth who will start 11th. Servia and Power with KV are the highest starting transition team drivers in 12th & 13th. The Vision team continues to start well with Carpenter 8th and Foyt 10th. We'll see how well they race, as this is a track where speed and handling both matter. A pole speed of 218+ is plenty fast for a 1.5 mile oval and race laps over 210 should be the norm. Two-wide and three-wide racing is also expected and that should make for an exciting race, and good photo ops.

Everything's a photo op when you get right down to it, so today it will be another challenge with the skies darkening and the Musco light system firing up as the event wears on. Then the Indy Lights take the track so it will be a long night. Back again soon with more.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Indy Racing League Tackles Kentucky Next

With the 2008 season in the home stretch of the final four points-paying races, it seems only fitting that the IRL would be heading to horse racing country this weekend. I am really looking forward to seeing this event since it could make or break the championship hopes of many drivers. Scott Dixon could put some real distance between himself and others if he runs well here like he did last year. Pretenders or contenders will be the question this weekend. I'm sure Wheldon will do whatever he can to aid team tactics if he isn't in a position to win outright.

I do expect Tony Kanaan to rise above the internal furor of the Andretti Green team and challenge for the win.
The Penske duo of Helio and Briscoe can't be counted out though. Helio has been extremely consistent but his winless streak continues so I'm sure he will be highly motivated to get back into the winner's circle. I wouldn't be disappointed to have the chance to shoot some fence climbing this weekend. This was not one of the better tracks for Penske last year as Hronish crashed out and Helio never really was on the pace, even though he and TK had a bit of a run-in as I recall. Those wacky Brazilians!

This could also be a surprise opportunity for Hideki Mutoh to sneak into victory lane since he won here last year in Indy Lights from pole position . He had a great duel with Alex Loyd and he could be pumped up to return to Kentucky Speedway. I don't think Danica's luck will change this weekend and it will be nice to see Sarah Fisher back on track again.

The IRL has announced its TV package for 2009 now so the only outstanding items are a season sponsor and the disposition of a race in Australia. The schedule is set up for the Surfer's event and although it seems odd that the IRL would settle for the Versus network for the majority of its races, having the 500 and three others tbd on ABC will still be a good deal for the league. With ESPN married to NASCAR, I'm not surprised the IRL had to look elsewhere, but if the speculation is true that the IRL is paying for the TV slots, then that would be disconcerting. Perhaps increased sanctioning fees and overall event attendance will make up for that. If Versus can give some more comprehensive coverage without the need to limit starting and ending times, that would be great. No more waiting for golf to be over and still miss the start, like at Mid Ohio this year.

August 09 looks like one of the best months of the schedule for me so I better get my room reservations made! At least Kentucky is close enough to go down and back the same day. I did it in May the night before the Indy 500 so this can't possibly be that bad!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brickyard Redux - Kentucky Indycars Next

A few final thoughts on the 2008 Brickyard to consider:

Does NASCAR need to look at repositioning the exhaust from its current location? Judging from this photo of Sam Hornish lifting to negotiate Turn 1 at Indy during qualifying, I'm wondering if this wasn't a contributing factor for the right rear tire problems. Certainly looks like it could have been, knowing how much everyone had to lift off the gas to make it through the corners.

Not a bad day for the open wheel guys after all. Nothing torn up except for Juan Pablo's tire failure early in the day. Yeley, Newman, Hornish, McDowell , Allmendinger et al managed to get to the finish which is more than can be said for some of the stock car regulars. And anyone that knows me knows I pull for the open wheel guys first and foremost. Awful day for Stewart though, and I'm glad he left before talking to the media. His radio show comments the next day seemed out of character, but then he had just had a run-in with USAC officials at ORP during the weekend, so maybe he was feeling gracious. Or just being sarcastic, more likely.

I was especially pleased to see Michael McDowell get to the end with his MWR Toyota in one piece.

Saturday morning I had been walking around the team haulers in the garage area annex and got the chance to shake his hand and talk to him briefly to wish him well. After doing some photo work for him last year during his ARCA season, I have a special appreciation for what he is dealing with and always hope he does well. His Texas crash earlier this year was unbelievable and the guy manning the MWR souvenir trailer told me that Mikey almost broke Dale Jarrett's arm punching him while watching the whole thing unfold from the top of their hauler that day. Funny the stories you hear at the race track sometimes. Now I've got a McDowell t-shirt to go with the ARCA stuff from last year so I hope he puts on a charge the rest of this season as he gets back to some tracks he's already run on once.

But enough about NASCAR. The following slide show will let you see some other things I saw.

Now I'm focusing my sights on going to Kentucky Speedway this coming weekend to shoot the Indy Racing League and Firestone Indy Lights races for American Motor Journal. Kentucky is a fun track to shoot and I've been fortunate to get there several times over the last couple of years. I went to the very first IRL race they held at Kentucky several years ago and the access is much improved since then. That race was where I first discovered Sam Hornish Jr. and immediately became a fan as he drove the wheels off an underfunded (as usual) PDM entry and battled Jacques Lazier wheel to wheel for about 30 laps. Kentucky also means there are only four more points races for the IRL season title and anything can happen, even though Dixon would clearly have to be labeled the favorite with 2 ovals and 2 road courses left. I will get to go to Chicagoland in September for the points finale again this year. If the points chase is half as exciting as last year at the Joliet track, IRL fans are in for a real treat once again. Some people don't like the 1.5 mile tracks but they are great for showcasing wheel to wheel racing at its best, especially now that Michigan is no longer on the schedule.

Speaking of schedules, the 2009 IRL schedule is out already. Rumors about the demise of Nashville have proven true, being replaced by the street race in Toronto. No big surprise there, since Andretti is the promoter and Toronto has always been well attended. Other race dates have been shuffled for next season and I still expect Surfer Paradise to slot in between Motegi and Homestead as a points race next year which would give Indycars 19 races, 9 of which would be on road or street courses. I hate to see ovals drop from the schedule, especially ones which have supported the IRL from the early days, but Nashville is essentially a one groove track, and the teams have never really been able to come to terms with the concrete surface to get a second lane worked in for better racing. I will miss the road trip and I sure feel badly for the folks in Tennessee who have supported this event and their home track. But there's more money to be made elsewhere and unification will bring other pressures on the schedule in the future.

Now if the IRL can get a season sponsor and a better TV deal, maybe some of that pressure goes away. It will be interesting to follow over the coming months. It is hard to believe the season is almost over already, as this summer has flown past. It won't be long before I ask "Is It May Yet" and we'll do it all over again in 2009. But Kentucky is next, so Sparta here I come!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Johnson Steals Sprint Cup Fiasco at the Brickyard

Goodyear and NASCAR should be ashamed. This year's Brickyard 400 was anything but a race, and for all of NASCAR's crowing about putting on a "show" and caring about the fans, the people who started leaving around lap 80 from the South Vista across from my shooting location in Turn 1 spoke volumes about the real story for this year's event. This will have to go down in racing history with some of the greatest sports blunders and the Speedway had nothing to do with it: don't let anyone tell you otherwise. In many ways this was worse than the F1 farce when the Michelin teams pulled off the Indy track a couple of years ago because everyone knows Bernie and his Euro pals never gave a rat's ass about racing at the Speedway. For an American based stock car series with a US tire manufacturer to come into town and mishandle this event is simply unconscionable.

It has taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and try to calm down but I am still livid. While I understand all the talk about safety and not wanting anyone to get hurt if tires failed, racing is a dangerous sport in the first place and there are risks of tire or equipment failure every time they turn a wheel on a racetrack anywhere. So why wasn't this tire problem addressed between the April tire tests and now? Many people had to have known during Friday practice that there was a problem. Even Sunday morning on race day there was talk about an early competition yellow, which I can understand but EIGHT of them? That is just absurd. At least in 1985 at the Michigan CART event, when tires started blowing, they postponed the darned thing and brought in some proper tires. Of course we know why NASCAR couldn't do that this week - they have to be in Pocono Friday and they wanted to save the equipment. There were times during the race when I wanted to throw my camera equipment to the ground over what I was witnessing. When the people in South Vista started chanting "Let them race", I got even more upset. I was a fan before I was a photographer and I've never seen anything like the travesty that NASCAR foisted on us all Sunday.

Some called it the Competition Yellow 400. I call it BS. I felt like I had just experienced a traveling circus come to town where the performers were all smiling while selling snake oil and stealing everyone's wallets before hitting the road with a promise to return next year. I had a feeling something wasn't right Saturday afternoon during the practice sessions following qualifying, but I couldn't put my finger on it. What I saw was no one running in packs like in a normal happy hour. No one ran more than 3 or 4 laps at a time. People were lifting like crazy going into Turn 1 and again into Turn 2, so that told me the cars were seriously loose. And then while watching the talking heads on SPEED's "Victory Lane" show on Sunday night, I wanted to come through the TV set and punch Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer for all the hype they continued to lather on. All I could think of on the way home from the Speedway was "how are they going to dress this pig up?" Those guys tried lipstick and pretty dresses but it was still a porker in a slop pen. Contrast that show with Dave Despain's "Wind Tunnel", who doesn't appear to fear NASCAR for his job, and I think you get some idea that the truth lies somewhere in between. There were lots of empty seats in the south end of the Speedway Sunday and I doubt some of those folks will be back next year to the Brickyard.

Everyone's already asked the questions about lack of tire testing (only three teams in April when it was cool) and why Goodyear didn't act on what little data they had with the new car style, so I will take another tack and ask a few other questions. Why was there all the talk about "rubbering up" the track but no real track time allowed? Getting on the track for the first time Friday afternoon for a couple of hours isn't going to help anyone fix handling problems if they're not close right off the truck. Why not open up the track for practice from noon to 6 on Friday just like in May? Let them run some laps. Buy some more tires. Put some rubber down. And why isn't there another practice session Saturday morning before qualifying? Having two one hour sessions after qualifying makes no sense. If rubber on the track is an issue for these cars, then give them track time. Or is it more important for the teams to get their drivers out for sponsor promos and the other races in town at ORP? Do they come to race or just sell souvenirs? I keep saying to myself, "enough of the vitriol" but the more I write the more pissed I get that this debacle was allowed to grace the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I've been to all 15 Brickyard events and though Indy is not a track that has historically been conducive to the side by side stock car action usually seen on the high banks, at least there has been drama most years, and they actually competed to win a 400 mile race, not a series of 25 mile sprints. If I wanted to see sprint races, I'd go to Kokomo or Bloomington or Paragon. In the end, I will say that the best car did appear to win this event -- and you will note that I have refused to call this thing a race in this blog post -- as Jimmie Johnson won the pole and was one of the few who actually appeared to be able to pass anyone under what little green flag time they had. So congratulations Jimmy, Chad and the Lowe's team. You owe us a race next year.

And NASCAR, don't you dare forget: 2009 will be 100 years since Carl Fisher and friends laid out the Speedway as an automotive proving ground for the fledgling auto industry in Indianapolis.

What are you going to prove on your return?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yesterday USAC - Tomorrow NASCAR Hits the Bricks

Last night I got to go back to my roots again to shoot the USAC midget and Silver Crown series races at O'Reilly Raceway Park. The big cars are back and boy are they sweet, although they do look cumbersome compared to the midgets. One of the worst decisions USAC ever made was to try to introduce a long track car to replace the traditional Silver Crown vehicles. These are the closest race cars around to the heritage of the old champ cars that ran at Indianapolis in the roadster days. Plus the big boys from NASCAR were in town to have a fun night at ORP, with Carl Edwards there as a midget car owner, Kasey Kahne as an owner-driver of a midget, and Ryan Newman piloting a Silver Crown car. Tony Stewart was there too with his family and getting kudos for the charity work of his foundation with police dogs. I also saw Johnny Benson, and of course Billy Boat, former IRL driver, crewing for his son Chad, who unfortunately had a bad night.

It was a great opportunity for me to do some more work with flash photography and night racing, which has proven to be tricky. SOme guys are pushing all the way to 3200 ISO but adding "portable daylight" gives the pix a crisper look with more detail in my opinion. Now that I have a battery pack, I don't have to worry as much about carrying extra batteries or having the flash crap out in the middle of something. Another photo challenge.

So tomorrow it's back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where NASCAR brings the new car for the first time, and only a handful of teams have even tested the "COT". Little E was here for the Goodyear test a few weeks ago so he could have an advantage along with the other teams that came. But the real guys to watch are going to be Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Kyle because he's been winning everything in sight and loves to manhandle a loose race car, and Stewart because, well he's Tony and this place is home. He's won the Brickyard twice now and he can handle a loose car as well as anyone, especially at Indy where he's probably got more laps than anyone. I'll be back with more once I finish my assignments at IMS for American Motor Journal but in the meantime, click on the following photo slideshow to look at a few pix from last night at ORP. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Mid Ohio Action - Back Home Again in Indy

After driving roughly 1300 miles the last two weekends following Indycars to Nashville and Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, it's good to be back in Indy. Shooting digital is a blessing and a curse, I tell you! Flash cards hold a ridiculous number of images, even at the largest file sizes. Getting them saved, sorted and edited is time consuming.

But those are also good features of high speed digital photography as I get to re-live the race looking at the pix. Shooting at 5 of more frames per second is like watching a movie and blinking repeatedly -- you don't really "see" what the camera is capturing. An old rule of thumb is: if you see it you didn't get the picture. So I have to look at everything afterwards (and then watch the DVD recorded while at the race of course) to really understand what happened sometimes. It's especially bad on road courses where walking from place to place to shoot takes time, PA systems usually are woefully weak (with earplugs in, it's almost impossible to hear anything but car noise anyway), and the quest for variety in my images pushes me from spot to spot. It's all good.

This week, much of the racing world will focus on Indianapolis again, with the Sprint Cup teams converging on the westside for the Brickyard 400 for the 15th time. It's hard to believe there have been that many already! I'm ready to go, having picked up my credentials today to cover the event for American Motor Journal, and it will be nice to sleep in my own bed and still get to racetracks! I also get to shoot the USAC midgets and Silver Crown series run Thursday night at O'Reilly Raceway Park so that will be fun and another opportunity to perfect my high speed flash work. The only thing missing this year are boats, F1 and lawnmowers I suppose!

Click on the following image to see a collection of Indycar, Indy Lights and American LeMans series action from Mid Ohio. Post #101 and counting! Call me the rain man when you see me at the track and be sure to bring a poncho.

Indy Racing League Indy Lights American LeMans Series

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fans Swarm Mid Ohio for IRL & ALMS Double - Penskes Rule

There's a TV ad out now from an insurance company that has the tag line, "life comes at you fast" and that's certainly been the case for me lately. This weekend at Mid Ohio was an absolute whirlwind, leaving Indy at 6 a.m. Saturday, finishing editing over 1300 images Saturday night, then back up at 6 Sunday for a 7:15 photo meeting, rain, multiple races, then leaving the track finally at 6:30 and arriving home after 11:30 last night.

But it's all good and I'm sure the humongous crowd at Mid Ohio was thrilled with the show put on by the ALMS and Indycar series over the weekend. The Lights race Sunday was very entertaining too, since it rained right before the start and multiple yellows led to a confusing finish where the leader at the time pulled into the pits under yellow thinking he had won the race, but he came in too soon and gave the race away!

Right now I'm running again but wanted to get at least a couple pix up as I never had time this weekend. I'll come back later and add more here and on my picasa and flickr pages. In the meantime, I'm wondering if the IRL championship tables maybe turning with all the road courses coming up. Better check those standings each week from here to Chicagoland to see who might make a charge from the transition teams. Edmonton should be a true test since the champ car guys have been there before and IRL has not. Wilson was especially strong at Mid Ohio so I expect him to break through soon.

Back in a little while folks. Thanks for listening (if you're out there!). I've now done 100 posts on this blog so if you've been touching base every once in awhile, I thank you for that. Drop a comment off once in awhile!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nashville IRL Notes

Having been back in Indy for a day now, I have had some more time to go through my pix from the races at Nashville Superspeedway and am generally pretty happy. I shot more with flash at high speed settings and there are more lessons learned every time I go to a racetrack it seems. Night races are tricky anyway and the lighting always seems better to the eye than the camera perceives it, so that's one. Another is the need to shoot at higher ISO and shutter speeds, even with the digital noise that brings sometimes. It's still better than pushing film to 1600 or higher. I'll take digital over film any day.

So now I set my sights on the Mid Ohio weekend ahead for the ALMS and Indycars. I just finished watching the DVD I recorded of last weekend's ALMS race at Lime Rock and I would expect this weekend to go about the same. The P2 cars should be quicker than the P1 cars at Mid Ohio since it is such a twisty track with relatively few places to pass. It's too bad there aren't more P1 cars available, but they sure are beautiful regardless of the car count. Dealing with traffic from the GT cars always makes these races interesting. And I would expect to see Marco run both races to get more road racing seat time, as the IRL now has more road races left on the schedule than ovals. That is going to make the Kentucky and Chicago races even more interesting and even though it looks like Dixon is poised to take the title, there are still lots of laps to run and anything can happen. Watch for Rahal, Wilson, Servia and the other transition teams to be even more competitive this weekend than at the Glen. It should be fun.

In the meantime, click on the following photo of TK racing with young Rahal to go to my picasa album page for more from both Nashville races this past weekend. See you Saturday, or maybe before. If you're out there reading this, then please leave a comment or two.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dixon Takes Nashville IRL Win - Mid Ohio Next

After another wet weekend, I'm back in Indy following a 687 mile trek to the concrete oval at Nashville Superspeedway. Just call me "Rain Man." Salem, Indy, Mid Ohio. Now Nashville. Everywhere I go the rains seem to follow. This time, the event was effected dramatically when the lightning brought an early finish as the skies opened up to drench us all. This shot is from Dixon's mid-race pit stop when it looked even then like rain might shorten the event.

Scott Dixon's Target team gave him the call too late for a final pit stop, but the blue liveried machine inherited the win after 171 laps when the rains came again, this time in earnest, and ended the day's action. With rumors flying in the local media and at the track that this may be the last IRL visit to Nashville, Scottie D made it a memorable one to take his third straight win at the Tennessee racetrack. While the racing is not typically as heated here as at some of the other larger asphalt ovals, the close calls are numerous every year. Marco got caught out early and spun into Ryan Briscoe's path taking them both out. Everyone trying to pass lapped cars had to take chances they wouldn't ordinarily take to keep pace. But that's normal here. And I guess it's fitting that Dixon has won all three times I've been to Nashville, the last two effected by rain. Tony Kanaan and Danica were the ones most effected by Dixon staying on track, as they pitted around lap 148 for the last time, Dixon did not, then rain came. Wheldon and Helio inherited second and third and seemed quite happy to pick up some additional hardware when the victory "podium" ceremonies were completed in the media room once the race was finally called.

Rains came earlier in the afternoon too - just as the Indy Lights drivers were being called to their cars for their 100 mile race, but the shower was brief and sun and wind got them on track a little after 5 p.m. local time. Ana Beatriz made history becoming the first woman to win an Indy Lights race, which is doubly cool since she's also a Brazilian and everyone knows how quick the Brazilian men seem to be wherever (and whatever) they race. She started outside Row 1 and dropped back early on the newly green racetrack and then drove her way from fourth to first as her main competitors, teammate and pole sitter James Davison, Jeff Simmons and others all ran into problems (or other cars as was the case with Davison). Bobby Wilson and Arie Luyendyk Jr. Followed her home without really mounting much of a challenge as far as I could see.

It was a great weekend all the way around as the drive back today was clear and traffic was moving well. Having a travel companion made it really enjoyable and it was nice to share the passion for this crazy racing game with someone who hasn't experienced it much before. And a special thanks to Don Hamilton and American Motor Journal for helping to make that happen. Next weekend I hit the road again to go back to Mid Ohio for the ALMS and Indycar race weekend, so I guess I better be prepared for rain again. Or maybe I should say the teams should be ready for rain since I'm coming, since rain seems to follow me to every track I'm at this year. Like they even care, eh? I'll take my firesuit next weekend to be sure I can shoot some driver exchanges and pit stops in the ALMS race Saturday too. Last year I got kicked out of the pits but didn't know they required them, since the IRL typically doesn't anymore. Nothing like a wet firesuit and driving boots! Wooo racing!