Thursday, December 29, 2011

ARCA Stock Car Racing - Best of 2011

In a season that was dominated by series champion and ARCA rookie Ty Dillon, the ARCA series still managed to put on great races wherever they went. I was fortunate to shoot ARCA at Talladega, Salem, Lucas Oil Raceway and Winchester this season and have always enjoyed the rough and tumble action of the series. From the cramped pit lane of Salem to the wide open high banks of Talladega, this series also runs on mile dirt ovals and road courses, something no other current series can claim. I also love shooting ARCA because the drivers are so accessible and you get the chance to see the future stars of stock car racing on their way to the top. Guys like Dillon, Dakoda Armstrong and numerous others will be household names in NASCAR in the next few years, and former ARCA drivers are sprinkled throughout MASCAR's multiple series on any given weekend. Throw in seasoned veterans like 9-time series champ Frank Kimmel and you have a recipe for excitement at every track ARCA visits. And I have images to show "I knew them when..."

2011 Sports Car Racing at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course

Here's a slideshow from the two sports car events I shot at Mid Ohio this past season. I love the variety of equipment and the multi-class racing offered by both the American LeMans and Rolex Grand Am series. The series are so different in terms of their car specs but they always put on very entertaining races. This year's events at Mid Ohio were no exception and with the added element of rain, shooting at this beautiful natural terrain road course is quite the challenge. Someday I hope to cross off two other bucket list races from my list:  the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and the 24 Hours of LeMans. What a treat it would be to shoot the ultimate in endurance racing classics. The 12 Hours of Sebring or the Petite LeMans at Road Atlanta would be acceptable alternatives!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NASCAR Photos Best of 2011

I was very fortunate this year to have the chance to shoot multiple NASCAR events, including bucket list races at Daytona and Talladega, plus the inaugural Sprint Cup weekend at Kentucky Speedway. I learned quite a bit along the way and drove thousands of miles chasing race cars. So here's a rather lengthy slide show of some of my best shots from NASCAR's Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World race series. I don't know what 2012 will hold for me but I am looking forward to the opportunity to shoot for Associated Press again this coming year. I hope I'll have many weekends like this past October's Talladega race weekend where I got to shoot from a prime position and sold quite a few pictures. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Race Season Review: A Photographer's Journey

It's hard to believe that the 2011 motorsports season is already over. It seems like just last week I was preparing to drive to Daytona. And now it's almost Christmas and time to review my travels for the year. Looking in the rear view mirror at this time of year is always a challenge, but this year moreso than ever as I shot 15 major race events this season while driving over 7,600 miles to cover Indycar, NASCAR, ARCA, American LeMans, Rolex Grand Am and USAC races just to name a few of the series. I posted over 1,500 photos linked to this blog in my Picasa photo galleries, shot untold thousands of images, and had a breakthrough year with Associated Press (AP). This is my recap of interesting notes from the racetrack and the road as I look forward to building on the momentum of 2011 for next year. Who knows what exciting events lie ahead for me as a racing photojournalist? I can hardly wait to find out. I hope you enjoy this recap and will click on the red links to specific photo galleries from selected race events.

Trevor Bayne
Daytona 500 2011
The story of my season lies in racking up mileage on my 1999 Acura Integra and reading road maps to lots of  new places. My race year started earlier than ever before with a 2100 mile round trip to the Daytona 500 in February to shoot for AP. I slept in my car at the track and managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach in St. Augustine but otherwise lived racing this weekend. I blogged and tweeted throughout the whole trip and felt it was just a sign of things to come for the year. To see rookie Trevor Bayne come out of nowhere to win his first Daytona 500 in my first visit to NASCAR's most hallowed ground was an unbelievable thrill.

After Daytona, the road led me to the following: Talladega, Salem Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR), Winchester Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, IMS, Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, IMS, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Mid Ohio, Kentucky Speedway and finally Talladega. Bucket list races at Talladega and Atlanta, plus the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky. I was fortunate to work for American Motor Journal for my sixth season as a contributor and added AP as an outlet this year to go along with my blog and photo galleries. In between race events, working as a soccer official, working full time and taking 22 credit hours in graduate school this year, there were days when I woke up and didn't know where I was or where I was supposed to be.

Bad hotel rooms and long hours behind the wheel are mostly forgotten once I'm at the racetrack. I shot more NASCAR than Indycar this year for the first time ever (6 races to 3) and had my best weekend at Talladega for AP for my return trip in October. I also had Yahoo's photo of the day from a crash in Kentucky Speedway's Indy Lights race in October after a weekend which started off very strange. I almost didn't get credentials for the Kentucky Indycar/Indy Lights race weekend but didn't find out why until the Monday before the race weekend. Someone had reported to speedway officials that I was selling photos from my Picasa galleries from the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race so my request got flagged and held up until I agreed to remove the galleries. While the report was ludicrous (as anyone who knows my integrity as a media member or my financial situation will tell you), I did as they requested and have been working with Kentucky officials since then to be allowed to re-post those galleries as part of my photojournalism contribution to the event.

Other memorable tidbits from 2011 included:  Bryan Clauson going after Darren Hagen at the "Night Before the 500" USAC midget race at Lucas Oil Raceway in May. The Indy 500 saw a stirring win from the late Dan Wheldon who I last photographed at Kentucky in October. The great fans at Atlanta who invited us up onto their school bus to shoot the truck and Nationwide races; followed by the disappointment of having to return to Indy and miss the rain-delayed Sprint Cup race. Seeing Ed Carpenter get his (and Sarah Fisher's) first ever Indycar win at Kentucky. Then there was the American LeMans race at Mid Ohio which finished in a monsoon which I will never forget as my equipment got wet and quit working (my photographer friends won't let me forget either). My January 2011 predictions came true that Dario Franchitti would win the IZOD Indycar series championship and James Hinchcliff would be rookie of the year. The loss of two racing photographer friends due to illness. Sharing time on the road and at the track with my better half. Living in media centers and catching grief from my photographer friends. Making new friends and connections with other racing photographers. Learning new camera techniques and pushing myself to explore new creative ideas. Adjusting to the sense of urgency required for wire service shooting. Seeing my man Tony Stewart some from behind to win his third Sprint Cup title. The chance to shoot young guns like Ty Dillon and Josef Newgarden win championships. I could go on and on...

These and so many more moments have been catalogued in my blog posts this season and my only regret is that the pace of my life recently has not allowed me to do more writing here. The 2012 season starts up again in a little over a month with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and I have no idea what my shooting schedule will be for next season. I hope to expand my work with AP and develop a new website called Race Photo Media to provide race event coverage independently. Everything is up in the air right now for next year as I complete my graduate school work to get my full time Indiana teaching license. I never thought making a career change to pursue the things I love - racing photography, coaching and officiating - would have been as rewarding (or as difficult) as it has been. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am all in no matter what and look forward to seeing what else God has in store for me. See you at the racetrack. Until then here are a few more pix from this year that you may not have seen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Talladega Notebook Post Script

Home in #Indy. Drove 1200 total miles this weekend to shoot 750 miles of racing. Fair trade.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Clint Bowyer Completes Pass in Tri-Oval to Win Talladega NASCAR

Clint Bowyer passes Jeff Burton to win at Talladega
What a day it has been at Talladega. I got to shoot from the top of the tallest grandstands again today and saw all kinds of bump and run craziness unfold before me. Multi-car wrecks, a hauler fire in the garage area following the race and the big pass for the win right in front of me. I also got a huge challenge from my friends at AP working with some unfamiliar equipment but all's well that ends well. It was a thrilling finish with Clint Bowyer taking an extremely close win over Jeff Burton n a swansong performance for Richard Childress Racing (RCR). Bowyer got the 100th win for RCR as he prepares to leave for Michael Waltrip's team in 2012.

While I had a great day shooting, most of the drivers in the Sprint Cup Chase had awful ones with Carl Edwards now jumping to the head of the points battle in front of Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski with only four races to go. My favorite Tony Stewart led quite a few laps today and remains 4th in the standings after a 7th place finish. The big surprise was Dave Blaney finishing third today behind Burton but the top two were not to be caught following the final restart with just two laps to go. Keselowski finished 4th ahead of Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne. Denny Hamlin took 8th ahead of the "un-retired" Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10. The big losers today were Kevin Harvick who dropped three places in the season standings while Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch probably saw their chances of being crowned Sprint Cup champion fly out the window with poor finishes following their involvement in separate on track incidents.

It was my last race to shoot for this season and it started off on an emotional note with the news of Marco Simoncelli's tragic fatal accident in MotoGP, then the observance of a moment of silence and prayerful words for Indycar's Dan Wheldon before the engines were fired up. Driving in this morning, I was struck by the smell of all the campfires in the RV parks along Speedway Boulevard and I'm glad I'm not driving back to Indianapolis until tomorrow. AP still has a bunch of my images after downloading them so the slideshow with this post mainly covers the last 50 laps or so.

Mark Martin Snags Talladega Pole; Simoncelli Perishes in MotoGP

Mark Martin is all smiles after taking P1 at Talladega
NASCAR's ageless wonder Mark Martin upstaged his younger competitors with a pole run Saturday at Talladega that was only 0.002 seconds faster than Jimmie Johnson. One of only four drivers to top 181 mph during qualifying yesterday, Martin will have his work cut out for him today as the tandem drafting style of racing will prevail today for 500 miles on NASCAR's biggest track. Speeds will be significantly higher in the draft today, as two cars running together punch a larger hole in the air and allow both to go faster. Happy hour speeds were in excess of 195 mph on Friday and everyone will be looking for a "dance partner" today. As Jimmie Johnson said in his post-qualifying interview yesterday, he just wants to be "in the picture" near the end. If you are in the photo frame coming to the finish line, you have a chance to win today. An additional $100,000 is also on the line for the driver who leads the most today, but only if there are more than 100 lead changes at the line during the race. For a race distance scheduled for 188 laps, that should not be too difficult if today's race is anything like the other restrictor plate races this year where lead changes were frequent. My guess is the driver's will do everything they can to claim that leader bonus and Lord knows they don't need any incentive here at Talladega where everything is big. Including the wrecks. Following this post is a quick photo gallery from yesterday's qualifying activity. It looks like I will be back on top of the tallest grandstand on the tri-oval again today for Associated Press. I had a good day yesterday and hope for a safe day for all concerned.

Angel themed name tag honoring Dan Wheldon
There are tributes everywhere this weekend for Dan Wheldon, from the Lionheart stickers each car bears above the driver's side door to the angel themed name above the door of the non-qualified car of TJ Bell. I am doing a personal tribute by wearing the William Rast Racing t-shirt and hat I got at this year's Indy 500, which Danny of course won in dramatic fashion.

As I sit here in the media center at Talladega Superspeedway, I can't help but mention that the day has already begun on a sad note with the news from MotoGP that Marco Simoncelli lost his life in a racing accident and my heart aches for fans of all forms of motorsport who must endure this kind of news. But we carry on as those we have lost would want us to do, and that's race. Life is short. Tell someone you love them.

Marco Simoncelli at The 2011 Indianapolis Red Bull US MotoGP 

Talladega Notebook 9

Here are the shots which AP used today from the truck race at Talladega. I will be back in the same spot Sunday for the Sprint Cup 500 miler. Beautiful day today and a very happy Mike Wallace got the win, his first win since 2004. Score one for the "old guys". Maybe Mark Martin can follow suit Sunday from pole position. A more complete gallery follows in a slideshow.

Mike Wallace leads tandem drafters to the checkers at 'Dega

Mike Wallace salutes the Talladega tri-oval fans after winning at Talladega

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Talladega Notebook 8

Got 2 pix out on the AP wire today from #Talladega NCWTS race. Will be in same spot for 500 Sunday. Glad to help tell the stories.
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Talladega Notebook 7

Looks like I will be up high on the tri-oval for #NCWTS race at #Talladega today with a 500 mm. Sweet!
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Talladega Notebook 6

Lionheart sticker on Scott Speed's #46 Talladega entry
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars going through tech for qualifying, I noticed the Lionheart sticker honoring Dan Wheldon on Scott Speed's #46 car. I have also heard that Hermie Sadler has Dan's name above the right side door instead of his own on the #77 but haven't seen it yet. More to come folks!

Talladega Notebook 6

Parked inside #Talladega. Ready to get to work. #NASCAR Sprint Cup quals at 11. Heavy fog on road from Gadsden to track but in safely.
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Talladega Notebook 5

Chilly in 'Bama this morning. Headed to #Talladega credential office. Should have picked a nicer hotel! Get what you pay for.
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Talladega Notebook 4

Made it to Gadsden hotel after whacking a critter on US 278 & taking a wrong turn that cost me an extra 40 miles. Life on the road.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Talladega Notebook 3

Last hour on road to #Talladega into blinding sun wasn't fun. Stopped in Bowling Green for food & fuel. Ready to roll.
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Talladega Notebook 2

Tried detour through Jeffersonville. Limited success. About to get back on I65 South to cross the Ohio River. Major headache at rush hour!
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Talladega Notebook

On the road to #Talladega. Nice day to drive 500 miles.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan Wheldon Lost at Las Vegas

Dan Wheldon at Kentucky Speedway 2011
This really hurts and writing about it hurts even worse. But I have to write - I need to. What I feel surely pales in comparison to what the family and close friends of Dan Wheldon must be feeling today after he lost his life October 16, 2011 in a horrific crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the final IZOD Indycar Series race of the season.

Just two weeks after one of Indycar's best moments in recent years at the Kentucky 300 at Kentucky Speedway - when Ed Carpenter won his first race in a photo finish, and got Sarah Fisher her first win in the process - Indycar experienced its darkest day at Las Vegas yesterday. Two-time and defending Indy 500 winner and 2005 Indycar Champion succumbed to injuries sustained in a 15 car accident which many describe as one of the worst in Indycar history. What began as a day of promise with Danny chasing a $5 million bonus, Dario Franchitti fighting it out for the season championship with Will Power, and the Rookie of Year title up for grabs between James Hinchliffe and J. R. Hildebrand, ended with the Indycar community grieving the loss of one of its brightest stars. A slow parade of five laps with the remaining 19 cars from the entry list in three-wide formation was completed to honor their fallen comrade Wheldon as the race was stopped and never restarted.

Two weeks ago I was at Kentucky as a photographer and kept close tabs on Wheldon's warmup race as a substitute for Alex Tagliani on the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team. Many pictures from that event are included in the slideshow which accompanies this post and you could tell from Dan's expressions throughout the weekend that he was serious about this effort and concentrating on getting a win, either at Kentucky or at Las Vegas. One of the last photos I took on the pre-race grid at Kentucky was a mirror shot of Dan taken while I knelt down next to the right rear tire of his #77 machine. He had to start near the back due to problems in tech inspection which prevented him from qualifying the day before. During qualifying itself, Dan had been relegated to intently watching all the other teams qualify from the Schmidt team's pit box, and the photo above was taken during that time.

Owner Sam Schmidt waits with Dan for the start at Kentucky
I hurt for Sam Schmidt as well, as his Indy Lights team had lost team manager Chris Griffis not long before Kentucky to a sudden death after playing basketball. The team was clearly emotional when Josef Newgarden accepted the Indy Lights season championship honors at Kentucky. Now this tragedy involving Danny - I'm sure it must almost be too much for Sam to bear as he had already commented that he thought about getting out of racing following Griffis' death.

My heart aches for guys like Dario, a former teammate of Danny's, who was deprived a proper championship celebration at Las Vegas for his 2011 season and was reduced to tears as the news was confirmed that Dan had died in the accident. When the #77 lit up the top of the scoring pylon at Las Vegas and the best in the Indycar business were openly weeping and grieving, this new sudden loss must have devastated Sam and his team as they had lost their friend, colleague and competitor. No one was left unaffected as the honor laps were concluded behind the Honda pace car, and teams lined the pit road to pay tribute to Dan, whose brilliant smile we shall never see in the Indycar paddock again..

I know my friends in the media who worked the race are hurting too. As fans and photographers, we do this work for the love of the sport and no one wants photos of a fatal accident. We want, and get accustomed to seeing, spectacular crashes where the driver walks away or at worst has to spend some sheet time mending injuries before returning to the cockpit. Stories like this are legion and drivers like Will Power, Davey Hamilton, Kenny Breck, Mike Conway and others constantly prove the point:  they live to race and as long as they live, they have the will to race. That's what they do. They have to. By the same token, we shoot racing for many of the same reasons and joke about having the "need for speed" which only a racing fix can satisfy. Historically, the more spectacular the crash, the better it is for the driver in an Indycar, as energy dissipates through the destruction of the car which otherwise would transfer to the driver. But that's not what happened at Las Vegas October 16th unfortunately, as Dan's luck ran out and physics conspired against him in ultimate fashion. For him, there will be no heroic comeback story - only stories like this one for media and fans to pass along in his memory.

Danny the "fashionista"
It hurts to know that Danny will no longer be pulling pranks on teammates, or hopping out of a wrecked car to wave to the fans as he did in 2003 in Turn 3 at Indy when he got upside down. It hurts to know we won't hear the ribbing he took a couple of years ago for his new dental work, or hear him talk about being a "fashionista" in reference to his William Rast sponsorship this past May. We have to remember these things though. Like Dan and Scott Dixon hugging on Pole Day at Indy in 2008. Danny, Helio and Dixon joking and laughing in the media center at Nashville in 2008 after the podium ceremonies got moved indoors when rain cut the race short. Or following @danwheldon on Twitter and laughing like crazy at his banter with fellow drivers and Indycar fans. While I can't say that Dan was a friend of mine, I feel like I knew him well, having been in close proximity working numerous Indycar races the last several years. When he would respond to my offering a passing "hello" or congratulatory comment, that was enough for me to feel he knew me even if he didn't know my name. He made everyone feel that way. Even the good memories have a sting now, knowing that we won't have any more to make with Dan. And that really hurts.

Dan & Susie Wheldon Celebrate 2011 Indy 500 Win
Race drivers are different that the rest of us. They have no fear. They live life on the edge and love it. Their hand-eye coordination and reaction time are almost superhuman. Yet in an instant it can all be taken away through no fault of their own. Getting used to seeing drivers walk away after cheating the grim reaper makes losing Danny now that much tougher today. I'm sure the cries of "bloodsport" will be heard after this weekend but Indycar racing will survive. It's a damn shame that Dan Wheldon won't be with us to help lead the series' return to glory. The promise of new equipment in 2012 - for which Dan was the primary test driver, the ever improving driver lineup and fans loyal to the core will continue to push Indycar forward as America's highest form of open wheel motorsport. Dan's spirit and desire will continue to inspire those who follow. I expect to see his smiling face and the Borg Warner trophy on my 2012 Indy 500 tickets and will wear my William Rast Racing t-shirt and hat at future races I shoot, in silent homage to Dan Wheldon.

In some small way, I hope these things and my photos can contribute to honoring Danny's legacy. We must not forget his contributions to Indycar racing, the achievements of his career at Indianapolis and elsewhere, and his growth as a man while navigating the high speed lane in Indycars. He came to us full of exuberance and youthful pranksterism, and leaves us now all to soon as a father, husband and friend. I pray that Dan's wife, his family, two young sons, and so many others in the Indycar community will somehow find peace in these dark days. In grieving Dan's departure, Godspeed to all and may God bless us and protect us under the shadow of His wings. We miss you so much already Dan.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stefan Wilson & Josef Newgarden Indy Lights Winners

Kentucky winner Stefan Wilson
Stefan Wilson, younger brother of injured IZOD Indycar Series driver Justin Wilson, took his second win of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights series at Kentucky Speedway this past Sunday. Wilson drives for Andretti Autosport and his oval track win is in addition to the street course win he picked up at Toronto earlier this summer. Wilson's win came after a first lap crash wiped out five cars in the 13 car field and even though Wilson started from pole position, he had to race back into the lead later in the 100 mile race after Josef Newgarden came to the front for several laps. The early crash took most of the drama out of the event as the incident involved the back third of the field coming off the second corner of the first lap. Gustavo Yacaman endured the wildest ride of those involved in the crash as he got airborne and rode backwards along the top of the SAFER barrier with the top of the car close to the catch fencing. The slideshow which follows this post has multiple shots from my photo sequence and shows the chaos which ensued as I picked them up coming out from behind the infield fencing all wadded up together. I was halfway down the backstretch when the incident happened so I was fortunate to get the shots I did. Since the area inside Turns 1 and 2 had been closed off for safety reasons this weekend, the vantage point I took was out of character for my normal race shooting strategy but this time it happened to work out for me. As a result, I only shot the beginning of this race and Victory Lane, using the middle part of the race to download my crash images. I was especially happy to see USAC star and Mazda Road to Indy driver Bryan Clauson find his way through the melee and soldier on to a fifth place finish, his fourth Top 5 out of five Indy Lights races run this season.

Josef Newgarden celebrates season title with SSM Team after Kentucky 100
While Stefan Wilson won the race, the big winner was Josef Newgarden who easily clinched the season championship by virtue of starting the race. Leading a few laps was a bonus for Newgarden but the series title was a much needed boost for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM). It was the sixth Firestone Indy Lights championship for the team led by the wheelchair-bound former Indycar driver Schmidt, and came within days of the sudden death of the team's manager Chris Griffis who had collapsed after playing pickup basketball recently. The team sported CG stickers on Newgarden's helmet and equipment to honor his memory, and Schmidt commented during the weekend that his death had him seriously shaken to the point of contemplating getting out of racing. That would be a shame as Sam has done wonders for young drivers who have driven his Indy Lights cars and his foray into Indycar ownership this season after purchasing the FAZZT race team has been largely successful for a small team going against the Penske-Ganassi juggernaut. The team has set up a fund to help the Griffis family so please give if you can. More information is available at the following link: God bless the SSM family in this tough time. I hope they can put their energies into helping Dan Wheldon win the $5 million bonus next weekend at Las Vegas. Perhaps that will salve some of the pain they must be feeling with the loss of their comrade.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ed Carpenter Gets First Career Indycar Win at Kentucky Speedway

One of the most likable Indycar drivers finally won a race for the woman owner who for years was the most popular driver in the IZOD Indycar Series, Sarah Fisher. It was also the first win for Sarah Fisher Racing. It's not often that you see tears of join in an Indycar Victory Lane, but this win was special for a bunch of reasons. Sarah has had to step out of the cockpit this year and into motherhood while managing the team's financial future which has depended on Dollar General to run a limited Indycar schedule. Ed finally got past P2 this year after consecutive runner up finishes at Kentucky Speedway. Two years ago he lost a photo finish to Ryan Briscoe. Today he won in almost the same fashion dueling Dario Franchitti wheel to wheel from the last restart to the finish. Scott Dixon backed up his Target teammate Dario and took third. Both Dario and Scottie D seemed genuinely happy for Ed in Victory Lane, and the number of offspring (babies and little kids) running around will probably never be topped in the Winner's Circle. 

Kentucky Podium Dario, Ed & Scottie D.
For the light crowd which attended today's race, it was a fantastic finish on an absolutely gorgeous fall day with not a cloud in the sky all day long. The races at Kentucky are typically fast and furious and this one was no different. There were incidents galore in pit lane and wheel to wheel packs of three and sometimes four wide racing like there was no tomorrow. For Will Power, he is happy there is a tomorrow and one final race in Las Vegas. He got clipped in the pits by Anna Beatriz and dropped like a stone through the order. Perhaps that contributed to  the lighthearted mood displayed by Dario and Dixon afterwards as they knew they had made great strides in the season championship.

Ed Carpenter and Dario Franchitti duel at Kentucky Speedway
For the time being, these photos celebrate the Sarah Fisher Racing team and Ed Carpenter, who have not tasted victory before in Indycars and do the series proud with a heartwarming performance  which arguably could be the highlight of this season.

Sarah Fisher Racing's Dollar General Team in Victory Lane at Kentucky Speedway

Stefan Wilson Wins Kentucky Indy Lights Race

Indy Lights melee at Kentucky Speedway saw Gustavo Yacaman get airborn
Stefan Wilson took the Firestone Indy Lights win over Josef Newgarden and Jorge Concalvez in a race where the field was decimated by a first lap crash which eliminated five of the 13 starters. Newgarden's second place finish was enough to clinch the season title, the sixth for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Indy Lights. More photos and info from this race later today.

Stefan Wilson Takes Firestone Indy Lights Pole at Kentucky

Stefan Wilson accepts his pole award at Kentucky
While older brother Justin Wilson is on the mend from his back injuries suffered at Mid Ohio in August, kid brother Stefan Wilson continues to be a pacesetter in Indy Lights, taking the pole position at Kentucky Speedway yesterday. Likely the most disappointed Indy Lights competitor was Anders Krohn who was quick in practice but had a miserable qualifying run and will start last as a result of an engine change after qualifying. Thirteen cars will start today's 67 lap race with Brandon Wagner starting a surprising second and rookie Jacob Wilson starting third. Jorge Goncalvez starts fourth, Esteban Guerreri starts fifth and champion-to-be Josef Newgarden will start sixth. Road to Indy and USAC star Bryan Clauson starts 11th after a hectic Saturday where he did double duty - Indy Lights here at Kentucky Speedway and USAC sprints at Lawrenceburg Speedway last night. He'll have a chance to move up today if today's race is anything like previous Indy Lights races at Kentucky.

Hornaday takes 50th Career Truck Series Win at Kentucky Speedway

Ron Hornaday celebrates at Kentucky with another Truck win
Ron Hornaday got his 50th career win in NASCAR trucks at Kentucky Speedway  Saturday night in the 12th Annual Kentucky 225, holding off Austin Dillon. On a cold but clear midwestern night, the racy 1.5 mile oval featured lots of side by side racing through the first 100 laps as a result of numerous cautions and restarts. The race was marred by all the early cautions but Hornaday and Dillon were at the head of the pack all night long and were able to establish a rhythm over the last third of the race. James Buescher finished third ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. Brian Ickler took fifth in the #18 truck most commonly associated with Kyle Busch who did not make the trip west from Dover for this event. Josh Richards brought out the first caution of the race on lap 3 and cautions were frequent through the first 100 laps. The scariest incident of the night involved Parker Kligerman who took a nasty hit in Turn 4 and was knocked out of the race as a result. Ricky Carmichael took sixth ahead of Todd Bodine, former USAC driver Cole Whitt and ARCA star Dakoda Armstrong. David Starr rounded out the top 10. The Camping World Truck Series race was the feature race this night and the action at Kentucky Speedway now gives way to the IZOD Indycar Series and Firestone Indy Lights which race this afternoon. Following are some other action shots from last night's event.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Will Power Takes Indycar Pole at Kentucky Speedway

Will Power picked up another valuable IZOD Indycar Series championship point by sweeping to the pole position at Kentucky Speedway this evening. His main championship rivals Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon will start in the middle of the field and have their work cut out for them. 

Scott Dixon Fastest in Indycar Kentucky Practice

Scott Dixon at speed at Kentucky Speedway today
Target Chip Ganassi Racing is leading the way once again with Scott Dixon running over 219 in the final Indycar practice this afternoon at windy and cool Kentucky Speedway. Limited track time for this two-day event necessitated that every team hit the track early and often with barely more than two hours of practice time available before this evening's qualifying session. The new pit lane configuration has not exactly drawn raves from drivers as pit exit onto the backstretch is directly adjacent to the racing line and there are lots of bumps to contend with on the low line. The area along the pit exit in Turns 1 and 2 is off limits to photographers as the racing line is so close to the inside wall since the infield was reworked to accommodate the horde of motorhomes which descended on Kentucky Speedway for the inaugural NASCAR race this past July. Much of the infield is empty so far today but the drivers still have to contend with what surely must feel like a narrower racing surface. We'll see if Dixon can back up his practice speed in qualifying which starts at 6 p.m. More later.

Marco Andretti navigates through a shower of sparks from another Indycar today in final Kentucky practice.

Indycar Practice Photos from Kentucky Speedway

New configuration for the track puts the squeeze on Indycars as it is very dicey with little room on the inside of the backstretch especially. Here's a few early practice session photos that I posted on American Motor Journal with another session about to start.
Will Power passes Takuma Sato during morning practice at Kentucky
Kentucky Speedway backstretch action during morning practice
Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves
Ryan Briscoe runs wheel to wheel with teammate Will Power

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Indycar Season & Rookie Titles to the Wire

Indycar season points leader Will Power
One hundred six points. Two drivers. Eleven points. Three teammates. Two races. That's Indycar by the numbers right now with the last two races of the season looming, the first of which is at Kentucky Speedway this weekend. I'll be there shooting for American Motor Journal, blogging and sending out Twitter updates beginning Saturday morning.

Dario Franchitti
Will Power currently has an 11 point lead over Dario Franchitti for the season IZOD Indycar championship with two oval track races wrapping up the 2011 season. Only 106 points remain available in total for the top contenders to fight over, and Dario's teammate Scott Dixon is still mathematically in the title chase 59 points behind Power but if he finishes more than 53 points behind after Kentucky, he will be eliminated from championship contention. Two drivers will duke it out and three teammates could be factors:  Dario with Dixon, and Power with Ryan Briscoe (who appears to be fighting for his 2012 ride) and Helio Castroneves (who won at Kentucky last season). Everyone knows Power's strong suit is road racing, but he has gotten clean sweeps on points four different times this season while narrowly missing a fifth, while Dario has only gotten max points once with one close call of 52 points. These precious bonus points for pole and leading the most laps could well turn the tide for this year's Indycar champion. You can bet Dario and Target Chip Ganassi Racing will do everything they can to get Dario to the top step of the podium, take all 53 points available and keep Power behind him.

The Mayor of Hinchtown

JR Hildebrand
Dan Wheldon
Two other drivers are also in a tight battle these final two races, albeit for Rookie of the Year. If my pre-season pick James Hinchcliff had not missed the season opener at St. Petersburg, the rookie points battle would probably be a dead heat, as J. R. Hildebrand has earned 284 points this season to Hinchtown's 270.

Add to the mix the fact that Dan Wheldon is racing at Kentucky this weekend for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in place of Alex Tagliani in order to prepare for the finale at Las Vegas where he has a chance to win $5 million, this Indycar weekend should be a real treat for fans of the series. Indycar races at Kentucky Speedway are always hotly contested with a photo finish a distinct possibility, ala Ed Carpenter's thrilling run two years ago when he lost by a nose to Ryan Briscoe. I hate to see Tagliani sit out a race when he is on the verge of a top 10 finish in season points, but Schmidt is teaming up with Wheldon's bunch at Bryan Herta Autosport to have the best chance possible in Vegas where Danny will start shotgun on the field and have his work cut out for him. While I can't make it to Vegas, that should be one heckuva show to behold, and I know this weekend will set the stage for real fireworks two weeks later. Hopefully, some of the acrimony that has generated controversy for Indycars this season has dissipated and everyone can get down to some serious racing this weekend. Helio and Power  have earned hefty fines lately for their words or actions and while that helps generate headlines, it doesn't mean a thing once they give the command to start engines at the racetrack. 

Kyle Busch in action at Atlanta Labor Day weekend
With the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday night and Indy Lights Sunday afternoon prior to the Indycar race, the stage will be well set by the time the green flag flies. And can anyone stop Kyle Busch in trucks this year? I'll be anxious  to see how he handles this weekend or if he decides to run Kentucky or concentrate on Sprint Cup at Dover. I hope he makes it to Sparta! KyB was fast at Atlanta but got snookered by Ron Hornaday's fuel mileage gamble so who knows how this weekend's race will turn out. I'm hoping it's full of action and that the sparks fly from the first lap to the last.

One final note, and it's a sad one. Two time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has reportedly run afoul of the law back home in New Mexico and has alcohol and dangerous driving charges pending against him. Indycar fans know of Jr.'s struggles with alcohol through the years and Indycar has suspended him indefinitely from race control and other duties associated with the series. I hate to hear it as Little Al has always been one of my favorite drivers and you would be hard pressed to find a more approachable guy in Indycar racing. His battle is with an insidious foe and I wish him Godspeed and that he gets back on the path of recovery before something really horrific happens. These charges are serious enough but thank God no one was hurt. This time.

Will Power at speed in 2010 at Kentucky Speedway
Dario Franchitti at Mid Ohio in 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dalziel Holds off Pruett to Win Mid Ohio Rolex Series Finale

Ryan Dalziel was the Mid Ohio race winner for Ford
Ryan Dalziel held off repeated challenges from Scott Pruett's Ganassi Telmex team and Alex Gurney of Gainsco to win the season finale at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course today. Pruett and teammate Memo Rojas merely had to start the race to take the prototype season crown but they pressed hard the entire race length and nearly pulled out the win. Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty finished third after starting on pole. After being were passed early by Ricky Taylor of SunTrust Racing (who later dropped out with mechanical problems), Gurney and Fogarty were in contention all day long in a race that was marred by numerous cautions for spins and incidents. The sun finally shone on Mid Ohio late this afternoon and the Brumos Racing Team was especially pleased to see that as their 4th place finish in GT was enough to clinch the season crown for the class. After starting at the back, Brumos drivers Leh Keen and Andrew Davis manhandled their Porsche all day to get back to the front. The Mustang of Stevenson Motorsports driven by Robin Liddell and Ronnie Bremer took the GT class win on the day over the Speedsource Mazda of Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal. There were lots of happy teams and crew members along pit road after the race and I'm sure there will be some celebrations this evening. Here's a quick slide show of some of today's frantic racing action at Mid Ohio.


Gurney & Fogarty Lead Gainsco Team to Mid Ohio Rolex Pole

Alex Gurney & Jon Fogarty will lead the Rolex Series Field today from P1
The final warmup session for today's Rolex Series Race is now complete and the 31 car field is making final preparations for this afternoon's 2 hour 45 minute season ending race at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. Teams went at it with a vengeance yesterday in qualifying and the intensity you'd like to see in a final race is certainly there. The 23 prototype of Mark Blundell had a spin in the keyhole yesterday while the GT Porsche of Brumos Racing with Lee Keen had to thrash to make today's warmup after turning zero laps in qualifying when an undisclosed problem kept them off the track. It is cool and overcast here today but the forecast has warmer temperatures and sunshine for later today.

Before the Rolex Series race, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will race and boasts a field of 71 cars in the GS and ST classes. That should be a sight to behold when the green flag drops and I am anxious to see how they get through the distance without a plethora of caution laps. The beauty of a race weekend at Mid Ohio will unfold in its glory today as cars hit the track at 8:00 a.m. and track action won't conclude until close to 6 p.m. this evening after the main Rolex Series event. Until later, here's a few pix from this morning's warmup and a slideshow from DP and GT qualifying yesterday.

Brumos Racing has its work cut out for them today at Mid Ohio starting at the rear of the field
Actor Patrick Dempsey will compete in GT

Scott Pruett had his game face on before final warmup

Suntrust ace Ricky Taylor gets ready for final warmup session