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.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Talladega Notebook 5

Chilly in 'Bama this morning. Headed to #Talladega credential office. Should have picked a nicer hotel! Get what you pay for.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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!
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

Talladega Notebook

On the road to #Talladega. Nice day to drive 500 miles.
Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

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