Monday, December 31, 2012

Racing in the Rear View Mirror

At Daytona - February 2012
What a year this has been, both personally and professionally. So many good things have happened and opportunities have presented themselves to do what I love:  go racing, pursue photography, officiate youth sports and teach math to young people. Sadly, as I look back on 2012, I also feel the loss of two good friends in racing this year:  Keith Pritchard and Don Hamilton. As I have written here before, Godspeed my friends, and blessings to all who knew you for the coming year.

Since the world didn't end on December 21st according to the misunderstood Mayan legend, we are still here and there is much to write about, so I will take a moment to look back and then look ahead. This year has been incredibly hectic with teaching and the successful completion of my Marian University course requirements to obtain my Indiana teaching license which was issued in May. My racing season started off again this year at Daytona for the 500 weekend, although rainy weather forced me to come back to Indy before I could shoot the Sprint Cup race in order to meet my teaching obligations. I still regard the 2200 mile round trip as worthwhile since I got the chance to shoot the Camping World truck and Nationwide series races for Associated Press (AP) and build on that media relationship.

I also stayed physically active, and even though my left knee sometimes hurt like crazy, I still managed to officiate 80 basketball games and 91 soccer matches this past year. I have to thank my schedulers and the leagues for those opportunities for their confidence in me and giving me the chance to stay involved in two sports I love. I would love to have the chance to coach either sport again and I'm sure it will happen when the time is right. 

In between Daytona and now, there were numerous other racing road trips, and I was able to expand my relationship with ARCA this year to work directly for them at several races. As I have since 2006, a lot of my racing photography and writing was contributed to American Motor Journal's (AMJ) website, although I do not know what will happen with that in 2013 since the publisher, Don Hamilton, passed away recently. A quick rundown of my racing season following Daytona included:  Salem Speedway ARCA at the end of April for AMJ, then Talladega NASCAR the next weekend for AP; then the next three weekends were consumed by Indycar for  practice, qualifying and the Indy 500, plus the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race, for AMJ. In June, it was off to Mid Ohio Sports Car Course for the Rolex Series weekend two weeks after the 500 for AMJ, then my first race shooting for ARCA at Winchester Speedway two weeks after Mid Ohio. July was relatively quiet with a week's vacation at a beach house on Lake Michigan but that all changed the last weekend of the month, when I shot the Rolex Series at Indy during the morning for AMJ and then went to Lucas Oil Raceway to shoot for ARCA the rest of the day. The next two days I was back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for AMJ shooting the inaugural Nationwide Series race at IMS and then the Brickyard 400. The next weekend I was back on the road to Mid Ohio for AMJ to shoot the American LeMans and Indycar events. The day after that, I started my new full time teaching job which consumed me until mid-September when I went back to Salem to shoot for ARCA again. Due to my teaching obligations, I had to take a pass on the fall Talladega weekend this year but I still managed to log nearly 5500 miles behind the wheel of my 1999 Integra to chase race cars during 2012.

As I do every season, I've compiled a "Best of Racing" photo slideshow of my personal favorites this year; this year's slideshow follows this post and includes Indycar, NASCAR, ARCA, Rolex Series and American LeMans competition. I regret not getting to shoot any dirt track races this season but I hope to make up for that in 2013. I will be going back to Daytona for AP in February but the rest of my 2013 plans are up in the air with the future of AMJ being uncertain. I am looking at doing more for both AP and ARCA, plus exploring other opportunities in motorsports media to stay involved with shooting my beloved Indycar series. I also have big plans for my website ( which I have renewed for another three years, and I'm sure I'll be blogging more in 2013 as I get a handle on balancing my teaching responsibilities with my outside pursuits.

As I prepare to sign off on this, my last blog post of 2012, it would not be complete without acknowledging people who have been influential through my 2012 journey, both at the racetracks and in my day to day work. To these people I owe a debt of gratitude which I can only hope to repay someday by paying it forward to others:  Mike Levitt at LAT Photographic; Doc Hunter at ARCA; Mike Stewart and Dave Martin with AP; Jesse Ghiorzi, @followmidohio; Richard W. Smith; brother Steve @salley42; GB Abbott at Salem Speedway; Julie G; Dr. Bevis at Marian University; and of course the late Don Hamilton. I am sure I have left someone out and for that I apologize.

I especially thank you, wherever you are, for reading! Spread the word and find me on Twitter @alleygroup. I look forward to seeing you at a racetrack, soccer field or gymnasium somewhere along the way. Happy New Year everyone, and keep shooting!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don Hamilton - Another Racing Friend Gone Too Soon

My Friend Don Hamilton - American Motor Journal Publisher
I've lost another friend this week - Don Hamilton passed away unexpectedly November 19th. And the racing world has lost a friend as well. Godspeed Don. Say hello to DW and so many others who've left this world and the racing scene far too soon. 

I don't even know when I first met Don, but I know it was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May years ago. I would run into him there or at a car dealership at 96th & Keystone where he used to work when I'd take my car in for service. We would always talk racing and he was one of those guys you felt you had known for a very long time even after a few words of greeting. And I owe Don a tremendous debt as he enabled me to get back into motorsports photography with his publication American Motor Journal (AMJ). Whether it was the bi-weekly print version or the website, Don gave me a chance to really pursue my passion as a racing photographer by contributing photos from races I would cover for him in the Midwest. And I shot a ton of racing for AMJ since the summer of 2006, proud to help support his passion of being a motorsports journalist.

My heart aches for his wife Lisa, who I never really got to know, as they lived in North Carolina and had not been married very long. Their future together has tragically been cut short and it's a damn shame that they will not be able to spend their golden years together and travel as I know they loved to do. I feel badly for Don's brother Larry too, who I had just seen this past September when I was at Salem Speedway shooting the ARCA race. Outside of Indianapolis, Salem was a sort of "home track" for Don and I know he loved that place. He had numerous good friends there, particularly Dee & GB Abbott and their boys. I will think of Don every time I go to Salem now. The photos with this post are almost all from Salem when he was working with GB on the safety crew for a story he wrote for Stock Car Racing (SCR) magazine on which we collaborated.

Don at Kentucky
Don & I also collaborated on other racing pieces where he would pen the words and I would provide the photos. One of those collaborations was at Kentucky Speedway when the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Series took to the big track and I got to shoot the start riding shotgun in the Mustang pace car looking back on the field coming to take the green flag. That collaboration also led to my first national publication cover shot in SCR  magazine. Don & GB were there working as part of the tech inspection crew for the race and Don wrote about his experiences for SCR. That race was the night before the Indy 500 and I got home at 2:00 a.m. to grab a couple of hours sleep before heading to IMS. But that's what we did and we loved it.

I have no idea how many people Don knew in racing but it was a bunch, and I am sure the news of his passing will be taken hard by all his friends - both inside and outside of motorsports. I find it hard to write this kind of homage to someone I worked closely with these last few years, and will be eternally grateful for the opportunities afforded me in racing through my relationship with Don. I'll have more to say at another time, and more photos to add, but for now, I am so sad to see you go my friend. I trust we will meet again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dearly Beloved #Indycar - So Long @RBIndycar

Ousted Indycar CEO Randy Bernard Deserved Better
We are gathered here today as witness to one of the most fearsome crashes in motorsports history. And I'm not talking about the "Big One" at Talladega or someone getting air in a sprint car. I'm talking about the IZOD Indycar Series as it appears to crash & burn right before our eyes.

It hurts to watch the Series management crawl from the mangled and smoking wreckage of Indycar. Its nonsensical decision making and the unsavory handling of the dismissal of Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard are just the latest in a litany of dumbfounding actions wrought by a Board of Directors which appears to be out of touch with reality. One can only hope that someone will bring sanity to the series at the top. And it needs to happen soon. But who in their right mind would want to take this job? I hope Randy got a nice parachute as you know he is still owed money with a five year contract only 60% completed.

I have had little time to write since shooting the Mid Ohio Indycar weekend due to my teaching and soccer officiating schedules, but this dreadful episode in Indycar history merits all the vitriol fans and media members like myself can spew. I have been an Indycar and motorsports photographer since 1984, although I have been loathe to use this blog forum to criticize the series, even when others were lambasting Tony George. Today I am so mad at what's happening with my beloved Indycar series that I could just scream. But I don't know where to direct that anger except at the Board of the Hulman entities which controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indycar Series.

Tony George
So the series is not for sale, according to Hulman & Company CEO Jeff Belskus. Who would want to buy it right now? Even Roger Penske said that Bernard's firing was "very disappointing". Robin Miller said on SPEED's Wind Tunnel "the sharks got him" and then wrote  on SPEED's website that there was "no cure for stupidity". Others I know have said "they were burning down their own house" and they "machine gunned themselves in the foot". I said it was a circus without a ringmaster and lord knows that Tony George's expressed interest in buying the series is not likely the answer.

Will the unceremonious and embarrassing firing of Randy Bernard be the last straw? What in the world will it take for the series to get its act together? Something is terribly wrong. But can anyone really say they didn't see this coming? Not if you're invested in Indycar as I am. If I know anything about the series, it's that when everyone is denying the truth of rumors, you just know whatever it is must be absolutely true. No amount of spin doctoring by the Hulman George family or the management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can rectify the damage this latest action has created. And for casual race fans who only know Indycar racing from the television broadcasts, they are probably just going to tune out. Ratings would seem to indicate that they already are.

Did Bernard always do the right thing? Of course not. The man who many derided as the "bull rider dude" was an outsider with no racing background so he had a monumental learning curve and was bound to make mistakes. In three short years he did a lot that was right, and I was a huge skeptic at first, but I give him kudos for his high energy level, as he made a great connection with fans, he showed a willingness to learn, he brought new ideas up for discussion and shepherded the new car/engine formula to fruition. I would have laid any odds against almost anyone doing all that, let alone someone with Bernard's background. Then to find in the 11th hour that he had just one supporter on the Hulman Board must have been a crushing blow to him after all he had accomplished. And you can bet that Bernard's settlement agreement muzzles him from making any kind of derogatory comments or the lawyers will come after him. Warts and all, Indycar is still the greatest and most competitive racing on the planet but this showing of public silliness and ineptitude on a critical personnel decision belies the capabilities of an organization with the financial wherewithal and history possessed by the Hulman clan.

If you believe that any publicity for the Series is good publicity, then put away the nitrous as you've been taking the gas for too long. Some say that controversy is good for media attention and I would agree if we are talking about competition controversy, but not controversy which smacks of a complete lack of vision by the people running the show. Most businesses try to add value and public airing of dirty laundry in an unflattering manner can only diminish a product's value. This could mean that the Series is truly not for sale as the bean counters would be trying to cut expenses and inflate the value before selling to get every dime they could. That's would businesses do these days in the current environment of mergers, takeovers and stock bonanza initial public offerings. Unless you're having a fire sale.

Perhaps no one outside of Indianapolis gives a damn, and that's a scary proposition. I was in Akron this past weekend, and not a word was written in local papers or spoken on Cleveland television about Bernard's firing. All the news I got about it came from Twitter and thank God for that. I still find it hard to swallow that Indycar may be descending (has descended?) into irrelevancy when one of the best Indy 500's ever occurred this past May, a deserving and charsimatic American driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was crowned  as the season champion just last month, and the "split" of open wheel racing recedes more into the distant past each year since the 2008 merger with Champ Car. I guarantee you that Firestone cares. The people that run the Long Beach Grand Prix surely care. I can also guarantee you that Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti and the other team owners care, as they have been asked to support a series whose costs have not  been reduced as promised, but whose crown jewel of the Indianapolis 500 is still the biggest prize in motorsports. I sure as hell care.

But as the saying goes, if you don't remember the past, then you are doomed to repeat it. So I hope the people running the Hulman family empire remember. Surely they must know that it is essential for them to control both the Indy 500 and the Indycar Series. Otherwise, the original split in 1979 between USAC and CART could happen all over again, and then what kind of value will the family properties have? Another saying I like is "old age and treachery will win out over youth and exuberance" but I dearly hope that is not the case in the Indycar Series. We need all hands on deck and visionary leadership that can clearly enunciate the future of this great sport. We also are going to need time to heal these new wounds so that someone can  direct open wheel racing's top American series into a position of integrity and renewed strength before it's too late. After all, the 100th running of the Indy 500 will be here before you know it, so let's do something about this mess which would make Carl Fisher, the other founding fathers, and the savior of the Speedway, Anton "Tony" Hulman, proud.

I'm not just praying for "Tony Hulman Weather" anymore:  I'm praying for Indycar.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Indycar Title Now Two Man Battle

Season points leader Will Power
It's hard for me to believe that it's already been four weeks since shooting the Indycar race at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, and the season is now down to just one race with two drivers left standing toe to toe for the season championship:  Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The last four weeks have been a whirlwind for me as my new teaching job has turned out to be every bit the challenge I thought it would be - that  job started two days after we got back from Mid Ohio. As a result, I have had to satisfy my need for speed with the television and internet coverage of the two most recent Indycar races. Power's teammate at Penske, Ryan Brisoce, was gifted a win at Sonoma when Power got stuck in traffic during a late race yellow and gave up the lead in a race where it looked like he was going to run away and hide from the competition. Then Baltimore's unforgiving street circuit saw Hunter-Reay snooker Briscoe on a late restart to win and cut Power's points lead to just 17 with only the 500 miler at Fontana California's Auto Club Speedway left on the schedule.

Ryan Hunter-Reay wants the title
It now all comes down to September 15th on a 2-mile oval track, one on which Power has never raced. Not only has RHR won the last two Indycar oval races this year (Milwaukee and Iowa), he's got the hot hand right now heading to the finale. Before the season started, I had picked Scott Dixon to win the 2012 championship and a late season charge got him in contention but he's racing for second now. I also speculated that the team which came to grips the quickest with the new Dallara DW12 chassis would have the best chance for the season title. Power has been untouchable on road courses with multiple (and apparently easy) pole positions, so Penske knows how to get the job done. Hunter-Reay's Andretti Autosport team has also done a nice job when it counted, and owner Michael Andretti excitedly said "we're going to win this thing" after RHR's Baltimore victory, so they are brimming with confidence. Helio Castroneves is third in points currently but cannot win the title after a season of inconsistent results, but you can bet he will be doing all he can to help Power at Fontana.

Will Power has excelled on Indycar road courses
The track at Fontana is the site of the all time fastest Indycar race in history so it will be interesting to see if the new turbo powered cars can set a new standard. They will need to run caution free to do it. Fontana was originally built and owned by Roger Penske and is modeled after Michigan International Speedway, although the banking is not quite as high at Fontana. Will the Captain have a few tricks up his sleeve to vault Power to his first Indycar championship after two heartbreaking near-misses? 

Ryan Hunter-Reay has been Indycar's king of ovals in 2012
Or will the Andretti onslaught continue and crown a new oval-meister for the 2012 season with Hunter-Reay? Who knows? But this is what makes the racing in the IZOD Indycar Series so exciting. Although I have not been able to shoot as many Indycar races this year as I would have liked, my heart is with them and all my friends at the racetracks whenever they race. The night of the Indycar finale, I will be shooting for ARCA at Salem Speedway, so I will have to rely on the dvr to capture the excitement for me to watch when I get home. It will be hear before you know, and it won't be long before my friends start hearing this from me:  "Is it May yet?" Stay tuned.
RHR greets fans at Mid Ohio
Will Power was all business at Mid Ohio

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dixon Rules Mid Ohio in IZOD Indycar

Mid Ohio winner Scott Dixon negotiates the esses
All hail the king of Mid Ohio: Scott Dixon. For the calculating New Zealander, Mid Ohio Sports Car Course must be starting to feel like his home track as he racked up yet another win on the twisting tarmac in central Ohio. Will Power led from the pole and controlled the first two-thirds of the race but a balky second pit stop and a clean entry/exit for Dixon forced him to give up the lead and he could never challenge Scottie D the rest of the way. Simon Pagenaud put on an impressive performance to take third place on the podium for the little team that could - Sam Schmidt Motorsports - which got the biggest cheer of all the top three finishers in Victory Lane. Not only did the Ganassi domination of Mid Ohio continue, but Honda was able to claim the top three steps on the podium in the Honda 200, so I'm sure all the folks at the race from Marysville were quite happy today.

Despite a second place finish, Will Power took over the season points lead as previous leader Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable day and was scored six laps behind Dixon, with an off-song engine from early in the race costing him any hope of a decent finish. RHR finished a dismal 24th (out of 25 cars) as there was only one other retirement from the race so he didn't get any help to improve his position. For the second straight road course race, Indycar put on a clean and green show from start to finish, which in itself is remarkable alone, but especially today when the weather seemed so foreboding from early morning storms. But everyone started the race on slicks and the rains stayed away all race long so the drivers could fight it out among themselves to their hearts' content. Sebastian Bourdais has a strong run for another small team into fourth ahead of James Hinchcliffe. Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti, J. R. Hildebrand and Alex Tagliani rounded out the top ten in a race which was ultimately decided on fuel strategy.

I could tell walking to the keyhole after the second set of pit stops that the leaders were all saving fuel, as they were all backing off well before the third braking cones. I don't imagine it was a very exciting race for the fans who braved the threatening weather to attend today, since there were zero on track passes for the lead. But for anyone who follows racing, and especially open wheel racing, often it is the pit work which spells the difference and that was the real story today. While teammate Dario Franchitti is well down the championship standings, it looks like Scott Dixon is poised to make a late season charge. Will Power better watch out. Don't forget: I picked Dixon to win it all in my pre-season blog so it will be fun to see how things unfold these last three races. It will all get decided on an oval at Fontana and I wish I could be there. Until next time, enjoy the races and the following slideshow.

Wet Warmup for Mid Ohio Indycar

Will Power leads teammate Ryan Briscoe through Carousel turn in Sunday warmup
Sunday morning at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course started with a deluge which postponed the final Indycar warmup from its original 8:05 a.m. time slot to 9:45 and the teams got precious few laps in on the wet track. No one was concerned about lap times this morning, but staying on the track was a serious issue as the drivers battled massive plumes of spray and had to stay off the normal racing line to be able to navigate the circuit. Ed Carpenter was the first to go off track and I would expect there to be more of the same if the forecast for rain throughout the day is accurate. Many times at Mid Ohio, the Indycar race has been wet-dry-wet-dry-wet so perhaps today will be one of those days. Keeping electronics dry will be a paramount issue for everyone out here today.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Will Power on Mid Ohio Indycar Pole; Muscle Milk Dominates American LeMans

Will Power blitzes the Mid Ohio track record to win the pole
Road course maestro Will Power set a new track record in qualifying at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course to take pole position for tomorrow's IZOD Indycar Series race. In the process, he let his competition know that he is a serious contender for the season title with just four races to go including this weekend. Power oudueled nemesis Dario Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud, who continued his strong showings this season by snagging third ahead of Alex Tagliani. Scott Dixon was not happy to wind up fifth ahead of Ryan Briscoe and Sebastian Bourdais. Perhaps the most unhappy however was the Andretti Autosport team which was shut out of the Fast Six and had to settle for 8th with Ryan Hunter-Reay and 9th with Marco Andretti. Rookie Josef Newgarden rounded out the top ten with another strong showing.

The morning started off well for Justin Wilson as he was fastest in the morning practice session but he could only muster 12th when a misfire cost him top end speed during qualifying. The same cannot be said for Helio Castroneves as he had a run-in with Mike Conway heading into the Keyhole and injured his left wrist. He did not have it bandaged during qualifying but he could do no better than 13th on the clock. It will be interesting to see how sore he is tomorrow and whether it will effect his ability to race on Mid Ohio's notoriously difficult and physical road course. I would suggest that this is Will Power's race to lose however, so someone else will have to do something dramatic to take the win away from him.

In the American LeMans Series race, the Muscle Milk team of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr motored away from the field in the slim P1 class ahead of the 16 Dyson car. A stout field of 32 high tech sports cars has a relatively clean day at the racetrack with lots of close racing but few incidents of any significance. The class pole winning P2 car driven Martin Plowman finished second in class in the race to the 55 piloted by Christoph Bouchut. One of the highlights of the day was the celebration of the 100th ALMS race of veteran Sasha Massen, who has won 30 times with 3 championships during that time. He was not rewarded on track today however as he finished 8th in GT. Oliver Gavin gave Corvette another GT win over the Flying Lizards Porsche of Jorg Bergmeister.

It was a sweltering day at Mid Ohio today and the ALMS competition was as hot as the weather.  as this racetrack always delivers for the sports car crowd who come out in droves to see the most varied equipment formula of any major racing series. Tomorrow promises even more of the same, with the threat of rain added in, for the Indycar race and I'll be covering the whole track again tomorrow again, so stay tuned for more, and please enjoy the slideshows.

Justin Wilson Tops Indycar Practice Speeds at Mid Ohio

In a potential preview of today's pole qualifying session, Justin Wilson set quick time in the final practice session Saturday morning before qualifying later today. He broke his back in a Turn 1 off track excursion last year at this race, so you know car owner Dale Coyne would love to see this weekend as Wilson's triumphant return. More as it unfolds today with Indycar qualifying set to unfold at 11:00 a.m local time - about 30 minutes from now.
Justin Wilson enters the esses in morning practice at Mid Ohio

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jimmy Johnson Takes 4th Brickyard 400 Win

Jimmy Johnson takes the checkers at Indy

He's done it again. And in dominating fashion again, as Jimmy Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as four-time Brickyard 400 winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pole winner Denny Hamlin led early but got shuffled out of the groove on a restart after only a third of the race had been run and he never recovered. Dale Earnhardt Jr. now leads the Sprint Cup standings by taking fourth at Indy, although he was never a serious challenger for the win today. Kyle Busch finished second ahead of Greg Biffle who gained track position on a late pit stop by only taking on two tires. Jeff Gordon followed Little E home to round out the top five on a hot day in Indianapolis. Local favorite Tony Stewart had to take solace with a 10th place finish but was nowhere near the lead all day after starting well back in the field.

The race was fairly incident free and there were no serious penalties handed out as had been the case in yesterday's Nationwide race. It will be hard to say if the Speedway will be happy with the size of today's crowd, but those that did attend were typically enthusiastic for their favorite NASCAR stars. I worked the south end of the track today and the pits rather than shooting in Turn 3 as I have often done and got to much better viewpoints to cover the race as a result. I think my pictures will demonstrate that and after today, the fourth straight day I have shot racing this weekend, I will have a ton of editing to do before heading to Mid Ohio Sports Car Course next weekend for the Indycar & American LeMans Series races.

Today's Brickyard was not exactly one for the ages but now two drivers are poised to grab an historic fifth win - Johnson & Gordon. No one has won at Indy five times in any series, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds next season as these two teammates go at it once again at this famed oval which so many of us love

Denny Hamlin Takes Pole for 19th Brickyard 400

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin looked a little nervous yesterday as qualifying wound down and numerous drivers took shots at his speed but he needn't have worried as his time was more than adequate to stand up to all challengers. Reed Sorenson, Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell were the only three drivers who failed to qualify. Carl Edwards joins Hamlin on the front row for today's 160 lap race. It's hard to believe that this is the 19th running  of the Brickyard but I've been to them all and I hope they put on a good race. Until then, here's a slide show of driver shots from the qualifying line yesterday afternoon. Back with more later!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Keselowski Gets First Stock Car Win for Penske at Indy

Brad Keselowski performs a victory burnout at Indy
Penske Racing pulled off a one-two finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today as Brad Keselowski was handed the win after Nationwide Series Points leader Elliott Sadler was blackflagged for jumping a later race restart. Sam Hornish Jr., finished second and rookie Ty Dillon took third in the inaugural Indiana 250 at the Brickyard. Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin, who will start on the pole for tomorrow's Brickyard 400, took fourth ahead of Nationwide regular Austin Dillon.

The 100 lap race was relatively incident free except those that were involved in incidents were big names:  Danica Patrick was an innocent victim of a Reed Sorensen spin early in the race which ended her day. In the race's closing stages, Kyle Busch got into the side of Hornish and spun in Turn 1 on a restart which put his otherwise dominant race car out of the show. For the Series' first race at Indy, the drivers were relatively well behaved all day long, and a respectable crowd was on hand. Race fans are race fans and they cheered a full day of racing which started early with two Sprint Cup practice sessions, Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying and finally the Nationwide race. I started the race outside of Turn 3 and will have more pix to share once I finish editing. Until then, for now I am featuring today's happy winner Brad Keselowski. Much more to follow. And tomorrow is the big day when the Sprint Cup stars take on the Brickyard for the 19th time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Superweekend at Indy is Underway!

Kyle Busch led Nationwide practice at IMS Thursday
The Superweekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is well and truly underway today, and I am in the media center this morning getting ready to shoot the Rolex Series action this morning. Later today, I am off to Lucas Oil Raceway to work for ARCA and shoot their 200 lap feature which should be a lot of fun. Kyle Busch was quickest in Thursday's half day of practice at IMS for the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the first foray on the big oval for the series. There was lots of track action yesterday and today will be more of the same, something this weekend has sorely needed for years. It was great to see Ty Dillon run well in his first attempt to run a Nationwide car, but it was the Sprint Cup drivers who led the way on speed with Sam Hornish Jr. the first Nationwide regular in fourth. Series points leader Elliot Sadler was quick out of the box but Kyle's brother Kurt was second quick, followed by Kasey Kahne, Hornish and Denny Hamlin.

Hornish is doing double duty this weekend as AJ Allmendinger's replacement, and he probably has more laps on this track than anyone else in the Nationwide Series, including a 2006 win in the Indy 500. Tomorrow's track schedule is really jammed with Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying plus the Indy 250 race for the Nationwide competitors. Today may be a big surprise for a lot of race fans at Indy who have never seen the Grand Am series run, but they will put on a helluva show and race hard in both the Continental Tire series and Rolex Series, so while I am enjoying the short track action at Lucas Oil Raceway later today, I hope everyone gets the chance to come to IMS today and watch the sports car crowd have at it. Until then here's a quick slideshow from yesterday's Nationwide Series action. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SuperWeekend at Indy On Tap

Rolex GrandAm will race Indy for the first time
It's a great week for racing in Indianapolis so I hope you get out to see some of it. While the IZOD Indycar Series has the weekend off, just about everyone else is racing around here, although you won't get to see the Camping World Truck Series here this year. The annual NASCAR pilgrimage to Indy is already underway for this year's Brickyard 400 but there have been some (much needed) changes so keep your eyes on the weekend schedule. For the first time ever, the Rolex GrandAm and Continental Tire Challenge series will bring sports car racing to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The recent open test was eye opening for many in the sports car world, and these series will put on great races this Friday, when they have the track to themselves for the whole day.

Nationwide drivers take on the big track Thursday & Saturday
The action at IMS starts on Thursday with the Nationwide Series running the oval for afternoon practice sessions before the track gets converted to road course configuration overnight for GrandAm. Unfortunately for some, this weekend will not include NASCAR racing on one of the best short tracks around:  the paved 5/8 mile at Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR) in Clermont a couple of miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The truck series run at LOR is over for the time being and when this schedule change (and the move of the Nationwide race to IMS) was announced last year, there were some hard feelings after both series races had been such a huge part of the Brickyard weekend for years.

GrandAm tested the IMS road course 
It will be very interesting to see if the shift of Nationwide racing to IMS will help bolster the weekend crowd as I'm sure IMS and NASCAR are hoping, but my money is on the GrandAm race drawing a bigger crowd than the Nationwide race, even though NASCAR has Danica Patrick returning this year for her first chance to drive a stock car at Indy after numerous starts in the Indy 500. The biggest problem with the Brickyard weekend in years past has been lack of track activity ever since the IROC support race went away, so no one will be able to complain about that this year, as the track will be full from Thursday through Sunday.

Lucas Oil Raceway will still have its share of action this week even without the trucks and Nationwide events, so when the day is over at IMS, hop on US 136 West to Clermont and check it out if you haven't gotten your fill of racing exhaust and the smell of hot tires after running concludes at the Speedway. This year, both the USAC Silver Crown and National Midget series have the LOR track to themselves on Thursday July 26th for open wheel racing under the lights. 

ARCA racing returned to Lucas Oil Raceway in 2011
The next night, Friday July 27th, the ARCA stock car racers will take to LOR for 200 laps; I have the privilege of shooting that event for ARCA following a similar assignment at Winchester recently, so check the ARCA website for photos late Friday night and early Saturday. The bad news with this assignment is I will miss the inaugural GrandAm races at IMS and I know they will put on a helluva show for sports car fans like they always do. The good news is I love ARCA racing for its bevy of future stars like Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher and numerous others who race for their futures at all kinds of tracks. Last year the ARCA darling was Ty Dillon who is doing quite well in the truck series this year. If you're a fan of short track stock car racing, you won't want to miss this ARCA event to see these young guns battle on LOR's flat track. You can tell your kids "you saw them when..."!

Paul Menard got his only Sprint Cup win at Indy in 2011
I will be covering the rest of the weekend for American Motor Journal again this year. I expect the Nationwide race on Saturday to be quite interesting with so many drivers tackling Indy's big flat corners and long straightaways for the first time. Saturday's schedule at IMS is jammed with Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying along with the Nationwide race, and starting up front is always a key at Indy as "clean air" and "aero push" are terms you will likely hear a million times Saturday and Sunday. The weekend wraps up with the big show on Sunday with the 18th running of the Brickyard 400. Who will kiss the bricks this year? And can the schedule changes overcome the last few years of controversy (tiregate, the Montoya penalty, etc.,) and shrinking attendance at IMS for this signature event? The weather forecast continues to be hotter than blazes in Indy but that's nothing new for this event weekend. I'll be spending a lot of time on the westside this weekend, so I hope you make it out too. See you at the track!

The ARCA series raced well at Lucas Oil Raceway last year; expect more of the same this year.

Can Paul Menard defend his 2011 Brickyard title?
Will Scott Pruett (Telmex Ganassi 01) get his first win at Indy?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rolex Series Tests at Indy: Prelude to Super Weekend

The GrandAm Rolex Series tested at IMS July 6, 2012
The Rolex Grand Am and Continental Tire Challenge series competitors rolled onto Indianapolis Motor Speedway today for a two-day test session amidst the hottest weather seen in Indy in 75 years. The heat did not appear to slow anyone down who needed track time as preparation for the inaugural sports car races at IMS which are scheduled for July 27th as part of the Brickyard 400 "Super Weekend". I don't know if today was the hottest day ever that cars have been on the famed oval at IMS, but it certainly was the hottest day I can recall since I began shooting at Indy in 1984. And I wasn't even wearing a triple layer Nomex firesuit like the drivers! I can't imagine what that must have felt like.

One time along the entrance to pit lane from the Grand Am paddock area, I knelt down to take a low angle photo as the cars were coming out for the afternoon practice session, and I thought I was going to leave some skin on the IMS concrete. Although I didn't blister or melt out there today, I felt like I was going to at times, and scouting for photos took equal priority with finding shade whenever the opportunity presented itself. Thankfully the media center was open and I was able to replenish my water supply and take advantage of the air conditioning during lunch.

The Rolex competitors earned their keep today and I hope the data they compile will be useful for the race at the end of the month. I will not likely be able to shoot it however, as I have a commitment to ARCA at Lucas Oil Raceway that day, so unless it rains I will be in Clermont that day rather than Speedway. Lord knows we need the rain but race weekend is still three weeks away so I was glad to be able to get out there today and work the track's road course to shoot from areas not normally used during the Indy 500 or the Brickyard 400. After all, the Rolex guys are going the "wrong way", running the Speedway's infield road course in clockwise fashion and going north on the front straightaway. It does take some getting used to.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alex Bowman Snares ARCA Win at Winchester

Alex Bowman  takes the checkers at Winchester to snag his 4th career ARCA Series win
Sunday's ARCA Series Herr's Chase the Taste 200 race at Winchester Speedway was another day for the young guns as Alex Bowman grabbed his second win of the season and fourth overall in the series. The summer heat didn't appear to slow any of the competitors down on this track which bills itself as the "World's Fastest Half Mile." Unlike the Salem race earlier this season on the circuit's other high banked half mile, this race was clean and fast with very few on track incidents. The Winchester surface is less bumpy than Salem and lends itself to two and three wide racing all around the track, whereas racers at Salem must negotiate Turns 3 & 4 in single file up against the wall. This was my first opportunity to work as a contributor to ARCA's race coverage and I look forward to my next chance to do that at Lucas Oil Raceway near the end of July.

Winchester ARCA Pole winner Chris Buescher
Bowman had a spirited duel with second place finisher Brennan Poole over the last 25 laps or so but a tire problem by Poole on the last lap doused any chance he had of knocking Bowman out of the win. Erik Jones took third ahead of pole winner Chris Buescher. Buescher was fast early but faded as he couldn't come to grips with the hot race track after starting the weekend from P1 nearly setting a lap record in qualifying. Matt Lofton brought his Strut Masters machine home fifth as eight cars finished on the lead lap in a race that seemed to be over almost as soon as it started, taking only an hour and 13 minutes to complete. The biggest challenge for the frontrunners all day was dealing with lapped traffic as a number of cars couldn't match the leaders' pace from the drop of the green flag but trundled around on the low line in a race of their own for best in class. Such is life in ARCA these days as the top third of the field is usually comprised of up and comers who you will see in a couple of years in the higher levels of stock car racing. ARCA continues to be the top series for stock car racing's future stars and is the only series to include dirt tracks, road courses and paved ovals of all sizes on its season schedule. These guys put on some of the best races you'd ever want to see at any level and the drivers are always approachable, and most events include a fan friendly autograph session. One fan told me her daughter is already signing autographs as Miss ARCA, so keep an eye out for the future trophy queens here too!

I've put in a great deal of effort the last three years to expanding my options for racing photography and I'm grateful to have the chance to work directly with the ARCA Series this weekend. It's a very family oriented organization and you can't question the love of racing those involved share once you get to know them. I've been covering ARCA on a regular basis now for almost six years and I love the fact that their races are chances to get up close and personal with the future stars of stock car racing. I know that my ARCA work for American Motor Journal, through this blog and through my website have only been small contributions to the promotion of this exciting series, but I wouldn't trade my days at an ARCA race for most any other series. You should get out soon and experience it for yourself. Until next time, here's more pix from yesterday's race at Winchester Speedway.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Richard Westbrook Leads Spirit of Daytona to Rolex Grand Am Win at Mid Ohio

Michael Valiente and Richard Westbrook Celebrate their win at  at Mid Ohio
For the second time today in races at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, a late caution flag set up a shootout finish but Richard Westbrook was up to the challenge from Scott Pruett to hold on for the Rolex Grand Am Series win in the EMCO Gears Classic. Also for the second time today, Michale Valiente was on the top step of the podium, this time as Westbrook's teammate, after also winning in the Continental Tire Challenge race earlier in the day. The EMCO Classic finish was set up by a late spin from Max Angelelli which thwarted his bid to win and opened the door for Pruett's final challenge. The Gainsco team dropped from the pole early in the race and was never really a threat today, but until Angelelli's late off, he looked like he might have something for Westbrook, but it was not to be. The GT class was also highly competitive as Turner Motorsports took the win with Paul Della Lana and Bill Auberlen doing the thrashing at the wheel. The BMW people must be happy today with a second in the DP category and the GT win.

It was an entertaining 2 hours and 45 minutes and the day has been a long one for me - up at 5:45 to hit the road and headed back to Indy this evening. I am quite happy with my work today and I went some new places that I had never shot before, and tried out some black and white settings on my cameras which I rarely do. I probably walked about 6 miles all told so it will be good to sit back and drive home here in a few. I'll have more to say and more pictures to post when I get some down time tomorrow, so for now enjoy the following slideshow.

Roush Jr. & Johnson Take Mid Ohio Continental Tire Challenge

Continental Tire Challenge Winning Mustang with Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson
In a race fraught with full course yellows, the Mustang started by Jack Roush, Jr., and finished by Billy Johnson overcame an eighth place starting position and a field of 62 cars to win at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course today in the preliminary race of the EMCO Classic. Roush and Johnson led a heated battle among the GS contestants to the checkered flag, as the final two laps were the deciding factor following a late full course caution in the final minutes. The Rum Bum Porsche piloted by Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi faded to third with overheating problems after starting on the pole. Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach took second in their Camaro. In the ST class, Michael Valiente and Chad Gilsinger won from the pole for the Honda American Race Team (HART) and were clearly the class of the field. Valiente is pulling double duty today racing in the Grand Am feature event later this afternoon in the #90 Spirit of Daytona DP machine.

The Grand AM race should be a real barn burner even though there are fewer than 12 DP cars entered this weekend. The #99 Gainsco entry wheeled by Jon Fogarty took pole position and should be hard to beat this weekend with teammate Alex Gurney. The new Corvette DP chassis has been strong so far this season and took the top five starting positions for this afternoon's sprint race which is scheduled for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Perennial favorites Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas will start from sixth today and have their work cut out for them in their Ganassi Racing Telmex BMW Riley. Twenty-six cars will take the green flag for the EMCO Gears Classic today and I'll have more on that later today. Until then here's a slide show from the Continental Tire Challenge Race.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dario Franchitti Snags 3rd Indy 500 Win

Dario Franchitti celebrates Indy 500 win #3 with Simon Pagenaud
On a day when record setting temperatures threatened to be the story at Indianapolis, Dario Franchitti held off teammate Scott Dixon and a host of others to win the Indy 500 for the third time. The race finished under caution after a hard charging Takuma Sato tried to make a move under Dario in Turn One but appeared to pinch the car and spun into the wall after the white flag had waved. That left Dario three-fourths of a lap to cruise home ahead of Dixon and Tony Kanaan who took third. It was a great effort by all of these drivers and Sato's bold move nearly paid off and you have to give him credit for making the attempt. It was the last lap of the Indy 500 after all, and Sato had been quite strong in the middle segment of the race leading numerous laps and never being far from the top five all day.

This race featured an amazing amount of passing on the front stretch, even without double file restarts this year and the lead changed hands on seemingly every lap over the last 20 laps. From my vantage point in Turn 3, I saw lots of hard clean racing all race long and no one even so much as left a smudge on the wall. The IZOD Indycar Series officials and Dallara should be quite proud of their new car creation as it showed it was very raceworthy on an oval with race speeds often near 220 mph. There was also good racing throughout the filed but several drivers had trouble with loose race cars, most likely for the first time this month. Rookie Bryan Clauson, Ana Beatriz and Ed Carpenter all had harmless spins in Turn One, and Carpenter's had the worst effect as he had charged up into fourth place and seemed poised for a late race move. Mike Conway had another scary Indy crash, this time in Turn One, and Will Power became collateral damage after hitting Conway's airborne machine with nowhere else to go. Marco Andretti also found the Turn One wall late in the race after a strong showing when he drove it too low to keep it from swapping ends. Marco led early and looked ready to challenge for his first win up until that point.

It was too bad that both the Indy 500 and Friday's Indy Lights Freedom 100 finished under yellow as both races were set for fantastic finishes. The slingshot move has become de rigeur at Indianapolis and numerous drivers used it to great effect today. Let's hope that the momentum continues onto the short ovals but it sure looks like Dario and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has fixed whatever has ailed them so far this season with a one-two sweep at Indy. A cold bottle of milk will do that for a team though, and Dario knows that as well as anyone. A great day at Indianapolis, and a fitting race to honor last year's departed champion Dan Wheldon. The race has barely been over for two hours and already I am looking forward to next year when the Indycars race at the Brickyard for the 97th time. See you then if not sooner!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Franchitti Fastest on Indy Carb Day - Guerrieri Takes Indy Lights Win

Dario Franchitti led teammate Scott Dixon in Indy's Carb Day final practice
The Target Chip Ganassi Racing boys have thrown down the gauntlet at Indy for Sunday's 96th Indianapolis 500 after setting the pace in the final one hour Carburetion Day practice session with laps in excess of 222 mph. They were the only drivers to crest that mark and with their fifth and sixth row starting positions in the middle of the pack, their progress will be exciting to watch on race day. Pole winner Ryan Briscoe was the fastest Penske in fifth just behind Takuma Sato. Marco Andretti was the pacesetter for Andretti Autosport in third with teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay in eighth and tenth respectively.

I was talking to a spotter for Townsend Bell while walking to my Turn 3 shooting location before the Carb Day runs and he said he thought race speeds would be around 213 to 215, so the big numbers put up by Dario and Scottie D surprised me somewhat. Getting through raceday traffic is always an issue and this year perhaps moreso with the impact of the larger tow from the new Dallara design still largely unknown. My February 2012 blog pick to win Indy, Helio Castroneves, lurks with the 11th fastest time from Carb Day and last year's hard luck champ JR Hildebrand rounded out the top 12. It is going to be hot and greasy so the teams are going to need all the downforce they can muster during the race to get a grip on Indy, especially in the corners. It is going to be fun to watch.

Indy Lights winner Esteban Geurrieri in Victory Lane
The Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 was a thoroughly entertaining race as another comeback story unfolded at Indy. Esteban Guerrieri won from the back of the grid with a daring charge through the field. He had a wicked crash in Turns 1 & 2 in this race last year so seeing him take a win at Indy in a race filled with overtaking and two- and three-wide racing was a real treat. An early four car crash in two brought out a red flag for a cleanup, but when the race resumed, the competition was furious as multiple drivers took turns in the lead. Pole winner Gustavo Yacaman settled into a race pace that occasionally dropped him as far back as fifth, but he was in the hunt for the win in the closing laps. Unfortunately, another accident in Turn 2 on lap 38 meant the race finished under yellow so the sun baked fans who swarmed to Carb Day for the festivities never got to see a final shootout among the Indy Lights leaders. These guys have really figured out how to race in close quarters at Indy and this was arguably the best Freedom 100 in years.

I will be back shooting in Turn 3 again Sunday for the 500, which is my 37th straight and 39th in total overall. I started out as a fan and became a photographer because of my love for this race and nothing has changed through the years to diminish that. My hair is more sparse and a lot more gray, and I don't have to worry about anything other than being ready when the action begins. See you there! Until then, here are two slideshows from my work during Carb Day.

IZOD Indycar Series Carb Day final practice

Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

96th Indy 500 Field Is Set - Carb Day is Next

Ryan Briscoe starts P1 at Indy for the first time May 27, 2012
The 96th running of the Indianapolis is now just days away and I'll bet Ryan Briscoe is on pins and needles waiting for the final practice session on Friday at Carburetion Day. Most teams have run in small packs during practice leading up to qualifications this past weekend, but Friday will be the first real opportunity to experience raceday conditions on the 2.5 mile IMS oval. I hope it is a safe practice session, especially since there were only 33 cars available to qualify this year, and the slowest two are both sporting Lotus power, more than 10 mph slower than Briscoe's pole winning pace.

Simona DiSilvestro drives for HVM
Speaking of Lotus, I feel terrible for Simona DiSilvestro and Jean Alesi. They deserve better than what has been given them for powerplants, and if not for Penske's pull with Chevy, then Sebastian Bourdais and Katherine Legge would likely have been in the same situation. The Lotus engines are woefully shy on speed and since Indycar has decided not to let them run at higher boost levels for their twin turbo engines this weekend, odds are very good that Simona and Alesi will get blackflagged early for not being able to run within 5% of the leaders speed. Simona could barely get to 214 last week and Alesi's best lap was only 210, so if race speeds are between 210 and 220 for the leaders (which is likely going to be the case with larger aero tows on race day, even with the Chevy's and Honda's dropping back to pre-qualifying turbo boost levels), then the two Lotus runners are going to be in trouble if they are running around 200.

Jean Alesi struggled with Lotus power
When did anyone think 200 mph would be slow at Indy? This year, it's not just slow, it's potentially dangerously slow. Simona deserves so much more than this after her practice session accident which burned her hands in Turn 4 last year, and Alesi will not be given a chance to really race at Indy, which I'm sure is why he came to Indy at age 47 after being away from Formula One for a few years. Racers are racers and it's just too bad that Lotus couldn't get its act together before now, and whatever gains Bourdais brought them with their lone Top 10 finish earlier this season on a road course, they have thrown them away now that Jay Penske's Dragon Racing team has fought its way into the Chevy camp this past week. Who can blame them? Not me.

Jay at IMS Turn 3 drop gate
For the first time in memory, I did not even make it to the Speedway for Bump Day this past Sunday, and anyone who knows me would surely be surprised at that. I had other commitments that day and I knew there would be no real drama with only a total of nine car-driver combinations available to make qualifying runs for the final nine open positions. The real drama was Saturday on Pole Day and there was no way I would miss that.  I have not been able to spend as much time at IMS this year due to work conflicts and what I've discovered is that I have had to take a different approach with my photography and race coverage writing. Limited time at the track has forced me to be more selective and creative in what I shoot, rather than just blasting away and I think my recent experience shooting for Associated Press at other races has helped me hone in on getting the right shot and getting it quickly. I'd like to think my work has improved as a result, but I'll leave that up to others to judge. I am hoping to do at least one other blog post following Carb Day to wrap up final preparations for this year's 500 and provide coverage of the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100. Until then, if you would like to see all of the slideshows I have posted so far, then please click here. See you in Turn 3 this weekend!