Sunday, February 26, 2012

Race Day for the 2012 Daytona 500

Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya run during final Sprint Cup practice Saturday
Greetings from the media center at Daytona International Speedway. I arrived Friday afternoon following a 997 mile drive from Indy and a stopover in Macon, Georgia Thursday night. The racing has been chaotic to say the least with the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide races turning out to be wreckfests which produced first time Daytona winner:  John King and James Buescher respectively. The biggest news was Danica Patrick's pole position for yesterday's Nationwide race but she got crashed out after only 50 laps by her teammate and she was not happy about it at all. She will make her first Sprint Cup start today. That is, if the race gets runs, as the weather forecast is ominous and sprinkles are already falling with a little more than two hours before the green flag is supposed to fly.

Honorary Starter John Cerna tackles a SPEED interview race morning
If the race gets delayed, then I am looking at a situation similar to Atlanta last Labor Day weekend, but there's nothing I can do about it. The trip here has been quite surreal:  one day I'm in Indy teaching and the next I'm in central Florida shooting the truck race. On the way down I was reminded of a trip we made to Florida when I was a kid, when Dad said we had crossed the state line and I stuck my hand out the window and refuted his statement "because it didn't feel any warmer." Friday weather was gorgeous but yesterday and today not what you would expect from Daytona, but still a far sight better than back home today.

I passed 206,000 miles on my 1999 Acura Integra on the trip down, somewhere around Horse Cave, Kentucky and will top 207K on the way back. Since I've been here, I've seen license plates from as far away as Quebec, Canada and had a wonderful conversation with another photographer from Toronto here in the media center this morning. I like driving but something has to be done about sign pollution on I-75 in Georgia! And I was surprised to see a huge rebel flag flying at a convenience store on I-75 in north Florida, but I guess that's just a reminder that I am in the deep south after all. It still seems odd to me.

I've also been shooting video on my little Canon the whole trip and will be posting a video recap once I get time back in Indy. I've made it to the beach twice, shot some good pictures (although nothing which AP needed - so far) and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be here for the second year in a row. As I posted on Twitter earlier today, we need "Big Bill" France and Tony Hulman to get together today and keep the rain away so the race can be run - and have it go the full 500 miles. I am headed north after the race is over today so I hope I don't have to be like a Grateful Dead fan asking for a miracle. Meanwhile, I'll make the best of the day and enjoy every minute. Here's a few pictures from yesterday's final Sprint Cup practice. I hope everyone has a safe day. Let the bump drafting begin and let's go racing!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Goodbye Super Bowl XLVI: Hello Daytona 500

Indy's Super Bowl XLVI Icons
The Super Bowl is over and the game wrapped up a glorious week for my hometown Indianapolis. My sights are now set on shooting NASCAR's Super Bowl:  the Daytona 500.

Since I got home from Talladega after shooting the NASCAR weekend for Associated Press last October, life has intervened. People talk about being "crazy busy" and my calendar since then probably qualifies me as just plain crazy. Pretty soon, I'll be breathing racing exhaust fumes again after a nearly four month hiatus, so we'll see what's left of my sanity then. Check back at the end of February! The 24 Hours of Daytona has now been run and won by a mere seven seconds and my first racing road trip of the season is less than three weeks away. I will get to shoot my second Daytona 500 this month and while it's a long way to drive to shoot three races, my 2011 season with Associated Press was one of my best racing photography years ever in terms of photo credits and income from motorsports work. I don't have a clue whether this season will unfold in a similar fashion but I am itching to get back on the road and shoot, see, feel, smell and hear live auto racing once again. 

While watching the Rolex 24 on TV and following all the Twitter commentary was loads of fun, it merely whetted my appetite for more up close and personal experiences of the racing variety. Full contact motorsports, if you will. Total immersion. Embedded even. When I say life has intervened since Talladega, of course there were the holidays. But I also had to finish up eight hours of coursework at Marian University in my quest to get my full time Indiana teaching license. I've also officiated about 60 youth basketball games and worked another 30 as timekeeper. And I'm a full time substitute teacher at a township middle school, so I've barely had a spare minute to keep my internet presence up to date, this blog just being the tip of the iceberg.

So why would I add a trip to the Daytona 500 into the mix? Because other than my lifelong involvement in basketball as a player, coach and official, racing photography is what I have loved to do longer than anything else. And I always bring back pictures. That's what I do. When I decided to make a career change in October 2009 to concentrate on my photography, to teach and to coach, I had no earthly idea that things would end up as they have now. Perhaps that's the real story:  this has not been an earthly pursuit but one borne of a greater and higher presence than I could muster on my own. And I have not done it by myself, as numerous people have shepherded me gently on this journey and opportunities have cropped up when I needed them the most. I couldn't be more thankful for that assistance.

When I started this blog in January 2007, I thought I'd have something to say and could maybe make a contribution as a motorsports photographer. While I sometimes wonder whether I have achieved either of those goals, I have continued to trust that this journey will follow its arcing path to greater things. When my namesake and grandfather took me to my first races at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds as a child, I could never have imagined doing all that I have done these last few years. Daytona is certainly a long, long way from that little dirt track in Warsaw, Indiana for this Hoosier, but go I must. And I hope I will see you at the track! If you can't go, then follow me on Twitter @alleygroup and I'll have more pix and stories to share as the 2012 season rolls along. Godspeed everyone!