Monday, May 27, 2013

Never Say Never: Tony Kanaan FInally Wins Indy 500

Tony Kanaan finally tastes the milk at Indy
Never say never. At long last no one can ever say that Tony Kanaan has never won the Indianapolis 500. He did it yesterday with the same style and passion that has made him a fan favorite at Indy for years. He did it with a late race pass of my pre-race pick Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart, then the racing Gods finally smiled on him as a crash brought out a final yellow flag and he cruised to the win at Indianapolis where he has led so many times but never before won. Now he's an Indy 500 champion and his image will be added to the Borg Warner trophy alongside his former teammates Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon. In a race for the ages which obliterated previous records for lead changes, the new standard of 68 lead changes may never be topped. Tony got the last one, the one that truly mattered, and I'm sure he was thinking of Danny when he pulled into Victory Lane.

Tony starts the winning pass...
After Friday's four-car photo finish in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race, I wondered how the 500 could top that in terms of drama and excitement. I should have known better, as I had seen many times during  practice days how passes were abundant on the straightaways and whoever was in the lead car was a sitting duck with the slingshotting that drivers are able to do in the current Dallara design.  The 97th Indy 500 will be remembered for fast, furious, clean wheel to wheel racing at its finest but I will remember it for other reasons.

...and completes it into Turn 1
My reasons fall into the "never" category, as in never done before. I've never had a Victory Lane pass for the 500 and it was the most chaotic and crazy winner's circle I have ever been in, with people in the way and photogs getting upset that their shots were being compromised. I've shot a lot of race victory lanes the last few years at a bunch of different racetracks but never anything like this one. I hope I get the chance to do it again.

The grid from the roof of Stand E
In all the years since shooting my first Indy 500 in 1984, I've never shot the race from on top of the Penthouse stands. I was on top of Stand E where it starts to curve around the outside of Turn 1 and only got the opportunity  because the person from motorsport.com who normally takes that position was unable to make the race this year. What a view from up there! It's too bad the field never really got aligned into the classic 11 rows of three but I had the chance of a lifetime to shoot from the rooftop and victory lane in the same 500. I've also never worked so hard to shoot the 500 and never shot pit stops from the outside grandstands. I went from the roof to ground level at the end of the frontstretch, then to the drop gates outside of Turn 1, back to the Penthouse stands, then inside the track to the top of the F1 garages, then to the roof overhang by the Pagoda, and finally to Victory Lane. After getting up at 3:30 on race morning and getting into the track at 5:00 a.m., the stairs and the walking were quite a workout, but I didn't really feel it until late last night as I was running on adrenaline and Excedrin on race day.

Kanaan races through Turn 1 ahead of pole sitter Ed Carpenter
Tony Kanaan never said never, and he got it done on an overcast and chilly day that was perfect for speed. Last week I wrote about odds on various driver's winning Indy this year, and I never mentioned Tony as he has not been topping the speed charts or generating headlines this month. He has quietly gone about his business as the consummate Indycar pro and showed everyone how to really race on Indy's flat oval. At 15-1 odds, a $10 bet on Tony would have paid off nicely, and those who aren't around Indy much will never know all the people Tony has touched with his spirit and generosity over the years, like newspaper salesman Chuck, The "Wolfman", who got one of the biggest hugs of all from TK during the kissing of the bricks after the race. This guy is special, having nearly been out of Indycars a few years ago after Andretti Autosport did not renew his contract. Tony has driven the KV Racing Technology team to the top and although we may never see another race like the one we had May 26, 2013, we can never again say  Tony didn't, or can't, win Indy.

TK's winning pit crew in action

Saturday, May 25, 2013

All Roads Lead to Speedway for the 97th Indy 500

They say that everyone loves a parade. And in Indianapolis, the day before the Indy 500, you know it's true. The 500 Festival Parade draws throngs of parade lovers and race fans to downtown Indianapolis every year and it is as much a part of the Indy 500 as the winner drinking milk in Victory Lane. For many, the parade may be their only connection to the race as it is the uber-family friendly event of a month of race themed events. There are lots of lifelong Indy residents who would never go near the Indy 500, but they will go to the parade to see the bands, floats and all the drivers who've made the race. Today Charlie Kimball was not in his designated convertible Camaro pace car but the rest of the field was there to soak up the adulation of those lining Pennsylvania and Meridian Streets, or perched on Monument Circle. It's the final hurrah before race day and signals the countdown of the last 24 hours before the green flag flies.

Monument Circle
Indianapolis has come a long, long way since my family moved here in 1968. Even though this is my 38th straight Indy 500, there are many who have longer consecutive strings than I do, and a big theme this year is "all roads lead to Speedway". This is certainly the case for people like me who wait 364 days a year for race day and struggle through Indiana winters asking complete strangers "Is it May yet?" No longer is Indy just a cornfield with a racetrack around it, although it is not exactly a cultural mecca either. It's a big, small town full of sports lovers of all sorts where you can get anywhere in about 30 minutes by car. I met an Australian journalist on Carb Day who hadn't been to the 500 in about 25 years, so I am anxious to hear his impressions of the City I call home and the race that brings this town to life. Gone are the superstitions about racing green cars and the prohibition against women in the pits and garage area. Thank God for that! Indy has been built on the reputation of the 500 and in just three years, the 100th running should be a monumental day in this city's history.

Ed Carpenter - a Butler Bulldog
I don't know how the drivers privately feel about all the hoopla which surrounds the Indy 500 but their public statements suggest that they do more than just tolerate it. The biggest cheers today during the parade went up for Ed Carpenter and most of the drivers seemed to genuinely enjoy the fans hooting, hollering and shouting out their names along the parade route. I grew up a block from Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs and where scenes from the best basketball movie ever made (Hoosiers) were filmed, so it's not surprising that local fans are getting behind Ed to win Sunday. And like the Hickory Huskers who won the state title for all the little that never had a chance, Ed has a chance to do the same on race day with his own one-car team taking on the goliaths of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. If Ed were to win Indy, and if the Pacers can beat the Miami Heat again on Sunday night at their Banker's Life Fieldhouse home downtown, then Indy may come apart at the seams.

A "Pacers and Racers" weekend in Indianapolis hasn't happened in a long time so this one really has sports fans in Indy excited. Lots of "Beat the Heat" signs were on display at the parade today and race day weather is predicted to be cool and overcast, which means the day should be comfortable for everyone visiting 16th and Georgetown in the Town of Speedway. I know I'm ready to go to work for motorsport.com. I'll be headed into the track on race day before the public gates open at 5:30 in the morning, and the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will then be just a few hours away. Are you ready for race day?

James Hinchcliffe burns rubber leaving the pits on Carb Day in his bright green GoDaddy colors

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Indy 500 By The Numbers

Polesitter Ed Carpenter is one favorite to win the 500
My full time job is teaching math and science to middle schoolers so I'm a numbers guy. The Indianapolis 500 has been contested 96 times already so the event is full of numbers to play with so I thought I would take a spin of my own through this year's race figures just for kicks. Although I play the lottery occasionally, I am not a gambler but I wondered who the oddsmakers in Las Vegas had instilled as the favorite this year. according to Linemakers, this year's pole winner Ed Carpenter, three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon, have been tabbed at 7-1 odds. Another three-time winner and the defending Indy 500 champion, Dario Franchitti, is next up at 8-1. Interestingly, Dario and teammate Dixon start next to each other on Row 6. James Hinchcliffe is also at 8-1 and he has won twice already this season in the IZOD Indycar Series, and been a stalwart in the Andretti Autosport onslaught on top practice speeds this past week. Hinchtown's teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, my pre-practice pick to win this year, is at 10-1 while another Andretti racer, rookie sensation Carlos Munoz, is at 20-1. Even though I wrote earlier this month that Ed Carpenter should be considered a darkhorse candidate, this may no longer be true since he has won twice on ovals in Indycars, and now he gets to start from P1 at the track owned by his relatives. If car numbers mean anything, the last driver to win with #20 was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 in his legendary duel with Al Unser, Jr., so Ed would be in good company were he to follow in Emmo's wheel tracks.

A. J. Allmendinger has support to win Indy
Oddly enough A. J. Allmendinger is posted at 12-1 along with Penske Racing teammate Will Power even though the Dinger has never run the 500 before. Chalk that up to the strength of the Penske team and A. J.'s prowess in Champ Car a few years back. The pride of Japan, Takuma Sato, is listed at 30-1 but I would put five bucks on him in a heartbeat since he came so close to winning last year and won an Indycar race this season at long last. Sato's teammate, rookie Conor Daly, is only given a 300-1 chance of winning from the last row but rest assured that race fans in Noblesville, Indiana and Heritage Christian High School would be willing to take those odds and blow a few dollars to show their support. Needless to say, the top drivers with the top teams are being touted as potential winners this year, but the 500 usually has its share of surprises in store. 

My pick to win:  Ryan Hunter-Reay
Lots of other numbers factor into this year's race. There are four previous winners and four women starters. Dario won in #10 in 2010. The most experienced and oldest driver is Buddy Lazier at 45 years of age with 16 Indy 500's under his belt, although he starts next to Daly in Row 11, and isn't likely to do much on race day. Carols Munoz is the youngest at 21 and hopes to follow the example of fellow Columbian Roberto Guerrero challenged for an Indy as a rookie in 1984. Eighteen drivers, including Munoz,  have experience in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, so the Road to Indy feeder system must be judged a success on that basis. Seventeen drivers in the field have led laps at Indy previously, and Dario has led more than anyone who is starting the race this Sunday. The lowest starting position ever to produce a 500 winner is 28th, and you have to go back to Louis Meyer in 1936 and Ray Harroun in the inaugural 500 in 1911 to find them. When Lone Star Johnny Rutherford won the 1974 race, he had started 25th but since then 30 of 38 winners have started in 10th or better. J. R. Hildebrand starts 10th this year and was one turn away from winning as a rookie in 2011 when the late Dan Wheldon got his second Indy win in car #98. Starting next to Hildebrand? Alex Tagliani in Car #98. Don't count Tags out, even at 50-1 odds. There's another five bucks that would be well spent.

If these numbers don't make your head spin, then try these: as I recall, the teams ran over 11,000 laps (27,500 miles) in the nine days of track activity, which is more than enough to make a lap around the earth at the equator (24,859.82 miles), or for every car in the field to run the full 500 miles 1.67 times. My camera counters were spinning too as I shot 4,490 images (that I kept), and that's with a schedule that only allowed me to be at the track full time on four out of the nine days. If you add up all the car numbers for the 33 starters, the total is 1,028, so the average car number is 31.15152. While there is no car #31 in this year's race, all the cars in Row 11 end in the number 1 - (41, 91, 81), and the last driver to win in #31 was Al Unser, Jr. in 1994. The third row car numbers add up to 31 and it includes three of the odds-on favorites:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. Finally, in Row 6, the car numbers add up to 33, there are 33 cars in the field, and 3 + 3 equals 6. This row features Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato, so watch out for these guys!

The most important number is that the 97th Indianapolis 500, which used to also carry the moniker of an "International Sweepstakes", is now just a little more than three days away. It will my 38th in a row and I can hardly wait to see you all at 16th & Georgetown!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Week at the Indy 500 Lasts a LIfetime

Katherine Legge is happy to be back in the 500
What a week this has been. Nine days of preparation for the 97th Indianapolis 500 are now over and I feel it in my bones. Bump Day wrapped up qualifying today with zero drama after Saturday's rain delayed Pole Day shootout. Other than Ed Carpenter, Katherine Legge is probably the happiest driver in the 500 as she jumped in a car this morning, got it up to speed, qualified on the bubble as 33rd fastest and never had to deal with a serious challenge from the only other car/driver combination, Michel Jourdain, Jr. I felt bad for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team which thrashed all day to find speed for Jourdain but he just kept going slower and slower the later it got today. And that was even after teammate Graham Rahal took the car out for a few laps in the middle of the afternoon to try and help sort it out. Neither driver looked comfortable in the 17 car at all. I hate that there was no bumping today once the field got filled around 1:00 p.m., but most of the qualified teams took advantage of the track time, spending most of the day running race trim in traffic and emerging with their equipment intact. Carburetion Day this Friday will likely be just a quick shakedown for most teams.

Pole Winner Ed Carpenter leads a pack into Turn 1
I wish I knew how many miles I walked this week at the Speedway as I was able to be there eight out of the nine days the track was open. Every year I talk about wearing a pedometer but it never seems to come to mind when I'm getting my stuff together for the track and this year was no different. With the warmer weather the last few days, it's a challenge to stay hydrated while lugging a few extra pounds of camera gear around. Today I had a special treat as I borrowed a 400 mm lens from Canon and went to shoot in Turn 1 while all the top teams were in race preparation mode. The down side of schlepping that 400 around was it was damn heavy but the opportunity was too good to pass up. Traipsing up and down the pit lane to get driver shots is one of the most enjoyable parts of working Indy but also one of the most tiring. Hot, loud, smelly - wait a minute; it's perfect! All the sensory stimulation anyone could want for people who love that sort of thing. And I do.

Indy's Infield Hawk
Another aspect of walking so much at Indy that may not occur to casual fans is the nuances of the track. Yesterday as I was going back to my car to swap out some gear, I noticed something in one of the last remaining large trees in the infield. From prior experience I knew that was a large redtail hawk nests in that tree so I got my longest lens and took a break from the race cars to shoot some wildlife - and I don't mean in the snakepit. The hawk waited there for me to get close and kept a keen watch on me as I circled the tree and took pictures. Race fans walking by probably wondered what the heck I was doing, but I did hear someone say "Look, there's a bald eagle". I cut them some slack for not knowing their birds and went about getting shots of this beautiful creature. I've seen this bird, or a family member, numerous times on race day circling the crowd high above the track so it was a real blessing to be able to take its picture while it was guarding its nest. I have a special affinity for hawks - and I believe they do for me as well. I see them all the time while traveling, there's a pair that lives at the cemetery in Muncie, Indiana where my sister Carol is buried that I see almost every time I go pay my respects, and whenever I see one I know everything is going to work out the way it's supposed to. I use one of my hawk photo on my website and business cards, and have a hawk based on that photo tattooed on my left shoulder. Lo and behold, at the end of Bump Day today as I stood on the 2nd floor balcony of the media center, there he was, circling high overhead in the middle of the track, white belly exposed as it lorded over its territory. Seeing it today was no accident.

And I suppose it was no accident either that a group of total newcomers from Manassas, Virginia struck up a conversation with me about 5:00 this afternoon as I shot from the rooftop platform seating area above the formula one garages. They were college students and teachers in Indy for a robotics competition at IUPUI, and they literally knew nothing about the track or the 500. One young man asked why they were called Indycars; another asked how qualifying worked and what the teams were doing running so many laps at that hour. I got the chance to explain the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again, just as I had on Friday to my middle schools students, and explained how the video displays showed current lap times for cars on track and what the numbers on the main scoring pylon meant. It was a fitting way to end another memorable week at IMS, and now I have a few thousand more digital images to add to my archives, and more memories which will last a lifetime.

The best is yet to come. Next Sunday at this time I will be recapping the 500 itself, carving more indelible scenes into my brain and contributing photos to the great story which is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You have to come see for yourself; I promise it will be worth it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ed Carpenter On Top After Indy's Longest Pole Day

Ed Carpenter and team members celebrate an Indy Pole win
The longest Pole Day in Indianapolis 500 history ended after 7:15 p.m. tonight with a sprint car guy and Butler Bulldog taking the first qualifying spot after the Fast 9 shootout:  Ed Carpenter! Now rain on the first day of qualifications at Indy is not new, as it has happened many times before. What was new was the early decision by Indycar to let the normal qualifying process play out all the way to the scheduled 6:00 p.m. closing time and then run the Fast 9 starting at 6:30. I don't ever remember the Speedway running after 6:00 and it was well worth the wait for local fans who genuinely rooted Ed  and his "little team that could" on. I said earlier this week Ed could be a darkhorse this May but thought sure Will Power would close the deal as the final Fast 9 Qualifier. Even though two Andretti Autosport drivers took the other two front row starting positions with Carlos Munoz second and Marco Andretti third, Ed taking P1 was a huge victory for the little guy.

I had an extremely long day and as I suspected in my last blog post, my Indy 500 OCD behavior took over early. I left home on Indy's northeast side at 5:45 a.m. and was one of the first people to set up in the media center a little after 6:00. I was hoping to get a sunrise shot over the Pagoda tower but it was heavily overcast and it didn't seem like there was any way the morning practice would start at 8:00 as scheduled after the rain we got last night. But it did so I headed out on pit road and then down to the end of the front stretch where the cars turn into the first corner to shoot. About halfway through the session, I walked back to the media center and took my gear to Canon to get a suspected problem looked at, but thankfully it turned out to be operator error and my equipment checked out fine. Can't say the same about the operator however, as sometimes my 7D seems to do things on its own which still bewitch me even after owning it for three years and shooting tens of thousands of images.

Speaking of which, the counters on both my main camera bodies rolled over again this week, so there's another 10,000 images captured. Ironically, my 7D rolled over just as the pole winning celebration for Ed Carpenter was getting started when it became apparent that Will Power was not going to be quick enough, so editing was a snap since those images started at 0001. I didn't even leave the media center until after 8:15 p.m. and still had to get dinner, write this post and finish another file transfer from the Fast 9 session.

Rain, rain go away!
I'm not complaining. I'm just going on adrenaline now, still hearing the track's public address system announcers in my ears along with the turbocharged engine sounds from the canyon which is Indy's front stretch. I am getting a little sick of the rain so far this racing season. It rained almost the whole drive to Salem Speedway for the ARCA race at the end of April. Then I went to Talladega to shoot the NASCAR races the first weekend in May and both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races had lengthy rain delays, not to mention all the rain I drove through to get there. My photog friends already give me hell about bringing rain with me at every race I shoot after I got drenched at Mid Ohio a couple of years ago and almost ruined my camera gear, so enough already with the "moisture"!

My lady friend alternately calls me a "madman" and the "Energizer Bunny". Bump Day will be more of the same on Sunday. And we will actually have at least one car bumped now that Katherine Legge has been confirmed. This wasn't quite the 24 Hours of Indianapolis today, but it sure feels like it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Center of the Racing Universe

I will turn 56 in two weeks and my life has revolved around May at the Indianapolis 500 for nearly two-thirds of my life. My lady friend refers to May as the "Month of Jay". I get tunnel vision every year and go all OCD about the 500. Her and I almost didn't make it past that first May together as I either disappeared to the track or spent hours at the computer working on photos. A college friend from the University of Chicago used to say "You're such a f-king Hoosier" in his Bronx accent, and I'm about as Hoosier as it gets every May. When my family moved to Indy in 1968, the die was cast.

With this being my 26th year as a credentialed photographer at Indy, I am moved to reflect. The Speedway has given me so many awesome experiences and created great memories that I wouldn't even know where to start to recap them. By the numbers, I've been to every 500 since 1976. If you put all the days together that I've spent at the track, it would be like spending every single day at IMS for about 14 months. Lord knows how many images I have created throughout the years. Since I went full digital in 2006, those numbers have expanded exponentially. The past six days alone, I've probably shot more than 3000 frames between my two camera bodies. Of those, I have uploaded 398 images to www.motorsport.com for its Indy 500 coverage. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to what lies ahead - two days of qualifying this weekend, final practice and the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race on Carburetion Day next Friday, possibly the 500 Festival Parade next Saturday and then race day itself May 26th.

Today was the first day this May that track activity was cut short by weather, or "moisture" as they like to say on the track's public address system. With my teaching schedule, the "moisture" hit, replete with thunder and lightning, just as I was leaving school this afternoon to go to the track so my cameras got the day off and I got some time to catch up on other things which have fallen by the wayside this week.

If you get me started talking about the Indy 500 and Indycar racing, I could go on for hours and never grow weary of it. One of my 8th grade students asked me today "Why is the Indianapolis 500 here?" His question sent me off on a gleeful monologue about Carl Fisher and the founders, the Indianapolis automotive industry of a hundred years ago, Ray Harroun and the first 500, and for a few minutes I forgot all about the math lesson I was supposed to be teaching. The goosebumps were standing tall on my arms as I spoke and  climbing down off my soapbox to teach again was a challenge but I managed to keep my OCD Indy 500 behavior to the bare minimum for one afternoon.

On Pole Day that behavior will be in full force and I am so grateful to have meaningful work at a racetrack which many - including myself - regard as hallowed ground. So get with the diehards and pray for some Tony Hulman weather this weekend. I'll be at the track regardless as the best is yet to come.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rookie Carlos Munoz Back on Top At Indy 500 Practice

Carlos Munoz at speed
The Andretti Autosport onslaught continued today during Day 6 of Indy 500 practice as rookie Carlos Munoz ran the fastest lap of the month at 225.163 and teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti were close behind. Another rookie also made news at Indy today as Conor Daly found the SAFER barrier in Turn 1 and almost got upside down in his AJ Foyt Enterprises Dallara the first wall-banger of the month. Someone always has to be the first to hit the wall at Indy but I hate that it was Conor.

Conor Daly
After five clean days of practice, I joked with a friend that I had jinxed everyone by writing yesterday about how there had been no incidents so far this week. I saw Conor walking out of teammate Takuma Sato's pit when practice closed at 6:00 p.m. and asked him what happened. He simply said "I don't know; we're trying to figure that out." I then asked him if he was OK and he said he was. While he seemed a little down, which is to be expected after crashing, but he still smiled when I took his picture. There's an old racing saying that there are drivers who have hit the wall and those who are going to hit the wall, so now CD knows what that's like at Indy. It's certainly not the first time Conor has crashed a race car in spectacular fashion - last year he almost cleared the catch fencing at Monte Carlo in a GP support race - but hitting the wall at Indy at 220 is something different entirely. It's a tough break for a tough kid and I'm sure Larry Foyt will have him back on track tomorrow going through the whole process of working up to speed again. This setback may prevent Conor from being a Pole Day qualifier, but it won't keep him down for long.

Buddy Lazier got on track in his familiar #91
A full field of 33 cars is now assured as the 33rd car finally got on the track today as 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier got his Halloween colored car out after some hiccups in the pit lane kept him stationary until after 5:00. A quick shakedown of three laps and Lazier parked it for the day amidst a lot of fan interest along pit road. Lazier won Indy with a broken back in '96 and has always been a fan favorite, having run for Ron Hemelgarn for years. But he hasn't run the 500 since 2008 so he has a learning curve to deal with and a year old car underneath him. Unless Ed Carpenter or Sam Schmidt rolls out their other cars for someone with a suitcase full of cash, Buddy is assured a starting spot in the race so it will be nice to see how his little team fares over these last three days of practice and qualifying. He would be the oldest driver in this year's 500 so I hope he can get up to speed and run competitively.

Graham Rahal
I couldn't get away from my teaching job until late today so I only got to the track for the last hour of practice but even then it was interesting to see who was doing what. I chose to concentrate on activity along pit lane and there was plenty. I overheard Graham Rahal say his #15 car was starting to respond to changes so even though they have been struggling for speed so far, he sounded optimistic. And then there was AJ Allmendinger, riding the tow cart out with his crew after practice, grousing about someone giving him a chop job on track who he almost ran over, so Fast Friday is shaping up to be very intriguing. With more turbo boost available, will the Honda or Chevy teams benefit more? And who will come to terms the quickest with the handling changes needed to cope with the additional speed the higher boost will provide? And where are the Penske boys? Lurking, I assure you. Are they just sandbagging? We shall see. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dario Franchitti Surges to Top at Indy Practice

Dario Franchitti leads Carlos Munoz & Takuma Sato through Turn 3
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti finally made some noise today on Day Five of practice by snagging the top spot on the speed chart and outdueling the Andretti Autosport brigade. Dario was the first non-Andretti driver to finish with quick time at the end of a practice day this week, and there's more to come this weekend as the teams will be allotted more turbo boost on Fast Friday in preparation for Saturday's first day of qualifying. You just knew that the Target Chip Ganassi team would be heard from sooner or later and Dario now jumps into the discussion as a possible pole position candidate.

Warm winds whipped IMS again today
Thirty-two cars hit the track today and logged 2,165 laps as warm blustery weather continued to grace the Speedway. Rarely have we had so many consecutive dry days and the teams made the most of it, especially during happy hour from 5:00 p.m. to the 6:00 p.m. checkered flag when as many as 13 cars ran in a huge pack and put on quite a show. This is what practice at Indianapolis is supposed to be like. Indy 500 specialist and NBC Sports Network Indycar commentator Townsend Bell was second quick while the first Penske runner, Helio Castroneves, was third. Defending IZOD Indycar Series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay was the quickest Andretti ace at fourth quick and former Penske driver and 2012 Indy pole winner Ryan Briscoe (Now with Ganassi) soared into fifth from nowhere. But then he's highly motivated to prove he deserves a full time Indycar ride and Ganassi must be bristling with frustration after the team's four straight quiet days at Indy.

Derek Daly
Rookie Conor Daly continues his kid-in-a-candy-store adventure with AJ Foyt's team and turned the most laps today (126) while father Derek tuned in on the team radio. Conor wasn't anywhere near the top 10 in speeds today, but he gained lots of experience running in traffic and didn't do anything wrong either. Not only has the weather this week been rare, but so has the lack of a single spin or incident, especially considering how many laps have been run. In Turn 3 late today, I saw a couple of instances where drivers weren't on the preferred line but nothing that looked like anyone was getting in trouble. Only fellow rookie Carlos Munoz seemed to dare to go below the white line through the corner which probably meant his car was pushing and he needed to duck below the traffic jam to get the nose wings to work so the car would turn. It may also explain why he was only 10th quick today as the learning curve continues for the first year drivers. The field right now is incredibly close with roughly 0.8 seconds separating first and 30th, so Saturday should be a real dogfight in qualifying and milliseconds will be the difference in the Fast Nine.

Colts QB Andrew Luck
In theater they talk about smelling the greasepaint, and walking through pit lane today in my short stint at the track, I had a real sense of the same sort of thing at Indy. Drivers were peeling out of their pits and burning rubber, leaving behind clouds of racing rubber smoke that you just have to love. Thanks to a tip from a friend, I found Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the pits with several buddies and you could tell he was eating it up. He got escorted out to the area between the center retaining walls which separates the pits and racing surface and was grinning from ear to ear as cars raced past just inches away. Luck knows a little something about drama and theater having led the Colts to numerous comeback wins his rookie season, so I'm sure having the chance to experience the biggest stage in racing up close and personal was a real thrill for him and his friends. Please don't let him get in a race car however!

I am really looking forward to Pole Day on Saturday and expect more drama to unfold now that the mid-point of the preparation week has passed. While the crowds aren't coming out like they used to for the first day of qualifying, it's a day in racing that's still hard to beat. Nowhere else does a driver have to run four precise laps to post a qualifying time. Sixteen corners to screw up. Ten miles in about 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Three chances per car per day. Tension for Indycar's Big Three - Andretti Autosport, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Penske- that mounts as the day goes on, accepting nothing but the best from their teams. And it's only 20 bucks to get in for the day with practice starting at 8:00 in the morning. You gotta be there!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hinchtown Annexes Speedway - Andretti Autosport Still Indy 500 Pacesetter

The Mayor of Hinchtown Ruled in Speedway today
It was James Hinchcliffe's turn today at Andretti Autosport to set quick time at Indianapolis on a warm and blustery day where wind gusts out of the southwest of up to 23 mph made any earnest attempts at speed seemed ill advised. In his rookie year The Mayor of Hinchtown hit the wall in Turn 3 but has rarely put a wheel wrong at Indianapolis since then, starting on the front row last year. We could see an all-Andretti front row this year, something only Roger Penske's team has been able to do in the past. Due to the windy conditions, most teams settled on lapping in groups to find a race pace with the influence of turbulence caused by traffic. It was not unusual to see eight or nine cars running together today so everyone should have a pretty good idea how their cars will behave if race day is hot and windy.

Oriol Servia gets relief from the sun in the pits
As so often happens at Indy, practice week starts off cool and the temperatures rise throughout the month.  Today was the first day where teams were using umbrellas to shade the drivers waiting in pit lane for adjustments to be made, so the heat is on. But there's an old saying in Indiana that "if you don't like the weather, then wait five minutes and it will change." This is usually true in the spring but not so far this month of May. Four consecutive dry days have enabled the teams to run a tremendous number of laps at the Speedway. The groove was really black in Turn 3 this afternoon after 2226 laps were run today. Teams ran 1733 laps yesterday so barring a significant rain event, more of the same can be expected the rest of this week leading up to Pole Day on Saturday. At some point soon, teams with a desire to win the pole, or at least get into the Fast Nine session at the end of Pole Day, will have to start making single car runs and peeling downforce off the cars.

While Andretti's drivers take turns putting on a show and setting fast times, they are not doing the most work so far other than rookie Carlos Munoz who ran 172 laps on Monday. Marco Andretti ran 117 laps with his fast lap of 225.001 on Monday, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay with 108 laps, Hinchcliffe 92, and EJ Viso a dawdling 85. In the process, Andretti drivers took five of the top 11 places on the speed chart Monday. The story is much the same today but with a twist:  Hinch ran only 26 laps today to set his fast time and Andretti's team cars occupied five of the top eight spots on speed today. Not only could Andretti drivers sweep the front row, they could essentially blockade the Fast Nine which would come as quite a shock to the Penske and Ganassi teams. I've never been a big Andretti fan but I really enjoy Hinchcliffe's antics and he has had some big shoes to fill, taking the seat which was intended for the late Dan Wheldon and doing great things on the track with race wins and off the track for sponsor GoDaddy with memorable promotions. 

The need for speed is satisfied at Indy
I will be a short timer at IMS again tomorrow afternoon but it's amazing how much one can shoot in only a couple of hours at the Speedway. The facility is so large that it's almost impossible to try to cover the whole racetrack in one day, so I have been going out with specific objectives in mind the last two afternoons once my teaching duties were fulfilled. I always try to chase the favorable lighting and today I went for some speed shots to try something a little different. Some photogs would call this artsy-fartsy but there's only so many ways to shoot these cars without them looking like they are parked on the track. At any rate, I had fun again today and I have resisted the urge to wear earplugs so I can absorb the sweet scream of the Honda and Chevy turbos. I even recorded some digital sound on my handheld voice recorder too so I can have a listen next winter when the racing doldrums kick in. Call me crazy if you want but I don't care as long as you call me when it's time to go racing.

I'm lucky because I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Marco Andretti Leads Indy 500 Practice Day 3

Marco Andretti leads teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay in Turn 3 
Andretti Autosport drivers continue to show the fast way around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and today it was Marco Andretti's turn. With 32 cars hitting the track today on a beautiful spring day which was decidedly warmer than Sunday, the groove is really starting to blacken in the corners now as more laps are run and Firestone rubber gets laid down. With no rain of any significance since the track opened on Saturday, the upward climb in speed is likely to continue. But rain is forecast later in the week so the track could get washed clean and don't let any of the current top speeds fool you as they are all being run in the draft as single car runs were not the order of the day to go fast.

Conor Daly
Possibly the happiest driver at the Speedway today was Conor Daly who was clearly a kid in the world's biggest candy store today, getting to turn his first laps for AJ Foyt's team at a track he surely dreamed of racing at as a kid. Proud Papa Derek Daly, a former Indycar and Formula One driver himself, was on hand to watch Conor pass his rookie test today so the door is open for CD to make his mark as an Indy 500 driver this month. I got to the track this afternoon just as he was coming out to finish the last phase of his rookie orientation, having completed the first two phases at a special 10:00 a.m. slot this morning when no one else was allowed on the track. I've watched Conor come up through the ranks and when he won a Star Mazda race in dominant fashion at Lucas Oil Raceway a couple of years ago in the Night Before the 500 event, it seemed like half the town of Noblesville, Indiana was in Victory Lane to help him celebrate. Expect more of the same this month regardless of his results.

Tristan Vautier sports a new paint job
Other changes today included a new paint scheme for Tristan Vautier, his #55 machine bedecked in Lucas Oil white now. Townsend Bell hit the track for the first time and got quickly over 221 in only 12 laps, showing his mettle as an Indy specialist. Pippa Mann was also out and essentially every driver entered has now seen some track time on a perfect day for practice.

Sebastian Saavedra of Dragon Racing
If you have not seen the cars of Sebastian Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra, they bear perhaps the most striking paint schemes. Bourdais' #7 is a bright chrome color and Saavedra's #6 is a bluish chrome which  reminded me of the paint scheme of fellow Columbian Roberto Guerrero when he was racing Indycars in the True Value colors back in the 1980's.

Most of what I shot today was on the north end of the Speedway in the Turns 3 & 4 area where the lighting is absolutely perfect, with over-the-shoulder, low angle sunlight bathing the cars in brilliance while casting long shadows toward the inside of the track. Reflections off the driver's visors add highlights and it is by far my favorite place and time to shoot at Indy, from about 4:30 in the afternoon until the 6:00 gun ends practice. I don't often get to do it, but with teaching taking up the bulk of my days this week, it's the best I can hope for. A couple of laps up and down the pit lane to see who's out, then a swing through the garage area, and a hike to the north end are all that time allows on days like today, but the superb lighting makes it all worthwhile. I hope to catch more of the same during Happy Hours the rest of this week.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Indy 500 Practice Day 2 - Andretti Drivers Showcase

Andretti Autosport Teammates EJ Viso (5) and Carlos Munoz head into Turn 1
While rookie Carlos Munoz was fastest on the day today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he also learned some rookie lessons. I would also bet that there were some interesting team discussions this evening following practice which built on those I overheard on pit lane among Andretti Autosport drivers and team owner Michael Andretti. It was an Andretti show today as not much happened on track for most of the day which was quite cool and windy, even though track temperatures were never an issue. Quite a few teams did shakedown runs today but shortly after 4:00, all five of the Andretti team cars took the track together for practice drafting and running in traffic.

James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and EJ Viso discuss practice
Therein lies the rub as apparently young Munoz made a dive bomb move into Turn 1 which almost put him in the grass and could have ended up with disastrous consequences for the team. The IMS public address system announcers noted the move and the conversations got started pretty quickly in the Andretti pit on the next yellow flag when everyone came in. Munoz set his fast time in the tow from his four teammates and as I suggested in my last blog post, rookies at Indy must be careful when things come too easy too fast. I'm sure the team will make this a learning situation for Carlos and you know he needs experience running in traffic so thankfully no harm was done on the racetrack. The Andretti team clearly was flexing its muscles today and put on quite a show for the fans late in the day and should be able to build on this heading into the next five days of practice.

Larry Foyt
Now the grind begins. Monday through Friday from noon to 6:00 p.m. every day, teams will be trying to find speed to assure themselves of being Pole Day qualifiers. The first person on the track Monday however will probably be another rookie, Conor Daly, for AJ Foyt's team, as Conor is on his way back from European racing commitments and the team has been told they should be ready to run his rookie program starting around 9:00 a.m Monday morning. Larry Foyt has done a masterful job of pulling the Foyt Enterprises team together and has put Takuma Sato in the IZOD Indycar Series points lead as a result. Daly will certainly benefit from the team's success so far this season and as the last of four rookies entered in this year's 500, getting his rookie test out of the way early clears the decks for all the teams to attack this week's practice sessions on equal footing.

Kids and race cars at Indy
There's something about Indy which continues to draw families to the track despite the relative lack of interest in Indycar from the racing world as a whole. Indycar competition has arguably never been closer and the sight of little kids playing with their toy Indycars behind the pits gives me hope for the future of Indycar. These are the future fans of the sport and it reminds me of how young I was when my grandpa started taking me to the racetrack. Credit or blame him as you will, but I was bitten then and hope that more people bring their youngsters to IMS so they can catch the racing bug too. Indy is hallowed ground as far as I'm concerned and it's a huge reason I write about and photograph motorsports. And the best part is that tomorrow I get to do it all over again once my day as a middle school math teacher is done. I can't wait.


Ed Carpenter Leads Opening Day Practice at Indianapolis

Helio Castroneves was first on the track on Opening Day at Indy in AJ Allmendinger's car
Other than a 15 minute delay for "moisture" on the track - Indy's euphemism for rain - Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway went off without a hitch. Chalk one up for the little guys as Ed Carpenter was fastest on the day. The traditional race to be the first car on the track was won by Helio Castroneves in A. J. Allmendinger's car but when Helio brought the car back to the pits after one lap lap with the engine bay smoking, you could see the looks of concern on the faces of Dinger and the Captain. Things like that are not supposed to happen to Indy's juggernaut Team Penske; turned out it was just a loose oil line fitting so no harm was done to the Chevy engine. After Helio shook the car down, A.J. went out later and passed all phases of his rookie test in about an hour and 20 minutes and seemed quite happy with his first day at Indy in the post-practice press conference.

The first day of practice at IMS is a rite of passage for spring in Indianapolis and yesterday was no different, as I saw lots of friends at the track in what has become a sort of annual reunion of people from all over. I even had a stranger come up to me and say "Hey, aren't you Indiana-ville? I read your blog!" That was a first and of course my photog friends had to give me grief over that when one of them said "So HE's the one!" as if only one person ever reads my blog posts. I had it coming to me though as I got to the track and realized I had taken my car reader out of my computer bag after my Talladega trip last weekend and had to borrow one from that same photog in order to download my pictures from the day. I'd be worried though if they weren't blowing me a bunch of crap so it just gets added to the goofy racetrack stories that I accumulate.

Helio supported Allmendinger during AJ's rookie orientation
One of the great things about Indycar racing is the teamwork and it was in evidence Saturday. All bets are off come race day but with the entry list now at 35 cars, there is the prospect of bumping and the rewards for winning the pole are significant in terms of publicity and prizes. Starting up front is also at a premium as I believe the lowest starting position for an Indy 500 winner is 28th so if you are outside the first nine rows, you have little chance of winning. So teamwork at the start of the month is key and Helio was on the radio with Allmendiger as AJ worked through the phases of his rookie test.

Hinchtown & Munoz worked closely Saturday
Teamwork was also evident at Andretti Autosport as James Hinchcliffe was in the ear of Carlos Munoz every time he came off the track, offering advice and support for the most impressive rookie on the day. Allmendinger's speed is no surprise with his wealth of open wheel experience in Champ Car, but Munoz could be the surprise of the race this year if his opening day results are any indication of things to come. It was nice to hear Munoz pay homage to his countryman Juan Pablo Montoya who won as a rookie in his only Indy 500 so clearly Carlos has motivation to repeat that feat and with the back of the 2013 season's strongest team so far, it is not outside the realm of possibility for him to start up front and challenge for an Indy win on May 26th. So much can happen between now and now so his biggest challenge may be complacency as it has come awfully easy so far and Indy is known to be a strict taskmaster for those who get lulled into a false sense of security.

Ed Carpenter
The happiest guy on the day must be Ed Carpenter although you wouldn't know it from his comments during the post-practice press conference. Ed has grown up at Indy and has now won two oval races in his Indycar career so he has to be considered a contender to win but he still feels the sting of poor performances here in years past, especially last year. People may not remember that Ed won the first Freedom 100 Indy Lights race here at the Speedway so he definitely knows the fast way around here. It would be a momentous occasion for his team and for the Hulman George family if Ed were to roll into Victory Lane and splash the milk on everyone to show that he has truly arrived as an Indycar driver. He has not always had a lot of support from fans and been derided in some circles for his family heritage but his racing prowess on ovals cannot be questioned so I look for him to continue to show speed and start near the front on race day.

Today is the second day of practice, and it is Mother's Day. Skies are clear of any rain chance today so I won't get hit with the "regenmeister" tag as so far this season, rain seems to go where I go racing:  two weeks ago at Salem, then last weekend at Talladega. I had a similar year in 2007 when it seemed like every race I worked had a rain delay. Today that will not be an issue but it is chilly so track temperature and generating heat in these Firestone tires might be a problem. As always at Indy people are looking at the forecasts for the week and it is going to warm up by Pole Day this coming Saturday but the chances of rain also increase as the week goes on. Today most teams should hit the track, complete their shakedown runs, and then start peeling off the downforce to find speed. To be fast at Indy you have to run on the knife's edge and these cars rarely get loose anymore but if you go over that edge, a snap loose condition is the last thing a driver wants going into Turn 1 or Turn 3. It usually doesn't end well.

I will call Mom from the track today so she can hear the roar of the cars as I have done for many years. She's used to me being here at IMS on Mother's Day and although she hasn't been feeling well lately, I'm still hoping she can make it back to Indy for the race from her home in Akron, Ohio. Not many little old white haired ladies dare brave this place at 78 years of age, but she's had the bug longer than I have and I love the fact that she still wants to go racing. Once a racer, always a racer!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Indy 500 Opening Day - It's Finally May!

Forty-three years ago I attended my first Indianapolis 500 and the thrill of going out to 16th & Georgetown to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not diminished since then. Lots of changes have occurred at IMS over the years, but Indy is still Indy on race day and today the buildup begins for the 97th running of the 500.  People still refer to "The Month of May" around here even though it's now down to two weeks of track time and there's only one weekend of qualifying instead of two. Going to the track in May is a time honored Indianapolis tradition for thousands of race fans and it's still one of the best sports deals around.

Admission on practice days is only $10 and six hours of track time, the 500 Museum which is open year round, bands, and other fan oriented activities on site are enough to keep even a novice fan busy for the day. Qualification days cost only $15 while the final practice held the Friday before the 500, known as Carburetion Day, costs only $20 when the Indycars run for an hour, the Indy Lights race in the Freedom 100, teams compete in the annual pit stop competition and this year the band Poison will put on a concert on the infield stage. But the best deal going is to buy a bronze badge from the Speedway for $100. The badge gets you into the track and allows garage area access every day except for race day and if you plan to be at IMS every day they run, it's a no brainer.

And if you've only seen the Indycars on television, then please don't get lulled into thinking they look slow or unwieldy. Television simply does not do justice to the speed and spectacle of Indy, as the long TV lenses compress the images and don't truly reflect the fact that they travel over a football field per second every lap. I've often wondered why TV doesn't put cameras at ground level on the inside of the turns where most of the photographers work. Pan shots from that angle would truly show the speed at which Indycar drivers race   and help convey the image of the fastest racers in the world. After all, they started here in 1911, the series is named after Indianapolis and they've raced on this same track every year since then except for during the two world wars.

So today it all begins and I will be at the track every day. Already this week Indycar action has been on the news with NASCAR's Kurt Busch running a simulated rookie orientation program on Thursday in Ryan Hunter-Reay's car for Andretti Autosport. It was funny watching the TV reports and seeing his Furniture Row crew members with their fingers in their ears to mute the sound of the car as it ran down the frontstretch. That's another thing which television simply can't convey:  the total sensory experience which is Indy. Especially on the main straightaway where the grandstands create a canyon of echoes as the sound reverberates, Indycars scream and the place vibrates with noise when cars are on the track. Depending on which way the wind blows, the sound comes at you and envelopes you regardless of where you are and you feel it in your bones. Having normal conversations then is a challenge as it can be difficult to hear someone even when they are standing right next to you. Then when you get a whiff of the sweet smell of ethanol exhaust, there's no mistaking that this is Indy. On hot days you can smell the Firestone tire rubber, the sensory experience is complete and gearheads know they are at the mecca of auto racing where anything can happen and something special usually does.

These are a few of the reasons I shoot auto racing and got involved at Indianapolis as a photographer beginning in 1984. Everyone who knows me knows where I will be in May so if you're trying to find me, you'll have to go the westside of Indy. Come on out and join me in satisfying that need for speed with the Indycars and the Indy 500. There's no place like it and you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Indy 500 Preview

Dario Franchitti hopes to add a 4th ring
Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just three days away and it could be an Andretti-Foyt shootout just like the old days. Only the players have changed and it's not Mario battling AJ but Michael and the rejuvenated Andretti Autosport five-car team going against Larry Foyt's surprising single entry. With today's announcement of an entry for 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier, the official entry list shows 34 cars with 33 drivers listed, so there may be some bumping at Indy this year after all, but the stories for this May are just beginning to unfold. Chevy powers 17 cars; Honda has 16. Penske has a three-time 500 winner in Helio Castroneves and so does Chip Ganassi's team - defending 500 winner Dario Franchitti. Both will attempt to add their names to the short list of four-time winners which now only includes four drivers. In the 97th running of the 500, Indycar racing has a chance to continue to build momentum on an already interesting season so far. A week of practice with two days to qualify will be more than enough time for the field to take shape and new stories to emerge. And I will be at the track every day for motorsport.com posting blog updates and photos in my 26th year working as a credentialed media member at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Takuma Sato
Having run four races in the IZOD Indycar season so far and won three, clearly Andretti Autosport must be considered the favorite to win Indy. James Hinchcliffe snagged last weekend's race win in Brazil in daring fashion and has won two races for Andretti while Ryan Hunter-Reay took the pole and a road course win at Barber Motorsports Park. Either could win Indy with the right breaks. For Foyt, Takuma Sato got his first Indycar win this season and you just know Taku believes that he can win the 500 after a brave but failed attempt to make a last lap Turn 1 pass on Dario last year. Crashing while going for the win at Indy is nothing new but Taku has shown much improved race craft already this season which belies his history of being hard on equipment, so perhaps Larry Foyt has the right mix of people and equipment to make it happen this year.

Helio Castroneves
Lest anyone think it's a cakewalk for anyone I've mentioned so far, please forget that thought. Roger Penske has the most successful team in Indy 500 history and he pulls out all the stops to win the pole and the race. Helio has shown his mettle as both a qualifier and racer at Indy, so no one should dare count him out even though Penske drivers have been shut out of victory lane so far this season. Helio will want to add a fourth ring of his own. Helio and teammate Will Power will be joined by AJ Allmendinger this May in Dinger's first attempt at Indy and Tim Cindric knows how to pull the strings for the team to be successful with no expense spared to get another Indy win. Of course Penske's longtime archrival Chip Ganassi won't just roll over and cede Indy to anyone, even though the Target boys have had a miserable season so far by Ganassi's standards. With plenty of time to tweak and tune at Indy, I expect Dario to regain his form and he always brings his "A" game to IMS each May. Teammate Scott Dixon has one Indy win and they are joined this year by Ryan Briscoe, last year's pole winner for Penske. Surely Ryan has a something to prove this year as he settled for a top notch Indy-only ride after being left out in the off season shuffle for full season competitors.

Four former Indy 500 race winners (Castroneves, Franchitti, Dixon and Lazier) are entered along with four rookies, including Noblesville, Indiana's own Conor Daly, son of former Indycar and F1 driver Derek Daly, who will benefit immensely from being partnered with Sato in the second Foyt ride. Early season Indycar sensation Tristan Vautier has a steep oval track learning curve to overcome but time is everyone's friend at Indy when running hundreds of laps is possible in practice. Allmendinger may be new at Indy but he is not new to winning in open wheel competition so he will adapt quickly and could be a darkhorse contender to win in his first attempt at the 500 ala Juan Pablo Montoya. Carlos Munoz is the final rookie; he has has shown great speed in tearing up the admittedly thin Indy Lights ranks this season, so the Rookie of the Year battle will be an interesting competition. Add in veterans Tony Kanaan, Indy specialist Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand, plus three women (Ana Beatrix, Simona De Silvestro and Pippa Mann), this year's field may be light on numbers but it is diverse and heavy on talent as they prepare to race May 26th for the chance to add their faces to the Borg Warner Trophy and make Indy history.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
My personal favorite to win this year is James Hinchcliffe but right now I have to give the nod to his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay who is the defending IZOD Indycar Series champion. He showed last season that he has the desire to do whatever it takes to get to the front and win and RHR has a great comeback story of his own. It could boost the Indycar series and the 500 if an American driver were to win this year. Of course everyone thought having an American season champion would create a buzz last year, but his series title was overshadowed somewhat by the handling of Randy Bernard's departure last fall so I'm sure Ryan would love to have the chance to drink the milk and remind everyone how far he has come in his racing career the last few years. 

Don't take my prediction to the bank just yet as everything could change after I see how they actually run once practice gets underway this weekend. Needless to say it doesn't get any better for me than being at Indy in May. Regardless of the outcome on race day, I will be where I belong, doing what I love, hoping to bring some of that passion through to you in words and pictures. After all is said and done, I'm just a Hoosier who was bitten by the racing bug at an early age and there's no place better to scratch that itch than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Come on out and join me!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Talladega Review - A Photo Trek

Back home in Indianapolis after an 1183 mile round trip to Talladega, so many moments to savor from a challenging and productive weekend shooting the NASCAR event for AP. On Twitter last night I joked that the "24 Hours of Talladega" was finally over when I was leaving the track at 9:30 in the evening, and even though the racing didn't consume 24 hours, at times it sure seemed like it. I don't recall ever being at a race weekend with so many rain delays and the fact that both the races went overtime is remarkable given the conditions.

The weekend had a little bit of everything, but mostly it had lots of rain. Driving down Friday: heavy rain. The ARCA race (which I missed while en route) was rain shortened. Saturday more rain: Sprint Cup qualifying rained out and the Nationwide race had a long rain delay before getting started and then finished in near darkness. Then Sunday started off beautiful but ended up cold, wet and racing into darkness again with a three hour rain delay after 125 laps of the Sprint Cup race. Having been through tornadoes in the area at my first Talladega weekend two years ago, I know how volatile spring weather can be down there and this weekend I was especially glad I wasn't camping!

From a photography standpoint, the biggest challenges were keeping my gear dry and tweaking the ISO to try and keep up with the fading light on Saturday & Sunday. Staying warm was also an issue as every time a rain shower would blow through, the air temperature would drop. I was on top of the tallest grandstand with no cover or anyplace to hide from the chilly wind coming in from the west. It was interesting waiting out the rain delays and talking with the locals who were commenting on my camera gear with their pronounced southern drawls:  "I'll bet you can see Mars with that thang!" I did a lot of people watching during the delays and there's an odd sort of solitude that comes with being in a large crowd and not knowing a soul. I spent almost nine hours in position, in the stands or taking cover under the stands Sunday, but the end result was well worth it.

Talladega winner David Ragan
There was a surprise winner in Sprint Cup Sunday (David Ragan) and a photo finish in the Nationwide race Saturday so I know the fans felt like they got their money's worth. Matt Kenseth dominated the race and looked like a sure winner most of the day. Then Carl Edwards took the lead just before the red flag for rain and despite his best rain dance, the race was restarted three hours later so he became an also-ran. Jimmy Johnson made a quick two-tire stop late in the race and had his chance to win evaporate when the Ford duo of Ragan and David Gilliland charged to the front, seemingly out of nowhere, to take the top two spots in a green-white-checker finish. And of course there was the usual "Big One" wreck, two of them in fact, so the hooting and hollering fans got the drama they came to the track for. 
One of my favorite pictures of the day came early Sunday morning in the garage area where a four-year old boy was hanging on the fence and calling out driver names as they headed to the Sprint Cup driver's meeting. It brought back memories of myself at a similar age, so it would be interesting to see him in twenty years to see if he's been bitten by the racing bug as I was so many years ago. My pictures from the race after the red flag are still in Alabama and I have to wait for a disk to be mailed to me before I can post a complete gallery from the Sprint Cup race. Until then I give you a couple of others just to whet your appetite. Now it's back to Indycar racing this weekend with the opening of practice for the Indianapolis 500. It sounds like we may get 33 cars for the race after all so it will be interesting to see how things play out between Saturday and May 26th. Come on out to 16th & Georgetown. I should be there most every day pounding around the garage area, in the pits, the media center - you get the point. I will be everywhere! See you then.

The first "Big One"
Matt Kenseth dominated the Aaron's 499 but lost the magic at the end