Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kimmel Seeks Record Tying Win at Winchester Speedway

Frank Kimmel at Michigan International Speedway
I am back on the road tomorrow for a racing road trip, but this one is practically in the neighborhood. Winchester Speedway is only about 75 miles from my Indianapolis home and marks one of the shortest trips I have to make all year. It's another short, fast, high-banked oval which proclaims itself as the "World's Fastest Half Mile". I will be helping out ARCA again at this race and am looking forward to getting to see my friends run here again, something I've been able to do now for several years in a row. The track hasn't changed much since I started coming here in the 1990's to shoot USAC midgets and sprint cars, but the ARCA teams really put on a good show here and use every inch of race track during their 200 lap features. There may also be history in the making here as veteran Frank Kimmel has the chance to tie the all time ARCA wins record of 79 victories set by Iggy Katona.

If Frank were a university professor, he would have achieved emeritus status in ARCA long ago, but he's a racer and is determined to win a record 10th series championship in the twilight of a great career in the series. Regarded by some as a big fish in a small pond, Kimmel shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, has the best sponsor in ARCA and is one of the most fan-friendly drivers you would ever want to meet. The lines are always longest to get his autograph during ARCA's pre-race autograph sessions and Winchester will be no exception. There is no questioning his desire to win every time he races and if he is disappointed about not making it to the top of the stock car racing world, you would never know it when you see him at a racetrack.

Yet the ARCA series is changing, having become a training ground for young up and coming stock car drivers. Two years ago, Dakoda Armstrong won at Winchester and last year it was Alex Bowman's turn, both young guns with bright futures in stock cars. This year Mason Mingus, Justin Boston and Mason Mitchel are among the young guys hoping to make names for themselves by winning at this historic track. At Michigan two weeks ago, youngster Ryan Blaney was on the pole while another fresh faced "kid" Brennan Poole snagged the win in his first ARCA start of the season. While Blaney - who won the pole here two years ago - is not currently entered this weekend, Poole's win at Michigan has to put him among the potential race winners. Poole has won at Salem Speedway before so he clearly knows the fast way to get around short tracks like this. Along with Kimmel and the other young guns I've noted.

Winchester seems calm before the ARCA storm hits the high banks
The race is typically well attended, similar to the ones at Salem as Winchester has a long history and loyal, albeit regional, fan following.  This event  also has a title sponsor which is a great thing for ARCA. The "Herr's Chase the Taste 200" recognizes a company which makes some fantastic chips and snack products. I had a chance to sample some at the Michigan race for the first time and wish I could have pirated out a case or two to take with me. While that wasn't possible, it's good to see an event sponsor like Herr's jump into ARCA. This series needs support like any other racing series, but especially one which has been around longer than any other stock car sanctioning body and which races on every kind of track imaginable. They raced at Elkhart Lake on its scenic four mile road course last weekend and before August is over the series will also have run on another road course, two mile dirt tracks, other paved short tracks, and on mile-and-a-half ovals. Running at big tracks like Pocono, Talladega and Daytona gives ARCA drivers well rounded experience unparalleled in any other series, but it is still Frank Kimmel's show until more drivers and team owners commit to running the full season schedule like Chris Buescher did in 2012 in winning his ARCA championship before moving up.

Winchester ARCA action from 2011
In the meantime, I've added a few pix from the last couple years to get you warmed up for Sunday's action. Winchester promises lots of close racing with multiple grooves for passing, a bumpy and weathered surface which challenges teams to find grip with their Hoosier tires, and likely some beating and banging among those in the top ten who are fighting for a win. That's what I've seen here in years past and Sunday will probably not be any different. I am looking forward to it after two weeks away from a racetrack. Be sure to visit the ARCA website after the race at to check out photos and race results from little old Winchester. If you're in east central Indiana and love short track stock car racing, then just go! Head over to Muncie and turn east on State Road 32 - in about 20 minutes you'll feel like you're at home at the races. You won't regret it. See you there!

Tim George, Jr. didn't have a good day at Winchester in 2011
2011 Winchester winner Dakoda Armstrong (22) presses the issue with Chad Hackenbracht
Matt Lofton (16) and Jared Amrks (12) demonstrate two groove racing at Winchester in 2012

Frank Kimmel's crew provides quick service on a beautiful day for racing in 2012

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Michigan Road Trip Done: ARCA Victory to Brennan Poole

Brennan Poole takes ARCA win at Michigan
Michigan International Speedway has changed a lot since I was last here in 2007. Gone are the majority of the grandstands that used to wrap around the outside of Turns 3 and 4. In their place is a new motorhome area and part corral sponsored by Budweiser where fans can get within about 10 feet of the outside wall. Gone is the old media center building behind pit lane, replaced with new facilities that are quite ample, lined with full height glass windows, and topped by pit area suites which have access to roof level viewing platforms. The one thing that hasn't changed is the access. US 12 remains a two lane highway on the south end of the track where the main entrance is located, and getting out of here after a full NASCAR weekend is probably still a bear. But I didn't have to worry about that this year since I headed back to Akron once my duties with ARCA were complete.

Ryan Blaney was quickest in ARCA practice and took pole position
Thirty cars were on the ARCA entry list for this 200 mile, 100 lap race. Once again the younger generation showed the way in Thursday's practice, and Friday's qualifying and the race itself.  Races of this length in ARCA typically involve two pit stops as teams were allotted two additional sets of Hoosier Tires in addition to the ones they started. My favorites going into the race was Frank Kimmel who is one win shy of tying the all time wins record in ARCA, but he would start from the third position and while he ran in the top five all day, he never really had the speed to match the Venturini Motorsports tandem of Justin Boston and race winner Brennan Poole. Pole winner Ryan Blaney, the son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, led early but an out of sequence pit stop pushed him down the order. ARCA vet Tom Hessert blew a tire and hit the wall late in the race while another ARCA regular Grant Enfinger was strong but could not match the leader's pace.

Justin Boston's zloop ride
I felt badly for Justin Boston who spun out of the lead under pressure by Poole with about 10 laps to go, but Boston will have to be reckoned with as the season unfolds. Poole won in his first ARCA start of 2013 and since this race was being televised live on SPEED, teams desperate for television air time to showcase their results and attract sponsor attention were there to run Michigan. The resulting field was a mixed bag of competitive cars in the top 10, a couple of start-and-parks, and mid-pack runners who were just happy to finish without tearing up their equipment. My role this weekend as chief photographer for ARCA for the first time meant I had a lot to do for two days, and it was strange being at the track on Thursday when ARCA had the facility to itself and the public did not have access.

Godspeed Jason Leffler
Friday was a different story as NASCAR's Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams had most of the track time and fans were there all day. My day was spent covering qualifying, wrapping up ARCA driver head shots, documenting safety and driver/spotter meetings, shooting a driver autograph session, and then shooting the race itself for the series. Safety was on everyone's mind with the recent death of Jason Leffler in a sprint car accident, the second such racing death in the last two weeks. Honoring Leffler was a frequent topic and some NASCAR drivers had Jason's traditional "LEFturn" logo above the driver's door in his memory. I think ARCA does an excellent job with its safety initiatives. The use of Mallory ignition boxes is a good tool for governing the engines, both for longevity and managing speeds. The latest in technology is required for driver seats, seat belt restraint systems and head and neck restraints. As a training ground for drivers, crew members and even team owners, ARCA has done a great job of providing a level playing field in a safety conscious environment. Having a series-issued radio and listening to the ARCA officials for two days really brought that home for me and I left Michigan Friday evening with a greater appreciation of all the things a series must do to put on a good safe show for all concerned.

Leaving Friday night was the strangest part of the weekend, as there were still two more days of track activity and two races for NASCAR on the MIS schedule. I don't recall another race weekend where I left a track with more racing on the docket, but I needed to get back to Akron and had no other responsibilities at the track. But the weekend got stranger on the way home as I got pulled over for speeding near Litchfield, Ohio, although I only got a warning after talking with the officer. When I finally pulled into my Mom's driveway after midnight, I was grateful to get there safely, especially after the way the road trip started. Thursday morning on my way to MIS, I drove past a serious accident on Ohio State Road 18 involving a head-on collision where one car was on fire and other drivers were tending to an injured person in the middle of the road just before dawn. So my ARCA Michigan weekend ended well, all things considered, and my photo journey concluded safely with more lessons learned both from the road and through my lenses. In two weeks, I will be helping ARCA again at Winchester Speedway, and am excited to get another opportunity to work with my growing group of ARCA friends. Until then, here are a few pictures from the event; more can be seen and purchased from ARCA's website.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On the Road Again - Next Stop: ARCA Michigan

My lady friend and greatest supporter outside my family often calls me the "Energizer Bunny", and not because I use their batteries in my camera gear (which I do). She also calls me a madman because of the pace I work and the schedule I keep. Last week a teaching colleague called me "The Machine", which was a new one, but I like it. As an old TV commercial pitch man used to say, "I don't care what you call me as long as you call me."

This week I am called to Michigan International Speedway to fill in for the chief photographer at ARCA. This is a wonderful opportunity to support a racing series which is among the most varied on the planet. This trip is sandwiched within a visit to Akron, Ohio to help my Mom, so I will be logging some serious miles on the road to Indiana-ville over the next few days. Veteran Frank Kimmel currently has the season points lead and seems ready to finally snag his 10th ARCA series championship. Kimmel will be challenged by the usual assortment of young guns, future stock car racing stars, and older veterans who just love to race. This past weekend, Chase Elliott, one of those talents on the rise and son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, won at Pocono. With the wide open high banks of Michigan holding the promise of two- and three-wide racing, 100 laps for the ARCA contingent should be fun and exciting to shoot.

Going to Michigan is sort of a homecoming for me as my first race there was in 1981 at the CART Michigan 500 and several of us from Indy regularly made the trek to MIS for the Indycar races over the years. Sprinkle in a few NASCAR races in the '90's, and I've probably shot 25 or more races there. This week will mark my first time back at MIS since 2007 when Indycar Last ran there. I know I'll have a busy two days shooting this week and hope I can do a good job filling in for my friend Doc Hunter.

Once my duties during the ARCA 200 miler are finished Friday night (you can catch it live on SPEED at 5 p.m. Eastern), I will be back on the road to Akron to be with Mom as she deals with a serious medical issue. Prayers for her would be appreciated. She's a great race fan and comes by it naturally as her father, (and my namesake) Jay Shue, helped get a dirt track built in her hometown of Warsaw, Indiana, at the county fairgrounds after World War II. Her recent physical difficulties kept her away from the Indy 500 this year, much to her dismay, but she's got the family's  "Shue grit" and proudly goes racing when she can. Pretty good for a 78 year old,  little white haired lady - once a racer, always a racer.

That's it for now until I get to the racetrack, so I will see you at Michigan, or in Akron, or somewhere on the road soon.