Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Racing Reflections: A Photographer's Journey

Tony Kanaan finally got milk at the Indy 500
My 2013 racing photography season encompassed 22 races over 10 event weekends. I drove roughly 5500 miles to get to and from the racetracks. It started at the beginning of April and ended in late October. I shot for Associated Press, ARCA, and Salem Speedway. Untold thousands of images rang up on my Canon 7D and 40D. Best of all, I get to start all over again in less than four weeks when I go to Daytona to shoot the Rolex 24 Hours. Here are my top five memories of my 2013 season.
#1. While the images I shot were not all winners, my favorite moment of the entire season was getting to shoot Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500. I've been in a lot of Victory Lanes over the years but never at the Indy 500. It was the most chaotic victory celebration I've ever shot as team owner Jimmy Vasser effectively blocked most shooters from getting Tony Kanaan's initial milk celebration and photographers were very upset. But I just happened to have the right angle to get Tony's face through Vasser's outstretched arms in the photo above and I kept shooting while others around me were yelling for Vasser to get out of the way. It was a crazy happy situation and I was glad to have had the opportunity to shoot for
Austin Dillon goes airborne in Tony Stewart's #14 at Talladega
#2. My next most favorite moment of the year came at Talladega in October. The fall NASCAR weekend was quite a contrast to the one in the spring, as the weather was much more favorable and the races went off on time both days. I was shooting for Associated Press and had a bird's eye view of the entire 2.66 mile racetrack from atop the tallest grandstand on the tri-oval. I was trying to be patient and just waiting for action during both the Trucks and Sprint Cup races and was rewarded with last lap mayhem as airborne racers filled my lens in both events. At the time, I remember thinking I hadn't shot so many flipping racecars since the last sprint car race I did a couple of years ago. I certainly never saw anything like that weekend's madness on a paved track, let alone during a NASCAR weekend. The best news was that no one was hurt and I got spectacular images that AP was able to use.
Brennan Poole won the ARCA race at Michigan for Venturini Motorsports
#3. Coming in as my third most favorite memory was Father's Day weekend in June at Michigan International Speedway when I was the principal photographer for the ARCA series. Although I had been a support photographer for ARCA several times previously, this was the first event where I was responsible for their entire event coverage. I had to be sure I got everything from driver headshots to the hauler layout to Victory Lane celebrations and everything in between. There was not a lot of downtime during the two days ARCA competitors had the track and I loved the pressure of having to deliver timely coverage for the ARCA website and various team public relations reps. On the way back to my mom's in Ohio afterward, I got pulled over in some small town but only got a warning from the nice officer as I simply told him I had just wrapped up two very long days shooting at Michigan and was hurrying to get to Akron and unwind. He must have seen the roadtrip fast food debris and race promotional materials on my passenger seat, and once he checked my driving record, he was quite gracious and let me go on my way. It was a perfect ending to a great weekend.
#4. The most exciting finish of any race I worked in 2013 was perhaps the best Indy Lights race in history. Getting a vantage point on the lower roof in front of the Pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few laps from the finish, I was prepared for a last lap slingshot move for the win, but getting a four-wide photo finish never entered my mind as a possibility. I recall ratcheting the ISO up on my main camera body so I could shoot at 1/4000th of a second. The last couple of laps, I set the photo up with the flagstand as the main focal point and took a few practice shots as cars came past the yard of bricks. I am sure glad I did as the race to the checkered flag was dramatic, my framing was good and the images I got for were on the money. No one had ever seen anything like that at Indianapolis and it was quite a thrill for me to be able to capture that moment for the ages at my favorite racetrack.
Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi & Dario Franchitti
#5. I had a hard time coming up with this one as there were so many moments which could have made my Top 5 for 2013. But I gave the nod to Charlie Kimball's win at Mid Ohio, his first in an Indycar, as much for the fact that Charlie raced the wheels off his Dallara as for events which subsequently effected teammate Dario Franchitti. While most of the field adopted a fuel saving strategy, Charlie went balls to the wall the whole race and was a deserving race winner. No one could have known at the time that this event might be one of the last times that Dario would earn a podium placing in an Indycar, but barely two months later, injuries suffered in his horrific Houston accident forced him to announce his retirement. A sidebar to this weekend for me was meeting friends from Indy at Mid Ohio and hanging out with them in between traipsing all over the Mid Ohio grounds shooting or uploading for over the three day race weekend.

I could go on and on with memories from my road trip racing life in 2013, but I will leave you with this: more pictures gleaned from all the races I shot in a "best of" slideshow for the whole year. This is probably my last blog post for 2013 but I'll be back again soon to bring you my view from the road - one photographer's journey. Until next time, Welcome to Indiana-ville! Please come back soon.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Firestone Indy Lights Recap 2013

The 4-wide photo finish at Indy was a season highlight for Indy Lights
The Firestone Indy Lights Series has been the last step on the Mazda Road to Indy for several years now and although the car count in 2013 was less than what people would like to see, great things are expected in the future as new series management takes over in 2014. A new chassis and engine combination has been announced for 2015 which should update the equipment to more modern specifications and make the transition to Indycars even smoother for the top series drivers.

Even with small fields, the Indy Lights drivers put on some spectacular races at times, topped by the crazy four wide photo finish in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis as the undercard to the Indy 500 in May. I knew something wild was going to happen when the top three went wheel to wheel through Turns 3 and 4, but no one expected Peter Dempsey to jump to the high side on the front straight to make it four wide and steal the win at the finish line. I was at the finish line and got the photo finish for in one of my best moments of my 2013 racing season. It was a great moment for the series too and I always love shooting these races since they involve the future stars of Indycar who you can watch learn their craft.

Carlos Munoz
The star of the 2013 season was Carlos Munoz as far as I am concerned. He blew away the field at Barber Motorsports Park early in the season and then nearly won the Indy 500 as a rookie when he was doing double duty during May in the big cars and in Lights. He followed up his impressive month of May with a strong and aggressive drive at Fontana in the season finale to earn a full time Indycar drive with Andretti Autosport for next season. With four Indy Lights wins and a third place season finish in 2013, he's clearly a star on the rise but he also has a lot to learn. His fearless style rankled his more experienced Andretti teammates in May on more than one occasion. I had two memorable encounters involving Carlos in 2013 and the first one involved listening in on a huddle among his teammates James Hinchcliffe, EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay after Munoz dive bombed one of them during Indy 500 practice in May. Apparently, no one told Carlos you can't (or shouldn't" run below the white line in Turn 1 or that passes during practice needed to be coordinated to avoid an incident. We all know how that turned out as the Andretti boys were strong all month and either Carlos or RHR could have won the 500 if the late caution flags had fallen differently.

Hinch, RHR & Viso discuss a Munoz maneuver at Indy in May
My second encounter with Carlos was during the Mid Ohio weekend when the friends I was traveling with and I decided to hit a Mexican restaurant at the Belleville exit. After a few minutes, in walks Carlos with a few guys in Andretti gear and I said "Hey, it's Carlos!" as his group sat down at a table nearby. From the way he reacted, I don't think he expected anyone to recognize him. It was another one of those moments where it felt good to know people in the sport and be where racers were gathering on a race weekend.
Sage Karam took the Indy Lights season championship
Firestone Indy Lights has produced a number of excellent racers who have moved up to Indycars over the years and I'm sure the 2013 crop of drivers will be no different. Sage Karam won the season title and there were several times where I saw him soaking up advice from various Indycar drivers, most notably Tony Kanaan at Mid Ohio after Sage had an off during an Indy Lights session. You could see how upset he was with himself but TK's advice clearly calmed Sage down, and it looked like he was telling him "It's OK kid. It happens to all of us" so he could go back on track with a clear head and forget about the mistake he'd made. It's another one of the great things about this series running as a companion event with Indycar. Not only do young drivers get experience on Indycar tracks and exposure to Indycar owners, but they get the benefit of counsel from their big car brethren on occasion. I would bet that those words are often as valuable as the seat time for some of these young guys who surely must feel the pressure to perform in a series where sponsorship is hard to come by and where their very futures as racecar drivers may well be at stake.
Sage Karam gets some words of wisdom from Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan at Mid Ohio
At any rate, I'm glad to have had the chance to experience these kinds of moments while on assignment and I look forward to more of the same in the future. With Christmas now just a few days away and 2013 winding down, I still have a couple more blog posts to complete in order to finish my season reflections, so until then, here's a slideshow of my Indy Lights work this year to tide you over.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 NASCAR Reflections

Hoosier Ryan Newman won the 2013 Brickyard 400 but lost his ride with Stewart Haas Racing
One of the best things about my racing road trip life in 2013 was the variety of events I got to shoot: Indycar, ARCA, GrandAm and of course, NASCAR. While I only got to cover three NASCAR races this year, they were each significant and memorable. I also got to grab a few shots at Michigan during down time from my ARCA duties in June, but the spring and fall races at Talladega were ones for the record books and the Brickyard 400 was noteworthy if not spectacular.

Talladega in the spring
After missing the fall 2012 race at Talladega due to my teaching schedule, I was not about to miss the spring event this year. It turned out to be most memorable for the persistent rains and cool weather which plagued both the Nationwide race on Saturday and the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. I spent nearly 10 hours each day in the main grandstand outside the tri-oval lugging my gear up and down multiple flights of stairs both days, in and out of the rain, waiting for the track to dry and racing to resume. I don't think I've ever shot a NASCAR race in the kind of darkness that descended on the track both days as the rain delays pushed action into the early evening hours both days. The weekend began with a long Friday night drive through heavy rain most of the way and ended just about the same as I left Talladega after dark on Sunday as the rains hit again. The most sensible thing I did all weekend was stop and grab a room around midnight that night and finish the drive back to Indy on Monday. I think I called it the 24 Hours of Talladega at the time and my frog togs never came in more handy!

Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards & Juan Pablo Montoya race at Indy
The next NASCAR race I shot was the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis at the end of July and it was really cool to see Ryan Newman, a Hoosier from South Bend and a Purdue grad, take the win, his first at Indy. The weekend included the Nationwide Series on Saturday and the GrandAm races on Friday, so it was a hectic weekend of shooting and editing for I walked all over IMS for three straight days but loved every minute of it and have quite a few images I am extremely proud of as a result. 

Ryan Newman's baby daughter
My personal highlight of the Brickyard weekend was shooting Newman, his family and his team during the post race ceremonies at the yard of bricks. His infant daughter seemed bewildered by all the people milling around and the attention her daddy was getting but she never flinched or cried as the kissing of the bricks process wore on. She even seemed at home with daddy's bottle of Coca Cola nearby as the cameras clicked away around her. It was a sweet and quiet moment after hours of noise. The race itself was a typical Brickyard with single file racing in the corners and positions being made up in the pits moreso than on the racetrack. With IMS talking about adding the apron in the turns again, perhaps that will improve the racing product and bring fans back to the Brickyard for NASCAR. At least Jimmie Johnson didn't win!

Jamie McMurray won from the back of the pack
My final NASCAR race of 2013 took me back to Talladega in October and the weather was infinitely better than it had been in the spring, even though sprinkles Saturday morning washed out Sprint Cup qualifying. The fall weekend had the Camping World Truck Series paired with Sprint Cup and both races involved flying racecars which was just crazy as I couldn't believe what I was seeing through my lenses when the incidents occurred. The truck race on Saturday ended with a flip coming down to the checkered flag and then Austin Dillon got airborne on the last lap in Tony Stewarts's #14 during the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. Jamie McMurray won the Sprint Cup race when no one could mount a charge as the race ended under yellow.

My text to AP read "32 upside down"
I shot both Talladega races this year for Associated Press and I am so thankful that I have developed that relationship as those people really have taken care of me and given me some great opportunities to "make some pictures", as they like to say. It's awesome to view the post-race slideshow with the other AP photographers and see how they tell an event story through photos. It's also exciting to google my name after a race with AP to see where my pictures have ended up. Calling home after a race weekend like this is also exciting as my friends and family can do a similar search and see my photos picked up by news outlets all over the world. I love that aspect of AP's instant news service and have developed a greater sensitivity for timeliness and efficiency as a result of my work with them.

I have learned so much from other photogs on weekends like these and am really excited to hit the road again in 2014 and head back south to 'Dega. The track's promo tag line is: "This is more than a race. This is Talladega". I can attest to the fact that there's no place like it and just hope to continue having good luck down there. I will be ready to make some pictures, that's for sure. Until next time, here's a slideshow of my personal best NASCAR photos from 2013.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sports Car Review 2013

Brickyard Superweekend Rolex winners Alex Popow & Ryan Dalziel
While I only got to shoot two main sports car races in 2013, they were epic. My sports car season started with the Rolex and Continental Tire Series races at Barber Motorsports Park in April as part of the Grand Prix of Alabama Indycar weekend. The other sports car race was at Indianapolis as part of the Brickyard Superweekend at the end of July. I did manage to grab a few shots of the Pirelli World Challenge race at Mid Ohio in August but that weekend was consumed with shooting Indycar and Indy Lights so I don't really count that as a race I worked per se. Both the Barber and IMS weekends were part of my 2013 work for which you can see the photos here from IMS and from Barber here.

Wayne Taylor Celebrates win
The Barber weekend was capped by an enthusiastic win by Wayne Taylor's Corvette team with Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor at the wheel. Max "The Axe" is always a thrill to watch race and the twisty, hilly confines of the Barber track made for some close and interesting racing as the prototypes raced through the GT traffic. Then Wayne gave a little air guitar solo in Victory Lane afterwards to the delight of those witnessing the Victory Lane celebration. As it turns out, that race proved to be the start of something really big for Taylor and Angelelli as they went on to claim would would be the last ever GrandAm season title at the end of the year. Then at Indianapolis, the 8 Star team of Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel surprised a lot of people by winning  over a field full of experienced drivers from a variety of backgrounds. Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, former F1 and Indycar driver Rubens Barrichello was entered, as was Sebastian Bourdais among others. Thankfully the weather this year was better than 2012. although a little rain would have made it even more interesting!
Scott Pruett & Memo Rojas were unable to grab another season title in 2013 for owner Chip Ganassi
Both weekends were a lot of work but resulted in photos I was quite pleased with, especially since I had never been to Barber before and I missed the 2012 Rolex race at IMS due to my photo commitments to ARCA. My biggest disappointments this year in sports cars were missing the Rolex event at Mid Ohio which I have covered for years, and then not having the American LeMans Series (ALMS) race during the Mid Ohio Indycar weekend. Those events have been staples of my sports car photography the last few years, but I was working at Michigan for ARCA when the Rolex race was at Mid Ohio and ALMS just simply didn't schedule a race at Mid Ohio.

In 2014, my season will start off even earlier as I am scheduled to shoot the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January for Associated Press. That race will be the first event in the newly merged Tudor United Sportscar Racing series and I couldn't be more excited to have this opportunity. It will be my first chance to shoot the Rolex 24 Hours and it should be a historic event as reports now are that there are 29 prototype cars set to compete. It should be a wild and woolly 24 hours with probably 60 cars or more on the track competing. I will bring back photos and more stories from the road, so until then here's a slideshow of my 2013 sports car work that will have to tide us over.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Indycar Season Review: #ThankYouDario

Scott Dixon snagged his third Indycar crown
Congratulations to the 2013 IZOD Indycar Series champion Scott Dixon, best wishes to a champion's champion Dario Franchitti, and better luck next year Helio Castroneves. That pretty well sums up the late season drama in Indycar. Next year much will change, including the title for the series as IZOD steps aside after this season, there will be two races in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the 2014 schedule ends Labor Day weekend. And while I didn't blog this year about my usual pre-season predictions, there's little doubt that I would have missed the mark by miles, as this season was both tumultuous and unpredictable in many ways. So here's my recap along with my favorite moments.

Dario Franchitti 
I have to start with a sad note:  Dario is leaving Indycar but he is one lucky guy after his horrific accident in Houston which hastened his retirement from Indycar racing. I hate to see him retire under these circumstances but it's good to know that he will make a full recovery and hopefully find a role in the series as an elder statesman or spokesperson. So #ThankYouDario indeed for all the memories.

Tony Kanaan celebrates his first Indy 500 win
My favorite personal moment this year was being able to shoot Victory Lane at the Indy 500 to capture Tony Kanaan's emotional celebration after taking his first Indy win. In a 500 for the ages, I started the race on the roof of Stand E overlooking Turn 1 and ended up in Victory Lane so my day shooting this year's 500 for was quite special. It would be hard to top that day in the years to come but who knows? Maybe next year will be even better! I had picked Ryan Hunter-Reay to win Indy before the month of May started this year but I was really happy for TK to get his first one. And wouldn't you know it - a late crash by TK's buddy Dario brought out the yellow which effectively ended the thrilling lead swapping duels which had transfixed the Indy crowd all race long up to that point.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won from the pole at Barber
Defending Indycar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay started off the season on a role by taking pole position and winning at Barber Motorsports Park. That was where my Indycar season started this year and the race weekend included a couple of firsts. I had never been to Barber before, although I have driven past it several times on my way to Talladega, so it was a treat to get another maiden racetrack visit under my belt. I also got to shoot for for the first time as a sort of trial run and warmup for May in Indianapolis. It was quite a challenging weekend dealing with the terrain at Barber and learning the technical requirements for submitting photos to's website. An added bonus was shooting the Rolex Series that weekend. I felt really good driving home after three days ambling around Barber's rolling circuit and producing images I was proud of. One of my favorite shots of the weekend was taken during RHR's pole award celebration when he was holding his infant son who gave the slightest hint of a smile. He must have been enjoying all the attention!

Charlie Kimball outraced everyone at Mid Ohio to get his first win
The bookend to my Indycar season was the race weekend at Mid Ohio the first weekend in August, again shooting for I love shooting at Mid Ohio and I used to think it was pretty hilly until I went to Barber! I would love to shoot more Indycar races each year but circumstances and my teaching responsibilities intervened. As it turned out, the Honda 200 was another weekend of firsts, albeit not for me as I have been shooting at Mid Ohio since the 1980's and took part in the track's Acura High Performance driving school in 2006. Charlie Kimball got his first career Indycar win by running hard and outracing everyone else who had adopted a fuel saving pace. Chip Ganassi and Dario seemed genuinely happy for Charlie to get his first win. Although there was no way to know it at the time, that weekend was also to be one of the last times that Dario would spray champagne and celebrate on the podium.

Takuma Sato 
In many ways, 2013 was a season of firsts in Indycar. In addition to Kimball, several other drivers got their initial Indycar wins. James Hinchcliffe got his first at St. Petersburg and then added wins in Brazil and Iowa. Takuma Sato got his first at Long Beach, finally rewarding the AJ Foyt team for their patience with the Honda favorite who's motto has become "No Attack - No Chance" after nearly winning the Indy 500 in 2012. Simon Pagenaud got his first in the second Detroit race and took Baltimore later on. Neither Brazil nor Baltimore are on the 2014 Indycar schedule so those race winners may be "defending champs" at those venues in perpetuity. I would expect both events to return to Indycar in the future however, but schedule conflicts must be resolved first. While not in the category of first race wins, this year's comeback story has to be Mike Conway who got a win at Detroit in a one-off ride. Conway will be with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2014 and run all the road races, so his comeback from injuries in the Indy 500 in 2010 is complete.

Carlos Munoz pits at the Indy 500
The most impressive driver this year had to be rookie Carlos Munoz. He started second in the Indy 500 and could have won the race if the last yellow for Dario's wreck hadn't waved. He was exceptionally strong at California in the season finale and was equally impressive filling in for an injured Ryan Briscoe the morning of Race 2 at Toronto He looked good in his first Indycar road race, he is fast and fearless, and has done such a good job in the Firestone Indy Lights series that Andretti Autosport has rewarded him with a full season ride for next year. I expect he will add his name to the list of first time winners in 2014.

Fan favorite Helio Castroneves was title bridesmaid again
Scott Dixon's championship run started at Pocono in July, then he swept both races in Toronto and closed it out with a first and second at Houston. He overcame a huge points deficit, along with adversity at Sonoma (where he was penalized for a pit lane incident from the lead which didn't really seem to be his fault) and at Baltimore (where Will Power squeezed him into the wall and put him out of the race). Coupled with his late season hot streak, perennial series runner-up Helio Castroneves suddenly became snakebitten during the Hosuton weekend with mechanical gremlins which wiped away his points lead in one weekend. That just didn't seem right watching it at the time, but that's racing and Dixon took advantage. If there was a trophy for the worst luck this season, it would have to go to Helio. For someone who represents Indycar so well, has won Indy three times, and is always upbeat with a smile on his face, he sure got kicked in the teeth by the racing gods this season. He led the points standings for months yet on the penultimate weekend, it all fell apart. Rarely have the words Helio and disconsolate been used in the same sentence but after Houston they belonged together and you just knew his championship hopes were gone even though the final race of the season was still ahead at Fontana.

My plans for covering Indycar in 2014 have not been solidified yet, although I am hoping to shoot for again whenever I can. It's a lot of work but a labor of love. So until next time, here's a gallery of my personal Indycar favorite photos from the 2013 events at Barber, Indianapolis and Mid Ohio.