Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Indycar Photographer: 30 Years in the Making

1957 Indy 500 Winner Sam Hanks
I was born the day after Sam Hanks won the Indy 500 so I suppose becoming an Indycar  and motorsports photographer was to be expected. I originally started this post before the Verizon Indycar Series hit the track for the season opening race in St. Petersburg but life intervened. I was lamenting the fact that I was going to be stuck in Indy enduring our interminable winter rather than being at the racetrack with my left eye pressed against a viewfinder of my Canon cameras. But after spending my way to Daytona twice already in 2014 with little to show for it other than a slew of great images and credit card receipts, I could not justify another trip to the Sunshine State. By this time most years, I have already written a preview of the upcoming Indycar title chase but now that the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a little more than three weeks away with the running of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, I am moved to reflect moreso than looking ahead.

An Indy 500 infield spectacle from days thankfully long gone
This May will be 30 years since I shot my first Indianapolis 500 as a media member and I am thankful that Alex Persons gave me a chance at UPI when I had more passion than skill and just wanted to be a part of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Of course racing has changed tremendously since 1984 but shooting at Indy has been a constant in my life and anyone who knows me understands where they can find me each May. I've written often about how much I love shooting motorsports, especially Indycars, and I could certainly be accused of having more passion than sense at times when it comes to shooting racing. I know of only a handful of people who are actually able to make a living as racing photographers and the media world is entirely different now than when I first got involved.  This blog, my website, my social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, and the numerous race event photo galleries I post to promote races, tracks and series - they are all a result of pursuing that passion. I often joke that I am still waiting to be discovered - that hasn't happened yet either, but certainly not for lack of trying. Blame it on inhaling too much racing fuel exhaust or too much time in the sun, but when May rolls around each year, I am all in.

Sports car legend, the late Al Holbert, tried Indy in 1984
Being a born and raised Hoosier, it should come as no surprise that basketball was my first love. Racing comes in a very close second, however. My grandfather and namesake introduced me to racing at the county fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana where he had helped get a small dirt track built. Walking through the paddock with him or hanging on the board fence watching the sprint and stock cars run are memories that have left indelible impressions on me. Moving to Indianapolis in 1968 only cemented the deal. I have been to every Indy 500 since 1976, plus all of the Brickyard 400's, and Lord knows how many other races around America over the years. Yet Indianapolis still has my heart and I am looking forward to another month of May. Last May will be hard to top, however, as it it was my first 500 shooting for motorsport.com and I got to shoot from the roof of the penthouse for the start and in victory lane after the finish. Now this May for the first time there's another race at IMS on the revamped road course, Indycar has instituted new qualifying procedures for the 500, and I will be busier than a one armed paper hanger the entire month since I still have my teaching obligations to fulfill as life will inevitably intervene again. But I can be at the track in 30 minutes on any given day and when it's Indianapolis, all is right in my world.

I will see you at the corner of 16th & Georgetown, or in Gasoline Alley, or by the fence on the road course, very soon. Is it May yet?
Jim Crawford exits the pits during the 1988 Indy 500
Now an Indycar team owner, Bobby Rahal pits in 1991