Friday, May 30, 2014

Ryan Hunter-Reay Swipes 2nd Closest Indy 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates winning his first Indy 500 in bold style
Ryan Hunter-Reay has clearly learned his lessons well at the Indy 500 as he boldly passed Helio Castroneves with less than two laps remaining to win the 98th edition of the race on Indy's hallowed ground. Thirty-two years after the closest Indy 500 finish ever, RHR put his name in the record books with the second closest winning margin of 0.06 seconds, a distance of barely more than a few feet from what I saw.

RHR's win was dramatic and the 2nd closest ever at Indy
I was on the mezzanine roof of the Pagoda Tower overlooking the yard of bricks for the finish and after Friday's photo finish in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race, I was ready for another photo finish in the 500. While Helio couldn't quite pull it off to finally get his fourth Indy win and assume legend status, he and RHR put on a thrilling late race duel which was accentuated by an unprecedented red flag stoppage with eight laps remaining to repair the SAFER barrier in Turn 2 after Townsend Bell's accident. I thought the 2013 race would be hard to top with its dozens of lead changes but 2014 may have topped it for drama and excitement in the end.

Friday's Carb Day Indy Lights win by Gabby Chaves (#5) in the Freedom 100 was a photo finish
I was at the 1982 500 standing above the old Victory Lane for the finishing duel between Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears, and I think this year's finish was better in some ways. In '82, Mears was catching Johncock but never passed him, while this year Helio and RHR exchanged the lead several times over the final laps so the winner was truly in doubt right until the checkers flew. Shooting for again this year as I did last year, I had the chance to cover Indy from all over the place, and my race day plan involved moving every 20 laps or so and ending up in the pits for the last third of the race, and on the roof for the finish. While it would have been nice to have Victory Lane access like 2013, I knew early in the day I hadn't gotten that coveted pass so that just meant I had to change my strategy for the end of the race. I knew I would get a checkered flag shot no matter what, and that my photos would be far superior to anything I shot back in 1982 with a borrowed Pentax.

Indy's Pagoda before dawn on race day
It was a hectic finish to an exhausting and very special day for me for a number of reasons. My first Indy 500 as a credentialed photographer was in 1984 so it was daunting to think about how fast those 30 years have gone by. The day began at 4:00 a.m. as we got up to head to the Speedway and my mom, who has been battling cancer, was able to go with us for the whole experience. We were inside the track and parked by 5:00 a.m. and I've always loved that time inside the Speedway in the pre-dawn darkness when the Pagoda is all lit up, flags flying and the date displayed across its message boards near the top. At 79 years of age, we didn't really expect Mom to go out that early with us and she made it through the whole day with flying colors, able to sit in our Stand B seats in the shade and enjoy the race with my brother, his son and my beautiful and talented photographer assistant. That was quite an accomplishment on her part but then she's a true Indy 500 fan and didn't want to miss a thing. We got her a golf cart ride to the seats around 10:30 race morning and the seats my brother and I share were excellent from all accounts. That's when we parted ways and I began to put my race day shooting strategy into effect.

Pre-race pageantry for the 500 from on high
I started off the race on the roof of the Penthouse in Stand E with a view down the front stretch as I did last year. The panorama from up there is spectacular and the lighting conditions were perfect for low ISO, high saturation shooting, so my pictures were dense and colorful. My original plan was to move to ground level if there was an early caution period but I quickly scrapped that when I saw how hard and clean everyone was racing. So I put my 20 lap plan in motion and went to the slot at ground level where the cars enter Turn 1, then to the outside of Turn 1 and then to the inside of Turn 1 as the race got close to the halfway mark. From there I went on the roof of the F1 garages to shoot down on the cars as they entered Turn 1 and could get shots of passing attempts going into 1. I couldn't believe how fast the first half of the race went by and I managed to get into the pits to shoot a couple of late pit stops before heading to the mezzanine roof for the finish. That's when Indy started cranking up the pressure on the drivers and some ill-advised moves led to accidents and cautions which ultimately set up the frantic finish. After the ceremonies in Victory Lane and the kissing of the bricks, I then had a couple of hours of editing and uploading to do before finally leaving the track sometime after 6:00 p.m. By 8:00 p.m., I was all used up and the "Energizer Bunny" was out of juice; I crashed hard for 12 hours without even trying to watch the race replay on local television.

Turn 1 stands in the Southwest Vista were packed
I had been fighting an upper respiratory bug since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, so now it was two weeks later, the 500 was over, and the end of Indy's "Month of Jay" had taken its toll. I felt like I had been kicked in the chest by a mule and my head was about to explode. Over the previous five weekends, I had shot at Salem for ARCA, traveled to Talladega and back to shoot ARCA and NASCAR for Associated Press, then worked the Grand Prix and the 500 for It was a schedule that looked daunting last winter and reality proved that to be true. Did I mention working in different time zones, dealing with crazy extremes in weather, long distance driving, and still managing my regular teaching job? Anyway, I made it to a medcheck the night after the 500 once we got home from driving my Mom to her sister's in Warsaw on Memorial Day. All of a sudden, it seemed, another Indy 500 was in the books. As I write this now I am feeling much better with the antibiotics on board, our school year has ended, and my 57th birthday is this weekend. All is right with the world.

I only have one question:  Is it May yet?
Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28) got the best of Helio Castroneves (#3) in a colorful duel of yellow cars

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The 98th Indy 500: By The Numbers

Indy winners add their names and faces to history on the Borg Warner trophy
The 98th Indianapolis 500 is just five days away and the final practice session on Carburetion Day is up next in three days. So my annual foray into looking at the numbers for Indy is due. Since I'm a numbers guy, this is one of the more enjoyable blog posts I do every year as the history of Indy is chock full of statistics. This month alone, drivers have logged 10,959 total laps on Indy's 2.5 mile rectangular oval which equates to 27,397.5 miles. I'm sure that total would have been much higher if rain had not cut short several practice days last week. That's the equivalent of over 54 full race distances so every driver entered this year could have run 1.66 Indy 500's already. But the only 500 miles that counts is coming up this Sunday.

Ed Carpenter, 2013 and 2014 pole position winner
To paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like Indianapolis." 500 miles. 200 laps. 800 left turns. Seven or 8 pit stops. 33 drivers. One winner. Over the first 97 races, 67% of the winners have started in the first seven positions, so even though the qualifying format was changed this year due to having only 33 entrants, everyone knows that starting up front matters. That is why the Fast 9 shootout was so important this past Sunday. Thirty years ago in 1984, there were 117 cars entered, so while the times have certainly changed, the importance of winning the pole has not, since 20 previous winners have started in P1. With Ed Carpenter getting his second consecutive Indy 500 pole, he could be the rabbit for the rest of the field to chase on race day. Oddsmakers have him listed as a 7-1 choice to win. 

JPM could do it again this year
Car numbers also have an important history at Indy. Ed Carpenter's #20 has only won three times but the last one to do it with that number was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 in the famous duel with Al Unser, Jr. So now 25 years later, Ed has a chance to add his name to the list of winners with that car number. The car number with the second most all-time wins is #2, and this year that belongs to Juan Pablo Montoya who returns to Indy this year 14 years after his one and only 500 appearance when he won as a rookie in 2000. Montoya is also listed at 7-1 odds to win and he is with the powerful Penske team which has racked up more wins than any other team in Indy history. He will have his work cut out for him but he was the quickest driver outside the Fast 9 and nearly had the fastest qualifying attempt of the entire field. JPM will be highly motivated to win again and he has the backing to do it.

Is Will Power ready to win Indy?
Second and third place starting positions have each produced 11 Indy winners so James Hinchliffe and Will Power will be forces to reckon with. The Mayor of Hinchtown has had a tough month of May at Indy, suffering a concussion in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis which kept him off the track for a couple of days during 500 practice last week. But he stormed back in style during the Fast 9 shootout and was on the pole until Carpenter's run as the last qualifier knocked him off. Hinch goes off at 8-1 odds to win. "Willy P" finally won his first oval race last year at Fontana and is at 7-1 odds to win. Historically the third starting position has had an advantage getting into Turn 1 on the start, being on the preferred line, so watch for Will to lead the first lap. I don't think either Hinch or Power will lead the last lap however, as so much can go wrong over 500 miles at Indy.

Can Marco Andretti finally get some good luck at Indy?
According to the oddsmakers, yellow cars will be the ones to watch this Sunday as Marco Andretti is listed as the overall favorite at 5-1. Marco nearly won Indy as a rookie in 2006 and is always strong in the 500 but the Andretti luck (or lack thereof) always seems to bite him in the race. I don't see that changing this year even though he has a strong team at Andretti Autosports behind him.

My favorite to win is the yellow car in the throwback paint scheme: Helio Castroneves. The Pennzoil livery mimics that worn by the car driven by Rick Mears in 1984. Mears just happens to be a four-time Indy winner for Penske and Helio could match that with a win this weekend. He is listed at 6-1 odds behind Marco and is starting fourth where six previous winners have started. He has the #3 on the nose of his Dallara which has been on Indy winners a total of 11 times, the most of any car number. Helio was also the last driver to win wearing the #3 so while his hopes of winning another Indy pole position didn't pan out last Sunday, he would surely trade a pole for Indy win #4 on May 25th. Whatever happens, I will be there shooting for again so be sure to visit the site often to see my photos and get all the news from the Speedway. It's called "The Speedway" for a reason so come on out to IMS this weekend and see history in the making.
My fearless Indy 500 prediction:  Helio Castroneves will get Indy win #4 this Sunday

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Indy 500: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rain gave way to cool, windy gray skies Wednesday at IMS
Wednesday May 14th was a perfect example of why I love the Indy 500 and living in Indianapolis during the month of May. Spring weather in central Indiana is notoriously unpredictable and the last few days have been all of that and more. Last weekend for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the first day of practice for the 500, it was in the 80's with lots of sunshine. Yesterday the forecast was for rain the entire day with falling temperatures, which was mostly correct, and when I got up yesterday morning, I thought sure the whole day would be a washout. By 3:00 o'clock I could see that the parking lots were drying at the school where I teach so I kept checking the weather radar, Twitter and the Speedway's "garage cam" hoping that it might clear up enough for some track activity once I was done with classes at 4:00. Sure enough, the weather "window" opened and by the time I got to IMS, track drying was almost complete and I knew I had gotten lucky. Living in Indy is May can provide bonuses like that when it's usually less than 30 minutes to get to the track no matter where you are. But now it was much colder and blustery so I needed the jacket and gloves I keep in my car just for days like yesterday.

Josef Newgarden's crew makes pit lane adjustments
Once the track went green, the activity got frantic as there appeared to be another bad weather cell moving in that could cut the already short day even shorter. I knew I had to get busy as well since there would be lots of people that would write the day off and I had an opportunity to get photos for that could be unique with so few people around. I decided to concentrate on the garage area, pit lane and the front stretch since it wasn't clear how long the weather window would stay open. I noticed right away that teams were really pushing hard to get laps run and were making lots of pit lane adjustments rather than wheeling the cars all the way back to the garage area. The order of the day seemed to be spring and shock changes and it was very interesting to see that work being done while packs of cars raced down the main straight in the background.
Ryan Briscoe (8) passes EJ Viso on the front stretch

There was also a lot of drafting and running in packs with passes being made going into Turn 1, which I thought was highly unusual with only two practice days left before qualifying. However, the forecast for today and tomorrow calls for more rain and the weekend temperatures are predicted to only be in the 50's, so any laps the teams could run could prove beneficial as the conditions Wednesday likely were similar to what they will face this weekend. There were lots of concerned faces on pit lane as the next weather system approached and then Jack Hawksworth crashed in Turn 3 around 6:00 which would have been the normal closing time for the track. But in another example of how the Speedway has become more open to adapting to circumstances, they had announced that practice would be extended to 7:00 pm which was quite unusual for a weekday practice day. Then it rained again and the day was over after only an hour or so of practice, yet teams still ran over 1,000 laps.

Roger Penske looked concerned Wednesday
With GP of Indy winner Simon Pagenaud setting fast time in Wednesday's abbreviated practice session and more wet weather in the forecast, teams are going to start feeling the pressure of Indianapolis ratchet up. Everyone starts the week feeling free and easy with lots of time to prepare on the calendar but Mother Nature often has her own ideas about the actual track time. Indy is a place that everyone wants to win and there is little risk of bumping this year, yet teams still want to start up front and the competition between Penske, Ganassi and Andretti has now been supplemented by Sam Schmidt's relatively small team and their talented wheelman Pagenaud. Even if the weather isn't warm, a team and driver can get hot at Indy where everything just seems to fall into place. It's too soon to say whether Pagenaud and Schmidt will have that kind of month but I would be willing to bet the other teams have taken notice.

I have to teach late today and won't be able to get back to IMS until tomorrow afternoon, so much could change between now and then. I'm glad I'm only 30 minutes away from the track no matter what and I'll be doing my best to make some pictures for Why? Because it's Indy and that's what I do. See you at the Speedway! ANd keep checking for more Indy 500 news and photos.
Tools of the trade at Indianapolis. Who will have the magic combination?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Simon Pagenaud Wins Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Simon Pagenaud: now an Indy winner
By just about any measure, the first ever Indycar road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) was a success. The weather for race day was perfect and a decent crowd reportedly in excess of 40,000 fans showed up. The infield spectator mounds were packed and the Indycar drivers put on a show for those in attendance. I have suggested to many people that this was a perfect opportunity for the casual Indycar fan to experience the Verizon Indycars in a road racing setting. And what better place to do it than at the Speedway? Not only that, if the only Indycar race you have ever attended is the Indianapolis 500, then watching the Indycar drivers joust on the IMS road course should have been an eye opener. The course was fast and racy, and there was much to see, beginning with a start line accident and ending with the fast and likable Frenchman Simon Pagenaud taking his third career Indycar win. Indiana's harsh winter and late spring did no favors for the Speedway's crews who were tasked with preparing the reconfigured road course for the event, as some areas where earthmoving had occurred were a little ragged and not up to the Speedway's usual level of landscape grooming. But I don't think anyone noticed who was there and the show went on with relatively few glitches.

Sebastian Bourdais on the IMS frontstretch following one of Friday's rain showers 
I was shooting for  and had a very busy weekend with two full days of shooting the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Friday and Saturday followed by a quick turnaround for the opening day of Indy 500 practice on Sunday. The weather on Friday was typical spring in Indiana - if you don't like the weather then wait five minutes and it will change. And change it did, with several different periods of rain quickly giving way to sunshine and dry conditions.

Ryan Hunter-Reay found the wall in GP of Indy qualifying
This really created challenges for the teams but made for some very interesting photo opportunities, with rooster tails of spray galore and a potential Indycar pole winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, smacking the concrete during Indycar qualifications after hydroplaning in Turn 14. I was waiting near the yard of bricks in the pits to take pictures of the pole award when the sound of squealing tires resonated between the grandstands on the front stretch, followed shortly by the crunch of Hunter-Reay's car into the wall.  It has been quite awhile since I have heard an Indycar crack the concrete at IMS but it was quite loud and very different than the sound heard for the last few years when they hit the metal SAFER barriers. It's a good thing it was not a high speed accident and I think this area of the front stretch is something they will need to address in the future by extending the SAFER barrier further north so the cars can't hit concrete when coming back onto the oval from Turn 14.

Simon Pagenaud navigates a turn in Indy's infield
I felt like I had a good weekend shooting and it's nice seeing my pictures used with various articles on The site uses a ton of pictures from a variety of sources and I am glad to be considered as a contributor. Even as long as I've been shooting racing, I am still amazed when a situation comes up which forces me to learn something new. I had a couple of those situations this weekend and I am glad that they arise as they keep me on my toes and force me to evaluate what I am doing and how I am doing it. I won't tell you all the things I've learned this weekend, but I sure wish I had a 500 mm lens!

The new/old paint scheme Helio Castroneves has for the 500
Now the attention shifts from the IMS road course to the oval for the Indy 500. Qualifications are this weekend and the whole format has been changed so the pole winner won't be known until Sunday. Helio Castroneves is looking for his fourth Indy 500 win and leads the Penske stable in bright yellow Pennzoil colors this year, a paint scheme virtually identical to the one sported by another Penske driver and four-time Indy winner Rick Mears. Helio even changed his helmet design to mimic the one used by Mears back in the day. It's no surprise that after only two days of practice that Penske drivers are near the top of the speed charts, and the competition this week between Roger Penske's crew of Helio, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya will be fierce. Power finally won an oval race last season and Montoya won the 500 in his only previous try so they will certainly be drivers to watch. Michael Andretti's five car stable will also be in the mix, despite Hunter-Reay's accident and the concussion suffered by Jame Hinchcliffe in Indy's GP race. Of course the picture wouldn't be complete without Chip Ganassi who has last year's Indy 500 winner (Tony Kanaan), last year's Indycar season champion (Scott Dixon) and the return of Ryan Briscoe who has won the pole for the 500 before.

Every driver wants their likeness on the Borg-Warner trophy
I am looking forward to getting back to the track to work this week as my teaching schedule gives me limited opportunities until later in the week. Qualifying this weekend should be interesting but Pole Day will be different this year. Pole Day has historically been the first Saturday of qualifications for decades, but now the "Fast Nine" has been moved to Sunday.  Changes to qualifying this year have been done to spice up qualifying weekend due to the slim entry list and concerns about whether the traditional field of 33 cars will be achievable this year. No one is certain how this new format will work out, but one thing is certain about the Speedway now:  nothing is certain. The new leadership of the track has shown the willingness to try lots of new things in order to maximize revenues from the property. Seeking public funding assistance as they did in 2013 for future improvements was a whole new arena for IMS management. When I read recently that former Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, has joined the Board, I knew that the groundwork was being laid for future forays into the politics of public money. Having the Sports Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) conduct a three day race event in June is another new addition to the IMS calendar for 2014. Now if the Town of Speedway can follow through on its plans to change the alignment of 16th Street and other nearby roads, maybe IMS will have enough land on the south end of the track to build a condo/race suite tower ala Texas, Atlanta and other racetracks.

I doubt anyone will be thinking about road or condo construction at IMS this weekend, with the possible exception of Doug Boles and Mark Miles. I just hope they can put on a good show for the fans, since I'm not sure the speed and risk of qualifying really translates all that well on television. Now with a few more inches of turbo boost, that could all change too! I'll be back with more later from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dega Done: Grand Prix of Indy Up Next

This Is Talladega! The Nationwide Series put on a wild show on Saturday
My Talladega road trip last weekend to shoot ARCA and NASCAR for Associated Press went off without a hitch and now I am gearing up for Indycars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) the rest of this month. Track action for the first ever road course race at IMS kicks off tomorrow and then the Verizon Indycar competitors begin Indy 500 practice on the big oval this Sunday, one day after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is run. It's a quick turnaround for everyone and the big question will continue to be:  will they get 33 cars for the traditional 11 rows of three for the 500? We shall see, and I will be shooting for and blogging throughout the month to share my impressions. You know I will have an opinion or ten to share!
AP used this shot of Denny Hamlin taking the Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup win on Sunday
I had an excellent weekend at Dega, not quite as good as last October's NASCAR weekend, but I did get five pictures out on the AP wire from Saturday and Sunday's races. I didn't photograph any flipping race cars like last fall, but I did get to shoot some celebrities, some crashes and cars on fire, which is a pretty good setup for a freelance stringer like me. I really enjoyed the variety of shooting locations from which I worked this weekend, and the confidence my AP bosses have shown in me when I go to Dega. Even if I don't sell any pictures, I am still highly motivated to do a great job for them every time I go down there. Saturday morning for the ARCA race, I was on top of the highest grandstand in the tri-oval. Then I got moved to the Turn 4 photo tower in the afternoon for the Nationwide race. I didn't have a hot pass so I didn't worry about shooting in the garage or pits, and then Sunday I got positioned at pit exit on the inside with a perfect view of the start-finish line and the flag stand. My job was to get the checkered flag shot Sunday and stay ready for anything else which might happen. I was hoping for a photo finish but the shot (above) that I got of Denny Hamlin taking the checkered and yellow flags was on the money so I was a happy camper.

Kasey Kahne's car caught fire during Saturday's Nationwide race; he was not hurt
One of the biggest thrills shooting for AP is to google my name afterwards to see where my photos have been used. Their worldwide distribution is among the best in mass media and the first link I saw of my Denny Hamlin shot was from the Denver Post! Another great aspect about shooting for AP in other parts of the country is the chance to meet and work with people I wouldn't ordinarily encounter. My experience has been that southern hospitality is a real thing, and when I got to the track Saturday morning, one of the first familiar voices I heard was a woman hollering "Hey babycakes!" and I knew it was an AP connection. Last fall at Dega, I had told the wife of an AP shooter about the nicknames my lady friend has given me (including The Energizer Bunny, Mr. Photographer and Babycakes) so it was cool that she remembered and greeted me that way. She was there to shoot and help out as our photo runner and her husband and I kept her busy on Saturday with repeated trips to our location in Turn 4 during the Nationwide race. The above shot of Kasey Kahne was from Saturday's race and for a photo stringer, the more spectacular the incident the better.

Actress Pamela Anderson at Dega
A two day race weekend can be exhausting but it's always worth it. Sometimes there's luck involved with photos that get put on the wire and sometimes it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being ready. That happened Saturday morning as I went into the ARCA garage area to say hello to my ARCA series friends and was told that actress Pamela Anderson was there with ARCA driver Leilani Munter. Naturally I had to go make some pictures. I forgot all about the shots until later that day when the AP folks were looking at my CF cards. As a result, they found two of Anderson that got transmitted. I assure you celebrity photos were the last thing I expected to get used this past weekend. Does it get any better that that? I keep asking myself the same question and the universe keeps on answering with a resounding "The best is yet to come" the more I shoot and network.

So tomorrow the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens for the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis, I have the hot pass I need to shoot in the pits during the race and will be extremely busy covering the event from all angles for Working for them is a whole different ballgame compared to AP as I have freedom to roam the track, shoot people, cars in action and "event" setting shots for uploading. My next three weekends are set for Indycar racing, my first motorsports love, and I get to do it at the most famous racetrack in the world. For now I will leave you with slideshows from all three races at Talladega this past weekend. Your best bet is to find me on Twitter @alleygroup if you want to track me down. See you at Indy!

Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup Race Action

Aaron's 312 Nationwide Series Race Action

ARCA Hall of Fame 200 Race Action

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Talladega Baby!

As they like to say in Bama, "This is Talladega"
So far, so good. The trip south has gone off without a hitch with a near record drive time on Friday, perfect weather for the weekend, and I got four pictures moved by AP yesterday. Today is the Aaron's 499 and I will be in Turn 1 at ground level for the first time and am told I should have a view of the start-finish line. Shooting in the Turn 4 tower yesterday for the Nationwide race was fruitful and I am looking forward to another good day here at Dega. To paraphrase an old Saturday Night Live line:  "Talladega has been very, very good to me." 

Elliott Sadler (11)  took the Nationwide win
Today I will just concentrate on doing my job, which is to make pictures that help AP tell the story of the event. Our friend Dave Martin is no longer with us after suffering a heart attack shooting a college bowl game this past New Year's Eve, but he is here in spirit and we are all thinking about him. There's already been conversation about "Mullet-isms" and not having him around this year to engage in the story telling he was known for has been strange. But as I have said before, I learned a lot from Dave and will try my best to live up to his legacy today. His pet phrase and pep talk was to go "make some f-ing pictures" and that sentiment underlies everything we do here. At our photo meeting this morning, we were encouraged to go make the best pictures of our lives and not to "get beat" by the competition. High standards indeed, but the ingredients and experience are here to make that a reality.

The Nationwide race had it's "Big One" Saturday in Turn 4
Anyone who follows NASCAR knows that Talladega is known for three- and four-wide pack racing which almost always seems to lead to "The Big One" where a wad of race cars ends up in the wall. Yesterday's Nationwide race was no different and I was on it from the beginning as they entered Turn 3. As they came out from behind the wall of motor homes in front of me, I loosened up my framing, and in hindsight I was probably too loose. Consider it a lesson learned for today...

Once I head back to Indy tonight, my crazy month of May will shift gears and focus on Indycar racing for the rest of the month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Being at Talladega is a fantastic way to start off the month and I know that whatever has gone on before today, there is one certainty:  the best is yet to come.

The Nationwide race got tight and they commenced to wreckin'

Thursday, May 1, 2014

It's Finally May! Let The Madness Begin

Ken Schrader (#52) leads the field at Salem on April 27, 2014
After shooting last Sunday's race at the rough and rugged half mile of Salem Speedway for ARCA, May has finally arrived and it is off to the big tracks for the next few weeks. So if you ask the question "Where in the world is Jay?" ala Where's Waldo, the answer now will be Talladega and Indianapolis, as I head south this weekend to shoot ARCA and NASCAR for Associated Press and then back home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next weekend for the very non-traditional opening of the track with the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis for Last weekend started a string of weekends where I will be shooting racing and my birthday wraps up this month so it's no wonder that people who know me refer to this as "The Month of Jay". I like that!

Schrader's damaged car after the race
This was my 16th straight ARCA race at Salem and the series always puts on a good show. The race is a big deal for local fans and I always enjoy shooting there. It looked like Ken Schrader had it in the bag until about 10 laps to go when he ran into the back of a lapped car which was fighting to stay on the lead lap. Schrader damaged his right front fender and on the final restart blew the right front tire which sent him into the wall in Turn 1 after taking the green. Some people were upset that ARCA did not throw the yellow but Kenny kept running slowly and finished the race out of the racing line, so I think it was a good call to let the eventual winner Grant Enfinger fight it out with Spencer Gallagher. Since ARCA will run as many green-white-checkers as are necessary to finish under green, I don't see how Enfinger's popular win can be disappointing to anyone, but then racers are an opinionated lot, so I am not surprised that there was some grumbling.

Schrader congratulated winner Grant Enfinger with style
I think I've been to more races at Salem now than at any track besides Indy so it has become a home away from home. It's especially nice since I have friends who head up Salem's track safety crew and we have a bit of a reunion each time I make the trek down I-65. I am also looking forward to shooting ARCA this weekend at Talladega for AP. The big bonus for me comes this June and July when I will do five (5) races as the main photographer for the ARCA series:  Pocono (for the first time), Michigan, Winchester, Chicagoland and Lucas Oil Raceway. As a result, I will get to see ARCA race on all kinds of circuits this year while providing photos for the series' websites and social media presence. So I'll probably have some other road trip stories to tell this summer on the way to Indiana-ville.

Tomorrow I head south on I-65 again, but this time just a bit further south:  Talladega! It will be my first event with the Birmingham/Montgomery AP gang since local AP chief photographer Dave Martin died this past New Year's Eve while shooting a college football bowl game. I expect another reunion of sorts is likely with many people I met through working with Dave. I learned a lot from him and he always took care of me at Dega, so I am anxious to see everyone again and make some f-ing pictures, as "Mullet" would say. I'm sure there will be some sort of tribute to him this weekend, and I am glad to have the chance to be a part of whatever happens. My biggest regret in working for Dave is that I don't have a single picture of he and I together, so I hope we make sure and take a group picture with everyone shooting for AP this weekend. Life is short and we never know when our last time together will be.

I've had some amazing weekends at Dega, going back to my first spring race in 2011 when tornadoes and severe weather wracked the area on the Friday night preceding the weekend. I was camping in an area outside the track that year and was getting calls from friends and family back home in Indy to see if I was OK as they heard reports of the Alabama weather. Similar weather strafed the Birmingham area this past week and I know several of my AP friends were out in harm's way getting pictures of the storms and their aftermath. Last year's race weekend was also effected by bad weather with lengthy rain delays both Saturday and Sunday, when I spent successive 10+ hour days hiking up and down the main grandstands either shooting or taking cover from the elements. The forecast is much better for this weekend so I am excited to see how the ARCA, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races will play out. I'm thinking the over-under on how many minutes it will take before I hear a fan holler "Junior!" once I'm at the track is two. That may be conservative.

After Dega comes Indy the next weekend and the "Month of Jay" will be in full swing. Come on out to the track if you're around. I'll be out there somewhere. Your best bet to find me is on Twitter @alleygroup. Until then, here's a few race action pix from Salem. If you want to see more pix, then go to ARCA's website. Why not buy a few while you're there? It will help out a future star in stock car racing.