Sunday, July 27, 2014

ARCA Kids Rule Chicagoland and Lucas Oil Raceway

Mason Mitchell's monumental burnout after his Chicagoland win was epic
The 2014 season continues to be a year of firsts for ARCA and I've had the pleasure of shooting races this summer which added to the series' lengthy history of important moments. After losing Winchester on the last lap, Mason Mitchell came back at Chicagoland two weeks later with a chip on his shoulder and finally got his first win in the series. Mitchell wrapped up his win with a burnout for the ages and there was no doubting the joy this young man was feeling as he celebrated the win after finishing second four previous times this season. Then this past weekend, Winchester Speedway winner Brandon Jones showed up at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis and swept the event in style with a pole and race win. Jones did it without any last lap heroics this time and managed his second win in only two career ARCA starts!

Brandon Jones: 2 for 2 in ARCA
This is exactly why I enjoy ARCA racing so much: young talented drivers finding their way to victory lane and learning racecraft in the process. Whereas Jones needed a last lap, 4th turn bump and run move to get by Mitchell at Winchester, he was up front all night at Lucas Oil Raceway and took advantage of the misfortunes of others to snag another win. And he did it cleanly as the #4 Exide car had barely a mark on it after 200 frantic laps on the virtually flat 5/8 mile Lucas Oil short track. Similarly, Mitchell stalked the leaders at Chicagoland and won comfortably barely two weeks after his Winchester disappointment. It's a wondrous thing to see these young drivers mature before your eyes. For awhile at Lucas Oil, it looked like Mitchell was going to take back-to-back wins as he had led numerous laps until a rear gear problem knocked him down the order. Having worked all three ARCA races this July in succession, I got to see this maturation process first hand and am going to miss working with these guys now that my teaching responsibilities are gearing up again this week. I guess I will just have to wait until they return to Salem in September to see how they've progressed.

Justin Boston won at Toledo but gave a win at Lucas Oil away
Mitchell and Jones are not the only ARCA "kids". Fifteen year old J. J. Haley has already won a pole this year. Haley and Kyle Weber are so young that they are not allowed to race on any of the big tracks yet! Add in Ken Schrder protege Matt Tifft, Kyle Weatherman, Justin Boston, Austin Wayne Self and others, then you get an idea of how strong this series is in terms of young talent. While Grant Enfinger is a relative veteran and the current ARCA points leader, he and other vets like Tom Hessert, 10-time ARCA champ Frank Kimmel and the busiest man in motorsports Ken Schrader have their hands full every time out as these young guys are fast, fearless and hungry to move up the ladder in stock car racing. I hope I can be there many more times as they fight it out!

While the ARCA gang heads to Pocono this week, I will be getting ready to start another school year teaching algebra and geometry, so my racing work will have to take a backseat to my real livelihood for the time being. But rest assured you will hear from me again as the ARCA season winds down and we find out whether old age and treachery will indeed rule out over youth and exuberance. Until then enjoy these slideshows. If you want to see more photos from these (and other) ARCA races, then follow this link (ARCA Racing Photo Site) for all the action. See you down the road at a racetrack somewhere.

Chicagoland 150 Race Action

Lucas Oil Raceway Scott's 200 Race Action

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

History Made at Winchester by ARCA Again: Rookie Brandon Jones Wins First Time Out

Brandon Jones took his first ARCA win at Winchester
Indiana boasts more than its share of short tracks, and Winchester Speedway is the granddaddy of them all, celebrating 100 years of racing this year. So ARCA came to town this past weekend for the 25th time and put on another exciting show on the track which bills itself as "The World's Fastest 1/2 Mile". It's the second ARCA race I have worked this season as its primary photographer and I am beginning to think I am a good luck charm for the young racers who make up so much of ARCA's talent base. As at Michigan last month when Austin Theriault won in his first ever ARCA start, Brandon Jones duplicated that feat Sunday at Winchester with a last lap, last corner bump and run pass to take the win. It was also Jones' first ever ARCA start and the first time he had ever been to Indiana! Second place finisher Mason Mitchell was none too happy about getting roughed up on the last lap, but I'm sure he will learn something from this experience.

Rick Benjamin led the CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast crew
The race at Winchester was televised live by CBS Sports Network in a new deal for ARCA and the broadcast was very well done, following on the last one televised from Elko in Minnesota. I am really glad someone has picked up ARCA telecasts for the short tracks as people really need to see these guys race. With more exposure like that, I would hope the fans will come out and support the series more. I admit I might be biased in supporting ARCA, but I have been shooting its races regularly since 2006 and have seen many of the current NASCAR stars make their initial impact in ARCA. If you want to get in on the ground floor of stock car racing's future elite, then ARCA is the place to be. With its 37 degree banking and worn, uneven track surface, Winchester is a fast and daunting little race track with 16 second laps creating a dizzying spectacle for race fans who came out this weekend for the Herr's Taste the Chase 200. If you missed it, be sure to find the CBS telecast as the in-car camera shots give a perfect example of how fast and difficult this track is to navigate.

Lucy Angel sounded great during pre-race festivities
It was really quite a weekend at Winchester. I was there Saturday and Sunday when ARCA and the Top Speed Modifieds raced, but there was a winged sprint car show on Friday with a series organized by former racer and current Indycar team owner Davey Hamilton. Ageless workhorse Kenny Schrader took the pole for the ARCA race and set a new track record in the process. Winchester had former driver Merle Bettenhausen on hand all weekend as the event's grand marshal, and he seemed really thrilled to be involved. Venturini Motorsports was involved in getting country music performers Lucy Angel to entertain fans prior to the ARCA race. I have to give the track folks at Winchester credit for doing everything possible to put together an entertaining and exciting weekend at the race track. While I am sure they were disappointed with the turnout for Friday and Saturday, Sunday's crowd was pretty decent and fans sure got their money's worth from the time they entered the main gate until they headed home after another slam-bang ARCA finish.

Brandon Jones
One of my duties as ARCA's photographer is to take head shots of new drivers before they can practice or race. It's a green screen shot which gets used by television and isn't very difficult technically, but it's a fun opportunity to have some conversation one on one with these "kids" that just keep coming to ARCA to race. I love that part, and now for the last two ARCA races I've worked, a first-time participant has won, so that's why I joked earlier about being a good luck charm for these young racers. Next weekend I have the same job at Chicagoland Speedway, so we'll see who the newbies are again and if that good luck streak continues for someone. Get on out to an ARCA race soon. You'll enjoy it and get some autographs of drivers who have, or who will, make names for themselves in stock car racing! Until next time, here's a short slideshow from the race. If you want to see more of my work from Winchester then go to ARCA's website and order any photos you'd like to have. See you at the track!