Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Year, Another Racing Season Done

On the job for ARCA this season
I am a racing photographer. I have been since 1984, and right now I don't know what the future holds. I'm also a teacher, writer, and a soccer and basketball official, so my life gets plenty busy at times. This has been one of those years. I have had some great photography opportunities and spent a lot of time on the road, either on racing road trips, or going to venues around Central Indiana to officiate youth sports, or visiting Akron, Ohio to check on my Mom. Add in a March trip to Chicago to see the Experience Hendrix show, a spring break trip to The Smokies and a summer getaway to South Haven, Michigan, I've covered a lot of ground this year. But since this blog is about one photographer's journey in motorsports, here are the numbers for 2014: Nineteen races at eight different tracks (ARCA - 7; NASCAR - 5; Indycar - 2; Indy Lights - 3; and TUDOR sports cars - 2); two Airtran flights to Florida and the rest behind the wheel of my RSX-S. I'm ready for more.

The Deltawing at Daytona
My 2014 season started in January shooting the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Series Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for Associated Press (AP). It was my first ever 24 Hour race and I loved every minute of it. My bucket list includes LeMans and other sportscar endurance races but who knows if I will ever be able to make that happen. It's tough to find paying clients as a racing photographer, but the experiences I've had this year have been worth every penny I've spent. Needless to say, I've generated more expenses than income this year, try as I might to turn that equation around. Along the way, I write about each trip and event here, and try to share my best images through online galleries, Facebook and Twitter, so if anyone who knows me wonders where I am on a given weekend, they can find out by checking my social media accounts!

The Daytona 500 ran into the night after rain delays
I was back to Daytona in February for AP for the Daytona 500 race weekend where I got to shoot the truck series, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. If there is such a thing as a lost leader in racing photography, then these Daytona weekends would fall into that category. While I catalogued numerous images for my portfolio from my Florida trips, got to walk on the beach and feel the ocean between my toes, I still haven't made it to the point where people say "Hey, I want to hire him". I'm not entirely sure why that is the case, but working on spec is a challenge unto itself. I do not regret the investment in time or money that I have made pursuing my passion for racing photography.

Salem Speedway in the spring
March was spent enduring a seemingly endless Indiana winter, so the next race I did was at Salem Speedway the last weekend in April for the ARCA series. I have spent a lot of effort the last few years making connections with ARCA people to shoot for the series and 2014 was the best year I have had yet with ARCA. The Salem weekend was the first of seven (7) ARCA races I would have the chance to shoot this year, although the ones at Salem and Talladega did not involve a direct working relationship as the primary series photographer. That would come during the summer months when I worked for the series at Michigan, Chicagoland, Winchester and Lucas Oil Raceway. More on those later...

I love shooting at Talladega; it IS "more than a race" as they say
Once April was over and the Month of May began, I was busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. The first May weekend, I trekked to Talladega to shoot NASCAR as a stringer for AP. This was the first time I had been to see my Alabama friends since the passing of AP photographer Dave Martin, and I really needed to be there to honor his memory and support my friends. I had a good weekend overall and got an APTOPix of the Sprint Cup finish out of the deal, so it was a trip where monetary concerns were secondary to other considerations.

Simon Pagenaud
The second weekend in May opened up Indycar activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis where I was shooting for That weekend included two Indy Lights races and a popular win in Indycar for Simon Pagenaud. The first ever Indycar road course race at IMS was well received by the fans and mixed up spring weather brought rain and sunshine at various times to spice up the on track activities. Then the day after the GP of Indy, practice opened for the Indy 500 on the oval which continued through the week and was followed by qualifications the next weekend. The next week brought by Carburetion Day, the Indy Lights Freedom 100 and the Indy 500 itself where a stirring victory by Ryan Hunter-Reay capped off a hectic month.

An "American Boy" won Indy
After two weeks of teaching summer school, I headed to Akron to see my Mom and had planned to use that trip as a stopping-of point for my ARCA Series work at Michigan for two days. I got to Akron and discovered that Mom had developed pneumonia so it was a racing trip that almost didn't happen and I sandwiched the race between hospital trips until other family members could arrive a few days later. I started off July working for ARCA again, this time at Winchester Speedway, which is only about 70 miles from home. Similar to the month of May, it is so nice to work hard at a racetrack all day and then be able to come home and sleep in your own bed! Two days at Winchester was productive and the event ended with a fantastic finish and a first time winner in Brandon Jones who was making his very first ARCA race start ever. I know eventual series champion Mason Mitchell was not happy about how Jones snatched the win from him with a last lap 4th turn bump and run, but that's how racing goes sometimes. Two weeks later, Mitchell made up for it at Chicagoland with his first ARCA series win which I had the pleasure to document through two more days of ARCA Series work. Mason capped it off with perhaps the most epic celebratory burnout of the season, with a cloud of tire smoke billowing to the top of the frontstretch grandstands. It was a great moment to capture and was the springboard for Mitchell's season championship.

Mason Mitchell burned 'em down at Chicagoland
The next week I was back in Indy for ARCA's single day event at Lucas Oil Raceway. Shooting these one day race events are often more hectic than longer race weekends, as all the shooting requirements for ARCA are crammed into a condensed schedule with little time for editing. Producing the necessary photo documentation then is the biggest challenge under such time constraints, as I try to blend my own quality standards with the needs of the series. That race was memorable for the fact that Brandon Jones got another ARCA win in only his second series start. It was followed the next weekend by another trip to Mom's in Akron and then the resumption of school and my teaching duties.

Salem winner Tom Hessert is bathed in sparks
A racing drought then ensued for me until the middle of September when I went back to Salem to shoot the ARCA race. I was not shooting for the series that Salem weekend so I was able to enjoy the event and shoot without any deadline pressure which was a nice change. As it turned out, that Salem trip would be the final race event of my 2014 season as I was not able to make my usual return trip to Talladega in October. As I write this now, we are starting our fall break on my teaching job, and even though I am looking back on my 2014 racing work, I am already looking ahead to next year to seek other opportunities. I do have an assignment in December to help shoot the annual ARCA awards banquet here in Indianapolis, so that will be fun and a different type of challenge. I know it's not the usual fast cars and the racing fuel vapors won't bring tears to my eyes, but I will get to see my ARCA friends again and help them celebrate a memorable season. Taken as a whole, I am proud of my body of work this year and enter the off season with no regrets. So if you need someone for 2015 who knows there way around a racetrack and Lightroom, I could be your guy! With that I will leave you with a photo from where my season began this year:  dawn at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. See you at the races!
My first Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona was unforgettable

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Street Race in Indy Proposed

Corvette GTP on the streets of Columbus, Ohio
But it never happened. Oh how I wish it had.

Back in the 1980's when IMSA was racing in the streets of Columbus, Ohio with the Camel GT series, there was discussion about conducting a similar race here in Indianapolis. This was before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had an infield road course and before NASCAR came to town, so it seemed like a good idea that never got wings. I'm sure the Hulman family would have been against it. Those of us who remember downtown Indianapolis in the 1980's, however, will recall that Circle Center Mall was just a series of full block holes in the ground, Union Station had just re-opened after renovation, the Hoosier Dome was nearly new and other than the Colts coming to town in 1984, there wasn't a lot to crow about for our fair city.

Ever since then, I have wondered what a street race course in Indianapolis might look like. Comparatively speaking, Indy's downtown is doing much better today than 30 years ago and I'm sure the merchants, city fathers and others would never support a street race now, but can you imagine having the Indycar Grand Prix of Indianapolis downtown now? What about the TUDOR United Sports Car Series? Formula 1 would never do it and we couldn't afford Bernie's ransom anyway, so that's out of the question. But we have all the hotels we need right downtown today, the racers could go past our fabulous Eiteljorg Museum, downtown zoo, Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and the Mall, while the Convention Center would be an ideal location for the paddock and a motorsports trade show during the event weekend.

If I were to design an Indy street course, it would look like this; they would run counter-clockwise. My racing photography season is over now so naturally I had to do something to keep myself entertained! Some people ask "Why?" I ask, "Why not?"

Indianapolis Grand Prix street course circuit