Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Best Racing Photos

My first Rolex 24 at Daytona was an incredible experience
It's hard to believe that 2014 has come to an end already. This time last year, I was preparing for and anxiously anticipating the chance to shoot my first Rolex 24 Hours race at Daytona. While my schedule for 2015 is still up in the air, I had to take a look back at 2014 and sort through a few thousand images to come up with what I thought were my best from this past season. There are 75 images in this slideshow and they run the gamut of all the race series I covered in 2014. From the Rolex 24 and Daytona 500 weekend for Associated Press, through the month of May at Indianapolis for, then into the summer months and the fall working for ARCA - I had some wonderful opportunities in 2014. While I didn't get to do as many races as I would have liked in 2014, I still logged a lot of road miles and was fortunate to fly to Daytona twice, so all things considered it has been an excellent year.

Since this is probably my last blog post for the year, I think it's important to acknowledge a few people for giving me the chance to contribute and make some pictures. My heartfelt thanks go out to Mike Stewart and John Raoux at Associated Press, Eric Gilbert, Rainier Ehrhardt, Covy Moore and the gang at,  Richard Deaton at Salem Speedway, and George Mergen and his colleagues at ARCA. I'm sure I've missed a few that deserve recognition and I can't forget my photographer friends wherever you are today - from Chicago to Indy to Talladega to Daytona. I miss  working with you and seeing you all at the racetracks. I look forward to doing it again in 2015. Safe travels everyone, Godspeed and Happy New Year!

42 Day Photo Challenge: Completed

When I started this challenge back in November, my intention was to provide some structure for a daily discipline with a creative activity. With no races to shoot, I decided I needed a project to work on over a longer period of time, using photos from my archives which would be framed by weekly themes. I hope you enjoyed the daily updates over the last six weeks. Today I have compiled the entire set of photos from my personal challenge into a single slideshow to wrap up that project.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Racing For Fans

Racers would race without fans, but there would be no sport without them. And the future of racing begins with kids - not just the ones running quarter midgets or go karts - but those who get dragged to an event and then fall in love with the sport as I did at an early age. The sounds, smells, emotion and sensory overload that fans experience at races are what keeps them coming back and what better way to ensure the future of motorsports than to start them young? That is why I chose the theme of "Fans" for the final week of my personal 42 Day Photo Challenge and as it turned out, all the photos feature kids at racetracks. What's not to love? After cycling through weekly themes of Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Joy, ending my challenge with Fans seemed only natural since fans are the backbone of racing. Now I need another photo challenge since it is the offseason for most racing although I am looking forward to 2015 and what the future may hold for me in the sport. After all, I started as a fan with a camera and became a photographer.

Fans: Day 36

These boys caught my eye at Indianapolis in 2010 when I was shooting The Indy 500 in Turn 3. The area behind the photographers in 3 is a long spectator mound where fans gather with their families and watch the race while lounging on blankets or kicking back in bag chairs. The area behind the mound is a whole different story as that is where the "Snake Pit" has moved, full of college kids and hard core partiers who come for the infield show and mostly don't care who wins the 500. I had selected quite a few photos of the party crowd to use in my theme this week, but decided against it the more I looked at my older images. The party crowd comes and goes, but these boys are all in and I loved that. I am guessing they are brothers and by the looks on their faces, they are amazed at what they are seeing, with the younger boy pointing out something exciting while the older boy is decked out in Danica gear he must have gotten in 2008 when she was running the Motorola colors. I don't know what happened to these boys the rest of that race day as things got really busy for me later when Mike Conway crashed on the last lap, but I would bet that Indy 500 experience was enough to make them fans for life.

Fans: Day 37

This photo was not actually taken at a race track, but it was taken during Indy 500 related activities in 2010. I had gone to the Convention Center downtown to pick up a 500 Festival Mini Marathon packet for a friend and noticed Danica's GoDaddy show car being lovingly admired by this young man. As I shot a few frames, I could see he was talking to himself as he first felt the Firestone tires, then the sidepod of the car and then finally looked inside the cockpit. I have wondered what he was telling himself that day, but I'll bet he's been to the 500 since then!

Fans: Day 38

Without intending to, these first three days of this theme have revolved around Danica Patrick. She took the Indycar series by storm and did so much to galvanize fan support during her years in the series. This young lady might not even have known about Danica's Indycar exploits as she waited on her parents at the Atlanta NASCAR race in 2010, wearing face paint and her Danica GoDaddy attire from her first year racing stock cars in the Nationwide Series. The faraway look on her face is what caught my attention and I hope she is still a race fan now, more than four years after I took this shot.

Fans: Day 39

I took this photo of a young boy in an autograph-covered T-shirt in 2012 at the ARCA race at Winchester Speedway during the pre-race autograph session. He was walking down the front stretch with his father and watching the crowd go from driver to driver. The T-shirt grabbed me at first but then I noticed he had a die cast race car in his right hand which made the picture for me. One of the things that ARCA does best is get fans up close and personal with their drivers during these autograph sessions, and I am always on the lookout for photos featuring kids like this one. I was shooting for ARCA that race weekend and I have often wondered if this boy's parents bought a copy of this photo from the ARCA website as a keepsake to go along with the autographs and hero cards this young man collected that day.

Fans: Day 40

Kids playing with race cars at race tracks is a common scene but I like this photo because it was both a boy and a girl having an imaginary race on the asphalt behind pit lane at Indianapolis during 500 practice in May 2013. I'm sure they had just purchased their Indycar die cast cars and with the sounds of practice all around them at the Speedway, they did what comes naturally for kids: they played.

Fans: Day 41

This girl in full Menards regalia is another photo from 2013 and I took it at Michigan International Speedway while I was shooting for ARCA. I don't know her story but I have seen her at other ARCA races since I took this shot, so she's either the biggest Frank Kimmel fan in the world or has some family connection to a race team or Menards, Frank's sponsor and the title sponsor for the ARCA series. Maybe its as simple as her favorite colors being yellow and black and she just likes the race swag, but my guess is we will see her again at the races, either as a fan, or maybe as an engineer or crew chief, or behind the wheel as a driver.

Fans: Day 42

My final photo in my "Fans" theme, and in my 42 Day Challenge, is also from the ARCA weekend at Winchester in 2012. The message on his T-shirt says it all for those of us here in USAC country:  "I'm gonna be a non wing sprint car driver." He's clutching hero cards from ARCA drivers in both hands and has started to get some autographs on his T-shirt, and I would bet that Winchester weekend was not his first race. Who knows? Maybe he will follow in the footsteps of guys like Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Bryan Clauson and so many others who have come from USAC and gone on to become big time race car drivers. If that does happen, I can see the day when he is telling his grandchildren "I remember being at Winchester back in 2012..." and you heard it here first. I got hooked on racing at about his age, so I suppose it's only natural that I would be drawn to kids like this at races who remind me of how exciting that was. It still is just as exciting and even though I'm just a photographer, I live for days like this at the racetrack where I can get that rush of excitement, smell the race fuel exhaust and hot tires, and do what I do: make some pictures.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Joy In Racing

Brandon Jones won his first two ARCA starts
For Week 5 in my personal 42 Day Daily Photo challenge, I chose the theme of "joy" in racing. Anyone involved in racing knows that emotions can run the gamut and that heartbreak is potentially around the next corner. But I wanted to accentuate the positive and show the outright elation that often accompanies this sport we love. After all, everything else is just a game. There seems to be a universal symbol for happiness and joy in motorsports, especially among drivers and their teams after winning a race. You see their arms thrust in the air, fists clenched, mouths open in screams of elation, and checkered flags or trophies held high. There's no time this is more true than when a driver wins for the first time, as Brandon Jones did in his first two ARCA starts this season. Looking back through 30 years of photos made the selections for this week very difficult, but I think these are some of my best. I hope you enjoy them and can share in these joyful celebrations.

Joy:  Day 29

I have been very fortunate the last several years to witness some incredible racing and great moments in the sports. As a photographer, after you go to enough races you begin to feel you know the participants personally, even though you may only have had passing conversations with them. I especially enjoy shooting some of the feeder series races such as Indy Lights where you know the drivers are hungry for wins on their way up the racing ladder. And when that win finally happens, it's a special time and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be there to document it. When Ana Beatriz got her first win in Indy Lights at Nashville Superspeedway in 2008, she was so excited to get that Les Paul guitar trophy.  Rarely have I seen a race winner more excited than she was that day. It was a thrill to be a part of that Victory Lane celebration.

Joy: Day 30

Over the last couple of seasons, I have been the official photographer for the ARCA series at several races and it has been an absolute joy for me to have a front row seat to the accomplishments of some of ARCA's young drivers. Chicagoland Speedway's ARCA race in 2014 was a perfect example, when Mason Mitchell got his first win in the series amidst a season of consistent competitiveness. He ended up winning the season championship and I had the chance to shoot the season awards banquet and be a small part of his celebration. What made it even more special is that Mason created his own race team before the 2014 season started so his satisfaction in winning for the first time and being the series champ took on special meaning for him and his family.
Mason Mitchell gets a Gatorade bath at Chicagoland Speedway after winning his first ARCA race
Joy: Day 31

Helio Castroneves loves winning and it shows
Helio Castroneves could be the poster boy for joy in racing and this shot from Victory Lane at Kentucky Speedway in 2010 is a prime example. Indycar fans are well aware of his fence climbing celebrations which have earned him the nickname of "Spiderman". It's the effusive Brazilian's nature to wear his emotions on his sleeve and when he wins, you know the party will be fun. I've been fortunate to be up close for Helio's winning celebrations at numerous races, and he seems to get just as excited winning a pole position as he does winning a race. I can only imagine what drivers must go through during the course of a race weekend, focusing so intently on being quick and outrunning their competition, and then experiencing the emotional release that must occur when they are successful. That is one of the best parts of being a motorsports photographer; I get to make some pictures and tell people "I was there".

Joy: Day 32

One of my favorite racing road trips every year involves trekking to Talladega Superspeedway twice a year, although I was only able to get to the spring race in 2014. It's about 500 miles from Indy and I think this track showcases what NASCAR racing is really all about: high speed competition, not the beating and banging you see so often on short tracks. I've been so fortunate to shoot for Associated Press at 'Dega and be put in positions to shoot exciting finishes, crashes, side by side racing and Victory Lane from high above the track. Many times, I have been positioned at the top of the highest grandstand on the tri-oval with along telephoto where I can see the whole track. From that vantage point, even Talladega looks like a short track and I can shoot Victory Lane celebrations from a true bird's eye view. I took this shot of Jamie McMurray at the October 2013 Talladega race which I think captures his excitement at being an unexpected winner following a last lap crash that took out many of his prime competitors. More than a race indeed.

Joy: Day 33

Living in Indianapolis means being close to one of the greatest racetracks in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has featured many new events the last few years. It's really a shame that the sports cars are not racing there again so this shot from the GrandAm race at Indy in 2013 has special significance for me. I was shooting for that race and as the winning cars came to a stop on the front stretch, I went out on the racing surface with other photographers and managed to get this shot with the scoring pylon in the fading light in the background. My favorite part about this photo is the expression on the face of Alex Popow's son who no doubt will be a racer himself someday.
Ran Dalziel (right) and Alex Popow celebrate their 2013 Indy win with Alex's son
Joy: Day 34

The Indy 500 in 2013 was one of the most special days of my life, and I'm not talking about the photography part, although that turned out to be quite special too. Although I've been shooting the 500 since 1984, I had never had the opportunity to shoot in Victory Lane before. Seeing Tony Kanaan get his first Indy 500 win in 2013 was an unreal experience, and I hope that it was not a once in a lifetime experience. I was lucky even to be there since one of the main photographers at, Eric Gilbert, could not be there so I got to fill his normal role throughout the race. It was a totally chaotic scene as Tony began his celebration with the traditional bottle of milk as team owner Jimmy Vasser (in the white shirt with arms raised in the foreground) put an effective block on most of the photographers which prevented them from getting shots of the initial celebratory moments. I was lucky that my assigned position on the photographers' riser allowed me to get a somewhat clear photo, as people were yelling at Jimmy to get out of the way. The end result was the whole milk celebration got restaged but I got the photos I wanted the first time around.
Victory Lane at the Indy 500 can be insane as I found out in 2013
Joy: Day 35

Fast forward one year to Indianapolis in 2014 and another first time Indy 500 winner went to Victory Lane: Ryan Hunter-Reay. This year I swapped positions with another photographer and had to try and get photos of Victory Lane from ground level alongside the area where they stage the winner's celebration rather than on the photographers' riser as I had in 2013. That turned out to be quite a challenge but it was another photography situation where being tall and having long arms paid off as I was able to shoot over the assembled masses and get this photo of the joyous winner. That is Ryan's wife Becky in the foreground with her arms also raised and a lucky charm dangling from her right hand. In most years at Indy, I have to try and grab Victory Lane photos from the grandstands through a very narrow window between the podium and the photographers' riser so even though my access in 2014 wasn't the best, it was still better than most years. I still made some pictures so I was happy too. That's what I do, and it's a blessing to have these opportunities, memories of which will last a lifetime for me.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was another happy Indy 500 winner I got to photograph

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Daily Photo Challenge Week 4: Dig This Earth

USAC racing on dirt is a staple of my Indiana roots
Having already used the themes of fire, water and air for the first three weeks of my personal 42 Day Photo Challenge, naturally "earth" came next for Week 4. When I started with these elemental themes, I thought I would have an easy time coming up with racing photos to post each day on Twitter @alleygroup. For the most part that has been true. Finding motorsports photos that I've taken which relate somehow to earth has proven to be the most challenging yet, despite having a library of pictures from over 30 years of shooting racing. Dirt track racing photos were the obvious choices but where's the challenge in that? Naturally I had to use a few dirt track shots since that's where my love of racing began, and the end result of the week was I ended up going back to my roots, which came as a bit of a surprise. Hopefully you will enjoy my photos, and the stories behind each one, for this "earth" themed week. Next week's theme will be "joy" in racing.

Earth: Day 22
Getting credentials to shoot the Formula One races at Indy was almost impossible for me at the time, but it really didn't matter in 2006. I lucked out that year with a prime vantage point for Nick Heidfeld's first lap flip in the USGP as I had gotten free tickets that year and was sitting in oval track Turn 4 with a great view of the start. I stayed there just long enough to shoot the next restart and then started wandering around the circuit looking for other angles since there are plenty of good places to shoot around the road course at IMS. I figured I wasn't going to get another spectacular shot if I stayed in the seats so roaming was the best option. Moving around a racetrack for different viewpoints is one of the best parts about shooting road course racing anyway.

Earth: Day 23
The following photo of Jeff Swindell sideways in Turn 1 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile track is from the Hoosier 100 USAC Silver Crown race in 1984. I had originally posted that this photo was taken "around 1990" but after looking at my original negatives, the correct date is 1984 which was my first year shooting with credentials. I always liked shooting this race at the Fairgrounds since the action was usually heated and it was only five minutes from my house. Looking back at my negatives (mostly black and white) from the '80s, I can see how much I was learning as I struggled to follow the advice of the late Steve Snoddy who told me over and over again: "Fill the frame." That was easier said than done for a relative novice back then when the 700 horsepower Silver Crown beasts were roaring by inches from my feet. I would use my camera to protect my face from flying mud and rocks, peering just over the top as the cars raced past me, then quickly put my eye to the viewfinder to take a few frames with my trusty Canon A1. Thank God for skylight filters!

Earth: Day 24
Ryan Hunter-Reay found the gravel trap in style at Mid Ohio in 2007 during a morning Indycar practice session and I really felt lucky to get photos of the incident. I was positioned downhill of the right hander in Turn 9 and my focus was on the apex of the turn since cars often hike the right front wheel coming through before they go downhill into Thunder Valley. The entry of the turn is blind from where I was and suddenly I heard tires squealing; there was RHR, skidding off track into the sand. I was zoomed in so tight that my first few frames cut the car up but I recovered to get the last few in the sand with the whole car. Lighting is great at that turn in the morning but I also got lucky with my exposure as it had been set for the shady area of the track while the tire barrier at the back of the gravel trap was mostly sunny. The trap in the foreground ended up with a nice contrast of alternating shady and light areas, so maybe it is better to be lucky than good sometimes!

Earth: Day 25
This photo is a slightly different take on the earth theme, as it shows Paul Menard at the 2011 Brickyard 400 mowing the grass in Turn 3 to avoid the spinning Landon Cassill. I have always liked this shot as it is clear my subject is the #51 car and Menard just happens to drive through the foreground and tear up the Speedway's nice green grass in the process. Menard went on the win the Brickyard that year and this was a close call that he escaped to make it happen.

Earth: Day 26
This photo shows Dave Darland at Kokomo Speedway in 2009 hiking the left front wheel in his #2b machine while going three wide in USAC sprints. The right front wheel is barely touching the clay surface and I remember thinking at the time that he was going to pull a wheelie coming off the corner as he had so much traction going past me. I have always loved non-wing sprint cars as the drivers really have to manhandle their machines to go fast, not having the kind of downforce a winged sprinter would have. In these cars, to go fast you have to turn right to go left and Darland is one of the best on dirt at doing just that. He's nicknamed "The People's Champion" for a reason!

Earth: Day 27
I had to really massage the following picture of Tony Elliott from 1985, as it was an old print that was in bad shape which I had to scan. This photo comes from a little track in Warsaw, Indiana, my Mom's hometown, a track that my grandfather and namesake helped get built at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds after World War II. Grandpa Jay was the person who helped start me on this path of racing fanaticism by taking me in the pits here when I was only four years old. I remember hanging on the board fence and watching the races in awe of the sounds and colors. The County Fair held stock car, figure-8 or open wheel races every night during the Fair as I recall and it was always a thrill to walk the pits with Grandpa. Sadly, the track is no longer in use but it was a great layout, maybe a quarter- or three-eights mile in length, with the grandstands built into a hillside overlooking the track and Winona Lake beyond. Grandpa's house was across the nearby canal from the track so even if we weren't at the track watching the races, we could still hear the cars. I loved that. Thanks Grandpa!

Earth: Day 28
It's kind of ironic now after a week of these "earth" themed photos that I find myself circling back to my racing roots at Warsaw. The following photo is also from 1985 and you can see Winona Lake in the background. Local dirt trackers ran stocks here and were a staple of the County Fair track. People would probably call them bomber stocks today but these guys were racers to the core. Go drive the back roads around Indiana and I will bet dollars to doughnuts that you will see quite a few of these cars, so beaten and battered that you can't even tell what brand they started life as. They'll be sitting in the weeds next to a barn, or waiting on a rusty trailer next to a garage with two or three others, as though they are ready to be hauled to the track to race again. It's no wonder that I'm still chasing race cars with a camera all these years later. It's what I love. It's what I do. I'm sure these guys can relate to that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Daily Photo Challenge Week 3: Up In the Air

Midgets and sprint cars are prone to getting upside down
Rarely does anything good happen when a race car leaves the ground. The best that one can hope for is that no one gets hurt when a car goes airborne. It's almost expected that open wheel cars like sprints and midgets will catch air at some point, since the risk of wheel to wheel contact or interlocking wheels is ever present. Anytime you see it happen, it's scary and the result can be tragic. Thankfully, even though I have been shooting racing for over 30 years and have seen plenty of flying race cars, I have never been in a position to shoot an incident which ended tragically. I hope I never am. In my lead photo, USAC driver Shane Hmiel was able to walk away from this flip in his midget at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2008, but he is still recovering from serious injuries suffered in a dirt track race a couple years later.

That's the ugly side of being a motorsports photographer: getting pictures of incidents where drivers or spectators are injured or worse. As a photojournalist, you just know you have a job to do - bring home the stories of the event in pictures - and incidents often take center stage. Eventually, if you do this long enough, you will shoot all kinds of havoc. You may also run into other gremlins that make the job even more difficult. I wrote about the vagaries of bad weather in  my last post which gave the background on the seven pictures I used for my Week 2 theme of "water". But awful weather is just the beginning! If a car catches air, sometimes you're too far away to get a decent shot. Sometimes you're just in the wrong position through luck or timing. Or your equipment fails. Or you were tracking another race car. But sometimes it all comes together and you get "the shot". At those moments, when you've recorded something spectacular, it's a special feeling - one that I keep chasing from track to track.

I recently completed Week 3 of my 42 Day personal photo challenge after covering the themes of fire and water the first two weeks. For Week 3, I chose "air" as my theme. Some people say it is better to be lucky than good but I've never agreed with that. I do believe that luck is where preparation meets opportunity and I try to live by that at the racetrack. The stories behind the following photos will expound on that mantra so be prepared!

Air: Day 15

The following photo of Mike Conway's horrific last lap crash in Turn 3 at the 2010 Indy 500 was the most spectacular incident I have ever photographed. Race leader Dario Franchitti had already taken the white flag and I had just switched on my Sony digital voice recorder to get wild sound of the final lap and the public address system. I heard (and felt) a loud thump off my left shoulder so I turned and started shooting, at first picking up Ryan Hunter-Reay's damaged car, then following him until Conway's flying Dallara came into the frame. This photo was taken an instant before Conway's left front wheel snagged a catch fence pole and the car basically exploded. The race was over, the crowd behind me was absolutely buzzing, and I ended up with an incredible photo sequence along with about 15 minutes of sound from before and after the incident on my Sony recorder. Occasionally that sound file comes up in shuffle play in my iTunes and I am instantly taken back to that afternoon. I was prepared to shoot all the way to the checkered flag but have to say I got lucky that day too when the opportunity arose. Thankfully, despite serious injuries he sustained in this crash, Mike Conway returned to race again and win in Indycars and sports cars.

Air: Day 16

Everyone knows how much I enjoy shooting at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. It's a scenic track, less than four hours from Indy and not far from where my Mom lives. The weekend is usually a three day feast of race cars and on-track action from dawn to dusk. The 2007 Indycar weekend was not marred by "moisture" which usually seems to hit the track on race weekends, and I had already logged two full days of walking and shooting when the Indycar race rolled around on Sunday afternoon. The Esses at the end of the backstretch is the place to be for race starts at Mid Ohio as the whole field must funnel into a downhill right hander then the track turns left almost immediately over the crest of a little hill. I like to go on the inside of that crest where the corner workers are stationed to get the fans in the background and get as close as possible to the racing surface. This photo is from the start in 2007 when Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan tangled. Marco got the worst of it, ending up on his head in the grass across the track from where I was shooting.

Air: Day 17

During the Indycar weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in 2007, the ARCA series also raced and this photo was as much about luck and positioning as anything. I had gone to the inside of the first turn to shoot the start and early laps of the ARCA race, but since it was a relatively short race and would probably only involve one pit stop, I didn't plan to stay there long. After a dozen or so laps, I was walking back to the pits to shoot pit stops when I noticed three cars getting together near the start-finish line, so I stopped walking and started shooting. One car caught a little air and the carnage continued past me down into the first turn where I had just been. So I hustled back there and got photos of Josh Wise walking away from his wrecked race car, which was now crumpled and burning in the background as he walked toward me. This one had both air and fire: the only thing missing was water.

Air: Day 18

I don't get the chance to shoot dirt track racing as much as I would like, but this shot of Brian Paulus flying over the berm at Lincoln Park Speedway during a 2006 National Sprint Tour event almost didn't happen for me at all. Lincoln Park is less than an hour from Indy so my original thinking was that shooting winged sprinters would be a fun, short road trip. I had started shooting for American Motor Journal that summer but when I got to the track, I was told that they never received a credential request. So I walked around to see if I could find other angles that might work if I decided to pay my way in. I stopped at the concession stand for a Diet Coke and to gather my thoughts and decided if I couldn't shoot from the infield, then I would just go home. I was walking back to my car when a young man I didn't know introduced himself as a PR assistant for the Tour and asked me if I needed access. I was wearing my favorite photo vest, had two cameras, flash and battery pack mounted and I guess I looked the part, so I was able to shoot that night after all. I'm glad I did as the Tour only lasted this one season (2006) and I got to see Steve Kinser, Danny Lasoski and a bunch of other winged sprint car stars do their thing on some Indiana clay.

Air: Day 19

Another track where I've really enjoyed shooting is Kentucky Speedway which is a little more than two hours south of Indy. Indycar always put on great races there which seemed to end in photo finishes every year. The track was plenty wide enough for some real wheel to wheel racing, which is even more true for the smaller cars of the Indy Lights series. Right after the start of the Lights race, there was a massive pile-up coming off of Turn 2 onto the backstretch and I saw two cars get airborne. I was shooting with my 70-200 and Canon's 2X extender to have more reach and I'm glad I did. After the race, I went in to the media center to talk to the late Ed Reinke of Associated Press about whether he wanted to look at what I had since there were no other photographers around when the crash occurred. I wasn't even shooting for AP that weekend, and I had only done Talladega and Daytona earlier in the year for the wire service, but Ed found something usable and I ended up with a photo of the day on some websites as a result. Godspeed Ed, and thank you!

Air: Day 20

This photo of Joss Moffatt flipping in USAC Sprints at Kokomo Speedway in July 2009 was another event that almost didn't happen for me. While it may not have been the most spectacular flip, I loved the evasive action being taken by the driver in the foreground and the wall completely caked with mud in the background - except for the one shovel width of concrete which had been cleared by the track crew so the drivers would know where the clay surface ended and the wall began. One of my "fire" themed shots (Casey Riggs) also came from this race so I was especially pleased to be able to get into the infield and shoot with all the regular USAC sprint car shooters.

Air: Day 21

Another track where I have come to love shooting is Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR's high speed pack racing is always edgy and anything can happen, right up until the checkered flag falls. My October 2013 weekend proved that point as both the trucks and Sprint Cup races had airborne racecars on the final lap. Both races were fairly uneventful from my position and I remember saying to myself over and over "Be ready, be ready". This shot was from my sequence of Austin Dillon flying on the backstretch. Dillon was subbing for the injured Tony Stewart that weekend and I was positioned clear across the track at the top of the frontstretch grandstands. Little did I know that weekend would be my last opportunity to work with Associated Press staffer Dave Martin who passed away unexpectedly the following New Year's Eve while shooting the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. "Mullett", as he was known by his friends, always took care of me at Talladega and gave me a chance to "make some f-king pictures". I will never forget that and will try to pay his kindness forward.

This story brings me halfway through my personal 42 Day challenge! My next weekly theme will be "earth", so stay tuned race fans.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Daily Photo Challenge: Week 2 Means Water

Even Lone Star JR raced in the rain - at Elkhart Lake in 1986
The poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge included the famous lines,  "Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink." Shooting motorsports is like that sometimes too, especially for road racing events. Needless to say, water and camera electronics are not a good combination but sometimes preparation will get you through a downpour. Sometimes you just get lucky. And sometimes you just get drenched.

The theme for the first week theme of my personal 42 Day Daily Photo Challenge on Twitter was "fire". For the second week, I chose "water" as my theme and you will see from the photos I posted that there was plenty of the wet stuff to go around. The story behind each photo follows, but the overriding lesson is don't forget your rain gear!

Water: Day 8

On this day in June 2008 I was shooting for the defunct American Motor Journal (AMJ) at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, and I just got lucky rather than soaking wet. I had my rain gear since it always seems to rain on races at this road course, and I had just crossed the Honda bridge to the outside of the track to a location at the bottom of the hill after the esses. A downpour had hit the area and there was standing water everywhere. Luckily, that area of Mid Ohio is shrouded in trees so I was able to shoot under cover for awhile until the downpour passed. I stayed relatively dry and my cameras did too. This time.

Water: Day 9

While I don't normally shoot the two wheel crowd, the MotoGP event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a fairly new thing in 2009 so I had to go check it out. I didn't have credentials for the event but the IMS road course offers plenty of locations to get clear shots without any catch fencing in the way. This shot of multi-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi was taken during practice for the event and I only took one camera body and one lens to make sure I could shoot and deal with the elements with minimal risk of damage to my equipment. I am still amazed that these riders do what they do under any circumstances, let alone on a green racetrack which is thoroughly soaked.

Water: Day 10

This photo of Michael Andretti (3) and poppa Mario (6) racing into the esses at Mid Ohio is from 1990 and was shot on film, most likely Fujicolor. I had gone to the race with my stepson and a friend and his son and got this shot from the spectator fencing along the track as the cars begin to head uphill in the esses. My first race at Mid Ohio was in 1982 so going there for the Indycar weekend has been a long standing tradition. With its mid-summer weekend schedule slot, it could be 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity one minute and then pouring down rain the next. On more than one occasion, this race has been wet, dry, wet, dry and wet again so shooting here is always an adventure in the summer.

Water: Day 11

The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014 saw Indycars running in the rain at IMS for the first time ever as far as I know. I was shooting for, working the pit lane during practice and qualifying when a brief but heavy rain shower hit. The old song says "it don't rain in Indianapolis" but we all know that's not true! I escaped the downpour under the Pagoda overhang where the yard of bricks runs through the building and within a few minutes, the rain had stopped but the track was soaked. Shooting the cars going north on the wet front stretch yielded some nice photos with large rooster tails of spray being thrown into the air. Unfortunately for Ryan Hunter-Reay, not long after I took this photo, he hydroplaned through a puddle coming onto the front stretch and cracked the wall while going for the pole. It has been awhile at Indy since I've heard the sound of anyone hitting concrete rather than the SAFER barriers, so that was a memorable day for a lot of reasons.

Water: Day 12

My photographer friends will never let me forget the American LeMans series race at Mid Ohio in 2011. The ribbing that weekend was endless and continues even now, with witty comments such as "Don't you know when to come in out of the rain?" Apparently, I didn't. I was determined to get photos in the wet conditions, but I underestimated how wet it would become. I had been shooting in the carousel as the skies darkened, the field was running slowly under yellow and there was less than 30 minutes left in the timed race. I decided to cut through the paddock as the rain started falling more heavily to get to the exit of Turn 1 past the infield bridge, as I thought the restart might be dicey with the conditions worsening. As I arrived at Turn 1, it seemed like a monsoon hit. I got this picture - which is one of my favorite rain photos - but I paid the piper for sticking it out. More on that with my Day 14 photo...

Water: Day 13

There have been periods of time the last few years where it seemed like every race I shot was hit by rain or a rain delay. So now when I am not at a race and it rains, I like to post comments on Twitter or Facebook that "it's not my fault" and my photographer friends are all in on the joke. At Mid Ohio in 2008, both the Rolex Grand Am and Indycar weekends were effected by rain and this shot was taken in the carousel after a downpour during the Indy Lights race. One of the great things about shooting racing in the rain is seeing the different lines the drivers take compared to what would be normal on a dry track. This shot is a good example as this section of Mid Ohio leaving the carousel is usually only one groove but Ana Beatriz makes her own middle groove while chasing two other competitors.

Water: Day 14

Continuing the story of my near drowning at Mid Ohio during the ALMS race in 2011, this shot shows the depth of water after the monsoon hit as the Rahal BMW driven by Joey Hand splashes through Turn 1. Everyone was just creeping through this turn by then and the race was red-flagged shortly after this so I headed to the pit lane to shoot the winners exiting their cars and the victory lane celebrations. I was completely soaked by this time with water running down my arms and straight onto my cameras. The towels I carry for such times were soaked too and I threw them away on my walk to the pits. Even having my gear covered with plastic bags provided no relief as there was just too much water to keep anything dry. 

Then the nightmare really began. First the view screen on my 40D went blank. Then my 7D started acting up. The 40D quit working completely and I don't think I ever did get any victory lane photos. That night at the hotel I took everything apart and hoped to God my cameras would dry out since the Indycar race was the next day and I was still supposed to shoot that. Sunday dawned clear and sunny thankfully, so upon arriving at the media center in the Tower that day, I took everything apart again and laid both cameras on a ledge by the window hoping the morning sun would cook the moisture out of them. Both cameras came back to life as the day wore on and I still use them today. I know the Canon techs got a good laugh out it the next May at Indianapolis when I took both cameras in to get cleaned and checked at IMS. I think I've earned my reputation as the "regenmeister", so if we go to shoot a race together, you better prepare for rain. I know I will get some photos!