Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ageless Kenny Schrader Schools ARCA Kids at Salem Speedway

Kenny Schrader wins at Salem again
Everyone in racing knows the name Kenny Schrader. He is a true racer - a throwback to the days when drivers would criss-cross the country and race anything on wheels. This past weekend, this ageless wonder brought his Federated Auto Parts sponsored stock car to Salem Speedway in southern Indiana and proceeded to spank the field of youngsters in the ARCA Racing Series Federated 200. I was working as ARCA's photographer again at what was originally supposed to be a two day show, but was condensed into Sunday after Saturday's activities were washed out. It turned out to be quite a show, which is not surprising if you have ever seen an ARCA race at short tracks like Salem Speedway. I will be back with the series again starting with Pocono in June so I am looking forward to a busy summer!

Rain took care of Saturday's schedule
I made two round trip commutes from Indy to Salem to work the event and added more interesting travel experiences to my vita. I passed a lot of cars both days and I would really like to see all the slow driving, brake tapping, scaredy-cats get out of the way and move over. If you don't, I will just fly by at the first opportunity. I don't know what was going on with I-65 northbound on the way home Sunday, but I managed to avoid two long backups by getting off the interstate (twice) and taking a much more scenic route through southern Indiana.

If you drive enough, you will inevitably encounter delays like I did Sunday, but that doesn't tell the story of my weekend. The most interesting thing that happened was having Kenny Schrader come into the ARCA marketing trailer where I was working before the race. I had just finished shooting the driver autograph session and I asked him if he wanted to sit down. He said no thanks, he'd be sitting the rest of the day. I asked if he needed to see anyone and his response was he was just looking for a place to hide out before the race. I completely understood that as the trailer is normally pretty quiet and he seemed happy just checking his phone. I asked him one more question and figured I should leave him alone:  did he feel that Salem owed him one after last year? His response was pure racer: no track owes a driver anything; you have to take it. And that's exactly what he did Sunday afternoon, despite being involved in an early incident that damaged his left front fender. At last year's spring Salem race, he tangled with a backmarker while leading with only a handful of laps remaining, cut a tire and hit the wall. There would not be a repeat of that situation this year as he controlled the race tempo after taking the lead on lap 63 which he never relinquished. He was clearly peddling it through the corners late in the day, comfortable with his advantage and ability to rack up the laps. In the process, he got his first win at Salem since 1999. It was really special to be there and be a part of it.

Schrader held off Haley, Ursetta and Kyle Weatherman on a late restart
Hopefully the youngsters he raced this weekend at Salem learned a thing or two from Schrader. It was the 97th ARCA race at Salem and the man to beat going into the weekend was Grant Enfinger who had won the first three races of the season. Grant found the wall late in the race which dropped him to 13th which opened the door for the youth brigade to charge into the top 10. Kyle Waetherman took second and his 15 year old little brother Clayton took 8th. Dominic Ursetta took third in only his second ARCA start followed by JJ Haley, who barely looks old enough to shave, let alone drive these big, heavy stock cars. Last season's rookie of the year Austin Wayne Self grabbed fifth and was followed by Brandon Jones in sixth. For Jones, it was his lowest ever finish in an ARCA race! Veteran Tom Hessert in seventh must have felt like a graybeard with all these kids around him as current rookie points leader David Levine followed the younger Weatherman home in 9th. Another veteran James Swanson did a very nice job to finish in 10th with perhaps one of the lowest budget teams in ARCA, so that was really good to see.

This week ARCA heads to Talladega Superspeedway and I had originally intended to work this weekend for Associated Press but I just couldn't make it work. So I will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday instead for opening day and rookie orientation for the Indy 500. I am excited to be shooting again this May for motorsport.com and am grateful for the opportunities to travel and shoot so many excellent events. Indy is home, however, and it is nice to sleep in my own bed every night after long days at the Speedway, so stay tuned for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. See you at the track!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ARCA Descends on Salem Speedway This Weekend

The 2010 spring race at Salem had beautiful weather
Other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I've been to Salem Speedway in southern Indiana more than any other racetrack through the years. The parallel to my history is that ARCA has raced at Salem more than any other track on its diverse schedule. The last time ARCA raced here, the win wasn't decided until the last corner of the last lap as 2014 ARCA champ Mason Mitchell made a last ditch passing attempt on Tom Hessert that came up short, resulting in Hessert's third Salem win in the last five tries. I expect more of the same close racing this weekend.

Ken Schrader congratulated Grant Enfinger on his 2014 win
Ageless Ken Schrader will be back to challenge the ARCA field which must be getting antsy to do something about Grant Enfinger's early season dominance. Enfinger could win his fourth straight race (out of four) this weekend and he won at Salem last year before making the switch to his current team GMS racing, so he would have to be booked as the favorite. Don't count Tom Hessert out though as he has found ways to win at Salem that in hindsight must have seemed improbable. Ironically, one of his wins came in Schrader's #52 Federated Auto Parts machine but his Cunningham team clearly knows how to prepare a car he likes for the bumpy high banks of this historic short track.

Tom Hessert knows the way to Victory Lane at Salem
One of the great things about the spring race at Salem is the fact that it is a two-day event and fans bring their motor homes, pop-up campers or tents and spend the whole weekend on the Speedway property. The fall race is run at night where ARCA practices, qualifies and races all on one day, so the spring race's extended schedule is not quite as hectic and probably gives fans more track action for entertainment. Race fans in southern Indiana love this track and I do too, as I started shooting the ARCA races here in the fall of 2006 and have only missed one ARCA race at Salem since then. The pits are crowded, the action in Turn 1 is always intense, often three or four wide, and there's always a certain amount of beating and banging that goes on. Teams must have a good supply of racer's tape when they come to Salem. As a photographer, I have to make sure I stay out of the way, especially during pit stops, and keep my head on a swivel to make sure I stay on top of the hectic action.

Salem pit action is always exciting
Two hundred laps at Salem can go quickly and there's a lot to do once the race starts. I am shooting for ARCA again this weekend for the second time this season and my job will start on Saturday before practice even begins. I enjoy the variety of assignment work I get when I shoot for ARCA and when I see teams using photos I've supplied on social media or their websites, I know I will have done a good job. A lot of the required shooting will get done Saturday and include the Pole Winner award so look for that on ARCA's website late Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning always involves an autograph session on the front stretch where fans can meet all the drivers and get hero cards or personal memorabilia autographed. This series does a great job getting fans in touch with the men who drive these machines, and if you haven't been to an ARCA race because you think it's a lower tier series, then you are really missing out. After all, these drivers are the future stars of stock car racing and you can say "...you knew then when..." if you get to an ARCA show. And they will put on a show once the green flag drops.

Expect a good crowd when you come to Salem Speedway
One of the nicest things about going to Salem for me is the short drive: it's only 110 miles from my house in Indy, so it is easy to get to and doesn't involve a long trip home. I will "commute" this weekend, going down and back both Saturday and Sunday, so I will still rack up some miles, but not nearly the amount of other trips I will take this season. The photos I shoot will be on ARCA's website within a day or so after the race, so if you can't make it to the race, at least check the site for photos to purchase. If you do make it down to "God's Country" this weekend, then give me a shout and I'll take your picture! Until next time, here are a few from prior years at this fast and historic racetrack nestled in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. Godspeed and safe travels everyone!

Frank Kimmel during a pit stop last year; Brandon Jones will be running the Menard's colors this weekend
Tom Hessert also won at Salem in 2013
Ken Schrader ran afoul of a lapped car while leading last year and hit the wall
Let's race!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

ARCA History Made at Nashville

Grant Enfinger and  his GMS team have started 2015 on a roll
I got back on the road this past weekend to shoot racing for ARCA and Grant Enfinger wrote his name in the ARCA record books with his win at historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the first time in more than two decades that ARCA had raced at Nashville and Enfinger's win made him the first driver in ARCA's 63 year history to win the first three races in a row to start two consecutive seasons. It was a hectic one day show and a very long day at the racetrack, but I was ecstatic to get back to work for this highly competitive and always entertaining stock car series. I have said it before but it bears repeating:  many of these drivers represent the future stars in fenders so you need to get out and see them race. Salem Speedway in southern Indiana is next April 25 & 26 where ARCA always puts on a good show, so come on down!

Me and my RSX-s shadow on the road
The last few weeks leading up to Nashville were super busy for me and involved lots of driving. If you know me, you know I love to drive but the stretch of late March through early April was near record setting for personal mileage. March 22nd I blitzed to Chicago and back as my fiance's older daughter had just given birth to a baby girl. The next weekend I drove to Akron as my Mom was back in the hospital, then I brought her back to Indy to stay with us over the end of my my spring break week. The Monday before I went to Nashville, I took Mom back to Akron after my teaching day was over then returned to Indy the next morning so I wouldn't miss any school. Finally last Friday, I headed south to Nashville to shoot the race and got back home Sunday afternoon. Probably about 2400 miles all told and being at the racetrack was a relief in many ways. I love shooting for ARCA and the feedback I got from officials and team reps was very gratifying. Now I'm looking forward to Salem and only having to commute 110 miles each way.

Kyle Weatherman took pole and finished 5th at Nashville for Cunningham Motorsports
My day at Nashville started at 7:30 in the morning with an ARCA officials meeting and wasn't over until midnight after I had finished my preliminary editing. I have a step counter on my phone which registered 21,733 steps for the day so if you think shooting a race is going to be easy, then you better think twice and bring your walking shoes! There were quite a few brand new drivers to the series on the entry list so I had to get green screen head shots of each of them in and around my other shooting responsibilities. I also walked the whole track in the morning to see what kind of access I was going to have for the day and scout out potential shooting locations. I was a little concerned about lighting since it was a night race but I had my flash battery pack, two extra sets of lithium batteries for my flash, and was determined to shoot as much available light as I could get away with. It turned out to be quite a challenge once the green flag dropped after 8:00 pm local time, but I left the track that night feeling like I had done some of my best night race work so I was tired but satisfied.

Matt Tifft on the grid ready to race - shot with available light; he finished second
One of the things I try to concentrate on during a race is to show the actual racing through my photos. I don't find single car shots very useful once a race has started, but anytime I can get two or more cars in the frame, then I am happy. I know my job is to help tell the story of a race for the series, and provide photos that the teams will want to use in their own promotional efforts. It's fun to see those photos end up on Twitter or Facebook when the teams use them and I think it is a valuable service provided by ARCA. I know I am fortunate to be filling this role. I also know I learn something new about photography every race I shoot and this race was no different. There's a certain peace that comes over me during a race once I put on the ARCA radio headset and start working my coverage strategy. It's a feeling which is hard to describe but one that comes naturally after so many races. Ironically, my horoscope for race day said something about "being in my element" and that sure turned out to be true.

So now Salem is next and that weekend's timeline won't be quite as rushed as Nashville, since track activities occur over a Saturday and Sunday. Until next time, I leave you with the following sampling of my Nashville photos. If you want to see more, then go to www.arcaracing.com and check out their photo site.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back to the Racetrack This Weekend

The ARCA Series races on all kinds of tracks, including Talladega
Spring break for my teaching job is over which means it's time to get serious about my racing photography again. Since I went to Atlanta at the end of February, lots has happened in my personal life but I haven't had much news to write about relative to racing. This weekend that all changes as I head to Nashville, Tennessee to work as the photographer for the ARCA Racing Series, a job I truly love. It should take my mind off of other issues and will provide another chance to get creative at a track I've never been to before. The race is Saturday at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and ARCA hasn't raced there in over 20 years so it should be interesting as a whole new crop of young drivers is on the entry list to challenge a handful of ARCA veterans who continue to support the series.
Brandon Jones returns in 2015 - this time in the prime Venturini ride
I've always enjoyed shooting ARCA for the chance to see the up and coming drivers like Brandon Jones who will eventually graduate to the NASCAR ranks. Jones won in his first two ARCA starts last year and is in one of the plum seats for 2015, sharing a Venturini ride with series legend Frank Kimmel. It is also a chance to really be plugged into the racing action since I get to wear a radio headset and listen to ARCA race control so I know exactly what's going on all the time. At most races, I don't use a radio or any kind of communication device other than my cell phone but I've worked enough races over the years that I can usually keep track of the top five positions without any problem. At those races I keep my earplugs in and tune into the sounds of the action and listen for the silence which is usually when something bad is about to happen. Then it's time to shoot, so I have to be ready.

Ageless Kenny Schrader knows Grant Enfinger is a winner
This season the favorite for the ARCA championship has to be Grant Enfinger as he won the most races last year and finished second in points to Mason Mitchell even after switching teams in mid-season. He returns with Gallagher Motorsports this year and has already won the first two races of 2015.  He could make it three in a row this weekend at Nashville which would be the second straight year he has started the season with three consecutive wins. No one has ever done that in ARCA before so it should be fun to see how everyone handles a new track with lots of new drivers on the entry list.

Grant Enfinger
One of the best things about shooting for ARCA is I get to cover an event from all angles and pictures are used on their website for viewing or purchase by fans and teams. I typically don't have that kind of freedom when I shoot for Associated Press (AP) but that's alright since I usually am assigned a position where I can make some pictures they will use on the wire. It's always a bonus when my pictures get transmitted by AP as I get to see NASCAR at the big track of 'Dega where anything can happen on any lap with their pack racing format. I started off as a turn shooter at Indy waiting for crashes so the Dega weekend is kind of a throwback for me. Once I get to Indy in May, I will be shooting for motorsport.com, and then I have the freedom to roam again as that site expects photos from track action, personalities and behind the scenes to help support their writers. Regardless of whether I am shooting for ARCA or another entity, I will be posting on Twitter and doing numerous blog posts like this one about my experiences which I hope gives a little insight into what it's like chasing race cars with a camera.
Last year's fall race at Salem Speedway was one for the ages

After this weekend, I have a weekend off from racing which will be filled with soccer officiating, and then the real fun begins. The last weekend in April I will shoot for ARCA again at Salem Speedway. Then I go to Talladega for NASCAR with Associated Press. Then it will be May at Indianapolis for Motorsport.com for three straight weekends of Indycar racing starting with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ending with the 99th Indy 500. The end of May coincides with the end of my school's spring semester and my birthday when I will turn 58.  I will be putting a lot of miles on my RSX-S this year and this stretch of spring weekends promises to be the busiest racing period I think I've ever had. I will be doing almost all the ARCA races this season so I may have to revise that assessment later on! So stay tuned for the next installment in my racing road show. You just never know where you might see me! C'mon down to Nashville and join the fun this weekend.

Grant Enfinger's Gallagher Motorsports entry will be one to watch in ARCA this season.