Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Indycar Loses Justin Wilson: Family Loses Father, Husband, Brother

Justin Wilson, 2014 Indianapolis 500
I had planned on writing about the great two days my brother and I had spent together at the Illinois State Fairgrounds dirt mile in Springfield, Illinois for the USAC Silver Crown and ARCA weekend, but unfortunately, life and the dark side of racing has intervened. I will get back to the story of our Springfield trip another time. After all the travel and sadness in our family since Mom's death July 5th, this weekend was one that my brother and I had planned since last year. We both really looked forward to spending time together at a racetrack and on the road. Then we heard about Justin Wilson.

The big man friends called "Badass"
As we were leaving Springfield Sunday afternoon, my brother got a text from his son in Tucson that Indycar driver Justin Wilson had been hit in the head by debris after a crash in the race at Pocono. We heard it looked bad. Sadly, barely 24 hours later, news reports confirmed the worst: that Justin had succumbed to his head injuries. As I drove away from Springfield, my brother pulled up the Indycar coverage from Pocono on his phone and we saw the video of the accident which led to Justin's death. It was truly a freak accident as Sage Karam had crashed on his own, and Justin had juked around a slowing car in front of him when a bouncing piece of debris from Karam's car hit him. I'm sure he never saw it coming. When we saw that Justin had been airlifted out of Pocono, we knew it was bad.

Justin Wilson 1978 -2015
Lots of tributes have been written since last night when Justin's death was confirmed and I can't add much to the outpouring of support that the racing community has provided but you know we are all feeling the grief. That's just what we have to do right now, and coming so closely on the heels of my Mom's passing, this feels especially painful, even though I can't say I really knew Justin as a person. But when you shoot racing as long as I have and you are up close and personal in enough situations where you hear them talk or overhear private conversations, you feel like you know them. For me, that knowledge is best captured in photos, so I will leave this blog post with a gallery of my photos in honor of Justin and all he meant to so many people.

Godspeed Justin, and God bless your family and friends. You will be sorely missed, but not forgotten.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the Road Again: This Time to Berlin

Berlin Raceway is outside Marne, Michigan
That would be Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan, that is. But first, as Monty Python's Flying Circus used to say, "Now for something completely different".

After running seemingly non-stop since early April - racing road trips, the Month of May at Indy, wrapping up a school year teaching, more racing, multiple trips to and from Akron as Mom's illness worsened, more racing trips, Mom's death and funeral, then races at Iowa and Lucas Oil Raceway - I finally got a break the last week of July with a week's vacation before starting my new teaching job last Monday. My fiance calls me the Energizer Bunny because I go and go and go, but that week on the beach near Indiana Dunes State Park was a much needed chance to recharge my batteries and relax.

Sunsets over Chicago were spectacular our vacation week
Enjoying perfect weather, indigenous wildlife and lake views at a beachfront cottage near Indiana Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan is about as different as it could be compared to setting steps records at racetracks. And I am grateful for it all, both the chance to get away and the work that helps me resume something similar to a normal life. Going through my Mom's illness and death was (and is) the most challenging emotional event of my life so far, and at 58 I've been through some situations that could have broken me. If we were in the same room together, I'd tell you all about those, but suffice it to say that someone has been watching over me for a long, long time and I have been truly blessed. My close friends know and  understand, so perhaps one we'll have that chance to talk face to face and share some horror stories and miracles.

Travis Braden during practice at Lucas Oil Raceway
Needless to say, it's been a challenge to find time to write when what I really needed was rest and relaxation. But it's racing that brings me back to the blog and ARCA which is the bread on the vacation and school sandwich, with 200 lap night races at Lucas Oil Raceway and Berlin Raceway on the top and bottom. Very tasty, mind you, as the Lucas Oil event was right here in Indy so I didn't have to travel, and the race yielded another first time winner in Travis Braden. This ARCA season has been especially noteworthy for an abundance of first time winners, several of whom won in their first ever ARCA race. Braden was one of those first-first winners. I really enjoyed shooting that race and seeing him win, as he has won two championships in other ARCA divisions and seems like a really savvy young guy. I first met him at the Performance Racing Industry trade show here in Indy a couple of years ago, and to see him gamble on an early tire stop that paid off in a trip to Victory Lane after an exceptionally long green flag run was really cool.

Grant Enfinger (#23) dominated at Berlin
Two weeks later, it was the same thing only different at Berlin Raceway in Michigan. It was my first trip to this nice little oval outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan and I met a lot of people who have been supporting that track for years. It was great to be there working for ARCA and hearing the locals talk about their experiences. What was the same about Berlin was the long green flag runs, which really sliced up the field. What was different was a repeat winner, as Grant Enfinger won his fourth race of the season and repeated his Berlin from 2014 in utterly dominant fashion, leading all but 2 of the 200 laps. I thought the track was exceptionally racy, and it was quite unique, with no wall along the backstretch and pits that faced each other inside the infield of the track. I had never experienced either of those before, so it created some challenges in just getting around once the race started. The biggest challenge was the lighting which left much to be desired for the race which started at 8:50 pm local time. But that's one of the things I love about photography - meeting a challenge and still getting the images I need. It was a fairly hectic race for everyone behind Enfinger, and mostly clean with lots of side by side running on this little bullring. The end of the race was another story entirely as Tom Hessert got taken out by a lapped car with 10 laps to go while running second so he's probably still pissed about that. The end result was Enfinger had to withstand one final restart with two laps to go to hold off Mason Mitchell and Frank Kimmel.

In between Lucas Oil and Berlin, ARCA ran at Pocono which I had to skip to end my vacation and start the new school year, but photos from all the races are available on the main website for the series at www.arcaracing.com so go check them out. Buy one or two while you're at it, but even if you don't, you need to get to a race. The dirt miles at Springfield and Duquoin, Illinois fairgrounds are up next so I hope to see you there. Until then, here's a sampling of photos I shot for ARCA at Lucas Oil and Berlin.