Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ryan Reed Takes Delayed ARCA Crosley 150 at Kentucky

Ryan Reed (right) enjoys Victory Lane at Kentucky with Crosley CEO Bo LeMastus (left)
For the first time this season in races I've been working for ARCA, we actually got a postponement due to weather. Xfinity Series regular Ryan Reed swept to Victory Lane in the Crosley 150 at Kentucky Speedway to snag the second win of the season for Lira Motorsports The race was originally supposed to be run Friday evening September 26th but got washed out and even Saturday afternoon the 26th, Reed had to dodge more raindrops to make it to Victory Lane. A brief sprinkle around lap 40 created a caution which had all the teams wondering about strategy and whether the race would run the full distance of 100 laps. But the "moisture" didn't amount to much, the track quickly dried and the racing resumed with about 45 laps to go.

Grant Enfinger was all business at Kentucky: Fear the Finger indeed
Reed drove to the front late in the race after Xfinity Series regular Daniel Suarez led for most of the first third of the event on Kentucky's bumpy asphalt and then youngster Austin Cindric led the middle third. Cindric had tire problems twice that hurt his finish, and the second time a flat put him into the wall as the checkers flew. Reed had to fend off a stout challenge from Rookie Of The Race Travis Braden - the winner at Lucas Oil Raceway earlier this summer in his first ever ARCA start - who nearly went two for two on the season in his first ever superspeedway start. Another rookie, David Levine, had an excellent third place finish ahead of Ross Kenseth in Ken Schrader's car and season points leader Grant Enfinger. Another Xfinity Series regular, Daniel Suarez looked strong but could only muster sixth ahead of Kyle Weatherman. All Enfinger needs to do now to win his first ARCA title is to start the final race at Kansas October 16th and he will be the champ for 2016. That seems only fitting in a season where Enfinger has consistently racked up wins with six on all kinds of tracks and only Reed was able to get more than one, with Kentucky his second victory out of two starts. This year ARCA has seen an incredible number of first time winners with 10 new faces finding their way to the winner's circle. It's been great to be a part of documenting these milestones all season for ARCA and I hope I've captured some memories for all the participating teams and drivers.

Daniel Suarez (15) and Travis Braden battle at the start
I had an interesting weekend with the unexpected extra time for editing of Friday's practice and qualifying action. I still have to hustle to get through everything after the race is over, and you wouldn't believe how fast a 100 lap race can seem when you're following a strategy to shoot and move every 10 laps. I was on pace to set a record high for steps on my pedometer Friday as I had topped 22,000 before the race and then I added another 14,000 on Saturday when we finally did race, so I got my exercise! The rainy and overcast conditions did keep the temperatures at a moderate level so it was not unearthly hot as some of the other ARCA races I've worked this summer. I decided at the last minute to start the race in the flagstand to get a start shot and I'm glad I did, as there was a guest from race sponsor Crosley waving the green flag and I got a sequence of the big wreck in Turn 3 on the first lap that I couldn't have gotten from anywhere else. I don't think anyone else got the crash sequence so I hope folks will buy some from the ARCA website! Help a brother (and the series) out, you know!

Austin Cindric (99), Kyle Weatherman (22) and race winner Reed mix it up
Going to Kentucky Speedway this year was also a little bittersweet for me. I've been there many times for both Indycar and Sprint Cup racing, but this was the first time I have been back since Indycar ran there last in 2011. That was also the last time I saw Dan Wheldon alive as he lost his life just two weeks later at Las Vegas. It was good to be back and shoot a race again, although I do think it's a shame that Indycar doesn't run at Kentucky anymore since it's a perfect track for Indycars and they consistently delivered photo finishes that were a thrill to photograph. Kentucky Speedway also does a tremendous job of taking care of us photographers and I love working with them. Now if we can just get the winning drivers to climb out and face the photographers first, we will have it nailed. But we still have Kansas in a couple of weeks so maybe the PR people can work on that! See you there!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Grant Enfinger Does It Again! Wins Salem Federated 200

Grant receives his winner's trophy from Salem Speedway owner
The GMS Racing team somehow managed to put Grant Enfinger and the #23 back in Victory Lane again Saturday night at Salem Speedway and left everyone scratching their heads on how he did it. It was Grant's sixth win of the 2015 season and bumped his overall points lead up over Josh Williams with two races left to run. The series races this Friday at Kentucky Speedway and then October 16th at Kansas Speedway so there's not much time for competitors to catch "The Finger" but Lord knows they will give it their best shot. Williams, Tom Hessert and Austin Wayne Self are in a tight battle for positions two through four in the season standings, and rookie leader David Levine is not far behind in fifth. With the final two races of 2015 both slated for live television coverage, you can bet the fields will be strong and Enfinger will have his work cut out for him to seal the series title.

It was a beautiful night for ARCA racing; Ken Schrader set fast time
With only two races left, it's hard to believe how fast this season has gone by, as I have worked twelve races for the ARCA series this year as their photographer. The travel has been fun and the races quite entertaining so this past weekend at Salem was somewhat nostalgic for me. I couldn't help but think of my friend, the late Don Hamilton, a racing writer and former owner/editor of the American Motor Journal publication. It was Don who gave me the chance to get back into racing photography in a big way in 2006 after I had gone through a divorce and was exploring a variety of career options. I started going to the Salem ARCA races that fall and have only missed one since then, when I had to be at Mid Ohio for the Rolex Grand Am race. Don had many great friends in racing and had a special connection with Salem  due to close friends working on the track safety team. I've been going there long enough now to see those friends raise their boys up seemingly at the track, as they have taken roles with the track crew as well. Don and I collaborated on several articles through the years and I know he would have enjoyed the racing at Salem this past weekend. God rest your soul Don.

Richard Hauck got it wrong coming off of Turn 2 on his first hot lap
If you've never been to a race at Salem, it is one of those tracks that you really should check out. It's a half mile, high banked soup bowl with bumps galore, some aging and worn out asphalt, and two distinctly different lines through the corners. Both ends of the track are essentially hairpins which look the same but drive completely differently. The Turn 1 and 2 end can accommodate three- and sometimes four-wide racing where drivers will dive down to the bottom on entry. The other end of the track seems to be just a single line, right up against the wall, and the transitions to the straightaways at both ends are brutal, spitting unsuspecting drivers out toward the wall or into lurid loose spins if they don't unwind the wheel soon enough. And the roar of more than 30 ARCA machines inside that bowl is deafening, with vibrations that envelope you as long as the green flag flies. I love it, and I've been there more often than any other track that isn't named the Indiana Motor Speedway.

Josh Williams rim rides in Turn 3; he is 2nd in the season standings
Salem hasn't changed much through the years but it seems like the ARCA series definitely has since I started covering it regularly at Salem in 2006. The last few years have seen much cleaner racing at Salem, whereas it used to seem like you could count on seeing lots of torn up equipment at the end of every race there. Then the teams would get out the 200 mph tape, bang on the fenders and send guys back out with cars that often ended up looking like modifieds.

That seems to have changed over the last few years. Last year for instance, there was only a single caution, which is almost unheard of at Salem! I think there are several reasons for the cleaner action at Salem, not the least of which is the rise in driver talent, especially among the young guns that all seem to have driver development deals with established Sprint Cup teams. These kids are just flat good, and they know how to go fast and keep the equipment clean. I think the quality of the equipment has also improved along with the expertise of mechanics and crews, many of whom are preparing themselves for future Sprint Cup roles. This Salem race there were 12 brand new composite bodied cars with the new Ilmor 396 engines, and tires were in short supply, so everyone really had to conserve their gear to make it the full 200 laps. But it didn't effect the quality of the racing and in fact may have put a premium on race strategy this year, so from that standpoint, it should not be surprising that Grant Enfinger and his GMS racing team came out with another win.

Bo LeMastus (42) had his best short track finish of 2015 with a ninth
There's an old saying that old age and treachery wins out over youth and exuberance, but that has not been the case most of this year - with the notable exception of Grant Enfinger, and he is by no means old. He has really come into his own this year as a driver and GMS is the hot team to beat as the season winds down. I will be heading to Kentucky Thursday evening to work Friday's 150 miler and then only the finale at Kansas remains. These will be the 13th and 14th ARCA events I have photographed this year and it has really been fun to be on the inside of the action as a full season title fight has unfolded. Maybe when the last race is run, I will have more time to reflect on highlights of my personal season on the road, but right now I just have to focus on getting my gear ready and prepping to shoot race 19 of the ARCA season. What a year it has been. Hope you can make it out to Kentucky or Kansas and see for yourself how the future stars of stock car racing conduct their business. Look me up if you're at the track!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Enfinger Gets Down and Dirty to Snag ARCA Win at Du Quoin Mile

Fear The Finger, indeed!
Grant Enfinger has become the beast of 2015 on the ARCA series circuit and snagged his fifth win of the year with a last lap pass of rookie Kyle Weatherman to pad his overall points lead with only three races left on the schedule. It was veteran Frank Kimmel's 500th ARCA start so there was a lot of sentiment for him to get a win but it was Enfinger's savvy on a green-white-checker finish which got him to Victory Lane once again. The dust was flying all day at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in southwestern Illinois, and in a season where multiple first-time ARCA winners have emerged, Enfinger has proven that his Gallagher Motorsports team is the one to beat week in and week out. No one else has more than one win this season and it will take something really drastic for Enfinger to lose the season championship with only races at Salem Speedway, Kentucky and Kansas remaining.

Austin Wayne Self (98) battles Josh Williams
Even as Grant continues his winning ways, the battle for the next three positions in the standings is extremely close as Josh Williams, Tom Hessert and Austin Wayne Self are now separated by only 85 points. The 2015 hard luck winner so far has to be Kyle Weatherman though with multiple second place finishes and near-misses that have kept him out of the winner's circle so far. Weatherman has a consolation prize of the Calypso Short Track Challenge and has an amazing nine Top 10 finishes in only 12 races run, as until recently when he turned 18, he was not eligible to run on some of the big tracks where ARCA races. I feel bad for Kyle and Cunningham Motorsports as they have been so close to getting him a win this year. Teammate Tom Hessert is in much the same predicament but he has won Salem before so watch out for him next weekend! I wouldn't count Josh Williams out either as he has really come on strong lately and shown a lot of speed for his small team.

Down and Dirty
Du Quoin was ARCA's second straight mile dirt track race and I am frankly glad it was the last one for this season. As their photographer, the races at Springfield and Du Quoin are a bear to work as they are both one day shows with very condensed practice-qualify-race schedules and there's a lot I have to do. This past weekend was about as dirty as I have ever gotten at a race track as it was extremely hot and the blowing dust (especially in Turn 1) just clung to my sweat soaked arms, face and shirt. I was quite happy to hit the shower Sunday night once I got home to Indy, and I don't know if the shirt I was wearing will ever come clean! I love the challenge these races present and my roots are in dirt short track racing, so I felt right at home and was able to experiment with some different angles and techniques despite the short schedule. My pedometer step count was nearly 17,000 for the day so you know I got around the track a few times after arriving at 7:00 in the morning!

Trying a new angle - from under the guardrail
There are lots of really good racing photographers around so I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to shoot for ARCA this season. It looks like my schedule with the series will be about the same for 2016 so that is pretty exciting. When I decided to change careers in 2009 so I could have more time to work as a photographer, I didn't know what would come of that decision and working for the ARCA series has been a godsend, especially this year with everything else I've been dealing with in my personal life. I know a lot of photographers and look at lots of other people's work to continue learning but one thing I've seen more of this year, or at least been more aware of, is the appearance of a lot of images which seem over-processed to my eye.  I know everyone has their own style and I appreciate the variety that I see on Twitter and Facebook, and various motorsports websites on the internet. Maybe I'm becoming more of a purist (or just getting set in my ways with advancing age) but I like documenting races as cleanly as possible with the images coming straight from the camera with maybe a little cropping or toning down of hotspots but not much other processing. One of the greatest lessons I've learned over the years is that I have to shoot what I see and hope that others like it too. I can't shoot like someone else but I sure can learn from them. Thank God for that. Come on down to Salem next weekend and we can talk shop or tell racing lies. It will be fun! See you at the track.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Next Up: ARCA Goes For More Dirt at DuQuoin

ARCA Races on Dirt Twice Every Season
After a week away from the race track and another trip to Akron to work on my Mom's house, another doubleheader weekend awaits: a follow-up trip to Akron to deal with some legal matters on Mom's estate, then back to Indy, then off to southwest Illinois to work another ARCA race on dirt. Two weeks ago, it was the Springfield mile dirt at the Illinois State Faigrounds and now its the other Illinois Fairgrounds mile dirt at DuQuoin. I haven't been to this racetrack since the early 90's when Tony Stewart, Chuck Gurney, Johnny Parson, Jr., Ziggy Snider and that bunch were racing USAC Silver Crown so I am looking forward to shooting for ARCA on their second (and final) dirt track of the 2015 season. While I was also able to shoot Silver Crown at Springfield, I won't be able to do that particular double at DuQuoin since USAC runs Sunday and that's just too short of a turnaround after returning from Akron on Saturday.

Steve & I can't get to many races together these days
I really miss shooting dirt track racing so getting to work both Springfield and DuQuoin have helped rekindle my love for that style of motorsports. The contrast between the Silver Crown and ARCA races at Springfield wasn't as great as I had expected as most drivers in both series preferred the low line right against the guardrail. The SIlver Crown guys were faster in their lighter machines and would experiment with sliding sideways and riding the cushion on occasion but the heavier stock cars definitely liked the hard packed clay up against the rail. And man did I ever love leaning on the guardrail shooting as the racers flew by inches away from my feet! My brother made the trip with me to Springfield and he had never experienced the roar and thunderous vibration of racing so close that it shook your insides, so it was great to share that experience with him. He's back in Arizona now so this weekend's road trip to DuQuoin will be a solo trip although my son is going with me to Akron, so I will be racking up some more road miles across the Midwest this Labor Day weekend.

Kody Swanson took a 2nd Straight Springfield Silver Crown Win
It was so much fun to be there on Saturday for the Silver Crown race, even though I only really knew one of the drivers: AJ Fike, who has been full time in ARCA this year and runs a heavy Silver Crown schedule. I recognize a lot of the USAC drivers but they don't know me, so one of the first things my brother and I did when we got there was go talk to AJ. I didn't realize it at the time, but Fike has won twice at Springfield in Silver Crown and it was fun sharing the ARCA connection with my brother. Wouldn't you know it, AJ went on to win the ARCA 100-miler on Sunday after hanging on to what looked like a bucking bronco Silver Crown car on Saturday. My brother and I had a blast just hanging out taking pictures Saturday and we were able to go where we wanted with the $35 pit passes we bought. A slideshow of photos from the Silver Crown action follows this post.

The field takes the green after very little track time
The ARCA races at Springfield and DuQuoin are one day shows, with a single practice session followed by qualifying and then the race. There's lots to get done in a short period of time and a rainy mist cut short the only practice session and qualifying was cancelled altogether, so the field was set based on owner points. The track looked like a muddy mess about 2 hours before the race was supposed to start but the Fairgrounds crew got out the road graders, scraped off the top layer of mud, and once the sun came out, the track was ready to go, and ARCA was motivated to start on time since the race was being carried live on CBS Sports Network. It turned out to be a beautiful day and I hustled all over that track during the 100 lap race to get shots from a variety of angles. For just my first time at Springfield, I was really glad I had the chance to scope everything out on Saturday as it paid dividends Sunday during the ARCA race and made my job easier.

ARCA Points Leader Grant Enfinger
The ARCA season is winding down now with only four races left to crown a season champion and Grant Enfinger would appear to be the favorite to capture the series title, which would be his first. There have been ten first-time ARCA winners this season so anything can happen, especially with some dirt track "ringers" on the entry list for DuQuoin. After this weekend, only the fall race at high banked Salem Speedway, and races at intermediate tracks Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway will settle the points for the year. By that time, I will have been ARCA's photographer for 14 out of 20 races on the schedule this season and I love that I continue to learn every time out. Shooting the series has given me the chance to experiment with some things and get to know the teams and drivers, which has been very rewarding. It looks like I will get the chance to do much the same schedule in 2016. I will also be shooting the season ending championship awards banquet for the third year in a row in Indianapolis in December as well.

If you read my blog regularly, then you know I write about my journey as a motorsports photographer, and this year has been one wild ride, especially the last two months. When you mix in my Mom's death at the beginning of July, the tragic death of Indycar driver Justin Wilson last weekend which brought up all kinds of feelings of grief and loss related to my Mom's death, and the stress of starting a new teaching job at the beginning of August, I have been feeling emotionally spent lately. Driving a UHaul back from Mom's this past Sunday was especially hard as I knew there wouldn't be many more trips back to Akron, and I felt like I was hauling her life along with me in the items I was bringing back to Indy. It's all part of the transition to whatever is next and I knew I was being taken care of on the road as I saw 7 gorgeous hawks along US 30 West, all perched on fence posts facing the highway, and then an eagle flew over me on I-70 back in Indiana about 50 miles from home. The universe speaks to me in these ways and you can call me crazy if you want, but we are all connected in the spirit world and these sightings were not coincidental.

But I keep going because that's what I do. And I try to channel whatever I'm feeling through my creative efforts behind the camera, in Adobe Lightroom, through this blog and through journaling I do which is not for public consumption. Why? I can't not do it. It's who I am. If you know me, then this is no surprise but I don't let many people outside my close friends and family know me that deeply, so if you take all these things together, then my messages to the universe may begin to make a little more sense. But then again, maybe not. Just come out to the racetrack and join me so we can share the passion and talk awhile. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos.