Thursday, October 29, 2015

Best Season Ever for ARCA?

2015 ARCA Champ Grant Enfinger
What a year it has been, both for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards and for me personally. With the completion of the season ending final race at Kansas Speedway October 16th which was won by 2014 season champion Mason Mitchell, ARCA has crowned its ninth different champion in a row. This year the honors went to the driver with the most wins in 2016, Alabama's Grant Enfinger. Once I got back home to Indianapolis the day after the race, I finally had some down time to recover from a year's worth of travel and stress. The Kansas weekend itself was a whirlwind, as I left Indy Thursday afternoon, shot the event for ARCA all day Friday, and drove home Saturday, covering nearly 1100 miles over 51 hours with 16 hours driving and 18 hours at the racetrack taking most of that time. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Now that my 2015 racing season is done, it's hard to believe that it went so quickly. Last January, I had very little on my racing calendar, other than the Month of May at Indianapolis for and a couple races here and there for Associated Press. Things changed suddenly when the person ARCA had intended to use as its main series photographer ran into difficulty and had to bow out. I told ARCA's marketing people I would step back in for as many races as possible. That turned out to be 14 ARCA race weekends as I crisscrossed the Midwest from Pocono, Pennsylvania to Kansas City, Kansas and from Nashville, Tennessee to Marne, Michigan. I was able to witness and document some great racing along the way and experience a series from the inside out in a way I had never really done before, so it was clearly my best year as a motorsports photographer. I think ARCA fans would be hard pressed to find a better, more competitive year in series history than 2015 and I was happy with my work product most weekends, although I had some moments where learning was forced upon me due to circumstances at the track or with my equipment. Those moments and overcoming those challenges only served to make this an even more special year for me as a photographer.

Ryan Reed (38) and Travis Braden (01) were both first time ARCA winners in 2015
While champion Grant Enfinger won six races, the newcomers in the series were another big story. Fully half of ARCA's 2015 races were won by drivers who had never won an ARCA event before, and some of them did it in their first ever ARCA start. Other than Enfinger, only Ryan Reed and Mason Mitchel won more than 1 race; Reed did it in two out of the three he entered and Mason in two out of five. The other race winners only chalked up one apiece but there were 10 brand new winners in the series this season. I was there for most of those and I used t o tease the new drivers that I would see them in Victory Lane as their good luck charm which seemed to be true more often than not this year! In the process, I've taken a helluva lot of photos this season, probably more than 50,000 images for ARCA, covered a lot of territory with my feet at the races as well as behind the wheel getting there, and I think produced some of my best work. I am looking forward to 2016 and doing it all over again, although I hope my personal life will have settled down by then.
Grant Enfinger (23) races Will Kimmel at Kansas

My racing season actually began at the end of February this year with the NASCAR weekend at Atlanta for Associated Press. From there, my travels from Indy looked like this, in order of occurrence: Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Salem Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Grand Prix of Indianapolis and 99th Indy 500), Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Winchester Speedway, Iowa Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Berlin Raceway, Springfield Fairgrounds, DuQuoin Fairgrounds, Salem Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Thank goodness ARCA is a midwest-based series as Indy is about 9 hours at most from any of the tracks I went to for them this year, with Pocono as the longest drive. Altogether I went to six tracks I had never worked at before (Nashville, Pocono, Iowa, Berlin, Springfield and Kansas) but it seemed like I ran into someone I knew at every track.

"Superman" Mason Mitchell did it again
The stressful part of this season had nothing to do with the long drives to get to the races, as I love to drive. In the midst of it all, my Mom was hospitalized in June and passed away 4th of July weekend so I had extra trips to Akron, Ohio interspersed with the racing travel, and sometimes on top of it, as I visited her on the way to and from Pocono before she got ill, then drove straight from Chicagoland to Akron another weekend as she was hospitalized. My first race after her death and burial was at Iowa and I was grateful to get back to work and be with my friends at the racetrack where I could focus on the job at hand, and exercise some creativity which buoyed my spirits. That's pretty much the way the rest of the season went as well, since the long drives gave me time to clear my head and reminisce before getting down to business at the racetrack. I knew going in that Kansas was going to be a long drive, but similar in length to going to Talladega which I have done many times solo, so it was no big deal to get there late Thursday night and be at the racetrack bright and early the next morning. That's what I do. And then to see Mason Mitchell get another big win and do his Superman routine in Victory Lane as Grant Enfinger celebrated his first championship nearby was a dual thrill that I hope can be matched next season. Here's a few photos from Kansas that are just the tip of the iceberg of what I shot that weekend. I also owe a special thanks to Kevin Arburn who helped out immensely at Kansas and I hope there are more opportunities to work with him and other second shooters next year. To see all our photos from Kansas, you need to go to where you can buy images or prints for your man caves!

The weekend before going to Kansas, I had been in Akron working on Mom's house and I decided to take in a bonus race at Winchester Speedway: the JEGS ARCA CRA Winchester 400 which I had never attended before. I wasn't able to stay the whole race but it was a beautiful fall day and it was nice to be at a race where I didn't have an assignment and could shoot what I wanted and experiment. Of course I saw lots of ARCA friends and photographers I knew at the track and since its a short drive from Indy I could get home to prepare for work after being gone for several days. I was impressed by the level of preparation of the CRA teams and several big names were there to race including Chase Elliott, phenom Erik Jones, Eldora trucks winner Chris Bell and numerous others. The crowd was huge, bigger than anything I had seen at Winchester before, so I was glad to get out of there before the race ended. Rarely have I left a race before it was over, but I was happy to get the shots I wanted and get home at a reasonable hour. Here's a link to my Winchester 400 photos which I shot just for kicks:
2015 Winchester 400
. Until next time, be safe and get to a race somewhere near you!