Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Season Review: My 2016 Winding Road

Shooting from the flagstand is always a thrill
My 2016 racing season has indeed been a long and winding road. All but one racing trip involved driving my Civic Si all over kingdom come, but it was nice to start off the season with a plane flight and a visit to a new (old) racing venue. I was fortunate to have the chance to work as a photographer at 18 race events which included 27 major series races. That doesn't count CRA, street stocks or other series racing on the same weekend that I didn't have to cover! As a result, my online photo galleries are growing by leaps and bounds and I have racked up some serious miles on the road along with lots of great memories while working with many great people.

My return to Phoenix was about 12 years in the making
Most of my photo work this year involved shooting for the ARCA Racing Series as its chief photographer where I did 14 out of the 20 races on the Series' calendar. The first race I went to this year was just for fun, and involved a banzai plane trip to Phoenix where I met my brother and his son for the return of Indycar racing to the historic mile oval in the Arizona desert. It was a great trip, leaving Friday evening and getting home late Sunday night after watching the Verizon Indycar and Indy Lights series race. Of course I had to shoot some pictures, and I ran into photographers I know who cover the series who asked me why they hadn't seen me at the photo meeting. It was one time where I was happy just to say I was spectating so the pressure was off.

Not many people get to shoot from the roof of Stand E
The Phoenix trip was the first weekend in April and then things really picked up after he next weekend I was shooting at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for ARCA. Two weeks later I was at Salem Speedway for ARCA again, and then the next weekend I shot at Talladega - first for ARCA and then the NASCAR Xfinity and Sprint Cup races for Associated Press. I drove  home immediately after the Sprint Cup race and got in at 2:00 Monday morning. I made it to work that day on about five hours sleep! After a week off, I got to stay home and shoot the Grand Prix of Indianapolis for motorsport,com with the Indycar and Indy Lights series featured as part of the buildup for the 100th Indianapolis 500 and the Indy Lights Freedom 100.  That took care of the month of May in a big way with three successive weekends of activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

The Verizon Indycar Series on the Iowa bullring was spectacular
The weekend after the 500, we went to Warsaw, Indiana to dedicate the grave marker for Mom and then my summer break from teaching started with a two day event at Michigan for the ARCA Series. The day after Michigan, we drove to Cincinnati and hopped on Allegiant for a week's vacation at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. June wrapped up with ARCA's two day event at Winchester Speedway so I was able to commute from home. Two weeks later, I drove to Iowa Speedway to shoot for ARCA again and my brother came in for the weekend so we stayed to shoot the Indycar and Indy Lights races also. It was the first time I was able to get credentials as Alleygroup Associates so that was pretty cool. I also stopped in Le Clare, Iowa at the Antique Archeaology store made famous by the American Pickers television show and got my picture taken with one of the show's stars, Mike Wolfe, who was very gracious and just happened to be there that day.

There's no place else like Berlin where pit lane is in the infield!
Two weeks later, the end of July had arrived and it was back home in Indianapolis for ARCA at Lucas Oil Raceway which turned into an 18 hour day but I loved it all as the flat short track delivered its usual measure of excitement and the champion in the making, Chase Briscoe, snagged another win. School had already started for me by then so that made for a challenging schedule with teaching during the week and racing on every other weekend. Two more weeks went by and I was off to Marne, Michigan to shoot ARCA again at Berlin Raceway which has the most unique pit road of any track I have ever been to, with the teams pitting in the infield during the race, and no back stretch wall to keep cars in the park! The month of August took ARCA to the first of two mile dirt tracks at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois and then Labor Day weekend arrived with another ARCA race on a mile dirt track at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in the first ever night race for the series there. If August was busy, then September was insane!

It was great seeing Chase Briscoe take season honors for ARCA
Six days after DuQuoin was the 100th ARCA race at Salem Speedway which brought a historic sweep of both 2016 Salem races by youngster Christopher Bell. Then five days later, we trekked to Chicagoland Speedway for the first of three straight ARCA races on mile-and-a-half  intermediate tracks, all of which were televised and brought out strong fields of cars and close racing. From Chicagoland, eight days later we were off to Kentucky Speedway and the completion of a stretch run of four races in 19 days would be completed. That left only one more race to go in the ARCA season following Kentucky, and a month later we went to Kansas Speedway where Chase Briscoe merely needed to start the race to secure his first ARCA season championship. But Chase wasn't satisfied to back into the season title and he grabbed his sixth win of the ARCA season to complete his stranglehold on the championship.

The "Big One" came right to me
The week after Kansas, I was southbound on Interstate 65 once again to Talladega Superspeedway, this time wrapping up my 2016 season by shooting the  NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup races for Associated Press. On another banzai road trip, I left Indy about 4:00 p.m. Friday, shot races Saturday and Sunday, and got home Monday morning at around 2:30 a.m. It was well worth it as I got an APTopix out of the truck race on Saturday and continued to build relationships with my friends and colleagues down south. I haven't figured out how many miles I drove in 2016 to shoot races but it's probably close to 15,000 with two trips to Talladega, another to Kansas, one to Iowa, two into Michigan and various shorter trips around the midwest. Next year is looking quite similar but I am adding two 24 hour sports car races to the mix for 2017: the Rolex 24 at Daytona and my first Le Mans. Thankfully I am flying to those events, so stay tuned for more as I start counting down the days to be back at a racetrack again. I can hardly wait. See you at a track somewhere near you.

My only other Rolex race was in 2014 so it will be good to return in 2017

Friday, October 28, 2016

This Year I Got The "Big One" at Talladega

The "Big One" involved more than ten trucks
I've had some big weekends at Talladega shooting for Associated Press (AP) in the past, but I've never shot a wreck there quite like the one that occurred during last Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race where a dozen or more trucks were involved. I've shot pictures of other multiple vehicle crashes as Dega but this one was different. I was in the photo tower between Turns 1 and 2 with a clear view of the very beginning of the melee. I saw the first truck get sideways, framed it over the infield motorhomes and then it just opened up for me as the wreck progressed. The crashing vehicles just kept coming towards me, and I had to change my focal length at least twice in the middle of the sequence to adjust to the width of the scene that was developing with trucks crashing in a huge wad and others sliding through the grass to avoid getting collected. It was crazy and there was only one other photographer out there with me so I darn near had an exclusive. As it was, my sequence was over 50 frames long and I got an APTopix nomination out of one of the images as an AP top photo for that day. That made the whole weekend worthwhile.

2015 ARCA champ Grant Enfinger got the trucks win - his first
It was also a special race for me and all of my ARCA friends who got to see one of their own, Grant Enfinger, win on his "home track" and get his first ever NASCAR win. I gather it was the first time an Alabama native (Grant is from Fairhope, Alabama) had won at Talladega in decades and it was so gratifying to see him win in a GMS Racing machine with another ARCA vet and the GMS team owner's son, Spencer Gallagher, following Grant across the line in second. It seems like drivers getting their first win has been a recurring theme at races I've shot the last couple of seasons and to see last year's ARCA champion finally taste success in a NASCAR race was really sweet. I did not have victory lane access for the trucks race but I made sure Grant knew I was happy for him on social media afterwards.

Joey Logano (right), here talking with Ryan Blaney, won Sunday's Sprint Cup race
Sunday's Sprint Cup race was anti-climactic after Saturday's carnage but I still got a lot of good racing photos this weekend, and some good candids from Saturday's Sprint Cup qualifying so it was a great weekend overall. It's ironic in a way that I've never worked for AP in Indianapolis but have worked for them numerous times in the south at tracks like Talladega, Atlanta and Daytona. I owe it all the the late Glenn Smith who introduced me to the folks down south in 2011 when I was trying to branch out. Shooting as a stringer is so different than what I normally do for ARCA or for motorsport.com. When I'm shooting for AP, I am assigned a spot and have an area of the track that I am responsible for covering. As a result, my pedometer step count is down compared to my "do it all" approach with ARCA or motorsport.com duties, but I have to be on my toes and stay ready for any incident and bring home photos no matter what. And that's what I do.

Danica Patrick before qualifying
I got another reminder of how different these assignments are on pit lane Saturday during the Sprint Cup qualifying. My routine during ARCA qualifying is to be right out on pit lane, next to the cars and drivers, so I can get candid photos as they prepare to get in their cars or after they've climbed aboard. So it was nothing unusual for me to be wandering around on pit lane right next to Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and all the rest of the drivers and crews. It seemed entirely normal. However, a couple of minutes into the session, another photographer got my attention and reminded me that Sprint Cup rules are different so I had to move. I was not in a dangerous situation or anything like that, but it was a good reminder for me how photographers look out for each other at the race track. Thanks Barry. I love that.

Restrictor plate racing means packs of cars close together all the time
Talladega is such a unique racetrack and I really love shooting there with the high speeds and pack racing. It is also unique in its fan support, media coverage and even how they handle getting out of the track once the race is over. I am not the only one who drives hundreds of miles to get to Talladega once of twice a year. For me, this was a 1200 mile banzai round trip and I had to be back at my teaching job Monday morning. Since I didn't get any "action" during Sunday's Sprint Cup race, I cut out quickly and headed for the "secret exit" that goes by the airport and is reserved for teams and media people to use. I was on the interstate headed for Birmingham in 15 minutes (record time for exiting the track) so my return trip got off to a good start. Despite a 30 minute stoppage on I-65 near Hanceville, Alabama, I made it home by 2:30 Monday morning after teaming up with someone in a black Cadillac CTS and rolling through the rest of Alabama and Tennessee in tandem at a nice pace. I love to drive and my Civic Si has become quite the little road warrior in these first 13 months since I got it. This trip followed another 1000+ mile trip to Kansas and back just the previous week and she went over 25,000 total miles this weekend!

Alas my racing season is over for 2016, except for the ARCA Series awards banquet which I will photograph in December. I have a lot of great memories from the road trips and races this year which I will share in some season review posts, so please stay tuned. In the meantime have a look at some of my photos from 'Dega - where you know "This is Talladega: More Than A Race" by clicking on the following links for Trucks race and for Sprint Cup.

Joey Logano (22) outran Kevin Harvick and the rest to win the Sprint Cup race
Grant Enfinger in his winning GMS Racing truck

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chase Briscoe Caps ARCA Championship Season With Kansas Win

Chase Briscoe got his 6th win of 2016 at Kansas
The last ARCA race of the 2016 season was run last Friday night at Kansas Speedway and 21 year old rookie Chase Briscoe put an indelible stamp on his championship season by taking a convincing win in the Kansas 150. I was happy for him and for Cunningham Motorsports as they have been great to work with this year. It also made our jobs as photographers easier since we only had to shoot one post race celebration rather than two. This kid is going places in racing and I hope he is able to move up into NASCAR trucks or Xfinity next season. I'm sure he will do well. That will be good for him but I will miss him. This season has been amazing in itself for Chase, considering that he had only run two pavement races in his career prior to 2016, and both of those were last year. 

Briscoe got his first win on the fast half mile at Winchester
It was obvious early this season that Briscoe and Cunningham were the class of the ARCA field. Once Chase got that first victory at Winchester at the end of June, you just knew that more were going to follow in short order. And they did as he rolled through July and early August with wins at Iowa, Lucas Oil Raceway and then Pocono. Surprisingly with his sprint car and dirt track background, he didn't win at either of the mile dirt tracks on which ARCA races, but he came back and grabbed win number five at Chicagoland Speedway in September. Kansas was the icing on the cake and he showed a real adaptability this season by excelling on the short tracks (3 wins) while also winning on a big track (Pocono) and two 1.5 mile tracks at season's end. I'm sure he learned a lot and I loved how low he would sit in the cockpit of that Big Tine Ford. For a rookie with virtually no pavement experience, having only one wreck all year (that was not of his doing) and earning a season championship is quite impressive.

This Is Talladega
My trip to Kansas was the next to last race of my season this year. I have big plans for 2017 which include the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January, of course the Indy 500 in May, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in June. I am not getting any younger after all and while I might not be able to do 14 ARCA races next year as I have done this year and last, I will be quite busy and on the road a lot again. I am headed to Talladega Friday for my last 2016 race which involves shooting the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday and the Sprint Cup race on Sunday for Associated Press. I love going to the big track in Alabama and since it is a cutoff race for the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, I'm sure it will be wild so I should have a chance to make some pictures. I realized yesterday that I haven't shot the fall race at Dega since 2013 and that one included getting photos of flipping trucks and cars so maybe I will get lucky again with something spectacular.

2016 ARCA Champion Chase Briscoe has a bright future
Since September of last year when I got my Civic Si, I have put over 24,000 miles on her, with most of it coming on ARCA road trips. This Talladega trip will put her over 25,000 miles for sure. On the road, there are always interesting sights and town names to grab my attention. Thankfully there were no close calls on the Kansas trip but I did see some hawks and drove past some interesting little burgs en route. There were Paris and Kansas, Illinois. Then I saw a sign for Louisiana, Missouri. I always wonder how towns get those names but I guess it's not that much different than seeing Mexico, Indiana pop up on a highway sign either or stopping for gas in Brazil, Indiana. On the way west last Thursday, I had a fun night drive along with someone in a white Audi who seemed happy to play lead/follow with me as we made our way through traffic on I-70. On the way home Saturday, I saw a place called "Redneck Fireworks, LLC" outside Columbia, Missouri which gave me pause and I loved the fans at Kansas Speedway who ended the national anthem with "Home of the CHIEFS!"And why is it that all the other states I drive through seem to have roads in better shape than in Indiana? I'm sure my trip south this weekend will generate more memories and I always love driving through Nashville on I-65 as it twists, turns, dips and dives through the city. Just please move out of the fast lane when you see me coming!

I could go on and on about my latest road adventure but I will save some stories for my season reviews which will follow between now and the end of 2016. In the meantime, I hope you will click on the following link to check out my photo gallery from ARCA Kansas and other races I've shot this year. It's been a blast and I am so blessed to have these opportunities. Thanks to all my friends and family for the support. See you at a racetrack somewhere soon!
Tom Hessert finished 2nd to Chase Briscoe on the season, one of four drivers to make all 20 races this year
Dalton Sargeant (55) won Rookie of the Year honors with Venturini Motorsports
Chase Briscoe did a burnout worthy of a champion after winning at Kansas

Friday, September 30, 2016

ARCA Season Winding Down: Chase Briscoe Likely Champ

Chase Briscoe grabbed season win #5 at Chicagoland
With four ARCA races to cover in September for the series, keeping up with me on the road this month has been a challenge. The month began Labor Day weekend at the Magic Mile dirt track at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. Less than a week later, I was at Salem Speedway in southern Indiana for the 100th ARCA race on the legendary old high banked half mile. Christopher Bell won there and swept both 2016 races at Salem in the process. Fice days after Salem, I was at Chicagoland Speedway where Chase Briscoe added another win to his season total and padded his ARCA series points lead. All chase has to do now at Kansas is start the race and he will be the 2016 champion. It's been great working with him and the people at Cunningham Motorsports this year and you have to believe Chase will be moving up next year. When that happens, I'll be one of his biggest fans.

Austin Cindric had a nice burnout after his Kentucky win
Finally, September was almost over then last weekend when I was at Kentucky Speedway for the penultimate ARCA race for the season. Austin Cindric got his first ever ARCA win at Kentucky and Victory Lane was chaotic afterwards with TV people and others getting in our way. Now that Kentucky is over, that leaves only one more ARCA race for 2016 at Kansas in mid-October. Whew! And the miles just keep adding up!

Most of these trips are relatively straightforward with easy drives from Indianapolis where I live. Since most ARCA races are run on Fridays or Saturdays, getting there works well with my teaching schedule since we have staff days most Fridays. The Chicagoland event was an exception as I had to drive to Joliet, Illinois on Wednesday night, work the race on Thursday where I got back to the hotel after midnight, and then drove straight back to Noblesville the next morning to be at school by 9:00 a.m. That drive was anything but straightforward but it was also one of the most fun drives I've done for a race trip as I decided to zig zag my way back south to avoid the Chicago area traffic and go on mostly two lane roads where I thought traffic would be light so early in the morning. It was truly a long and winding road as I took Interstate 80 from Joliet east to I-57 South, then Illinois State Roads 17 and 1 to US 24 and US 41; then Indiana State Road 28 to I-65, then Indiana 47 to 38, ending up in Noblesville after seeing several small towns along the way I never knew existed. Have you ever been to Fickle, Indiana? I never had either until that trip!

Austin Cindric won Kentucky and could win at Kansas
With Kansas still two weeks away, I have been looking back over 2016 and the events I've covered for Associated Press, ARCA and motorsport.com and counting my blessings. I still have one ARCA race and Talladega for AP this year, yet I am already deep in planning for 2017 as I will shoot the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours in January to kick things off. While next year's ARCA schedule has not been finalized, I expect I will be doing close to the same number of races (14) for the series as I did this year and in 2015. Then there's Indianapolis in May but the crown jewel of my 2017 season will surely be the 24 Hours of LeMans in June. It will be my first trip to Europe and my first LeMans race but hopefully not my last as I have gotten to know other photographers who shoot there every year so while I will be a LeMans "rookie", I won't be totally a fish out of water! At least at the racetrack that is - not so sure about the rest, as we also plan to go to Venice and Rome after LeMans so it should be the trip of a lifetime.

This hole in the wall at Salem Speedway turned out to be a creative opportunity
Once I get past October, I will have more time to reflect on what a great year this has been as it hasn't really sunk in yet. By the time all is said and done, I will have done 18 major race weekends, which have included ARCA, CRA, Indy Lights, Indycar and all of the major NASCAR series. I've made some new friends and learned some new tricks in Adobe Lightroom. I've done some of what I think is my best work this year as I've challenged myself at every race to try and doing something different than the time before. That's not been easy but I've had the chance to work with lots of great people again this year so even though the miles on the road are a drag sometimes and the days at the track can be quite long, the end result is absolutely worth it. As the winners always seem to say in Victory Lane, "I can't thank everyone enough..." for the opportunities.

Please check out my Google photo galleries.  You can see my gallery from the most recent ARCA race at Kentucky by clicking on this link. In the meantime, enjoy these for the time being and watch for my blue Civic Si in the left lane on a highway near you heading to a race somewhere. Follow me!

ARCA pit action at Chicagoland was hectic as usual
Afternoon rain showers at Salem Speedway left a beautiful evening sky for the start of the 100th ARCA race there
Close intense racing is a hallmark of ARCA competition these days, especially  in the top five

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

DuQuoin Doubly Delightful Under The Lights

The picturesque DuQuoin State Fair track has a lake in the infield
I was able to make up for the Springfield rainout of the USAC Silver Crown race two weeks ago by adding the DuQuoin round for the series to my ARCA duties this past weekend. The weather was perfect Saturday for the loud and fast open wheelers to do their thing under the lights on the hard southern Illinois clay. And they put on one helluva show as ageless Jeff Swindell led for much of the race before Chris Windom passed him for the win with less than 2 laps to go in the Ted Horn 100. There was only one incident for the whole race, which in itself was amazing considering how close these guys run with one another,. It is hard to beat the thrill of standing next to the guardrail taking photographs as they race by you just inches away. Oh my, how I love that feeling! The "Magic Mile" definitely earned its nickname Saturday night.

AJ Fike  (3) ran in the top five all night until he got a flat tire on the last lap
Only one USAC competitor was doing the DuQuoin double last weekend as AJ Fike has run almost a full time ARCA schedule this year in addition to taking in selected Silver Crown races. I love being able to see guys like AJ show off their versatility and then have the chance to talk to them in the hotel elevator late at night to get their take on how things went. This weekend was my first shooting an ARCA event since the series added my name to the staff page on its website as "Chief Photographer" and I think that helped me gain credential access through the nice folks at Track Enterprises for the USAC portion of the DuQuoin weekend. Back in the 1990's, a bunch of us used to come over from Indy to DuQuoin for the Silver Crown race when guys like Tony Stewart, Johnny Parson, Jr. and George "Ziggy" Snider were regulars in the series so this was my first time shooting Silver Crown here in years. Those races were usually hard fought affairs and this year's version was no different. And they raced close and clean all night. Imagine that! If you want to see more of my Silver Crown photos, then follow this link.

Ryan Unzicker looked like a winner but couldn't maintain the pace
The next day was ARCA's day to headline on the mile dirt and the weather was noticeably hotter than it had been on Saturday. Thankfully we did not have a "stupid-thirty" meeting at the track, as I heard someone describe it, and I was able to eat a good breakfast at the hotel before driving back the 40 or so miles to the track. The track was in good shape and unlike at Springfield, we were able to maintain the planned schedule of practice, qualifying and racing. I went outside Turns 1 and 4 during our practice session to get shots of the cars running ass-end out through the corners, so naturally I got a nice dusting of fine Illinois clay on my cameras, face and clothes.

Overheating was a serious problem and it ruined Grant Enfinger's race
The expected onslaught during the race from the local dirt track "ringers" did not disappoint as Ryan Unzicker and Kelly Kovski both looked like potential race winners throughout the day and the ARCA regulars knew they were in for a dogfight all night. Last year's ARCA champion Grant Enfinger appeared to have the field covered until a blocked radiator caused his engine to overheat which knocked him out of the race just past half distance. Late in the race, veteran Tom Hessert caught Kovski after a restart and passed him for the lead when Kovski got bogged down by a lapped car with less than five laps remaining. Kovski lost momentum and dropped back which allowed Kenny Schrader to put his Venturini Motorsports machine into second. Schrader was dogging Hessert until Kenny's own team driver, Matt Kerzejewski, spun on the white flag lap to bring out a caution and set up a one lap shootout. Quite a few eyebrows were raised when that happened but Hessert took the outside line on the restart and motored away to the win with Kovski taking second and Schrader third ahead of points leader Chase Briscoe who was penalized for jumping the last restart.

Tom Hessert and the Venturini Motors gang were ecstatic with the win
All in all it was a great two days at the race track and the Silver Crown race was kind of a bonus shooting day for me but it really helped me get ready for the ARCA race since last year we ran in the daytime and I wanted to check out the lighting. Now we go to Salem Speedway this Saturday for the 100th ARCA race at the rugged, high banked half mile in southern Indiana. This is the track where I really started to appreciate the ARCA series back in 2006 and I've been going religiously ever since. I've got some good friends down there and the racing is always fierce. Chris Bell is entered to defend his win in this year's spring race, Frank Kimmel will be in Cunningham's 22 car, and Bobby Allison will be there along with a host of other former ARCA winners at Salem. It should be another long day but it will be a blast. Until then, check out more of my photos from DuQuoin at this link.

The infield lake at DuQuoin makes a nice reflection of the Josh Williams machine driven by Michael Lira in his first dirt race

Friday, September 2, 2016

ARCA Dirt Double at DuQuoin Next

Justin Haley became the youngest winner ever at Springfield
It's been a crazy couple of weeks since I last wrote, as our house got hit in a storm last weekend and we had now power for nearly three days. Luckily the damage was minimal and we were just inconvenienced, but it meant that I didn't have a chance to write about the Springfield, Illinois ARCA race on the dirt mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds where I had worked the previous weekend. The ARCA series had another first time winner in 17 year old Justin Haley which meant that eight (8) different drivers have gotten their first ARCA wins already this season. This weekend we go to southern Illinois to another dirt mile so perhaps that string will continue as the entry list is stacked with local drivers and lots of experience on the DuQuoin racetrack.

Experienced dirt racer Chase Briscoe leads the season points
This is the second straight year that I have done the ARCA "dirt double" in August and although I have trashed a couple of shirts with Illinois clay in the process of shooting these races, I absolutely love seeing these stock cars on dirt. It's too bad more people don't get out to watch these guys race as they put on a helluva show and the racing is as good as you will see at any level of stock car racing, and many times it's better in my opinion, as there are so many young and hungry talented drivers fighting their way up the racing ladder. I would think that the television people at American Sports Network would be happy with the races they are showing as there has been lots of action and exciting finishes in every one this year. Springfield was no different as rookie and season points leader Chase Briscoe led a ton of laps, local driver Ryan Unzicker challenged for the win, and then Justin Haley found his way to the front with less than 10 laps to go to win in a green-white-checker finish.

Sunday ended up being a gorgeous day to race
My excitement for the weekend actually started on my drive over to Springfield on Saturday morning, as a wrong way driver on I-74 westbound near the Indiana state line got my attention early in the morning. Thankfully that idiot didn't hurt anyone and I had somewhere to go when I saw those headlights coming towards me in the fast line as I pulled out to pass an 18 wheeler. I ducked back behind the truck and honked at the oblivious driver before calling 911 to report them. Needless to say, on a sunny Saturday morning, that encounter set my nerves on edge so I really concentrated on driving the rest of the trip. As I got within an hour of Springfield, I learned that a downpour had forced the cancellation of the USAC Silver Crown race which I was going over to shoot on Saturday so that was disappointing. However, it gave me time in Springfield to get a haircut, go see the movie "Suicide Squad" and hang out at the hotel the rest of the day and get ready to work ARCA's race on Sunday.

Tough logistics for ARCA's teams made for a long day
With a scheduled 9:00 practice session, we had to be at the Fairgrounds before 6 to get things going but despite what dawned as a beautiful weather day, the teams were in for a tough day as they could not bring their haulers into the track infield as it was a swamp from all the rain in Springfield prior to that day. They had to roll, push or pull all their cars, gear and equipment inside to set up for the day so we ended up having a single one hour practice session to set the starting lineup. Before you knew it, it was race time and 100 laps on the mile dirt went pretty fast once they got rolling. Rich Corbett and Doc Hunter were there working with me at Springfield so we were able to cover a lot of ground and provide a lot of variety in our photos for the series. It's always more fun working with other photographers too and I think Doc will be back again this weekend at DuQuoin while Rich is in his home area of Oswego, New York at the annual supermodified race event.

Chase Briscoe will look to add a series title to his resume over the next few weeks
DuQuoin marks the beginning of a very busy stretch run for the ARCA series. After this weekend comes the 100th ARCA race at Salem Speedway on September 10th and then Chicagoland September 15th, followed by Kentucky Speedway September 23rd. We get a break before the season finale at Kansas Speedway October 14th, but 4 races over the next three weeks will be exciting. It will be fun to see if anyone can mount a late challenge on Chase Briscoe for the season championship, but I will have fun no matter how it turns out. It's hard to beat being at a racetrack doing what you love under any circumstance and I am grateful for the opportunity. Today, in fact, I noticed on the ARCA website that I have been listed as its "Chief Photographer" so I am very happy to get that recognition as part of the staff that puts together this series. So until next time, please follow this link to see a few of my photos from Springfield.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Berlin to Springfield: ARCA Versatility on Display

2015 Series Champion Grant Enfinger (23)  led at the start last year
It's been a couple weeks since I worked the ARCA race at the Berlin Raceway short track in Michigan, and I have not written anything about that trip yet. Today I break that silence as I look ahead to this weekend's road trip to Springfield, Illinois for Sunday's 100 lapper on the Illinois State Fair mile dirt track. The weekend also includes the USAC Silver Crown series with its own 100 lapper Saturday. With Bryan Clauson's recent death, it will be good to be with my racing friends on a dirt track this weekend and I will have two races to shoot and much more to write about.  I know I will see lots of photographers and racers this weekend who are still grieving for Bryan so it will be good therapy to be together and share stories with one another.

AJ Fike taking the checkered flag in 2015
This will be my second consecutive trip to Springfield as my brother and I did the weekend together last year. That was great as it was our first opportunity to spend time together after our mother's funeral the previous month. He can't make it this year so this will be another solo trip for me, albeit a relatively short one of only a couple hundred miles from Indy. Prior to last year, I had never seen ARCA race on dirt and of course the guys with dirt track experience were at the front. AJ Fike got the win after also racing the previous day in the Silver Crown event. AJ is doing the double again this year and should have a chance to be a repeat winner for ARCA and maybe even win both races. That would be quite a story. He'll have some stout competition in current ARCA points leader Chase Briscoe whose main experience before this year was in USAC dirt sprint cars! I can't wait to see that. There will also be a few other dirt track "ringers" entered so it should be highly competitive!

Corn dogs and crispy fries are on the menu this weekend
Springfield is one of two dirt tracks that ARCA runs each year and they are both in Illinois. We go to DuQuoin Labor Day weekend to run the mile dirt track there under the lights so that should be quite a spectacle. One of the big selling points of the ARCA series is the variety of tracks on the schedule. No other major national stock car series can match ARCA in that regard and ARCA has been doing it for over 60 years. Daytona and Talladega superspeedways are early season stops. Flat paved short tracks such as Berlin are  mixed in with the high banked asphalt bullrings like Winchester and Salem. We race on two mile dirt tracks this month and then the season winds down with races at intermediate tracks Chicagoland, Kentucky and the season finale at Kansas.

Ageless dirt track veteran Kenny Schrader will be back with ARCA this weekend
The ARCA series loves to boast about staying connected to its roots by continuing to race on dirt which is understandable. In NASCAR, only the truck series has taken the plunge with a single one-off race at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway in Ohio. I like the fact that these dirt tracks take me back to my roots as well, since my love of racing got started on a little dirt track in Warsaw, Indiana at the Kosciusko County Fair that my Grandpa Jay helped get built. All over the Midwest there are fairgrounds with dirt tracks which were originally horse tracks that sometimes host auto or motorcycle races. Someone had a template for the State Fair tracks way back when too as the mile dirt tracks at Springfield and DuQuoin are carbon copies of the one in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Fair. In my early days as a motorsports photographer, we went to DuQuoin on a regular basis for the Silver Crown race and I've shot the Hoosier 100 numerous times at Indy, not to mention shooting at lots of other smaller dirt track races at places like Kokomo and Putnamville through the years. So going to Springfield almost feels like coming home, and it's a double header weekend so I get to have twice the fun. It couldn't get much better than that!

Dalton Sargeant got a kiss from Big Bill at Berlin after his first win
While my focus in this post has been on this coming weekend, I would be remiss if I didn't say something about the Berlin race as it turned out to be quite a thriller. The ARCA series points leader Chase Briscoe was going after his fifth straight win and it came down to a dogfight between him and Josh Williams. Josh had already won twice this season and was the only other driver besides Chase with more than one win and you know he wanted another to help close the gap in the points race. Josh was leading inside 20 laps to go and Chase was driving the wheels off his #77 Cunningham entry trying to catch Josh, bouncing it off the wall on the front stretch once that I saw, and finally making a pass stick. But it lasted all of two corners as Josh fought back on the inside going into Turn 3 and they made contact with both going off track. Josh got the worst of the contact and was unable to finish the race. Chase had damage on the front of his car and dropped back so rookie Dalton Sargeant ended up getting a gift wrapped victory for Venturini Motorsports, becoming another first time ARCA Series winner in the process.

Chase Briscoe (77) and Josh Williams went after each other at Berlin
So that's where we stand going into this weekend. You really should come out and see all the young talented drivers that race in ARCA now since many of them won't be here for long as they move up the ladder in the racing world. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that, but now's the time to get to meet these kids and help them on their way by being a part of their fan base from the early days. And you have to love how excited they are when they win! See you at Springfield! 

In the meantime here's a link to a photo gallery from my work for ARCA at Berlin: https://goo.gl/photos/TsWeurmCoHZjWWR8A

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Long Racing Story - Short Lease on Life

Bryan Clauson 1989-2016
The joke I tell on myself is that when my marriage fell apart and I got divorced about 10 years ago, I bought camera equipment instead of furniture and went racing again. And normally after I shoot a race, I am writing a post about my experiences during the race weekend. This weekend was anything but normal however, and while this post will be about experiences, this one involves a racer who is suddenly no longer with us:  Bryan Clauson.

I am no seer or sage but believe it or not, I wrote the title to this blog post prior to this past weekend as I had intended to reflect on all the people in racing who have helped me as a photographer through the years. I wrote the first line then too but got sidetracked and haven't been able to come back to it until now. Racing can be a cruel mistress and this weekend proved that once again when Bryan Clauson succumbed to injuries August 7th from a wreck the previous night.

Bryan at Indy 2016; he was fast in anything he drove
I was in Marne, Michigan from Friday night through Sunday morning shooting the ARCA Racing Series 200 at Berlin Raceway for ARCA. Our race ended about 11 Saturday night and as I finished up my editing at the track and began to check social media, I started to hear about a serious wreck involving Clauson at the Belleville Nationals USAC midget event. When that kind of news comes out, you fear the worst but hope for the best, but by Sunday morning on my way back to Indy, it was becoming clear how truly serious Bryan's wreck had been. I posted a couple of photos I had taken of Bryan and wished him well and a speedy recovery on social media hoping to add my small bit of support for his family and friends. Sunday night the "prayers for Bryan" requests started circulating online and a photo attributed to the front yard of his parent's home in Noblesville signaled potentially grave consequences from the accident. Monday morning that was confirmed and I have read and echoed many testimonials to Bryan since yesterday morning.

Bryan at Kokomo Speedway 2009; he raced the Indy 500  then won there this year
Racing will never be safe and for those of us involved in it, we know that but accept the risks anyway. As a photographer, I've photographed many drivers who have been injured or worse. I have stood next to them and listened in on conversations with their crews, friends and families. I have talked to them, encouraged them to "have a good day" and watched their eyes through my lenses to see and capture their intensity and emotion. I know these people. I do not have close personal relationships with many of the drivers I cover but I am around enough racetracks to feel the ups and downs which come from this notoriously tough sport. Ernest Hemingway once said: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” I believe that more now than ever, especially after all the losses in motorsports the last few years.

Ayrton Senna. Dale Earnhardt. Dan Wheldon. Tony Renna. Justin Wilson. Paul Dana. Jason Leffler. Alan Simonsen. Kevin Ward, Jr. Josh Burton. Marco Simoncelli. Scott Kalitta. Jules Bianchi. Now we add Bryan Clauson to that list of drivers who, along with many others,  have paid the ultimate price. I wish their families and loved ones peace and Godspeed to one and all. We will not forget. It still hurts like hell every time we lose a friend in racing.

To see more of my photos of Bryan racing through the years, please click on the following link.