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:

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.