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 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.