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 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 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