Sunday, January 29, 2017

Daytona Addendum: More Rain and It's My Fault

Well I made it to Daytona exactly on schedule Thursday and everything has been great: until last night. I had a flashback to my last Daytona trip, in 2014, when I came for the Daytona 500 and rain delays pushed the race into the evening. This time the "moisture" started hitting the track around 8:30 last night and persisted through the early morning hours as the clock ticked on the 55th Rolex 24 Hours race. Back in 2014, I got back to my hotel at 3:30 in the morning and had to get up at 5:00 to catch my flight home. This year there were no rain delays per se, but the field ran behind the pace car for nearly 2 hours stating around 5:15 this morning. Thankfully, I was in the media center when that occurred, although I did get blamed by at least one photographer friend accused me of starting the rainfall. Ironically that was about the time I finished shooting some rain shots after getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in my rented Jeep between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.

This weekend has been every bit the experience I had anticipated. I have taken over 5,200 images since I got here Thursday around noon. There has been all kinds of unusual situations to photograph and lighting has fluctuated wildly so I have been able to do some "concept" photos like this one as experiments in slow speed panning. Since I have not been the lead photographer this weekend, I have been able to do variety of shooting without the need to ensure a certain image is produced. That may or may not be what is looking for, but I have certainly submitted enough photos so they could decide what gets run and what doesn't. The Rolex 24 is such a unique event and I am so glad I chose to come down to start my 2017 racing season here. I even went to the beach yesterday so I could see the ocean and today the rain is supposed to stop so the finishing hours will be dry.

Now there are less than 6 hours in the race and then it will be over, seemingly as quickly as it began. But after a year's worth of anticipation and planning, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise now, should it? Until next time, got to to see my photos and I won't be surprised if see you at a racetrack somewhere soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Daytona Here I Come

As I sat at Indianapolis international airport long before dawn this morning to board a flight to Orlando, I was reminiscing about my previous trips to Florida to shoot a race at Daytona. This will be the fifth race I've worked at the "world center of speed"  but only my second Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. I am sure this trip will be another adventure, and you can bet I'll have a story to tell with photos by the time Monday rolls around.

The first time I went to Daytona was 2011 when I got to shoot the Daytona 500 for the first time and got to work for Associated Press. That was my first race ever for AP and it's ironic that I got introduced to AP in the deep south by a photographer friend I knew from Indy who was living in Columbus, Georgia at the time, the late Glenn Smith. I will always be indebted to Glenn for that introduction as it opened other doors for me. On that trip, I tried to drive straight through by myself in my beloved 1999 Acura Integra, but had to stop at 2:00 in the morning in Jacksonville after 15+ hours of driving. The Red Roof Inn I stayed at was barely acceptable but it was either stay there or drive another 90 minutes to sleep in the parking lot of the credential office. I chose to stay and do the last leg of the trip in the morning and I'm glad I did as I stopped in St. Augustine, saw the old fort and waded in the Atlantic Ocean for a bit.

The next year I went back for the 500 but made sure the trip wasn't such a banzai effort as I did it solo again in my trusty Integra. For 2012, I drove 10 hours one day, staying the night in Augusta, Georgia, which left me a 6 hour drive the next day. That was certainly more manageable and I was definitely more rested on arrival at Daytona International Speedway than I had been the year before. I was shooting for AP again and after getting some pictures on the AP wire at Talladega in 2011, I hoped I would have some luck at Daytona. I shot the first two races on 500 weekend but nothing spectacular happened where I was positioned, and then the 500 got postponed by rain for the first time in, well, forever, so I headed back to Indy to resume my teaching job with very little to show for a weekend of about 2200 miles on the road. Sometimes you're the bug. Sometimes you're the windshield.

After proving to myself that I could drive those long road trips on my own, I got "smart" and decided to fly to Daytona in 2013 for the 500. Mother Nature intervened however, as an ice storm hit Indy the day I was supposed to fly out and my flight got cancelled. At one point I loaded my Integra and started out but the roads were so treacherous in Indy and along the routes south, that I feared I'd never make it so I turned around and stayed home. Lesson learned that year? When the airlines start predicting changes in schedules due to winter weather, change to an earlier flight!

With the aborted 2013 attempt as experience, I decided I would do both the Rolex 24 and the Daytona 500 in 2014, and I decided I would fly to both race weekends. That way I figured if weather intervened again, my odds of getting to at least one race would be better. Both weekends went off without a hitch but AP didn't use any of my photos. Evenso, I had a great experience at the 24 and vowed to return.

So now it's 2017 and I am finally going back, but only for the Rolex weekend. I am flying again and this time I am shooting for so it will be a hectic weekend as a contributor to its website. I have been looking forward to this trip for a year and have basically paid for it with savings from quitting smoking a year ago this weekend. It's another goal I've set and met, so stay tuned for more this weekend!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Racing Past Is Prelude to the Future

When I started working on this blog in 2007, I had no idea what I would end up doing with it. What began as an effort to document my travels as a racing photographer has been all of that and more, as the title suggests a travelogue through all the little towns and villages one sees on the road. Now it is 2017 and I am closing in on 500 blog posts and haven't earned one red cent from all these words. So why do I continue to write? Because I have to.

I grew up dreaming of playing pro basketball and being a writer. My hoop dreams didn't pan out but I never gave up on being a writer. And then I discovered I also had a passion for photography and the die was cast. Not only do I feel compelled to write, now I can't dream of a future without photography. I still haven't "made it" as a writer or photographer, if making it is defined as making a living with them on a full time basis. But I don't live by that definition, and I don't define myself by the expectations of others. So I will keep doing what I've been doing for the last ten years and hope that my work is discovered by new people through social media and appreciated by those for whom I work. And so my journey continues.

2016 ARCA Champion Chase Briscoe relaxing at DuQuoin
Now that it's 2017, I have a couple of other interesting memories of last year that I want to share. First the events from last year were memorable in their own right:  over 18 different weekends, I worked 14 ARCA Racing Series races as the chief photographer for the series, contributed to for three Indycar races and shot two NASCAR weekends at Talladega for Associated Press (AP). Then there were the crazy situations, either on the way to a race, at a track or away from the racetrack; chalk those up to life on the road. The scariest was encountering a wrong way driver on Interstate 70 early on a Saturday morning on the road to Springfield, Illinois for the USAC Silver Crown and ARCA Series weekend. The funniest was driving past the Ponderosa Sun Club, in Roselawn, Indiana en route to Chicagoland Speedway for the ARCA race. In case you didn't know, the Roselawn is a nudist colony; Lord only knows why it would be in the Hoosier state, bastion of conservatism and rural Americana that Indiana is known to be.

My AP colleagues at lunch at 'Dega
Then there's the people and scenes at the racetracks. At Talladega, for instance, I always look forward to the catfish and hush puppies served at the media center for lunch on Saturday and the southern barbecue on Sunday. It's the only time all year I eat catfish but it sure is good. Ironically, that weekend there was a heavy police presence with officers in SWAT team gear and automatic rifles posted all around the garage area, but no one ever said what that was about. Perhaps the most fun is meeting people I have connected with on Twitter and other social media. For instance, I met Rowdy Maglite at Springfield and heard the story of how he got that name at a Talladega race weekend years ago. That meeting led to being interviewed by Rowdy for his online radio show to talk about ARCA racing so that was really fun.

One of my new friends from France & I before dawn at Indy
Indianapolis is always a treat as people come in from all over and this year I met and worked with two men from France who encouraged me to consider coming over to Le Mans which put our whole plan for 2017 in motion. I met Twitter followers Paul Henry (@gforcepaul) in the garage area and Pat Kilkenny (@theapexshop) on the grid for the Angie's List Grand Prix during May's festivities. The most unexpected was meeting a Twitter follower on the flagstand of an ARCA race. After all, it's the people that make the sport and one goal I have for 2017 is to get more photos of people than race cars. I hope I can deliver on that goal but I know it will be fun trying.

Sports car racing will be a big part of 2017 for me
There's also a lot of exciting events on the horizon for me as a photographer for this year and I expect to have one of my best years ever. I am going back to Daytona this month to shoot my second Rolex 24 Hours race as a celebration of being tobacco free for one whole year. I will be shooting for this time so I hope my contributions to the race coverage will be good supplements to their photo crew which normally covers the sports car scene. I will be shooting for the site at Indianapolis in May and then at my first 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and checking off another bucket list race in the process. I am also penciled in for 14 ARCA racing events in its 20 race schedule for the third consecutive year. I expect to go back to Talladega for both its NASCAR weekends for AP again. I am hoping to add some other sporting events such as football and basketball to my calendar for AP this year as well, even if I have to go south to make it happen.

NASCAR on the big tracks is always a thrill

There's still nothing like the Indy 500 and it is my "home" race