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 motorsport.com 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!