Monday, September 18, 2017

Fantastic ARCA Finish at Chicagoland Speedway

Christopher Bell celebrated his Chicagoland ARCA win in style
This past Thursday, the ARCA racing series raced at Chicagoland Speedway and the future stars of stock car racing put on one helluva show with Christopher Bell sweeping around the field from 8th on a final green-white-checker restart to steal the win. It was yet another fantastic finish for the series in 2017 and this one was set up by the misfortune of Michael Self who blew a right front tire with less than 10 laps to go while leading to spoil an otherwise brilliant run for the Sinclair Oil "Dino" schemed car fielded by Mason Mitchell Motorsports. It was a mad scramble for all the top 10 positions on the final restart and Austin Theriault had jumped to the front when the green flag came out but Bell's Venturini team had fitted Bell with four fresh General Tires under the caution for Self's misfortune. With grip and a clean lane on the outside, Bell simply motored around everyone to nab his third win in his last four ARCA starts. Theriault continued to cement his season points lead with a second place finish and it's hard to believe that Bell's win was the first one for Venturini all season. But it came at a good time and location at the "home" track for the family run team and there was genuine excitement in Victory Lane. Plus Big Bill Venturini got to land his trademark kiss on Bell during the post race celebrations and you knew that was coming!

The final restart was crazy!
Brandon Jones had won the pole in another of his periodic ARCA appearances but faded at the end on worn tires. Noah Gragson brought another Venturini entry home in fourth while Nashville winner Chad Finley rounded out the top five. The race had included quite a few drivers who were dropping in for the experience and as a result there was a lot of good, strong equipment at the front of the pack. Travis Braden got a shot in the 27 normally driven by AJ Fike and led quite a few laps. Myatt Snyder made an appearance and looked really good on the 78. Most impressive to me was ARCA Midwest Tour champ Ty Majeski in the 99 for Cunningham Motorsports. Ty was very imprssive in leading a bunch of laps in the first half of the race and really looked like he might win even up until the final restart. Kyle Benjamin had a strong night as well. The addition of this kind of driver talent to the regular roster of ARCA drivers is another reason why I enjoy working for the series so much. You never know who's going to show up, top flight equipment is available, and you can come in and win even if it's a one-off appearance to gain experience. I am pretty sure that our next race at Kentucky Speedway this Friday will involve more of the same.

We were greeted by fog in the morning when we got to the track
After a night of furious but clean racing, my post race editing was a challenge as I started out in the flagstand and worked the outside of the track until about 20 laps to go. You would be surprised how fast a 100 lap race goes when there are only a few cautions and non of them are very lengthy. By the time my day was over at Chicagoland, I had logged 21,365 steps on my pedometer app so I got plenty of exercise and I had taken about 2100 photos for the day! The day had started off foggy and I knew I had two driver headshots to take before practice started, but the fog was wreaking havoc with some teams' travel schedules as many flights into Chicago were being delayed. I got the last headshot done just as our only practice session began and what had begun as a more laid back morning became a scramble for the rest of the day. I had worked the outside of the track during practice, then pit road during qualifying, and then shot a hospitality gathering with drivers and sponsors. All of a sudden it seemed, it was time to go racing!

Scott Towels sponsored the race and their people got the race started
After the race, I drove straight to Indy from Joliet and got home about 3 in the morning Friday so I could get back to my teaching job later that day. I have to admit that I have begun to feel the effects of the dual schedule of my teaching and racing jobs lately. There have been 27 calendar days between last Friday when I got home from Chicagoland and the day I went to Springfield, Illinois August 19th to work the dirt race there, I had 11 days traveling to or from or working at a race (five races altogether in three states), 14 days on my teaching  job and just two days off. There was a movie in the '60's titled "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" and I have kind of felt like that lately as there have been mornings when I woke up and wondered what day it was and where I was supposed to be. It got so bad last weekend that I got all the way to the hotel in Joliet Wednesday night before I  realized I had left my flash at home, along with the pouch that held all of my memory cards. Luckily I had left a memory card in each camera and my colleague Rich Corbett had a second flash I could use for Victory Lane so it all worked out. I don't know if that qualifies as a senior moment or whether the short turnaround from Salem had gotten me out of my regular routine, but it's been a crazy and hectic period.

Getting up close and personal on a restart is quite a thrill
The good news is, I love it, and my ARCA boss has already started talking about next season so with only two races to go, it's about time to start planning for 2018 believe it or not! So I will make sure all my gear gets packed this week as I will be back on the road Thursday evening for Kentucky Speedway. Every time I go to one of these tracks, I find my mind drifting back to memories of prior years and Kentucky is no different. I went to the very first Indycar race ever held there in 2001 and have shot a variety of races there since then. At Chicagoland, I couldn't help but think of the ARCA race in 2014 when the rains hit us in Victory Lane and I had to race to Akron, Ohio to be with my Mom who had been admitted to the hospital the day before. Granted it's not always good memories that get conjured up on the road, but when you have a lot of windshield time on the highway getting from Indianapolis to tracks all over the place, the mind does tend to wander. I love that part of the job too and I always tell people I love to drive. But I love taking photographs and writing even more. See you again soon and spread the word!

Pole winner Brandon Jones won the first ARCA race he ever entered and I was there to photograph it in 2014
Gus Dean had his game face on at Chicagoland and could win Rookie of the Year
The view from the roof of the main grandstands is spectacular
Scott Towels did a great job with the race sponsorship and team support; here Bret Holmes collects some shop towels

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