Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Alonso, Danica, Daytona, Le Mans and the Indy 500

F1 star Alonso wowed fans at Indy in 2017
So what does this blog post have to do with the biggest races in the world? And what does Fernando Alonso have to do with Danica Patrick? He's a two-time Formula One world champion seeking to win a prestigious triple crown while she's out of her NASCAR ride for 2018 and has announced her retirement as a full time driver. But Danica will try to wrap her career with a nice bow in 2018 at the place where she first gained fame: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as she has said the Indy 500 will be her last race. Too bad they both couldn't be at Indy this year! Meanwhile, Alonso is taking on the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona this month to prepare for his attempt at winning Le Mans this coming June. I had hoped to be there to photograph all of these events in 2018. but it doesn't look like Le Mans is going to be possible after all. If I could arrange funding through sponsorship or a photo assignment for the trip to France, then it could still become a reality so if you are in need of someone to work races for you as your team or driver's personal photographer, then please keep me in mind.

Rolex 24 pre-race pageantry in 2017
With my ARCA Racing Series work and a return engagement with Vision Sport Agency at Indianapolis this May, I am anticipating a very busy 2018 as I will be flying to Daytona in a little more than two weeks to shoot the Rolex 24 Hours for Associated Press. It will be my third Rolex race and I am very excited to have the chance to work the event again this year. I do have the feeling that big things lie ahead this year so the Rolex race will be a great way to kick things off.

Danica Patrick  got a mixed reaction from fans at Texas in 2009
With Alonso in the headlines so often lately with his explorations in racing away from his full time ride with McLaren, it will be interesting to see how NASCAR starts its season off shortly after the Rolex weekend has concluded. Danica may or may not race the Daytona 500 - she said she would for the last time n 2018 but is not having much luck in putting a deal together. To say the bloom is off the rose is probably an understatement and I'll bet she faces the same issue for the Indy 500 this May. I know when she left Indycar, she did so with no hard feelings but many fans had grown tired of the surly temperament she often displayed around the garage area. The last straw for a lot of Indy fans was her comment on the public address system at Indy when she threw her team under the bus after a slow qualifying effort. Saying "It's not my fault" as she did is not going to win fans at Indianapolis and many people were happy to see her go to NASCAR.

When I took this photo, I wondered if Danica was waving goodbye
My perception has always been that Danica never really mastered how to drive a loose race car in the Cup series, having become accustomed to the high downforce Indycar package which more often than not produced tight racecars. The old saying is "loose is fast" so the learning curve in NASCAR must have been huge for her. Perhaps the new Indycar design for 2018 will present a level playing field for her return. I hope she gets back to Indyas it will offer another story line for the 500 and the chance for more publicity. Another old adage is that "any publicity is good publicity" and many would say that definitely applies to the Indycar series these days so her return might fall into that category. No matter what, she will probably sell some t-shirts and perhaps a few copies of her new book. If Danica can come back to Indy with an excited attitude and courts women and young girls who have always looked up to her, then I would say that her retirement from racing would be a success.

The 2017 Rolex 24 was hit by overnight rains which challenged everyone
The time for off-season speculation is just about at an end as the 2018 racing season got underway this past weekend at Daytona where all the IMSA teams gathered for their pre-season "Roar Before The 24" test. The 2018 rendition of the Rolex 24 Hours race promises to be one of the best in years with a star studded field of drivers and a highly varied equipment entry list with DPi and WEC LMP2 prototypes at the head of the pack and a plethora of production based GT cars filling out the class structure in GTD and GTLM. That variety is one of the great things about sports car endurance racing and why I am so excited to have the chance to go back again this year. While I shot the 2017 Rolex 24 for, this year I am working as a stringer for Associated Press - always a crapshoot economically - just as I did in 2014 in order to have another chance to prove what I can do and network with people who might be able to hire me in the future to shoot more racing.

I love working with ARCA  and its champions like Austin Theriault
This is, however, the beginning of a transitional year for me in racing photography as the financial returns have often not exceeded my investment of time, energy and funding. Over the last dozen years, I have really concentrated on making a name for myself in the business, a task which has proven to be much more difficult than I had imagined. Much as race teams need sponsorship, so do I need gainful assignments where I am not subsidizing my passion for racing as I have often done.  I am a teacher by trade, having decided to make a career change in 2009 in part so I could have time to pursue my photography interests more fully, and the change  has allowed me to do just that, so I have no regrets whatsoever. I just wish I could find more paying clients to make the pursuit of my passion truly self supporting.

At home at Indianapolis
Amidst the changing landscape of today's digital media world, I am grateful for every opportunity to be compensated for my racing photography such as my role as Chief Photographer for the ARCA Racing Series. After this year, I don't anticipate working "on spec" or in exchange for access or for photo credits in publications. That could change if there were some extraordinary circumstances involved, but I did that for a number of years trying to help a friend launch the defunct American Motor Journal publication and was aware even then that I was perhaps part of the problem in terms of the devaluation of photography services by the mainstream media. I have seen many news outlets cut back and eliminate staff photographer positions the last 10 years, so I hope I can be hired for the quality of work I produce and be paid fair compensation for that work product. As racers often have critical years in their careers, it feelss like 2018 will be a critical year for my career as a racing photographer as well.

I hope to shoot the Indy 500 as long as I am able
If you've read my blog before then you know that Indianapolis is my home track and I am a member of the Indy 500 Oldtimers so I will always have a photography role at the Speedway in May as long as I am physically able. This year will be my second year representing French media company Vision Sport Agency (VSA) and I will be seeing one of their owners at Daytona later this month to plan for that work. I am also hoping to do other sports car work for VSA if they run into scheduling conflicts with their other staff, and of course going to Le Mans in June is at the top of my 2018 list if funding comes through. So by the end of this month, I should know exactly what my 2018 schedule will include beyond the month of May as I have the Daytona 24 on tap, then ARCA races at Nashville, Salem and Talladega, before the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500. The end of this month will also be two years since I quit smoking so I am grateful to still be alive and kicking at an age when I see the names of a lot of my friends in the obituaries.

Thank God for exercise, good friends, and fulfilling work. Gotta love it! See you at the Rolex 24!

The first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500: Takuma Sato
I am looking forward to another great year shooting the ARCA Racing Series
Our trip to Le Mans last year was a dream come true; I can't wait to go back!