Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My 2018 Racing Season By The Numbers

My trusty 70-200 2.8 and I have seen a lot
If you have read my blog before, then you know that I am a Math Teacher in an adult high school by trade so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that my year  in review  blog post for  2018 would feature numbers. I am not scheduled to shoot any more races this year  but I still have  one event booked that is  racing related  and that is the ARCA Awards Banquet  in Indianapolis  in December. This black  tie event is  held in conjunction  with the  Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show and is one I have shot since 2013 for the ARCA series.  It's also traditionally the last time I get to see my ARCA friends each year before the holiday break. Once Christmas and New Year's has passed, then everyone at ARCA will start focusing on the first race of 2019 at Daytona in February - myself included.

Shooting from the back of the pace truck at Berlin was a huge thrill
My main racing photography commitment in 2018 was the ARCA series. This year's numbers are down somewhat from the last three years as I had held time for a return trip to Le Mans that didn't pan out so I wasn't scheduled to work any of ARCA's June races this year. Evenso, I still worked 10 race events in seven different states. If you count the two weather postponements we had, I actually did 12 race weekends for the series since we had to make return trips to Berlin Raceway in Michigan and Lucas Oil Raceway outside of Indianapolis. In chronological order, the races I worked for ARCA were: Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennesee; Salem Speedway in Salem, Indiana; Talladega SuperSpeedway in Alabama; Iowa Speedway; Berlin Raceway, Marne, Michigan; Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois; Berlin Raceway (again); DuQuoin State Fair, DuQuoin, Illinois, Lucas Oil Raceway, Clermont, Indiana; Salem Speedway; Lucas Oil Raceway (again!) and finally Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kansas. These spanned from March to the end of October. We froze in Nashville, baked in Springfield and cooled off at Kansas so it was a fun year.

Night racing and gorgeous sunrises are Daytona Rolex bonuses
My racing season actually started in January again this year as it did in 2017 with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, so add Florida to the list of states I visited in 2018. The Rolex was blessed with perfect weather this year, in stark contrast to the conditions in 2017. Another contrast was I drove to all of the ARCA races from my home in Indianapolis and racked up a ton of highway miles in my Civic Si whereas I flew Southwest to Orlando for the Rolex race. I  already have a similar flight booked for the ARCA race at Daytona next February but I doubt I will be able to shoot the Rolex race again next year, which is a shame as I've worked in 2014, 2017 and 2018 and loved every minute of it despite the grind it requires as a photographer. Maybe I like it because of that actually, as it does fell like multiple races rolled into one event. The rhythm of the Rolex is one thing I absolutely love: walk, shoot, edit, rinse and repeat about eight times. We had a gorgeous sunrise this year which would be hard to top so if it turns out that 2018 was my last Rolex 24 for awhile, I've got some fantastic images to remember it by. I appreciate the opportunity to work with my friends at the Associated Press in Florida and look forward to doing it again someday soon. Working a race in Florida upped my tally of states to eight on the year.

There's nothing quite like the Indy 500
The middle of my 2018 season was all about Indianapolis and the Month of May, with two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) beginning with the Indycar Grand Prix on the IMS road course and capped off with the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Memorial Day weekend. As in 2017, I shot Indy for a French media company, although the name of the firm was different this year: MPS Agency. Working track time in May around my full time job is always a challenge and this year was no different. I am grateful that the people I work with at The Excel Center understand my passion for motorsports photography. Next year it looks like I will get to lead a student outing to the Speedway so I will get to directly share that passion in more than just photos. With Indianapolis added to the mix, that gave me a total of 14 race events for the year, counting the two ARCA rainouts. Not a bad total for 2018 but I anticipate that 2019 will be even bigger! You can best believe I am working hard to top this year and it looks like my main client will be the ARCA racing Series once again.

Fan favorite Salem Speedway had a spectacular sunset for ARCA this fall
One consequence of shooting fewer races this year was that my driving mileage dropped somewhat from years past, although I still logged about 6500 miles behind the wheel in 2018 just going to race events. I also had two road trips of more than 1000 miles each (Talladega and Kansas); next year I expect I will have those two plus several more that exceed that number. My pedometer also got a bit of a break this year with fewer races but not by much as it was not uncommon to log 15,000 to 20,000 steps per day at the racetrack as most days I spent 15 hours or more shooting and editing. Lest anyone think it's an easy job to do, you should come out and follow me around on a raceday and see what it's really like. I don't usually have the luxury of just showing up to shoot the race so I get quite a workout at most events I shoot. I'm glad for that. My fiance didn't nickname me the Energizer Bunny for nothing! I'm sure I easily shot over 50,000 images this year and it will be interesting to see what the shutter counts are on my two main camera bodies when next May rolls around! The crazy thing about me is that I can always identify pictures I shot when they are posted on the ARCA website or when the teams or sponsors use them, and I can always find the originals - the images are that clear in my mind's eye. I shot them; I should know!

ARCA Champion Sheldon Creed will be moving up in 2019
With the season over except for the ARCA banquet, I have a couple of other photo projects I am working on as well as trying to plan out my travel for next year. There are some big things in the works and I don't want to jinx myself so I will leave them unsaid for the time being. If you want to know more, then stay tuned and be sure to check back with me!

Until next time, keep the shiny side up everyone and go take some frikkin' pictures. Come see me at a race next year!

Shooting sports car racing offers many unique challenges but I try to go where the light is good.
It was damn cold at Nashville this year

Salem has hosted more ARCA races than any other track and is on the 2019 schedule twice again
We found out at Talladega that ARCA would be joining the NASCAR family in 2020
Will Power kicked off May with a dominant win on the IMS road course
Then he raced to his first Indy 500 win to make a clean sweep of the month of May
Everyone seems to love Iowa Speedway and this year the weather was reasonable rather than blast furnace hot
It took two tries to get the Berlin race run thanks to Mother Nature, but fans saw a slam-bang finish that started a social media firestorm
The dirt races at Springfield are always entertaining
DuQuoin is one of the few places where I can get this close to the action
It took two tries to get the Lucas Oil Raceway event run, but at least that one is close to home!
The Kansas Speedway ARCA finale ended up being a crashfest so it was a wild way to wrap up the 2018 season

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Creed Caps Off ARCA Championship with Kansas Win

Season champ Sheldon Creed celebrated in style at Kansas
Sheldon Creed only needed to start in practice last Friday to clinch the ARCA Racing Series driver's championship but he outdid himself by winning the Kansas 150 with a damaged race car after taking a hit from a backmarker midway through the race. It was the last race of the 2018 ARCA season and my last race for the year as well. It was a fun day with a lot of hard work and Creed's win was a fitting end to a fantastic season for him and his MDM Motorsports team. He had already won the season competition for pole positions after the previous race at Salem Speedway and finished tied with teammate Zane Smith for most wins on the season with four after adding Kansas. Seldom will you see a more deserving champion as Sheldon was a model of consistency all year long - he notched 16 Top 5 and 18 Top 10 finishes out of 20 races so he was a threat to win at every race this season. For my part as a photographer, Sheldon was great to work with and always cooperated with whatever kind of photo we were trying to get for the series.

Sheldon Creed's damaged car was still fast!
It's often a letdown to get to the end of my racing season and I sometimes got into a funk for awhile as I digest the last few months of work at various racetracks. But I always swing out of it when I start planning for the next season and that helps carry me through the winter months. I will again be photographing the annual ARCA awards banquet in Indianapolis this December so that's the next chance I will have to see everyone in the series. I hope by then the 2019 season has been finalized so I can nail down my travel plans as I have committed to work every race next year with the possible exception of a couple in June when I might be in Europe. This year my season started at Daytona in January with the Rolex 24 Hours race for Associated Press, then I shot three ARCA races before Indycar got things going in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when I shot for the French media company MPS Agency. Following a break in June when we got to vacation in Charleston, South Carolina for a week, I picked back up with ARCA for seven more races - which turned out to be nine race events when two weekends were rained out and postponed! So from January through October I covered a lot of miles, mostly in my Civic Si, and I feel like I cemented my role within the ARCA series at least for 2019. I sure hope so as the series officials know how much I love the work.

I love shooting the start of races from the flagstand!
My Kansas "weekend" was actually just 48 hours long - a true whirlwind trip. I was on the road from home about 4:15 pm Thursday afternoon and I managed to get through downtown and out of Indy before the evening rush hour hit. I made it to our hotel adjacent to Kansas Speedway seven and a half hours later after driving 507 miles. I was out the door early Friday morning and at the track by 7:30 am hoping to get some sunrise photos like 2018 but it was overcast so I had no luck with that idea. After a full day at the track with practice, qualifying and the Kansas 150 race where I recorded over 20,000 steps for the day, I was back at the hotel after midnight to wrap up a 17 hour day. I grabbed about 6 hours of sleep, ate breakfast at the hotel and was on the road in time Saturday to make it home by 4:00 pm that afternoon to finish my "48 Hours of Kansas" and log a total of 1023 miles at the wheel.People think I'm crazy to spend 16 hours driving for a day of race photography and they may be right, but I don't care. I'll do it every time I get the chance! I love to drive and I like flying even more so I'm hoping I get to do lots of both next year.

Drew Herring claimed a surprising pole position
The race itself was a slam bang affair with more laps run under yellow than green. We were teasing the ARCA pace car driver after the race that he won the most laps led prize but it wasn't funny for quite a few of the racers who crashed out at one time or another while fighting for position. The pole winner was a surprise in Drew Herring who hadn't raced in ARCA in almost a decade but who managed to show up his younger teammate Riley Herbst with some stout laps during group qualifying. Herring ended up 8th after getting caught up in someone else's wreck and Herbst held on for fourth. Harrison Burton took another MDM car to the front and grabbed a second place finish. Last year's race winner Michael Self had a hiccup as the cars rolled off the grid and had to start from the back of the field but stormed through to take third. Creed waited until the very end of qualifying to run and ended up starting second; he ran afoul of Kevin Hinckle during the race and sustained left side damage but was impressive in winning despite that. Chase Purdy put a third MDM machine in the Top 5 ahead of Natalie Decker but the happiest people at the finish were probably Zack Ralston and Eric Caudell who finished 9th and 11th respectively. These low budget teams, along with Con Nicolopoulos, have rarely seen the checkered flag at the end of races this year so it was fantastic to see these little teams put together solid finishes in the last race of the season. That should give them a boost this off-season.

Sheldon Creed did an impressive burnout
Now that the off-season is here, everyone will be busy getting ready for 2019 as the ARCA series enters its transitional year with NASCAR ownership. Following the awards banquet in December, ARCA has a test scheduled in January and the first race follows in February at the home of NASCAR, Daytona. My flight is already booked for the race so now that the engines have gone quiet for awhile, I will carry on with my primary business of teaching math to my adult students and start seriously planning for an even bigger year in 2019. See you all soon!

A deserving champion: Sheldon Creed and MDM Motorsports
The ARCA fields just keep getting more competitive every race it seems
Harrison Burton had another competitive race for MDM
My Racer of the Year award goes to Brad Smith and the Hylton Motorsports team for all they've been through
Drew Herring (left), Todd Gilliland and Riley Herbst (right) before the race

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Christian Eckes Takes 3rd ARCA Win Racing Rain and Rainbows

Christian Eckes won again for Venturini Motorsports
The ARCA Racing Series was finally able to get the Shore Lunch 200 race run this past Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway with Christian Eckes turning in a dominant performance to get his third win of the season. The race was originally scheduled for Brickyard 400 weekend but got washed away with so many other activities in the area that weekend by the remnants of Hurricane Florence which soaked central Indiana for days. We were lucky that day to get an hour of practice in and we almost had a repeat performance by Mother Nature on October 6th as we had two different, albeit much shorter, rain delays to contend with before the show could go on. Eckes is another young ARCA talent who has done a great job this year and his wins and poles contributed to his Venturini team's total of eight pole and eight wins this year.

Sheldon Creed (28) has been strong and consistent all season
Season points leader Sheldon Creed entered the weekend with an almost insurmountable points lead over MDM Motorsports teammate Zane Smith and had just announced he was getting a ride in the NASCAR truck series for next year. Creed finished a strong second place and locked up the Short Track Challenge title for 2018 in the process. It has been so much fun watching Sheldon mature this season and I expect he will do well at the next level. Now all he needs to do is start the race at Kansas Speedway October 19th in the season finale and he will become ARCA's official season champion for 2018. That will give him plenty of time to work on his awards speech at the annual ARCA banquet in December in Indianapolis.

Rain, rain go away!
I walked over 18,000 steps Saturday throughout the day which turned out to be another 15 hour work day but it was anything but uneventful. The first rain delay hit as the cars were lining up in pit lane in their starting order as ARCA officials had moved the start up an hour to try and beat the rain. I was just walking out to the pits when that rain hit and several of us huddled under a pop up tent on the ARCA tech inspection line to stay dry. The crazy thing was the sun was still shining the entire time so we were treated to a spectacular double rainbow! The track drying didn't take too long so the field was put on the track about an hour later and I headed out to the position outside of Turn 1 where I wanted to shoot the start of the race. The field of 25 cars was wheeled out and the pace laps got started under threatening skies but it didn't feel like it would rain again. Man was I wrong!

First came the rain, then the rainbow, then more rain, and finally the race.
I felt a couple of sprinkles on the second pace lap and then the next lap I heard race control direct the pace car to lead the field back onto pit lane and then the skies opened up in earnest. I got my raincoat on and covered my cameras in plastic as I started walking towards the main grandstands to seek cover underneath with the fans. As I turned the corner to go under the stands, I slipped on some mud and went down in a heap but I didn't damage my camera equipment or hurt myself somehow. A couple people came over to see if I was OK and when I looked up, there were my two friends I had invited out to see the race from behind the scenes! I'm sure they hadn't anticipated connecting with me in this manner; neither had I, but we did get to spend the next 90 minutes or so hanging out during the rain delay which was a lot of fun. It was their first ARCA race so I showed them around as we walked pit lane to see the cars and point out some drivers, we talked to an ARCA official about the technical aspects of the cars, and then paid our friends at the Ilmor trailer a visit to get them info on the 396 engine most of the teams are now using. I learned some things in the process too as I am not a technical gear head - I just like cars and I love to drive!

Sheldon Creed will likely be the 2018 ARCA champion
Speaking of driving, I will make my last long drive of my 2018 season this coming weekend when I drive to Kansas Speedway for ARCA's season finale. This year's season champion will be crowned and our post race duties will get complicated if someone other than Sheldon Creed wins the race but that's OK. I will probably get another chance to shoot the start of a race from the flagstand and since we're sharing the track with NASCAR's Xfinity and Monster Cup series, I may get a chance to shoot some pix of the big boys as well if time allows. Once Kansas is in the books, then the planning for 2019 can begin in earnest. I've already booked my flight for Daytona so I'll be ready to go to work next February for sure. In the meantime, you should check out the photo albums on the redesigned ARCA website or follow me on Twitter to see my daily motorsports photos! Until next time, here's a few more of my photos from Lucas Oil Raceway. Stay safe and get to a race near you!

I love the flange fit composite bodies being used by ARCA now; this is Christian Eckes at speed
Still one of the prettiest stock cars around: Michael Self in his Venturini ride with Dino the dinosaur on the side
Everyone was happy to finally get the race in
Remnants of the monsoons left a nice reflecting pool inside of Turn 1
Yes - the trophy really was taller than winner Christian Eckes!