Friday, November 8, 2019

Penske Buys IMS in Blockbuster Deal

The "Captain" Roger Penske is the new boss at Indy
This past Monday November 4th, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stole all the headlines in the motorsports industry with the announcement that the most successful team owner in Indy 50 history, Roger Penske, was going to buy the assets of Hulman & Company which included the Speedway, the NTT Indycar series and other racing related enterprises. Arguably the best kept secret in racing perhaps ever, that announcement sent shock waves through the Indycar community but once the dust settled, the purchase was almost universally lauded as a positive development for IMS, the Indy 5000 and Indycar. I happen to share that view as there is no one better suited to run the show than Roger Penske who, as many people have said, has basically "owned" the Speedway and the 500 for decades by virtue of his 18 Indianapolis 500 wins.

Tony George can ride off into the sunset
The press conference which covered the announcement was quite interesting to watch although I had to do so in segments due to my teaching commitments that day. I wish I could have been at IMS to take photos of that historic event! Tony George was noticeably emotional during many of his remarks as the Hulman family had decided to part with an institution that had been in the family since 1945. People talk about racing being in someone's DNA and no truer words could be spoken to describe the Hulman-George family's connection to the 1000 acre facility at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Indiana. One of the things which struck a chord with me was Tony's comment that "everyone has a story" who comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My story with IMS is perhaps not that different than many other Hoosiers with a few exceptions - and I'll get to those in a minute - for I was bitten by the racing bug at an early age.

Mark Miles has done well in a tough job
My first 500 was in 1970 when my Dad took me to the race as a 13th birthday present. I remember riding with Dad out to the old museum on 16th Street where the ticket office was located the week before the race and buying our tickets. We got seats in the 3rd Turn infield bleachers and during the race I think I spent as much time watching the drunks in the infield behind us as I did watching the race. There was a big crash right in front of us late in the race and I remember watching the race fuel run down the track and ignite every time another car would drive through it. I recall being scared for the firemen and safety officials who seemed oblivious to their near death existence as they worked to get the track cleared. At the same time I was thrilled by the entire experience, from the early morning race day drive into the infield to the trip home and excitedly talking about everything we had seen.

With my Mom and nephew at another 500

The previous year, I had another birthday experience that revolved around the 500, but then I've been having those my whole life. My birthday is May 31st and I was born the day after Sam Hanks won the 500 in 1957. For most of my childhood the race was run on May 30th and I have so many memories of being at the lake in Warsaw, Indiana at my grandparents' house, going swimming, eating Penguin Point fried chicken and watermelon and listening to Sid Collins describe the 500 on the radio. My 12th birthday in 1969 was right about the time the movie "Winning" came out starring Paul Newman, Robert Wagner and Newman's wife Joanne Woodward. I remember it like it was yesterday since Dad and I went just before I turned 12 and it was the last time I was able to see a movie with the "kids" discount for children 12 or under. I was already a pretty big kid at that age so it took some convincing at the ticket window, but Dad wasn't going to pay full price if he could avoid it. After all, he was a Methodist minister and Mom was a school teacher so you can imagine money didn't grow on trees for our family!

Jay Shue - my grandfather and my namesake
My late mother was a huge race fan and used to take us to Indy 500 practice on a regular basis. Our family moved to Indianapolis in 1968 shortly after my 11th birthday, and I was already certifiably smitten with racing by then. From an early age, I loved building plastic models of race cars and there were plenty of kits out in the 1960's by companies like Monogram and Revell. Mom got the bug from her father Jay Shue who I am named after. Grandpa Jay had the house on the lake in Warsaw and he was involved with getting a quarter mile dirt track built at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds near their house shortly after World War II. As long ago as I can remember, summers in Warsaw involved going to the County Fair where they raced something every night of the fair: stocks, midgets, sprint cars and even flat track motorcycles. Grandpa would take me down to the pits off the third and fourth turns and he seemed to know everyone as we walked though. I have vivid memories of checking out the cars and hanging on the board fence in the pits watching the races. I loved the sounds and smells as much then as I do now. So my Mom and I came by our love of racing naturally and our whole family is connected in some way or another to racing - my uncles and cousins all race motorcycles and the rest of us fell for anything on wheels just as hard.
Mom loved being at the 500 with us

I found out during my childhood that Grandpa Jay had a connection to the 500 and IMS as well. Mom used to tell us stories of Grandpa barnstorming with Eddie Rickenbacker flying airplanes in the 1920's. That led to Grandpa making many visits to Indianapolis when Rickenbacker owned the track and we have family photos of women and men posing with Indy 500 legends like Peter de Paolo from those days, so it's obvious that Grandpa was bitten by the racing bug too. Mom talked about coming to the 500 after World War 2 when she was a little girl in a school bus with a farm trough full of iced beer in it where they would sit on top of the bus and watch the race from the infield. I'm sure that's what led to his involvement with the track in Warsaw after the war. Mom was still going to the 500 with us even up to a year before her death from lung cancer. Her last 500 with us was in 2014 but she wanted the whole race day experience that year like many years before. Since I'm a credentialed photographer, that meant going into the track before dawn and having breakfast at the Alley Cafe shortly after the bomb went off that signals the opening of the public gates. I will be forever grateful for the Speedway's yellow shirts who gave Mom a golf cart ride to our seats in Stand B that day so she didn't have to fight the crowds. She made it through the whole day and we talked about that race day and many others numerous times over the next 14 months of her life before her health finally failed her in July 2015. I still have many of her ticket stubs, autographs and collectibles from the 500 that she saved so those memories are not going away anytime soon.

I shot this photo of Simon Pagenaud this year - he's the most recent Indy 500 winner for Penske
I've been to every Indy 500 since 1976 and have been a working photographer for all but four races since 1984 and now I'm a member of the Indy 500 Oldtimers which is pretty damn cool for someone who is just a "fricking Hoosier", as a college friend from the Bronx used to say. When I was in college at the University of Chicago in the late 1970s, I would bring friends back to the race every year and we partied hard with the infield crowd for many years. I often tell people I came for the party but stayed for the racing and photography has enable me to be a part of something that is so much bigger than myself. In 1982, I was dating a young lady who was selected as a 500 Princess and we sat right above Victory Lane while getting the royal treatment for the whole race weekend, from the black tie gala to the police escort and pace car ride on race day. I've been very fortunate to see the 500 from many different perspectives and I know I will continue to be involved as long as I am physically able. When I can't, I'll go sit in our family's seats and enjoy the spectacle just as much. Having Roger Penske now taking the helm as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ushers in a whole new era for my beloved Indy. I trust Roger and know it's in good hands.

That's my story for now - I look forward to hearing yours. See you next May on the westside. Let's take a photo together!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Eckes and Venturini Team Snare ARCA Championships

Christian Eckes celebrated two wins at Kansas
What a year this has been in the ARCA Menards Series! It's also been a roller coaster ride for me both personally and professionally so pardon me if I take a moment to unwind and reflect on all that has happened since the beginning of the year. This past Friday, the ARCA season concluded with the Kansas 150 at the 1.5 mile Kansas Speedway and Christian Eckes completed his comeback with a race win that clinched the driver's championship for him in the #15 Venturini Motorsports entry. Meanwhile, the Venturini team picked up the owner's championship for its #20 car and Michael Self took second place in the race and the season championship in the team's #25 car. It was a glorious finish for the Venturini gang who dominated this season like no other. It was fun to watch and an absolute pleasure to photograph all season long.

Rich Corbett (right) and I worked together again
As I enjoyed the last day of racing I had scheduled to photograph in 2019 at Kansas last Friday, my thoughts often went back to January 4th of this year when I heard news no one wants to hear: I had a spot on my right lung that was cancerous and surgery was needed. I wasn't sure what 2019 would entail for me then and my immediate thoughts were would I still be able get to Daytona for the season opener and what was going to happen to my plans for shooting all the ARCA races this year! As it turned out, I only missed one race out of 20 and was able to plan my surgery for right after Daytona in February so it all worked out. My most recent CT scan shows no signs of cancer now so I am looking forward to living life and doing more traveling for races in 2020. I count my blessings every day for early detection so if you smoked like I did, go get a heart scan and quit using tobacco products! Thankfully when the diagnosis was made, I had already been smoke free for nearly three years. I turned 62 this past May so I know how fortunate I am that my cancer was detected early. I've been an athlete my whole life so my overall physical condition is pretty good and working the races actually became a huge part of my recovery. I would routinely walk 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day carrying 20 pounds (or more) of camera gear on race days so I got a great workout every time I went to the track. You ought to try it - come on out and see if you can keep up with me. But I digress...

Getting to shoot from the flagstand is a huge thrill
The people I work with at ARCA have been fantastic to me throughout this whole year and I love seeing everyone at the track. The series includes a hard working bunch of people who have been very supportive of what I try to do creatively for the series. I've also found the drivers to be excellent subjects for photographs and they've all seen me around enough by now that they know I won't create images that aren't flattering or that make them look bad. With the 2020 schedule already out and featuring some new races, I am extremely excited about next year already and can't wait to find out which events I will be assigned to work. The way things sound right now, it doesn't look like I will get to do all the races like this year. There are some new people getting involved from NASCAR marketing since who will be overseeing the ARCA series which it purchased last year. From what I've been told, lots of decisions still must be made so stay tuned! In any case, I won't be available next June since I'm going back to LeMans. I thought this year was going to be my best ever in racing photography (and it has been) but next year could be even bigger!

ARCA President Ron Drager meeting with Christian Eckes after the race
If you've read my blog before, then you know I'm a math teacher and a numbers go so you should expect what I'm about to report. I drove 13,360 miles this year to get to 18 ARCA races which is an average of 742 miles per racing trip. I flew to Daytona in February or my mileage total would be even bigger. I had six road trips longer than 1000 miles, three of which were over 1300 miles round trip, plus I had another that was over 900 miles. My shortest trip was to Lucas Oil Raceway last month since it's just west of Indy. I did every trip except one solo. Before I drove to Daytona for the first time in 2011, I never imagined that I'd be able to handle long drives like these by myself but now a seven or eight hour drive seems routine - I know I will have to stop twice and it's no big deal. With the ARCA series extending from Minnesota to Florida and from Pocono to Kansas, I cut a wide swath across America by car to chase race cars and pursue my passion for photography. I hope to keep doing it as long as I am able and as long as people are willing to pay me to do it.

Christian (left) and Michael seemed to enjoy being teammates
The Kansas finale was an extremely interesting race to photograph, knowing that two teammates were vying for the season championship. I knew going in that I'd need to get a lot of photos of both Christian Eckes and Michael Self as there were a number of possible scenarios that could play out where either could have won the title since Christian started the weekend only 15 points ahead of Michael. The two hour practice session at mid-day was uneventful but qualifying was another story as Christian had an engine problem and didn't qualify well at all. With only a couple of hours before the race was set to start, the team had to change the Ilmor engine in Christian's #15 machine and it was quite a scene with all hands on deck. Guys from all the Venturini teams were pitching in to complete the change and even though Christian would have to start from the back of the field, he didn't seem worried about it at all. Talk about a cool customer! He defined that phrase which was pretty amazing for an 18 year old kid. I expect he will do well as he continues to move up the ladder in NASCAR so keep an eye out for him.

Billy Venturini and his wife Emily had reason to celebrate at Kansas
The scene in victory lane was unreal afterwards as the confetti flew and the Venturini teams all gathered to celebrate the individual and team championships. I've never been around a series where one team had so much success across all its platforms. The 20 team won the owner's title with several different drivers scoring wins, Christian won the drivers title in the 15 car and Michael Self ended up second overall in the 25 car. Add in the occasional appearance of the 55 car for rising star Hailie Deegan, you had a juggernaut of an organization that could not be denied in 2019. Our efforts to capture a photo of "Big Bill" Venturini giving his winning drivers a big smooch became almost comical. We knew it was coming every time they won a race but Bill would always seem to have his head turned the opposite way we expected, so catching a good shot of that moment became a recurring challenge.

Nice burnout by the new champ Christian Eckes!
Now the only thing left for my racing season is the ARCA awards banquet in Indianapolis this December and I look forward to photographing that again event this year. I have to remember to get a photo of myself with the new champ! In the meantime, click here to go to the ARCA Menards Series website to see more photos from Kansas and albums from the entire 2019 season. I have a separate Kansas photo gallery on my Google page (click here) as well so check it out. In the meantime, I hope you like these photos I shot last Friday. Keep following me on Twitter @alleygroup and if you see a blue Honda Civic Si coupe coming up on you from behind, please slide over the right lane. That would be me heading to a race somewhere. Let's go! See you at the track.

I've been to Kansas Speedway five times now but never to the casino!
These guys have been great to work with all season - Michael Self (left) and Christian Eckes
It's been interesting watching these young kids mature at the race track - Christian has what it takes!
Michael Self played the role of the grizzled veteran this year
Congratulations champ!

Friday, October 11, 2019

19 Down - One to Go

My game face on race day
This has been the busiest year of my life as a motorsports photographer by far, but the end of my season is just around the corner. Next weekend I will make my last long drive of the season for the ARCA Menards Series when I hit the road for Kansas Speedway just west of Kansas City. That will be the 19th ARCA race I will have worked this year for the series since starting the season at Daytona in February. When you factor in my lung cancer surgery later in February, I am still amazed that I only missed one of the series' 20 races all year! Add in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500 in May, and the Iowa Indycar race in July, I worked a total of 22 races with 21 of them in the span of six months (April through October). The work and all the walking at the racetracks have been instrumental in my recovery this year so I am grateful for the chance to work all these events.

Youngster Chandler Smith got his 5th ARCA win in only 10 starts this season
This past weekend was a "home" race of sorts, since I only had to drive to Clermont on the west side of Indianapolis for the Herr's 200 ARCA race. It was a beautiful day and evening until a rain shower cut the race 33 laps short and one of the young firebrands of the series, Chandler Smith, made a pass for the lead shortly before the rains hit to snag his 5th win of the year. This kid is barely 16 and he's kicking butt on short tracks across the circuit so I am excited to see what he does as he gets a little older. I felt bad for another youngster Saturday night though, as Ty Gibbs was on his way to a second straight dominant win until he got hip checked into the wall by Joe Graf, Jr. who made a desperate move for the lead on new tires when Ty was just nursing his until a final pit stop could be made. Joe's lead didn't last long as Christian Eckes came to the front and stayed there until Smith got past him in the nick of time. Second was still a great result for Christian as he took over the series points lead from teammate Michael Self and grabbed the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge trophy as well. So now it all comes down to Kansas in about 10 days to see which one comes out on top.

Michael Self could be the 2019 series champion
Last weekend's ARCA race event actually started on Friday evening for me as we did a studio photo shoot with both Michael and Christian to prepare photos for whichever one wins the season title. We had lighting and a backdrop set up at the hotel where the Venturini team was staying and got a lot of great photos of each guy with the championship trophy and other candids of the two of them together enjoying the moment. I don't get to work with studio quality lighting very often so I thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards I realized there were a few other things I would like to have tried but couldn't, so those went into my notes on Evernote for next time.

Ty Gibbs (18) was dominant at Lucas Oil Raceway
On Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway, we got to meet with the NASCAR person who will be overseeing the photo operations for next season so it was very exciting to hear about the plans and expectations for 2020 when NASCAR has full control over the series. The week before the Lucas Oil Raceway event was a big one for news about the ARCA Menards Series. NASCAR and ARCA announced the extension of the ARCA brand over the current K and N East and West Series so next year they will be known as ARCA East and ARCA West. Multiple championships are going to be available for teams and drivers who will now have a unified platform of car specifications with marketing support regardless of which part of the United States they come from. The full 20 race ARCA schedule just came out yesterday (read all about it here), and I am really looking forward to 2020. There will be 20 races on 20 different tracks, with two road courses including one of my favorites - Mid Ohio! I've already identified ARCA races I can work next season to go along with my Indy 500 and LeMans commitments. I'd like to think that my work for the series as Chief Photographer since 2015 would speak for itself but you never know what decision makers are thinking in a transitional situation like this, so I am just glad to have the chance to be considered. They did use one of my photos with the press release for the 2020 schedule, so I am proud of that contribution. Photographer assignments for next season's ARCA races are likely to be decided by Thanksgiving so stay tuned! I can't wait to see how it all plays out.

Christian Eckes has fought back to take the season championship lead
Once the season is over, I will have more time to reflect on how this year has gone and do a "Best Of" photo compilation which I think will be fun. No matter what happens going forward, I have loved every minute working with the folks at ARCA. I have to thank ARCA officials Ron Drager, Mark Gundrum, George Mergen, Tom Legeman and a person I consider a friend and mentor, Doc Hunter, for putting their trust and faith in me to do the job. I hope I've made them proud. Since 2013, I've worked more than 80 races for the series as a photographer and the experience has been invaluable to my growth as a photographer. As the drivers always say, "I can't thank them enough" for the opportunity and no matter what else happens, I know I gave my best. Here's a few more from Lucas Oil Raceway. For full photo galleries go to the ARCA Menards Series website here which includes photos from colleagues Rich Corbett, JD Scott and Mike Alley. Or you can check my Google page here. See you in Kansas!

Ty Gibbs was on his way to a second straight dominating win when he got taken out.
The Bashams (Mike, left) and Darrell (right - blue firesuit) have been ARCA mainstays
Chandler Smith has been amazing to watch this season!
This young guy got to sit in Travis Braden's car - I want to do that!
Hailie Deegan was the big attraction during the pre-race autograph session.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

10 Years After

At Le Mans in 2017
Ten years ago this month, I made the decision to leave a thoroughly unsatisfying municipal job to change careers and go into teaching. It was the best decision of my life. As I get to the end of the racing season each year, it's normal for me to get a little melancholy and reminisce. I've been feeling that way all week since I got back from the last ARCA race at Salem Speedway where Ty Gibbs kicked everyone's butt, so this blog post is intended to fill in some of the blanks in my recent history. Please bear with me. If you read on, then maybe you'll see something you didn't know and I hope maybe even surprise you a little.

I had pieced together a decent career in real estate development and in leadership roles at municipal water and sewer utilities up to that point but I just wasn't happy. I had several of those "is this all there is?" moments in 2009 before I finally pulled the plug on that last utility job and embarked on this new journey. I wanted more time to pursue my passion for photography and I wanted to get involved in education to give back something to the community which had given me so much through the years, so I decided to teach. There's an old adage that goes "Those that can, do; those that can't teach". Frankly that is just bullshit. If it were true then how could you explain all the things I've been able to do since I made that career and life changing decision? It's not just luck or coincidence.

Ty Gibbs dominated and won at Salem last weekend and Grandpa Joe was there
So why write about this now? Well there are only two races left to photograph for my 2019 season and my final tally for the year will be 19 ARCA races and three Indycar races. And that's after having had lung cancer surgery in February which caused me to miss one ARCA race. I have to count my blessings every time I start to prep my gear for a race and I'm already planning for 2020 which I know will include a return trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June. By this time next month, the full ARCA schedule for 2020 will be out so I'll have a much better idea about my racing photography obligations for next season and I couldn't be more excited! My ultimate dream would be to do that kind of photography on a full time basis but I haven't gotten to that point yet where people who need a racing photographer would automatically think of me. I have been working hard to change that!

Long, tall Mr. Photographer
The first two years after I decided to change careers in 2009 were very hard financially. I did not have a full time job and I had just built a new home in 2008. I worked as a substitute teacher in three different school corporations, coached and refereed basketball and soccer, and took every odd job I could get. With all that I still worked about a dozen races in 2010 and started working on really expanding my photo network. A friend helped introduce me to the Associated Press staff over the winter and I got to work my first Daytona 500 in February 2011. This led to also working for AP at Talladega twice and Atlanta for other NASCAR races that year. I also met other photographers and soaked up every little tidbit of expertise any of them would share. I got into Marian University that winter also and started as a full time student in January 2011 while still coaching, refereeing and substitute teaching. I can't begin to describe how many lessons I learned during that time - not just about photography, but about myself and what I wanted to do with my life.

My "signature" Salem photo through the wall - this is Sam Mayer
I started bugging my friends at ARCA about this same time to see if I could get some work with that series too, as I had been working ARCA races at Salem and around the Midwest since 2006. I finally got my teaching license in May 2012 and my first full time job as a teacher started in August 2012. I have been off and running ever since. I had met one of the principals at at Indy that year and I started doing some races for that website in 2013. I did my first ARCA race solo in 2013 also and then things took off as I have done at least 10 ARCA races every year since then. The teaching and officiating continued through 2014 and 2015 as my Mom fought lung cancer so I was lucky enough to have a flexible schedule where I could go help her essentially at the drop of a hat and during school breaks. Mom passed away in July 2015 and I was back at an ARCA race less than two weeks later to grieve and create with my racing family. Through the contacts I had made with, I was lucky enough to go to the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2017 on a most epic trip to France and Italy. The roller coaster ride of racing, travel and photography continues with barely a break through any of it. I couldn't be happier about the good fortune I've had and the great people I've met in this whole career changing process.

It was a gorgeous night at Salem for ARCA short track racing
My one regret is that I wish I had done it sooner. People say "it takes what it takes". You know I'm pretty damn stubborn sometimes (well, most of the time) so it took a bunch of life lessons for me to finally decide to do what I love doing. I tell my adult students all the time not to wait until they are in their 50's like I did. As a kid, all I wanted to do was play pro basketball so when that didn't work out and I came home to Indy in 1979 from the University of Chicago during a severe recession, I had no real career plan and I just took whatever job I could find. Up until 2009, every time I took a job solely because it paid more, I've been unhappy. So don't do what I did. Find your passion. Follow it to the ends of the earth. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something. And if you fall and fail, get back up and try something different. Go check out some of my photo galleries at this link and see the dream I am chasing.

Ty Gibbs won Salem in dominant fashion
Grandpa "Coach" Joe Gibbs was on hand to help Ty celebrate his Salem win
ARCA was racing at Salem Speedway for the 106th time and a good crowd was on hand
Ed Pompa had the best looking car in a throwback paint scheme
Michael Self is still leading the season points standings with two races to go but only by 5 points

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Done With The Dirt: ARCA Championship at Stake

Christian Eckes was in control at DuQuoin and won
Christian Eckes grabbed another win for the Venturini Motorsports gang last weekend on the dirt at  the DuQuoin State Fair and crept just a little closer to teammate Michael Self for the ARCA Menards Series championship. Now that the Southern Illinois 100 on DuQuoin's "Magic Mile" is in the books, everyone will focus on finishing this season strong with just three races remaining. Now if we can just get these young guys to climb out of their cars and face the series photographers in Victory Lane to begin their winning celebrations, my life would be complete! Seriously though, I don't blame these young guys for wanting to celebrate and recognize their teams in the process since the drivers are only as good as the people who prepare the machines. And this year, the Venturini machines have been the class of the ARCA field, winning 12 of 17 races so far, so it's clear they have great people supporting their drivers. If Christian hadn't had to miss the spring race at Salem, the points chase would be much closer than the 70 points it is now in Self's favor.

The Brothers Alley (me on the left and Steve) got to work DuQuoin together
This was the fifth straight season that I've shot ARCA's back to back dirt races at the two  fairgrounds in Illinois and this year my brother worked with me at DuQuoin which made it even more fun. It was special too since he lives in Tucson and we don't get to spend that much time together these days so making a race together outside the Indy 500 is a real bonus. Next season I will be headed out his direction in March when ARCA races at Phoenix and I couldn't be more excited about that. I expect we'll have an Alley family gathering out there since my brother's kids and their families all live in Arizona. These dirt track races are quite unique and even though he had been to the ARCA race at Springfield with me in the past, the one at DuQuoin is a different animal and it was his first time actually working rather than just enjoying the show as a spectator. I'm sure he had fun but it's still different when you've got a job to do.

DuQuoin is unique - there's a lake in the infield!
There are two big differences between the Springfield and DuQuoin tracks for me. The first is that DuQuoin  has a lake in the infield that takes up most of the inside of Turns 1 and 2. Second, and this is huge - Springfield has tunnels to get back and forth between the outside and the inside during the race. At DuQuoin, with just two photographers we have to stay inside since there's no way to get back and forth. This year's Southern Illinois 100 was over in record time too so there wasn't much time to get the kind of variety I normally like to provide. I still followed my "10 laps and move" strategy that I normally use but the laps went by awfully fast and there was no late yellow to create a green-white-checkered finish like we had at Springfield. I was able to shoot from the outside during the sole practice session in the afternoon but for the race I worked inside exclusively.  I still haven't been able to successfully predict where to go to get a good photo of "Big Bill" Venturini when he plants "the kiss" on his winning drivers though, so there's always room for improvement.

Getting any closer to the action is just about impossible!
Since I started this blog in 2007, I have often wondered how many words I've written to describe races or events I've covered and I suppose I won't know until I compile everything for the book I want to write about my experiences in motorsports photography. One thing is certain, I have a lot of people to thank and I've probably taken a half million photos over the last 12 years as I've pursued this dream. Having the chance to shoot for the ARCA Menards Series is a true blessing as there are only a few jobs like it and I understand how fortunate I am to be in this position. I've also worked damn hard to get here and learned so much from so many great people in the process. I was telling my brother this past weekend about how I have studied (and continue to study) the work of other photographers in order to continue learning. I trust that will never stop and you may hear me say more than once that a bad day at a racetrack still beats good days at lots of other places. Mind you I love my teaching job so don't take that the wrong way, but when you're involved in something you have a passion in your soul to do, it's just different somehow. Photography is like that for me. Sometimes I wish I had come to that realization earlier in life but then I wouldn't be who I am today so I have no regrets.

Michael Self leads the season points standings but it's still a close fight
The way this year has gone has been special in so many ways - from shooting the ARCA opener at Daytona in February, then undergoing lung cancer surgery 10 days later, then getting back on my feet with races that stretched 10 consecutive weeks from the end of April through June, through this past couple of months when a new granddaughter joined the fold, to this past weekend with my brother. I never saw this coming last fall when I committed to doing all the ARCA races in 2019. Next year promises to be even bigger and better so get out to an ARCA race this year to see what all the excitement is about. You only have three more chances this season to see who will be crowned champion: Salem Speedway in southern Indiana later this month, then Lucas Oil Raceway west of Indianapolis and the finale at Kansas Speedway in October. Look me up if you make it to any of these. And by all means keep clicking on the ARCA Menards Series website for more of our photos! Here's a few I shot last weekend to tide you over.

Carson Hocevar is another up and coming driver in the series - he's only 16!
The ARCA Menards Series has been racing on dirt for more that 50 years and we'll be back next year!
The two dirt races in Illinois bring out local fan favorites like Ryan Unzicker to challenge series regulars
Ageless Kenny Schrader became the oldest pole winner in ARCA history in his Federated #52
Overheating from dust accumulation is a common problem on the dirt
Teams come up with some creative ways to keep the Illinois clay from gumming up the works