Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ty Majeski Continues Hot Streak With Chicagoland ARCA Win

Ty Majeski is looking unstoppable for Chad Bryant Racing
One of the favorites going into last week's  ARCA Bounty 150 at Chicagoland Speedway was Ty Majeski and he did not disappoint, leading the vast majority of the 100 lap race and stretching his lead seemingly at will when he was out in front. It was Ty's third win in four ARCA races this season and it could very well have been his fourth in a row but for a half a gallon of gas he needed at Michigan which cost him that race in early June. So now he's finished first at Charlotte and Pocono, second at Michigan and first at Chicagoland out of 5 starts in the 2019 ARCA season. While Michael Self is the overall points leader based his consistency over the first 12 races this year and three wins, this hot streak by Majeski has been incredibly impressive. I hope we see more of Ty this year!

Weather looked threatening  before the race but didn't materialize
This was the seventh weekend in a row for the ARCA series to be racing somewhere, but it was my 10th weekend in a row overall when you throw in the Indycar Grand Prix and the Indy 500 I worked in May. During this stretch, it seems like weather has been an issue at every race and Chicagoland was no different as severe weather in the area forced a delay of about an hour as the stands had to be cleared just as the grid was being formed. I was planning to start my race in the flagstand again as I knew we would have a guest flagger from the race sponsor Bounty and I wanted to shoot from the outside wall for the first half of the race. As the weather warnings rolled in prior to the start, I sat at a picnic table with the mother and other family members of ARCA driver Tim Richmond and had some very nice conversations as we killed time while the weather front blew through. I had never met them before so it was fun getting to know them and keeping them informed as updates from race control came in over my radio headset.

Flagstand photos are 
I love having access to race control and the nose cancelling headphones help me concentrate on my shooting during the race. I typically follow a "10 laps and move" strategy at races and this race started off with even more location changes as early cautions gave me the time to move. The race started and there was a caution almost immediately so I left the flagstand and headed down to Turn 4 to catch the restart. By lap 20 I was already in the third turn so I decided to walk the backstretch road opposite the direction of race traffic to make my way back to the tunnel to the infield near Turn 1. As a result, I walked an entire lap around the outside of the track during the race and racked up another big night on Google Fit with over 19,600 steps. After the heat of the early part of the day, the weather front that blew through cooled things off quite a bit and I could feel myself getting a second wind as the race wound down. I made it around to the shooting holes in Turn 1 at about lap 50 and then finally got into the pits with about 35 laps to go. I always hope to be able to catch at least one pit stop by the race leader but that often comes down to luck and timing so I decided to take what I could, shoot some side by side racing along the frontstretch and get ready for the checkered flag and victory lane. This was a race where I was really happy with most everything I shot, which isn't usually the case, since I am quite self critical about my photos. That is especially true with night racing as I feel I am always walking a tightrope between high ISO (but not too high to be grainy) and underexposure (but not too dark) throughout a race. I felt like I struck a good balance on this night but you can be the judge of that (if you want to see a larger gallery from the race, then please click here.)

Ty Majeski has been a bright spot for Chad Bryant Racing this season
This run of 10 straight race weekends for me has been amazing and I've never experienced this before. I have loved every minute of it, except for perhaps the visit from Officer friendly in Shelby, North Carolina on my way to Charlotte last month. I have now worked 11 of the 12 ARCA races this season and the only one I missed was just a few weeks after my cancer surgery in February. I am feeling stronger every week and looking forward to working the remaining eight ARCA races this season. We have the 4th of July weekend off from racing but the next three weeks in July are booked at Elko (Minnesota) then Iowa Speedway (with Indycar) and then back to Pocono. By Labor Day weekend, the two dirt races on ARCA's schedule will be completed and  there will only be three races left . This has been a whirlwind year in so many respects but I am already planning ahead to next year when I will go back to Le Mans again after missing the 24 Hours in 2018 and 2019. This year has been huge and I am really excited to see what the future holds!

If anyone out there thinks we just go hang out at the racetrack and snap a few photos, then please come follow me around on one of my 17 hour workdays with ARCA. You gotta love it or you wouldn't do it, and I love it. Until next time, be sure to check the ARCA website for more photos and stories about some of the best young driving talent in stock car racing. See youthere!

ARCA restarts can be kind of crazy as the field rushes by the fence
Michael Self won another pole in the group qualifying session during the heat of the day
Trouble struck early and often at Chicagoland; contact put Jason Miles out early
Bret Holnes finished a strong third and is looking like he'll be a race winner soon
This means you, Jay Alley! Ask me what this is about. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

ARCA Endures More Rain But Ty Gibbs Gets His First ARCA Win

Ty Gibbs knows what to do!
Ty Gibbs, the grandson of hall of fame NFL coach Joe Gibbs, has been close before in his previous ARCA starts this season but he finally sealed the deal this past Saturday at WWT Raceway with a last lap pass to grab his first win in the ARCA Menards Series. Grandpa Joe was there to see it happen as well and although Sam Mayer wasn't happy about how Ty made the final pass, it looked to me like he left the door open entering Turn 3 and Ty dove under him and went for the lead. An old saying in stock car racing is that eight wheels are better than four, and I can understand why Mayer was upset but at least Ty didn't outright dump him with bumper contact, so I thought it as a fair pass given the circumstances. Naturally I'm sure it looked different from inside the cockpit but they also say that rubbin' is racin' so I'd have to say that no one was really surprised by the outcome and how it happened.

Michael Self started from the pole again
I got to WWT Raceway at Gateway Motorsports Park Friday afternoon for the tech inspection day but that was cut short by Mother Nature when afternoon showers rolled into the St. Louis area. The forecast for Saturday (race day) had been for heat and temperatures in the 90's but they missed that by a mile as severe weather rolled through the area early in the day and it kept raining until around noon. Finally the track got dried and ARCA got about an hour of practice starting around 2:00 which set the field for the race. Michael Self again set fast time in his pretty Sinclair sponsored machine and the other 21 cars entered were all able to get some laps in before the track was handed over to the NASCAR trucks for their practice session. As often happens on a day when bad weather intervenes, the rest of the day seemed to be on a fast track as more rain was predicted for later that night during the truck race which was set to run as soon as the ARCA Day to Day Coffee 150 was completed. That rain never came however and everyone was glad we got another race run and we wouldn't have to postpone everything.

Please stop and say hi!
The rains in the morning had an upside however as there wasn't much to do but hang around the media center or walk through our garage area and chat with people. I met some genuinely nice people, which always seems to be the case when I actually have time to talk with racers, fans or other officials. It was my first visit to Gateway and I came away very favorably impressed with the facility and everything about it, especially the access, as the track is visible from Interstate 7 and is adjacent to an exit which made getting in and out very easy. I got to speak to a couple young guys at the media center who were employees of the karting center on site (I wished I'd had more time to go run those karts as it looked like a fun layout) and spoke with more than one old timer who wanted to talk about the old days with ARCA and USAC racing on the dirt miles at Springfield and Duquoin. Later on up in the stands it was more of the same, as I got to talk with quite a few fans, most of whom are usually curious about how I get to do what I do. I'm always happy to share my story and passion for motorsports photography so these interactions helped round out what had started off as a miserable looking day.

I like shooting the bigger tracks but it  definitely is more work.
This month has been one big blur  - in fact the last two months have been - and this is my 10th weekend in a row working a race. I have been fighting a cold for the last two weeks which makes things tougher physically. Now tomorrow is another roadtrip - this time to Joliet, Illinois for the next ARCA race at Chicagoland Speedway. I have been to several tracks this season for the first time but Chicagoland is not new to me as I went there for the first time in 2006 to cover Indycar for the defunct American Motor Journal publication. It's a 1.5 mile track with decent banking and the Muscoe lights are fantastic to work with since our race will start at dusk and finish in darkness Thursday night. It's another race weekend where ARCA is paired up with other NASCAR series so the ARCA track time might be somewhat limited but the visibiity for the series and it's drivers is well worth any perceived shortcomings in tracktime. It just means we all have to be more efficient! Following the Chicagoland race I have some personal travel to do on a family mater and then it's right back to teaching after 4th of July weekend. The rest of July is just as busy and there will be just eight races left in the ARCA season once the holiday weekend is over.

I've tried to share my experiences after each race this season ad it's been hard to keep up with it but I write because I have to. I love this work and I have to do something to be creative or my life gets dull and colorless. I'm grateful to have these opportunities and I know there's so much more I could do if given the chance. Until then, I will keep plugging and hope you keep coming back for more. Thanks for reading. Here's a few more photos from last weekend.

Ty Gibbs is not large in stature but he came up big at WWT Raceway
Rookie Gavin Harlien had an interesting introduction to  the ARCA Menards Series!
The Gibbs team had to replace its Ilmor engine before the race
The 27 team of Travis Braden made a good call on amid race pit stop and  led some laps
First time ARCA race winner Ty Gibbs is only 16 years old

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

ARCA Menards Racing Kids Converge on Madison: Gateway is Next

Chandler Smith likes Victory Lane!
Sixteen year old stock car racing phenom Chandler Smith took all the honors at Madison International Speedway this past Friday night, starting on the pole and then outlasting Michael Self and Ty Gibbs to take his fourth ARCA series win on short tracks in only 14 starts! Self and Gibbs both took turns in the lead in the second half of the Short Lunch 200 but two red flag delays created opportunities for different pit strategies that ended up favoring Smith in the end. The race was rolling along at a fast pace for more than 100 green flag laps at the start but was interrupted by a red flag delay for rain with about 35 laps to go and another red flag for an accident with less than 10 laps to go. Fans on hand and looking in on MAV TV were treated to an exciting finish under green after the second red flag and Chandler was probably the happiest person in the place. He asked me before the race during the driver autograph session if it was going to rain and I told him no so I'm glad he didn't pay any attention and just went out and raced!

The Madison track reminded me of Winchester
I had never been to Madison International Speedway before so it was a very interesting road trip and entertaining race. The track is actually in Oregon, Wisconsin and I never physically made it into Madison since we stayed at a hotel in Stoughton, Wisconsin. The track itself is a neat little half mile with 18 degree banking in the corners where the cars enter the track through an opening on the outside of Turn 2. It was extremely windy on Saturday but it was comfortable with high clouds and lots of sun. The six hour drive to Wisconsin Thursday was pretty uneventful except for the recycling truck which was losing metals out of the top of its trailer right in my path! But no harm was done and I actually got to the hotel at a reasonable hour rather than making a banzai trip in about midnight. So I felt good going into Saturday's event and was looking forward to seeing several of the youth army at ARCA go at it again.

Michael Self and Corey Heim was one of many battles at Madison
These ARCA kids are real racers though so when I call them kids I am doing so somewhat sarcastically. At an age where most teenagers are just trying to get their driver's licenses, ARCA has youngsters like Chandler Smith, Sam Mayer, Ty Gibbs, Carson Hocevar, Corey Heims and Hailie Deegan who make recent winner Michael Self seem like a grizzled veteran! It's a great situation for these young drivers to gain heavy bodied stock car experience and learn how to race. For anyone not familiar with ARCA racing, most races are 200 laps or 200 miles or less so they will involve at least one pit stop and strategy on when to take two or four tires is definitely a factor at every race. Track position in this race worked out in favor of Chandler Smith  but when all was said and done, he clearly had the fastest car the whole race. One thing I noticed was that a lot of the other front runners consistently had their front brake rotors glowing a fire red entering Turn 1 but Chandler seemed to be much easier on the brakes than everyone else so I didn't see that glow as much with him as the others. For someone so young to have such racecraft is quite impressive and he is being recognized with rides in the Gander Truck series at Iowa and will race both series at Gateway this coming weekend.

Ty Gibbs continues to run up front and a win is in his future
The Madison race marked the halfway point of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season and the first 10 races seems to have gone by in a hurry - perhaps because I've been running non-stop since the end of April working my teaching job and working races every weekend since then. I turned 62 at the end of May but I have no desire to start slowing down my pace and I know I can still compete against people much younger than I. At least in my mind it feels like a competition but since I've been an athlete my entire life, that really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me. I constantly measure where I am against other people and situations. Now that it's been 4 months since my lobectomy surgery, I am starting to feel like I'm close to being 100 per cent again. That's a blessing in itself. That self-evaluation process also means that I am constantly setting new goals and looking ahead. Next year at this time, I plan to be with my friends in France shooting the 24 Hours of Le Mans again as I did in 2017 and I couldn't help but think about that event all last week as my social media memories pelted me with photos and reminders from that June 2017 trip. I couldn't escape the irony this past weekend comparing events.

Three wide on a short track!
I couldn't be happier to be doing what I'm doing and I am looking forward to a great fight for the ARCA championship over the next four months. Next up is another racetrack I've never been to - the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Park near St. Louis. Since the school where I teach is on our summer break, I am grateful for the chance to have another more leisurely drive than I often do in getting to these races. If you get a chance, come on out and see ARCA race. As legendary rock band the Who sang back in the '60s, "The Kids Are Alright" and you won't be disappointed.

Here's something you rarely see these days - a racecar on an open trailer
Chandler Smith is the latest talented teenager to come into ARCA before he could legally drive on the streets
Hard clean racing has become a hallmark of ARCA competition
Chandler Smith has finished in the Top 10 14 out of 14 ARCA races he's entered

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Michael Self Snags Third ARCA Win as Majeski Runs Dry

Michael Self wins again with Venturini
Yogi Berra is famous for saying (among other things) "It ain't over till it's over" and he must have seen last Friday's ARCA Menards Series race in his crystal ball. John Belushi's character "Bluto" in Animal House years later reprised Yogi's saying with "It ain't over till we say it's over" which was also true at Michigan as Michael Self dominated the 100 lap race but surrendered the lead to Ty Majeski on a late pit stop for gas while Majeski was trying to nurse his Ford to the finish on fumes. The fuel gamble almost got Ty a third consecutive ARCA win but he ran dry on coming through Turn 3 on the last lap and Self swept by for the win. A race that Self appeared to have in the bag took on a new look those last dozen laps but Self wasn't ready to say it was over even after seeing his dominant lead evaporate. Sometimes perseverance pays and that was definitely the case for Self's Venturini Motorsports team at Michigan International Speedway.

My 2015 Civic has been a road warrior
In a crazy sort of way, the Michigan race mirrors my life recently. Since April 26, I have put over 6000 miles on my Civic Si. Thank God I get good gas mileage - she sips the Premium fuel as I rack up the miles. During this same time frame, I've had consecutive racing weeks at Talladega, Nashville, the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Indy 500 practice, Toledo Speedway, Charlotte, the Indy 500, Pocono Raceway, and most recently Michigan. And it ain't over yet - I hit the road again Thursday (tomorrow) for the next ARCA event in Madison, Wisconsin for a 200 lap race Friday night under the lights. It's another new racetrack for me and I am looking forward to it. After Madison, we'll be at the halfway point in the ARCA season and the next two weeks are already booked, since we go to Gateway and then Chicagoland after Madison. That will be 10 straight weeks with a race, the longest such stretch in my life. All the time away from home comes with a price but that's got to be the subject of another blog another time. Thank God for my patient and understanding fiance, friends and family. Next year at this time, I hope to be back at Le Mans shooting along the Porsche curves and at Arnage, so you can imagine the discussions we've had in our household at times as I chase my passions for racing and photography around the world.

Travis Braden and Bret Holmes race for position at Michigan and overall for the season title
But I digress. I love going to Michigan for races. The first time was in 1981 and the drive is still the same along US 12, past places Devils Lake Highway, Cement City and Round Lake Highway. The racing never disappoints although for most of this ARCA race, Michael Self had the field covered. I have been most impressed with Ty Majeski over the last few weeks and it was cool to see his team take a gamble on fuel as that surely was the only way they were going to win. Another win keeps Self at the top of the season standings. The bridesmaid so far this season has been Bret Holmes who has run strong enough to be second in points but never quite strong enough to get a race win. Following Holmes in the standings is Travis Braden in third overall, with Christian Eckes in fourth despite missing a race, and Majeski's teammate Joe Graf Jr. in fifth. There's only 130 points separating the top five in the season standings so Madison could be a pivotal race and much could change before we get into July.

Majeski and Eckes race hard
Winning is getting to be routine for the Venturini Motorsports drivers, and they have grown into the strongest team in the series this year. It's no wonder that they get the best young drivers to race for them in their extra cars. Self and Eckes are full time and going for the series championship but their other car (or cars) has featured the likes of rising star Hailie Deegan and Chandler Smith, both of whom will be at Madison this weekend. When you add in other aspiring drivers like Riley Herbst and Ty Gibbs for the Gibbs team, competition has been fierce this season even though the car count has been less than most people would like to see. If you haven't had the chance to check out the ARCA Menards Series website, you really should give it a look as our photos are helping to tell the stories of these great young drivers who are the future of stock car racing. To see some of the current photo albums, please click here for the site. In the meantime, I am going to leave you with a few more photos I shot at Michigan. Come on out to a race and say hi! We have fun and these "kids" are full of surprises. Until next time, safe travels everyone and Godspeed.

Michael Self needed a splash of fuel to finish at Michigan
There are places at some tracks where the lighting is perfect; Michigan has that as Joe Graf, Jr. dives into Turn 1
Bret Holmes (23) has been strong all season so far but hasn't found Victory Lane yet
Pit lane is a busy place even under green flag conditions
Riley Herbst (18) can't catch a break lately but his day will come

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ty Majeski Grabs Second Straight ARCA Menards Series Win

Ty Majeski was a compelling winner at Pocono
In a rousing follow-up to his ARCA Menards Series win at Charlotte prior to Memorial Day weekend, Ty Majeski snagged a second straight win in the series with a late race pass of Riley Herbst who had dominated most of the 80 lap, 200 mile event at Pocono Raceway. Majeski stalked Herbst for most of the race and won going away to finish out a day which had been beset with delays caused by torrential rains in the area during the days leading up to the race. Pole winner and previous Pocono winner Harrison Burton had a tough day and fought mechanical gremlins seemingly the whole race but still managed to finish sixth. Michael Self continued to lead the season points standings despite having a miserable day and finishing 11th. Hailie Deegan made her second ARCA start and took a respectable seventh after being involved in a crash at Toledo in her only other series start this season. For all the details and plenty of photos, be sure to visit the series website at this link.

The wall cloud before Akron was ominous looking
Those were the highlights from last Friday - a day we were supposed to be on track at 9:00 a.m. for practice, qualify at noon and then race at 5:30 p.m. Mother nature had other ideas however as it turned out to be a beautiful day after everything started off wet. I had driven over to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania the evening before and ran through some godawful torrents of rain around Akron, Ohio where speeds on I-76 got down to around 30 mph after heavy rains and flooding on the highway decreased visibility to almost nothing. I stopped in Youngstown for dinner before resuming my drive. The rest of the trip was bearable and I even saw a gorgeous double rainbow ahead of me at one point. The remainder of the trip mostly involved a light rain all the way across Pennsylvania and with the darkness, highway construction zones, and semi trucks laboring to get up the Pennsylvania hills, it became a tiresome drive that ended up taking me almost 11 hours. When I finally got to the hotel at a quarter past midnight, I was tired but looking forward to the track action the next day since my only other trip to Pocono had been four years ago.

Ty Majeski is coming on strong despite only having a limited number of races
After only five hours of sleep, I got up and headed back west to Pocono Raceway on I-80 and had to reacquaint myself with the access roads and internal parking, but I finally got settled in the correct parking area a little before 7:00 a.m. at the track. The jet dryers and Air Titan system was already out working on the track when I got there so it was obvious we were going to be in a holding pattern for awhile. Then they said 9:30. Then officials gathered on track to look at some areas along the outside walls where water was seeping through. Then series officials cancelled qualifying and after some extensive work on those "weepers" we finally got on track for 30 minutes of practice time which would set the starting lineup.

Pocono can be very picturesque and is known as the "Tricky Triangle"
I had intended to shoot from the outside during the originally scheduled practice session but we had so many delays that I came back inside and worked the area along Turn 3 and the "What Turn 4?" sign painted on the wall. Once practice and the pole award ceremony wrapped up, it was time to grab lunch and finish editing before coming up with a game plan to cover the race. Pocono is a big track and a lap of 2.5 miles takes some time to navigate so with only one other photographer (Rich Corbett) working with me, we had to decide where each of us would go to cover the most track we could.I started the race in the flagstand, as I like to do when there is a guest flagger, and worked the outside of Turn 3 for awhile but by lap 30 I was back inside working pit lane and from the top level of the hospitality building overlooking Victory Circle. I was very conscious of trying to get something different and I'm still not convinced I succeeded, but I did learn some things that should help me when we come back at the end of July. The ability to continue learning about photography is one of the greatest gifts I could even have gotten. And did I mention that the race was held on my 62nd birthday? May 31st ends the "Month of Jay" so it was quite memorable as it's not often that I get to spend my birthday at a racetrack with a few thousand of my closest friends.

I love shooting pit stops - the choreography is so cool
The next day I was up early and on the road back to Indianapolis. I wanted to go through Akron on the way home so I could go by Mom's old house as it's almost four years now since she passed away from complications associated with er lung cancer, and about three years since we sold her house. This whole Pocono trip was kind of bittersweet since the only other time I had been to Pocono was for the June 2015 ARCA race when I stayed at Mom's for a few days then drove to the race and came back to spend a few more days with her. She was not doing well then and little did any of us know that she would only live another month so I was (and still am) grateful that I got to spend that time with her. I helped her with chores around her house in Tallmadge and took her to the Giant Eagle grocery to get food for a big meal we would make together. It was the only time I ever saw her use a motorized cart in the grocery so I knew she was not doing well. I cooked up a big slab of barbecue ribs, and Mom made her famous cheesy potatoes with some broccoli on the side and we had a feast that night. It was the last real meal I would share with her. Seeing her former house now was a bit of a shock as the new owners had cut down all the trees in the front yard which made the house look positively naked. So Mom's "Nest on the Hill" is no more, and I will never visit there again. There was, however, one last Akron tradition to uphold on the way out of town - buying Italian sauces at DaViti's market - so I bought six jars and hit the road for Indy, leaving Akron behind, most likely for good. I just wish I had had time to eat at Luigi's in downtown Akron, but I was ready to get home so that was not to be.

There's something special about shooting from the outside wall
Tomorrow I hit the road for the next ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway, another big, fast, high banked track. The first time I went to a race at Michigan was in 1981 so I've been going there off and on for almost as long as I've been going to the Indy 500! Thankfully it's a much shorter drive and I can come home right after the race and have most of the rest of the weekend in Indy. Next week we wrap up my teaching year and then go to Madison, Wisconsin for another ARCA race so it's no rest for the weary. But there's also no time like the present and the scars I have from my cancer surgery earlier this year are constant reminders that I need to get living. Otherwise, I'm just busy dying and I have so much more to do. Like LeMans next year! See you at a racetrack somewhere soon!

Ty Majeski did an understated burnout following his Pocono win
More choreography in the pits - check the tool held in the mouth of one crewman
Ty admitted having a tough 2018 season but he is clearly on a roll now
Still the best looking stock car around - Michael Self has been making Sinclair proud