Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On the Road (Again!) with ARCA Racing Plus Back to School

Youngster Chandler Smith Picked Up Another Dominant ARCA Win  From Pole
The last two weeks bounded by three weekends have continued my whirlwind summer with classes starting again at the Excel Center Noblesville where I teach. On top of that I had three long drives for three straight weekends to shoot races at three very different tracks in the ARCA Menards series. First there was the 3/8ths mile in Elko, Minnesota, then came the 7/8ths mile Iowa Speedway and fiinally the 2.5 mile superspeedway at Pocono Raceway. I started writing this post on Saturday evening July 20th while sitting in the media center at Iowa Speedway waiting out a rain delay for the NTT Indycar Series. At the beginning of that week, school had resumed where I teach and after four days of teaching, I had left Indy for Iowa right after work Thursday July 18th and arrived at about 11:00 pm local time after a seven hour drive to Newton, Iowa to work the June 19th ARCA event.  I stopped at the I-80 truckstop on the way for the first time and it was a hoot - the world's largest truck stop so they claim. Friday turned into a grueling 17 hour day in conditions unlike any I'd ever experienced at a race before, in dangerous heat that felt like more than 110 degrees. It was still 85 degrees at 11:30 pm when I got back to our hotel after the race! It was crazy how hot it was - it just pressed on my chest every time I left the media center that day.  On race day July 19th, I got my second (or third) wind before ARCA's "Friends With Benefits" 150 and loved the chance to work this cool little track again for the fifth time since 2015. I know everyone felt wiped out Friday evening in Victory Lane as Chandler Smith picked up another dominant ARCA win for Venturini Motorsports. I told team principal Billy Venturini afterwards that their teams were killing it this season and they continue to rack up pole positions and race wins with a variety of talented young drivers. Their team has clearly been the class of the series this year.

Iowa weather seemed almost as fickle as Indiana's!
Ever since it was announced last year that ARCA would race Friday night and Indycar on Saturday night at Iowa, I had planned to shoot both races and return to Indy on Sunday. The weather forecast for Indycar's race day (July 20th) promised a bit of relief from Friday's oppressive heat and we did get some relief but the timing was awful. The track was hit by a ferocious rainstorm complete with lightning just as the Indycar grid was supposed to be forming. For a race that was supposed to start at 6:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT), that rainstorm was very unwelcome, since it sent everyone's plans into a blender and no one knew if (or when) the race would be run. A couple of hours later came word that Indycar would shoot for a 10:30 CDT start if the track could be dried and no more rain fell. But there was another storm cell to the west so everyone was a bit nervous since no one wanted to deal with a postponement to Sunday morning for an 11:00 a.m. start. At about 10 o'clock, they started rolling cars to the grid and it looked like we were going to get the race in so everyone was relieved. I especially enjoyed having a lot of time to walk the whole Indycar grid and get driver photos. I'm pretty sure I got at least one decent shot of every Indycar driver in the race. The highlight for me was talking to Conor Daly who is from Noblesville so that was cool making a connection with him even though we have been social media acquaintances for years.

Josef Newgarden was on a mission at Iowa
I wrapped up my Indycar  shooting of winner Josef Newgarden in Indycar Victory Lane about 1:30 local time, went back to the media center to download my images and then sort out what I was going to do next. Since I had not made a hotel reservation in advance and it was closing in on 2:30 in the morning in Iowa (3:30 a.m. back in Indy), I decided to drive awhile and see how I felt. I got almost to Iowa City before the need to sleep started hitting me so I pulled into a rest area and slept for a couple of hours before a tour bus full of giggling and chatting high school girls behind me work me up. Back onto I-80 east I went and drove a few more hours before stopping again at another rest stop somewhere in Illinois for an hour more sleep. I finally finished the drive home at about 1:30 p.m.  in Indy. What was normally a seven hour drive became an exhausting ten hour drive with just enough sleep mixed in to keep me from crashing my Civic Si. I don't think I've ever been so glad to home; a nap followed almost immediately!

Chandler Smith also won at Elko
The weekend before Iowa, I had driven to Elko Speedway just south of Minneapolis, Minnesota for ARCA's 250 lap race there on July 13th. That was a 10 hour drive on Friday followed by the race on Saturday and then a return trip to Indy of another 10 hours on Sunday. I had never been to Elko before and I really loved working that little bullring. I worked the entire race photographing the action from the flagstand and along the outside track wall. Seventeen year old Chandler Smith picked up another impressive win for his Venturini team which set the stage for Iowa the next weekend. The Monday following Elko, we started the first day of our new school year and it was quite an adjustment. I have to admit I was feeling some travel fatigue as I had not done a drive that lengthy since going to Charlotte in May.

Christian Eckes continued the Venturini sweep of July ARCA races
The week following Iowa, I left Indy Thursday evening after school for another long drive - this time to Pocono in far eastern Pennsylvania - for another one day show where we would practice, qualify and race all on the same day. I got to our hotel after 2:15 Friday morning and had to be up early to go to the track, so I was one tired puppy after the Pocono race was over. At least this time I had somewhere to stay (unlike Iowa) so I didn't try to drive home until Saturday. I have been called crazy for keeping this kind of schedule but I am not the only one doing it. In a span of 15 days, I drove about 3,650 miles to shoot four races in three different states, plus I sandwiched my regular teaching job in between the race dates with eight days in the classroom! It was another stretch where I felt like I was working two full time jobs. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining! I love to drive and motorsports photography is a huge creative outlet for me.

Christian Eckes celebrates his Pocono win
Part of the reason I committed to doing all of the ARCA Menards Series races this year is because hardly anyone is certain what is going to happen in 2020 when NASCAR takes over full control of the series. The schedule for next year is not available yet but races at Phoenix in March, a rturn to Iowa in July, a single June race at Pocono, plus Talladega in the spring and the annual pilgrimage to Daytona in February have already been announced. I will definitely be going to Phoenix when I hope my brother and his family will be able to come up from Tucson. There's a newer addition to my niece's family I haven't even met yet and he's already two years old so it will be good to get together with all of them. The rest of the 2020 ARCA schedule is still up in the air and my plans to return to Le Mans for the 24 Hours next June will hopefully not have too great an impact on my ARCA photography. I love working for the series as I have a lot of creative freedom, I know I am contributing to making the cars and drivers look good, and the series attracts some of the best young talent in stock car racing, so next year promises to be very exciting. Stay tuned for more as we get into the final stages of 2019 with only five races remaining. I will have more to add another time as more information about next year's ARCA schedule becomes available. In the meantime, be sure to visit the series website by clicking here to see more photos and the latest news about the series. Until then here's a few of my photos from Elko, Iowa and Pocono for you!

It seemed like we were racing on the sun at Iowa
Josef Newgarden had the Indycar field covered once the race finally got underway.

Known as the "Tricky Triangle" because it only has three turns, Pocono is a unique track to work.
Local fans really came out to support the series at Elko which made it that much more fun.
Excellent pit work like this at Iowa for Chandler Smith has helped Venturini's drivers all season long
Since I teach in Noblesville, I had to include one of local product Conor Daly, who I talked with during the pre-race delay.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

24 Hours of Le Mans: a bientot!

The advertising world is full of slogans like "Just Do It". Motivational memes are seemingly everywhere on the internet. Lots of these go unnoticed because they are so overused they are cliched or people just brush them off as marketing BS. But there are some phrases I take to heart and try to live my life by. This has become even more true this year as I recover from my lobectomy and continue my journey as a cancer survivor. One of my favorite slogans is "Dream Big". Living without dreams seems impossible to me now but there have been times in my life when disappointment or depression have muzzled my spirit and it has been almost impossible to dream. Thankfully I have not had that feeling for quite awhile and my cancer diagnosis earlier this year has served as a wake up call to live right now because we never know how much time we have left. Thank goodness I am cancer free now as a result of my surgery, so rather than the diagnosis being a death sentence, I look at it as a blessing in disguise.

As a kid and into my teens all I dreamt of was becoming a professional basketball player. I never got that opportunity and I understand in hindsight why that was the case even though I had a nice college career at the University of Chicago. That dream was hard to give up. There was also a time I dreamt of being a writer, and I used to write a lot of poetry, plus I have a book partially drafted that has languished in draft form for more than 20 years, so sometimes dreams just get put on hold when other responsibilities of adult life take over. Part of the reason I started this blog in 2007 was the realization that if I was ever going to be a writer, I had to actually write, and I've managed to stick with it since then even though I don't know who reads my posts about racing and my experiences as a motorsports photographer. That really doesn't matter - I need to write and practice the craft, the same as I do with my photography. We are what we believe we are and I am a photographer and a writer.

I often joke about getting "discovered" which I guess could happen, but there's lots of talented photographers and writers out there. I consider myself fortunate to have had photos published nationally in American media outlets such as the Associated Press and internationally in Autosport Japan magazine and French media companies AFP, Vision Sport Agency (VSA) and MPS Agency. I have no idea what level of distinction that affords me as a photographer, but I do know I have put a lot of work and study into making that happen over the years. As I continue to build on that history with work I love through the ARCA Menards Series or other creative endeavors like my grant project "Hoosier Cemeteries", I realize that I can't stop taking photos or writing without denying a huge part of who I am as a person. Shakespeare said "To Thine Own Self Be True" and I have discovered that to be absolutely essential in my life.

So how does the phrase "Dream Big" and the title of this blog post fit together? I've experienced the 24 Hours of Le Mans once already when I shot for Automobile Club de l'Ouest in 2017 thanks to my French friends at VSA. The thought of returning to work the event again has been ever present in my mind since then. I said at the time that our trip to France and Italy that year was the trip of a lifetime, but it can't be just a one time thing. Some people talk about fate or destiny or following God's will, but I like to think that the power of the universe will conspire with you to make things happen if you speak out and share your dreams. If you keep your dreams inside, there's no way the universe (or any human power) can help you. So this post is my sharing of a dream that's far bigger than me, and like the butterfly effect, I'm sending out ripples through the universe that I believe will help achieve this dream I have to go back to the biggest sports car race in the world.

If you think I don't have faith that this dream can come to fruition, then think again: I already have my lodging in Le Mans reserved for race week next year. Of course there is much work that I must do to put the rest of the pieces together. I hope to be here writing next year at this time to tell you about the whole experience and how everything fell into place as if by magic. American author Max Ehrmann, wrote in the 1920's in "Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life", “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”  On that, I absolutely agree. Until next time, a bientot.