Sunday, August 25, 2019

Doing It In The Dirt With The ARCA Menards Series

The State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois is a classic dirt track
Last weekend, I got the pleasure of photographing ARCA stock car racing on dirt for the fifth straight year at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile in Springfield. Michael Self put "Dino" into the makeshift Victory Lane  last Sunday and got another kiss from "Big Bill" Venturini. "Selfie" maintained his lead in the season points standings over Christian Eckes in the process and now there are only four races left in the season. The series is off this weekend but next weekend we go to southern Illinois to complete the dirt double Saturday night on the Magic Mile at the Duquoin Fairgrounds. I can't wait to get dirty again and this year my brother, Steve Alley, will be there helping me out with photography for the series so that's an added bonus.

This angle from under the guardrail is one of my favorites
The ARCA series has been racing on dirt since the 1950's and while lots of people make a big deal about the Gander Truck series racing at Eldora the last few years, these two mile dirt tracks have been on the ARCA schedule for decades. It's so much fun to be able to work these two races back to back as they are quite unique and each track is different even though they are both a mile in length. There is no place else where I can get get closer to the racing surface. The experience of feeling these 3000 pound stock cars roar by me mere inches away on the other side of the guardrail is a rush of the first magnitude. It has to be felt to be believed. I also have a signature photo I try to shoot at these tracks from under the guardrail. I got my inspiration for that photo from horse racing, believe it or not, and it's fitting since they still race horses on these tracks when the fairs are going on. I've written about this experience before but every year at this time it still hits me how much fun it is to get to do what I do for ARCA.

Illinois driver Ryan Unzicker is a fan favorite on the mile dirt
It was fun also having a friend tag along at Springfield and show him the ins and outs of what we do to support the series at the racetracks. Occasionally I am able to invite a guest to a race like that and it's always fun to hear their reactions once the race day is over. I look at those invitations as part of spreading the word about the series. I still think word of mouth is one of the best promotional techniques - the six degrees of separation theory in real life. If every person I invite talks about how much they enjoyed the racing to their friends and followers on social media then it will attract even more interest. When I tell people what I do for ARCA, I still am surprised when they ask me what kind of cars are used in the series or they say they aren't familiar with the series at all. I know I am biased since I'm neck deep in the series, but I still think it's some of the best racing around.

This image is straight from the camera and has been used by the Venturini team
A big reason that I love shooting for the ARCA Menards Series is that it has made me a better photographer. When you shoot as many races per year as I have the last few seasons, it's almost inevitable that some improvement would occur but my feeling is my improvement has been exponential and noticeable. The first area I notice is in my vision: I know the shot I am looking for even before I press the shutter release and I am not hunting around or just snapping photos to be taking pictures. The second area is in what photos I accept on the spot as I am much more critical and know that it has to be right when I take the shot. The third area is in editing as I must go through 700 or more photos from a race in less than an hour once the race is over and there's no time for lots of tweaking or fancy Lightroom editing. This makes area #2 even more important since in quick editing mode, if it isn't right in the camera, I won't use it. A photographer friend told me back in the '80s when I was first starting out that the difference between a pro and an amateur is you never see a pro's mistakes. Of course I do some experimenting and I still make plenty of mistakes when an image doesn't come out quite like I want it to, but no one will ever see those and I learn something from every single one.

You know you're at the State Fair when you see the ferris wheel
The Springfield race was on Sunday afternoon August 18th and I knew going in that I wouldn't get home to Indy until after 9:00 p.m. or so, but the evening got interesting as I approached Brownsburg on I-74 from the west. I had to hit a rest stop near there and as I walked inside the totally dark facility, I said to a man leaving the bathroom with his cell phone flashlight on,"What happened? Did the State forget to pay the light bill?" We laughed but I didn't know that storms were knocking power out all around the area. Soon after I got back onto the interstate, my fiance called and told me our power was out, a tree in the yard was on fire, and we had a power line lying across our street. I was seeing lightning in distant clouds to the east and I was still about 30 minutes from home when she called. It was a helpless feeling knowing there was nothing I could do. When I got there, power was out on our whole street and the fire department was finishing their work while the power company addressed the downed power line. We decided to wait it out and finally got power back about 1:30 in the morning. 

A shower would have been nice
The funniest part of the whole ordeal? I was filthy dirty and sweaty from the race and I was looking forward to taking a shower but since our house is on a well, without power we had no water! I had to bring out some water jugs to wash up and get the top layer of sweaty grime off before going to bed, so it was a crazy ending to a day that had started with a 4:00 a.m.alarm on my phone so I could make the 5:00 officials meeting at the track. That's the sort of thing that happens on the road sometimes and Labor Day weekend we do it all over again with the series at Duquoin in southern Illinois! If you come out to the fair, then be sure to say hello. I'll take a selfie with you! So until next time, here's a few more of my photos from Springfield. Be sure to visit the ARCA Menards Series website at this link to see lots more and read about the great racing action.

It felt really good to get drenched in Victory Lane - it was worth it for this reaction shot of Michael Self
Alabama native Bret Holmes has really been coming on strong this season
Dirt track ace Logan Seavey has been a terror at the ARCA dirt track events this year and last
Christian Eckes could not make it two in a row at Springfield