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

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