Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Congrats to ARCA Champ Patrick Sheltra; Prayers for Shane Hmiel

Congratulations to 2010 ARCA Champion Patrick Sheltra for holding off Craig Goess by 20 points to take the season title. Shooting ARCA series races at Salem Speedway and elsewhere is always a treat and the championship couldn't come for a more deserving guy. The primary reason I enjoy ARCA so much is the opportunity to see up-and-coming racers learn their trade and do it on a variety of race tracks. The 2010 season was made even more remarkable by the fact that 14 different drivers found victory lane out of 20 races and 11 drivers got an ARCA win for the first time. The ARCA teams and drivers are always very approachable and the atmosphere is more laid back than many of the other more high profile series. These guys (and ladies) race and make no mistake about their desire to finish first regardless of the type of circuit they are running on any given weekend.

There's no other series that runs high banked short tracks, superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, dirt miles like DuQuoin and Springfield, and road courses. To win an ARCA championship is truly a challenge and the weekly additions of one-off racers who arrive to gain stock car experience makes it even more difficult for the regulars who run the whole season for the points championship. With 2652 laps run over 20 races, lots can go wrong once the beating and banging starts, and fans should not overlook this gem of a series when making their racing travel plans for 2011. I know I hope to shoot several more ARCA races next year and can't wait for their season to get rolling again at Daytona next February.

On a more somber note, by now everyone in the racing community has heard about Shane Hmiel's wicked USAC Silver Crown series accident at Terre Haute recently. My photos are from his back-to-back USAC Sprint Car wins this summer at Salem and Winchester where he thoroughly dominated the competition on successive weekends and he really seemed to be enjoying himself. His injuries at Terre Haute are thankfully no longer considered life threatening although he has had a number of surgeries since the accident and has a long way to go. It would be a shame if he never races again since he has overcome a lot the last few years both on and off the racetrack to regain a winning form. He has lots of friends at all levels of racing pulling for him to make a complete recovery - even Jamie MacMurray recognized Shane after Jamie's most recent NASCAR win and of course Tony Stewart has been quoted often with supporting words for Shane and the Hmiel family. You can follow Shane's recovery on Facebook at "Shane Hmiel - Road to Recovery" where his family is posting regular updates about his ongoing recovery at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

As a racing photographer, the harsh reality we face every time we look through the lens at the racetrack is that someone we know could be seriously hurt or worse. When it happens to people you feel you know, there is a sympathetic reaction that is difficult to explain to those not involved in this crazy and dangerous sport we love. If Shane saw me on the street, I don't know if he would even recognize me, but that doesn't matter. Anyone who straps in and risks their lives in racing is a friend of mine and I don't like it when someone ends up with extensive sheet time. I sign my life away every time I get a media credential at a race too but that doesn't matter either since we share a passion for the speed and noise that repeatedly makes Steve McQueen's words in the movie "LeMans" so meaningful to me: "Racing is life; everything else is just waiting."

Thank goodness Shane is on the mend. He and his family still need our prayers to get through this most difficult time. I'm hoping I get many more chances to take his picture in the Winner's Circle in years to come. Godspeed and God bless.

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