Monday, April 18, 2011

Talladega Road Trip Recap

My Talladega road trip was quite an adventure! Not only was the racing spectacular with photo finishes and the typical "big one" crashes, the opportunity to shoot for Associated Press was incredibly rewarding even though I did not end up in a position to provide photos they would send out. I loved how the AP guys would talk about "making a picture" and when the race was over, everyone gathered in the "darkroom" building to watch the slide show put together from race photos. Of course there were the obligatory "oohs" and "aaahs" in a slightly mocking tone but it was all in good fun. Naturally I caught grief from a whole new batch of Nikon users for being a Canon guy! But I am no longer a Talladega rookie and was told I would be welcomed back, which is all I could ask for coming in as a newcomer on someone else's recommendation.

The adventure began Friday with the drive south from Indy on I-65, which I had characterized as driving to Birmingham, Alabama and turning left to get to the speedway. Driving through unfamiliar hilly terrain in blinding rain between Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham was just the beginning of extreme weather I would encounter. After getting to the track eight and a half hours later and checking in, the rain began to fall after I had been there only an hour and a half. That evening, the tornado sirens and taped warnings to "Take Appropriate Action" began blaring from a pole seemingly right next to our campsite in a field just outside the track. I watched the weather radar on my Blackberry and then people started calling from Indy who had seen news reports about the weather in Talladega. I got the heck out of dodge for awhile and went to Oxford, Alabama and grabbed dinner until the storm blew through. Rains continued until about 1:00 in the morning and I spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in my car and trying to help a struggling friend that night.

Saturday dawned windy and very chilly with an early wake up and a 250 mile ARCA race before most people in their motorhomes nearby had even had their first cup of coffee. A few hours later the Nationwide series ran 300+ miles and jackets were the order of the day. The platform inside Turn 2 I had shot from all day was not going to be available for Sunday's Sprint Cup race according to the FOX television crew guys who were setting up. So then I was wondering where AP would put me for Sunday.

After Sunday's early photo meeting, I found out I would be at the top of the backstretch grandstands with a big lens. The view from up there was spectacular to say the least and the weather was perfect - the kind of day where you rarely need to change camera settings as the lighting was so consistent. Talladega looked like a pumped up short track from that vantage point as I could see virtually the whole track. 500 more miles of racing ensued with the Sprint Cup cars and large packs of cars were available to shoot. A record setting race was run and I was glad to be a part of it this year. I can't wait to come back.A slideshow from the Sprint Cup race follows this post.

The drive home began a few hours after the race but I had decided to get to Nashville and stop for the night as I was feeling lumpy from sleeping in my car Friday and in a tent on cold wet ground Saturday night. That was a good call as the ride home today was much less adventurous than the drive down Friday. Stats for the weekend: roughly 1100 miles driven, over a 1,050 miles of stock car racing observed, nearly a case of Diet Coke consumed, 1300 images gathered, more tweets on Twitter than I care to admit, and several new friends made in the process. I've only been home for a couple of hours now but am already thinking ahead to my next road trip in a couple of weeks to Salem Speedway for the spring ARCA race. Hopefully that won't be nearly as adventurous! See you at the track!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Talladega Day 3 Update - Jimmy Johnson Takes Dramatic Win

Jimmy Johnson took his second Talladega win today with a last lap pass to emerge from the pack racing and emerge victorious by .002 seconds. The finished matched the closest finish in NASCAR history. The race also had 88 lead changes which tied a Talladega record. Crew chief Chad Knaus and Jimmy are in the media center right now answer questions from the print press and I am waiting for AP to finish editing so I can get my images back and find out of they used anything from today's event. I'll have much more to add later as even though the race is over, my race day is not as I will be hitting the road back towards Indianapolis this evening and beginning my return road trip. So Talladega Day 3 is not yet over. I had an unreal vantage point from the top of the Allison Grandstands at the beginning of the backstretch and got to use a 500 mm lens today. Great opportunity today and I hope to be back again for future races.

My Talladega viewpoint for Aaron's 499

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Biffle Unveils 3M Colors

Long term deal with Roush Fenway announced by Greg Biffle and Jack Roush with 3M Executives at Talladega. The new paint scheme was unveiled shortly after the press conference outside the media center.
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Biffle, Roush, 3M Press Conference

Announcing their long term sponsorship in media center at #Talladega
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Talladega Day 3: Jeff Gordon Starts on Pole for Aaron's 499

After a record setting Nationwide Series race yesterday at Talladega Superspeedway, 6-time winner Jeff Gordon is in the catbird's seat to lead the field to the green flag in today's Aaron's 499. Gordon starts next to Hendrick teammate Jimmy Johnson with another Hendrick mate, Mark Martin, right behind him. With 56 lead changes yesterday among 18 drivers, fans can expect more of the same today, as well as at least one green-white-checker finish. This photo of Jeff was taken right after his pole winning run Saturday morning once he climbed out of his car and finished media interviews behind pit road.

I look forward to an exciting day today which has dawned bright, clear and crisp. I was up early and left the campsite to come into the media center to work and be available for the mandatory 8:30 photo meeting. The timing of the meeting is better than at some races where these photo meetings have been held as early as 7 a.m. The tower I shot from yesterday at the beginning of the back stretch may not be available today, as the FOX cameraman setting up yesterday told us that no one else would be allowed in that tower during today's Sprint Cup race. No one is here from Associated Press yet so I am not sure where they will want me to shoot today. I'm happy to be here and if I have to shoot through fence then so be it: I did it at Indy in Turn 2 the whole month of May in 2006 since this shouldn't be that much different, although I never like to deal with restrictions like that as there is inevitably some degradation of image quality.

This has been a very interesting trip so far, for a variety of reasons, and I am amazed by the number of motor homes and campers both inside and outside the track. With the lap length slightly longer than Indianapolis, the facility is simply huge so I did a fair amount of walking yesterday to get to my shooting location and find my way around. Today will probably bring more of the same as there does not appear to be a direct way to get from anywhere to anywhere else. I need the exercise anyway and having been able to shoot both Daytona and Talladega in the same season has been simply awesome. I have to thank Associated Press Photos for that. I hope I shoot something that sells today but at any rate, I will shoot a few hundred images and do what I always do: bring pictures home. Just be ready. More later!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Talladega Day 2 Update: Kyle Busch Takes Nationwide Race

Kyle Busch continued his dominance of the Nationwide Series with a win at Talladega today - with a little help from his friends. It has been a very long day for a variety of reasons, so this post will be brief but it does include my usual slide show. The majority of my images are still in the posession of Associated Press for who I have been working this weekend, so when I get those back, expect to see an updated slide show with many new images.

The second half of the race got crazy as they always seem to do here at Talladega, ending in two attempts at a green-white-checker finish, and still finishing under yellow with a wreck after Busch had taken the last white flag. So a race originally scheduled for 117 laps went 124 instead and Mike Wallace escaped unscathed from a wild rollover at the end of the back stretch after flipping and landing on his wheels when it looked like he might have a chance to win the race. My man Sam Hornish had a rough day, and I saw him and his wife on their golf cart afterwards and told him so, as he got assisted into spins twice and made beautiful saves both times to stay near the front. Joe Nemechek surprised me by leading near the end and seemed awfully happy in the media center interviews afterwards to finish third. That's it for now folks.


Nationwide Series forming up behind the pace car before the start on the last pace lap. Very windy still. This looks just like Daytona with the dance partners working together two by two. Waiting for some action. Jet dryers are out already clearing off marbles? Seems strange just 24 laps in. Harvick is now out.
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Talladega Day 2: Dillon Takes ARCA Win

After a generally miserable stormy Friday afternoon and evening at Talladega Superspeedway, Saturday morning dawned bright, crisp and clear, almost like a fall day rather than spring. The ARCA Series hit the track at 8 a.m. for a 250 mile event and Richard Childress's grandson Ty Dillon took the win with a fantastic pass on the last lap coming off of Turn 4. Frank Kimmel placed second after leading quite a few laps in the second half of the race.

My vantage point was a photo tower at the beginning of the backstretch which is where I will be for this afternoon's Nationwide Series race as well. Qualifying for tomorrow's Sprint Cup race is winding down now and Jeff Gordon is hanging on to pole position as I write this. I got pictures of Jeff and Mark Martin after they qualified which I will post later when I get more time. They were both on the front row for awhile but in any event, it looks like Hendrick cars will lead the way tomorrow.

I have to get ready to shoot the Nationwide race now so until later, here is a quick initial slide show from this morning's ARCA event.

NASCAR Talladega

Clint Bowyer signs autographs for fans after qualifying today for tomorrow's Sprint Cup race.
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ARCA rolling to Talladega grid

Delayed from Friday, the ARCA teams are heading to the grid for a very early race start today at 8 am. Weather today is crystal clear but windy and chilly. Tire temps and a green racetrack will be issues.
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Talladega Day 1 Update

Tornado warnings at Talladega have chased me east to Oxford, AL until the storm blows through. What a day this has been. And I still haven't shot any race cars at speed yet. Having dinner at Chick-fil-a. Somebody needs to play REO's "Riding The Storm Out" for me.
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Talladega Day 1

My day started at 3:15 this morning and I was on I-65 heading southbound by 4:45. Driving through torrential downpours off and on between Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama made the drive extremely interesting. I got to Talladega and was parked in the infield media parking at 1:45 pm Indy time so despite the conditions and making three stops along the way, I still made very good time.

When I got here, Sprint Cup cars were practicing their nose to tail dance just like at Daytona but that was essentially the only dry session and I was busy checking in with Associated Press and finding my way around so I heard the cars but had no chance to shoot anything. Only 8 cars got out for the second Sprint Cup practice before rain hit again and now track activity has been washed out completely as of 3:30 CDT. The ARCA race will go off at 8 am tomorrow morning, so Day 2 will start very early and have two races. Looks like I will be in a tower at the exit of Turn 2 Saturday.

More to come folks!
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Indy 500: Is It May Yet?

Just saw my first #Indy500 Camaro pace car on the street in Indy. Today is 30 days until @IMS opens. Sweet!

And even though I am headed southbound on my Talladega road trip in about 22 hours, I will still be thinking about the IZOD Indycar brigade hitting the streets of Long Beach. Go Simona!

Thank God for DVR's!
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Will Power: INDYCAR's Comeback King

INDYCAR's Will Power is on a roll for Team Penske like few have ever experienced. With his dominant win this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Power is primed to return to Long Beach this weekend with designs on another clean sweep - pole position, leading the most laps and the race win. When you consider how far he has come in the last three years, Power's current streak is even more remarkable. While many drivers have to recover from injuries to resume their chosen profession, Power's comeback has been spectacular by any measure and the obstacles he has overcome would have been insurmountable for most people. But not for this unflappable Australian. Here's why I believe he deserves to be called the "Comeback King".

In 2008, Power came to the INDYCAR in the last second consolidation with ChampCar and faced learning new equipment, new oval tracks and new competitors with the KV team that had been solid and backed him to street circuit wins at Las Vegas and Toronto previously. Three years ago this month, Power won the last ever ChampCar race held at, where else, Long Beach. A year later with his Australian funding dried up, Power was essentially without a ride until Roger Penske hired him as a stand-in while Helio Castroneves dealt with tax and legal issues. Before he could even get comfortable as Penske's pinch hitter, Helio wins an acquittal and hops on a plane to Long Beach to qualify and race after months away. All Will did then was win the pole and make the ultimate sacrifice for the team, handing over the equipment he had set up to Helio. He raced an unfamiliar car that day and soldiered on as Penske's third driver with his future still very uncertain throughout most of the 2009 INDYCAR season.

Fate struck another cruel blow at Sonoma in late August 2009. Cresting a hill on the circuit, Power found Nelson Phillipe's crashed Dallara in his path and no way to avoid him, t-boned the helpless Phillipe in a violent incident which broke Power's back and dictated extensive sheet time for both himself and Phillipe. Roger Penske showed in 2010 why he is "The Captain" and arguably the greatest INDYCAR team owner ever. He held a ride for Power and with Verizon's help, Will took five road course wins and eight pole positions during a breakout season where he led the season standings for most of the year only to fall short in the last quarter of the title chase when oval track results could not match his road course record. I am sure it hurt losing the title in the final race of the season to Dario Franchitti after pancaking the wall at Homestead trying desperately to chase the points he needed to win the season crown. But considering where he had been just one year previously, I'll bet the pride of coming back so strong and coming so close to winning the IZOD INDYCAR title in 2010 salved most of any remaining wounds.

Now not quite 20 months since that horrific day at Sonoma, Power continues his road and street circuit roll in the first two events of 2011: winning the pole at St. Petersburg and chasing Dario to the checkered flag followed by his flag to flag win from pole at Barber. He has now started P1 in nine of the last ten road or street course events. He's also collected six wins and two second place finishes in the last 11 races of that kind spread over two seasons. So not only is he the Comeback King, he is fast becoming the road and street circuit king in the IZOD INDYCAR series so you know where you can expect to find him this weekend at Long Beach: likely P1 after Saturday's Quick Six final qualifying and on the top step of the podium come Sunday. Anyone who can do what he has done since 2008 in an INDYCAR deserves the highest praise and with Rick Mears coaching him on ovals, it is only a matter of time before he becomes a terror on those tracks as well. When he does, the rest of the field may be sucking ethanol fumes from Power's Honda at every track on the circuit.

I will be heading south to Talladega this weekend to shoot the ACRA, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races rather than going west to Long Beach for a number of reasons. It's another chance to shoot for Associated Press and expand my contacts in motorsports photojournalism. I have never been there so it's another track checked off my bucket list. A year ago, my brother and I had talked about meeting at Long Beach but we just couldn't make it happen this season. Maybe next year. See you soon. Feedback is welcome! Follow me here and on Twitter @alleygroup this weekend as I post throughout my Talladega road trip!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

IZOD INDYCAr Season Starts with A Bang: Franchitti Wins Opener

Dario Franchitti has kicked off the 2011 IZOD Indycar season with a dominating win at St. Petersburg, leaving the first lap carnage behind him and staking an early claim to the season points title. As my predicted season title winner for 2011, I was glad to see Dario jump out ahead in the standings. I'm sure the other teams in INDYCAR are not near as happy however, most notably Andretti Autosport after Marco Andretti ended up on his head in the first turn first lap melee, and teammates Mike Conway (immediately) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (later) were eliminated in the mess that Marco blamed on Helio Castroneves.

The double file restarts were a source of contention in their first implementation at an INDYCAR race. Slower speeds coming to the green flag on the start and every restart caught some drivers out at St. Pete, but I am sure they will be able to adjust for the next road races, beginning this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Cold tires and brakes are part of the equation, but with INDYCAR fields being so tightly bunched and competitive, drivers are looking to make up places at every opportunity. With the gap between pole and 25th on the grid roughly 1.86 seconds, it was predictable that the first corner was going to be a problem.

Other than physically being at a race, I had the most fun watching the St. Pete event and couch racing while watching the ABC telecast and following everyone's comments on Twitter, adding a few of my own along the way. I did almost the same thing on Saturday but with the disappointing discontinuance of live streaming video on, I had to rely on Twitter for my qualifying fix. It was marginally better to listen to the radio broadcast online Sunday morning for the Indy Lights race. I'm sure the same issue exists for all media outlets with the urgency for instant communication that exists today - how to provide meaningful content without giving away the farm.

One of the reasons I created a Twitter account last fall was to engage in the wave of urgency that media outlets, race promoters, drivers and others all seem to be riding. The publication I have been shooting for since 2006, American Motor Journal, is about to unveil a new website to which I will contribute from all the races I shoot once again this season. I am hoping that Twitter feeds can be a part of that site's evolution. My next race event will be at Talladega in two weeks for Associated Press. My plans a year ago were to be at Long Beach for the INDYCAR weekend but that didn't pan out this time so I will be driving south once again as I did in February, but only going about half the distance as Daytona. I will be blogging, shooting the ARCA, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, and tweeting like crazy throughout the whole Talladega road trip weekend. Talladega is another bucket list racetrack for me to check off, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to shoot for AP down there. See you at the track!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mid Ohio Sports Car Course

Hard to believe June will be 5 years since I went to @FollowMidOhio driving school.
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