Thursday, November 14, 2013

#TBT Throw Back Thursday: Mike Conway Indy 500 Crash

By far the scariest racing incident I have ever photographed took place at the Indy 500 in 2010 when Mike Conway ran up the back of a slowing and out-of-fuel Ryan Hunter-Reay near the end of the race. I was shooting in Turn 3 that year as I have for many years and the race had been fairly uneventful from my vantage point most of the day. With a couple of laps to go, I had turned on my digital voice recorder and set it on top of the fence post in front of me to pick up the sounds of the cars and the track public address system announcers making the call of the winner. I don't usually pan during a race at this location as I watch the entry to the turn, how the cars are coming along the apex and looking for the slightest little twitch or for a car running above the normal line. I also listen for changes in engine notes or any unusual sounds. On this day it was my ears that tipped me off to a problem, and then my eyes followed.

Then I heard a loud clunking sound to my left. I swung around to see RHR's car damaged and limping through the turn so I laid on the shutter release button thinking that he might get t-boned by other cars that were trailing him. At eight frames a second, it is hard to tell what is going on sometimes but I stayed relatively wide with my 70-200 and kept shooting, when I realized something (or someone) was airborne and I was seeing black which meant the bottom of the car was facing me. Then it was like a bomb had gone off with more awful sounds and a debris field filled my viewfinder. I ended up with 48 photos in the whole sequence and my first thought afterwards was that someone had gone under the stands. There was a gaping whole in the fencing beneath the North Vista grandstands which safety workers were peering through. The mangled cabling framed a piece of the nose of Conway's car behind the wall and the only other section of his car that remained in front of me was the engine and rear end  assembly. I feared the worst and the crowd in the north end was absolutely buzzing in the aftermath of the accident. Thankfully, the worst was not realized and I ended up with 16 minutes of audio on my digital recorder as it continued to record while I finished shooting the aftermath of the accident and checking with other photographers to see what they had. A lot of spectacular photos were taken that day by members of the Third Turn Society.

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