Monday, May 9, 2016

Talladega Tougher Than Ever

There was fire in the Xfinity race at the end
If you believe that stock car racing is a religion in the South, then the sermons that were delivered at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend were full of fire and brimstone. All three races ended under caution due to wrecks near the finish. Friday's ARCA race was the the calmest of the weekend's races but a last lap accident led to a video review to determine that Gus Dean won rather than Josh Williams. Saturday's Xfinity race had a similar conclusion and Sunday's Sprint Cup race looked like a short track demolition derby, as almost every car was bound up with duct tape at the end - except for winner Brad Keselowski. While I haven't been to Talladega in two years and have only been shooting there since April 2011, even the veteran local photographers were talking about how crazy the races were this year with numerous "big ones", race cars getting airborne, lots of torn up equipment, and drivers wrecking at every corner of the track. And fire; plenty of it.

I started the ARCA race in the flagstand with officials and a General Tire contest winner
This year I pulled double duty at Dega, working all day Friday for ARCA as its official photographer along with friend and mentor "Doc", and then Saturday and Sunday shooting for Associated Press (AP) as a stringer for the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races. Those assignments could hardly be more different in terms of expectations, but it was great to get back down south and see my AP friends again. Friday started very early with a 6:00 a.m. visit to the credential office and ended after midnight once I finally shut my computer down back at the hotel. In between, I logged over 20,500 steps on my pedometer app. After patrolling the ARCA garage, pit lane and checking out the Turn 1 photo tower during the day to get photos the ARCA series needs, I started the race in the flagstand which was exciting. After a few laps, I walked around the outside of Turn 1 to the Turn 2 tunnel to get back in the infield, then shot for awhile in the Turn 1 photo tower, then walked to the pits to shoot the last third of the race before doing Victory Lane. Talladega is a HUGE track and if you've never been there then you really need to go to comprehend how massive the turns and banking are for yourself.

Keselowski took the Sprint Cup checkers with the wrecking behind him
Saturday and Sunday's work for AP is no less demanding, but it involves a different kind of creative pressure as well as the expectation to produce newsworthy images for AP and its members to use with stories about the event. For a stringer like me, that usually means it needs to be something spectacular. It also happens to involve a lot less walking as AP assigns me to a location and expects me to cover anything that happens on that part of the track for the day. My vantage point this year was down track from the start-finish line and across from the flagstand on the inside of the track. I got a checkered flag shot from that spot a couple of years ago for AP so I knew what I was going to be doing both days and was just hopeful I would get something transmitted from one of the NASCAR races. A funny thing about that location on the track: I had tried to go there on Friday to get some shots for ARCA but a track security guy told me I needed to have clearance from "Homeland Security" to shoot there. I laughed about it later but I couldn't believe it at the time since I knew the guy was clueless but I wasn't going to argue with him. Apparently my clearance came through overnight as I was able to go where I needed both Saturday and Sunday! Give a guy a badge...

Sprint Cup 4 wide past the flagstand
Going from Indianapolis to Talladega and sandwiching it in between work on Thursday and Monday is no mean feat, but I earned my "Energizer Bunny" nickname in the process as the weather cooperated and everything came off like clockwork. I was depending on that too, as I needed to be back in my classroom to teach at 9:00 Monday morning. After looking at threatening skies all day Sunday, the rains that finally hit the track came after the Geico 500 was over and I drove out of bad weather by the time I got to Birmingham. It was smooth sailing from there all the way home. So for the weekend round trip, once I left Indy after teaching a half day on Thursday, I drove almost exactly 500 miles south to the hotel in Birmingham that day, then repeated the trip north Sunday evening after the Sprint Cup race to arrive home at 2:30 Monday morning. Altogether I drove 1249 miles, spent about 16 hours driving and shot 1000 miles of stock car racing at a track I have come to love. And I made it to class Monday with no problem. It's amazing what caffeine and adrenalin will do for you.

It is hard for me to believe that this spring it is almost 10 years since I got back into motorsports photography through the Indianapolis Star and then the late Don Hamilton and his American Motor Journal publication after a hiatus around the time of my divorce. I joke with people that I bought camera equipment instead of furniture after the divorce, but it became a serious matter once I hit the road in earnest in 2006. I got my first Canon, a 20D in 2005, then added the 30D in 2006 before May at Indy, and I haven't looked back since then. Now in 2016, I've worked three ARCA races already and have 11 more to go, I have the rest of May at Indianapolis for, and my birthday closes out the month so it's the best time of year if you ask me. In the meantime, here are some photo galleries from Talladega before I get immersed in Indycar this week with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then the 100th Indy 500 the following week. Follow me on Twitter @alleygroup if you want to know what I'm doing this month. Or just go to 16th and Georgetown and look me up.

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