Friday, October 28, 2016

This Year I Got The "Big One" at Talladega

The "Big One" involved more than ten trucks
I've had some big weekends at Talladega shooting for Associated Press (AP) in the past, but I've never shot a wreck there quite like the one that occurred during last Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race where a dozen or more trucks were involved. I've shot pictures of other multiple vehicle crashes as Dega but this one was different. I was in the photo tower between Turns 1 and 2 with a clear view of the very beginning of the melee. I saw the first truck get sideways, framed it over the infield motorhomes and then it just opened up for me as the wreck progressed. The crashing vehicles just kept coming towards me, and I had to change my focal length at least twice in the middle of the sequence to adjust to the width of the scene that was developing with trucks crashing in a huge wad and others sliding through the grass to avoid getting collected. It was crazy and there was only one other photographer out there with me so I darn near had an exclusive. As it was, my sequence was over 50 frames long and I got an APTopix nomination out of one of the images as an AP top photo for that day. That made the whole weekend worthwhile.

2015 ARCA champ Grant Enfinger got the trucks win - his first
It was also a special race for me and all of my ARCA friends who got to see one of their own, Grant Enfinger, win on his "home track" and get his first ever NASCAR win. I gather it was the first time an Alabama native (Grant is from Fairhope, Alabama) had won at Talladega in decades and it was so gratifying to see him win in a GMS Racing machine with another ARCA vet and the GMS team owner's son, Spencer Gallagher, following Grant across the line in second. It seems like drivers getting their first win has been a recurring theme at races I've shot the last couple of seasons and to see last year's ARCA champion finally taste success in a NASCAR race was really sweet. I did not have victory lane access for the trucks race but I made sure Grant knew I was happy for him on social media afterwards.

Joey Logano (right), here talking with Ryan Blaney, won Sunday's Sprint Cup race
Sunday's Sprint Cup race was anti-climactic after Saturday's carnage but I still got a lot of good racing photos this weekend, and some good candids from Saturday's Sprint Cup qualifying so it was a great weekend overall. It's ironic in a way that I've never worked for AP in Indianapolis but have worked for them numerous times in the south at tracks like Talladega, Atlanta and Daytona. I owe it all the the late Glenn Smith who introduced me to the folks down south in 2011 when I was trying to branch out. Shooting as a stringer is so different than what I normally do for ARCA or for When I'm shooting for AP, I am assigned a spot and have an area of the track that I am responsible for covering. As a result, my pedometer step count is down compared to my "do it all" approach with ARCA or duties, but I have to be on my toes and stay ready for any incident and bring home photos no matter what. And that's what I do.

Danica Patrick before qualifying
I got another reminder of how different these assignments are on pit lane Saturday during the Sprint Cup qualifying. My routine during ARCA qualifying is to be right out on pit lane, next to the cars and drivers, so I can get candid photos as they prepare to get in their cars or after they've climbed aboard. So it was nothing unusual for me to be wandering around on pit lane right next to Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and all the rest of the drivers and crews. It seemed entirely normal. However, a couple of minutes into the session, another photographer got my attention and reminded me that Sprint Cup rules are different so I had to move. I was not in a dangerous situation or anything like that, but it was a good reminder for me how photographers look out for each other at the race track. Thanks Barry. I love that.

Restrictor plate racing means packs of cars close together all the time
Talladega is such a unique racetrack and I really love shooting there with the high speeds and pack racing. It is also unique in its fan support, media coverage and even how they handle getting out of the track once the race is over. I am not the only one who drives hundreds of miles to get to Talladega once of twice a year. For me, this was a 1200 mile banzai round trip and I had to be back at my teaching job Monday morning. Since I didn't get any "action" during Sunday's Sprint Cup race, I cut out quickly and headed for the "secret exit" that goes by the airport and is reserved for teams and media people to use. I was on the interstate headed for Birmingham in 15 minutes (record time for exiting the track) so my return trip got off to a good start. Despite a 30 minute stoppage on I-65 near Hanceville, Alabama, I made it home by 2:30 Monday morning after teaming up with someone in a black Cadillac CTS and rolling through the rest of Alabama and Tennessee in tandem at a nice pace. I love to drive and my Civic Si has become quite the little road warrior in these first 13 months since I got it. This trip followed another 1000+ mile trip to Kansas and back just the previous week and she went over 25,000 total miles this weekend!

Alas my racing season is over for 2016, except for the ARCA Series awards banquet which I will photograph in December. I have a lot of great memories from the road trips and races this year which I will share in some season review posts, so please stay tuned. In the meantime have a look at some of my photos from 'Dega - where you know "This is Talladega: More Than A Race" by clicking on the following links for Trucks race and for Sprint Cup.

Joey Logano (22) outran Kevin Harvick and the rest to win the Sprint Cup race
Grant Enfinger in his winning GMS Racing truck

No comments: