Tuesday, April 11, 2017

ARCA Nashville - New Winner Chad Finney Emerges From Crashfest

Chad Finney grabbed his first career win in the ARCA Racing Series
This past weekend was the second race weekend of my 2017 season and it was a study in contrasts compared to my initial photo assignment for this year back in January at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Thousands of laps were run by IMSA's WeatherTech sports car series competitors across four classes on the Daytona road course and it rained buckets throughout the night. By comparison, my Nashville weekend involved an aging half-mile banked oval where the ARCA Series ran the Music City 200 lap under the watchful eye of MavTV personnel and a live television audience. I had perfect weather from Friday through Sunday so driving to and from Nashville from Indianapolis was a piece of cake and race day Saturday was quite pleasant. The sports car race had a battle for the lead right to the end and the longest caution period came during the night when rains peaked between 5:30 and 7:00 Sunday morning. At Nashville, the lead was held by the #78 of Kyle Weatherman most of the night but tire strategy handed the win to Chad Finney after the completion of 95 laps under caution. They were even crashing after taking the checkered flag!

Kyle Weatherman led 134 of 200 laps but finished second
Perhaps it's not fair to contrast my IMSA and ARCA series weekends but as a photographer, they have a lot more in common than you might think. For instance, Saturday at Nashville stretched from 7:30 in the morning at the ARCA officials meeting to well past midnight once my editing was completed. That's about a 17 hour work day whereas Daytona is a few hours longer. A big similarity was my approach: I had photo goals for both events in order to keep my personal challenges elevated and stay sharp creatively. I did not meet all of my goals at either race event so I know I still have more to work on. I will get the chance with ARCA again in three weeks when the series goes back to Salem Speedway in southern Indiana for its spring visit. I will have to wait until June to hone my chops on 24 hour sports car racing again when we go to Le Mans.

Christian Eckes (15) took 3rd Place ahead of Austin Theriault (52)
Another contrast involves travel. In January, I flew to Orlando and then drove to Daytona. For Nashville, as I will for all of my scheduled ARCA races this season, I drove solo in my 2015 Honda Civic. I cracked the 32,000 mile mark on way back from Nashville, which seems like a lot given I only got the car in September of 2015. I truly love to drive and it's nice to find someone to run with on a long trip, like the white Grand Am south of Lousiville on Friday. Hearing the wind and the singing noise that my Continental Tires make on the highway when I'm at speed is a love song I look forward to hearing every road trip.

Nashville is a historic short track with some very old pavement
This was my third trip to Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway for an ARCA race and it is an interesting old facility, located on the State Fairgrounds property south of downtown Nashville. Some people may think the ARCA race was being held at the Nashville Superspeedway; while it is true that ARCA has raced there in the past, that track is pushing up daisies now after going through bankruptcy. Daytona's road course is huge compared to the little Nashville bull ring which is only a half mile long.

Austin Theriault is on a comeback tour to restart his career
One of the common themes for race weekends nowadays is the friends I see at the racetracks, and it doesn't matter what series I am covering or which track I visit. Invariably I see people I've known for years as a photographer. More and more, however, I am renewing friendships with drivers, crew members, team owners, PR people and many more, as I return to familiar tracks. Or I am meeting people in person, some for the first time, with whom I've connected on social media. Sometimes the word "family" gets used in this context, but to me it's more like a community of like minded souls who love motorsports in all its forms. That is really a cool thing to be a part of and I have been very fortunate to experience that in many different settings.

Brehanna Daniels has her eye on a NASCAR crew career
And then there's the surprises, like the young woman I met on pit lane during ARCA qualifying on Saturday afternoon. I noticed she was wearing an Excalibur Pit School shirt so I asked her how she was doing and whether she was on a crew. She very excitedly told me her name, Brehanna Daniels, that she was a former Division I basketball player at Norfolk State University, and that she was going to be the first African-American female pit crew member in NASCAR! My first thought was, oh to be that young again! I will be keeping tabs on this young lady and I hope she makes it, as ARCA is a great training ground for crew members, crew chiefs, team support personnel  and others - not just for stock car drivers.

And then there's the fans. While many people don't know much about ARCA, there's also people like Rowdy Maglite who has an internet radio show and covers the series extensively. Or the shirtless guy in Victory Circle after the the Music City 200 was over and was yelling "Hell yeah!" as loud as he could towards the winning team members for some reason! Whatever your flavor, you can find it in racing and the attraction is strong as half the starting field in the Nashville race was making their first season start - and some were making their first ARCA start ever. So ARCA really is the place to go if you want to see tomorrow's stock car stars today. Plus, you can do it for a whole lot less money than a Cup race. If you don't believe me then come out to Salem Speedway April 29th and 30th, camp out at the track and watch the action all weekend. It will be ARCA's 101st time race at Salem so the history is there; you should be too. See you then! In the meantime, here's a few of the photos from my Nashville gallery and a link to the full gallery.

Nashville Music City 200 Photo Gallery:

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