Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Eyes Have It In ARCA

ARCA Driver Natalie Decker said it all with her eyes at Nashville
William Shakespeare is quoted as having said "The eyes are the windows to your soul." I happen to believe that is a true statement and I will regularly shoot photos which concentrate on a subject's eyes for exactly that reason. If you were at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway last weekend for the ARCA Racing Series Music City 200, then you know that the driver's eyes were about all we could see most of the day. The weather was so cold that everyone was bundled up in hats and coats, or just plain hiding out, so getting candid driver photographs was a huge challenge. That got me thinking about the driver's eyes, and whether I could catch them in appropriate lighting to help tell the story of the event. I don't know if I was successful with the story element, but seeking photos of eyes became my mission for the day prior to the start of the 200 lap race that night.

An ageless wonder, team owner 79 year old Wayne Peterson waiting his turn to qualify
The best place to get these photos turned out to be during ARCA qualifying late in the afternoon as the drivers were in their cars waiting their turn to establish their starting position. I can imagine that these moments are their most serene during the day as the teams have done everything they can to get the car ready for their qualifying attempt, and it's just the driver's and their thoughts before they roll off to take the green flag. Then a few minutes later their qualifying attempt is over, they are back in the pits and they have to start thinking about race strategy. They know there's no more time to work on their cars prior to the race as ARCA employs an impound after qualifying so nothing can be done once the checkered flag has flown on their qualifying run. This time they even got an extra lap to warm up before they qualified due to the cold track and I'm guessing that just magnified each driver's trepidation before going out. Of course it doesn't work out for everyone as some will spin and hit the wall, which is exactly what happened to Wayne Peterson.

Travis Braden was all smiles before qualifying
One of the things I try to tell the ARCA drivers when I am working is to ignore me - pretend I am not even there - so I can capture those unposed, candid moments. Some drivers are better at that than others and sometimes I will sort of sneak up on them to get a photo. Other times, there's no denying them an opportunity to pose and put on their happy face. I don't blame them for that. After all, they are in their happy place and on this weekend with the frigid temperatures, the drivers were probably the warmest people around when they were in their race cars. One of the biggest challenges in getting these photos is simply getting the exposure correct, especially for me since I prefer to shoot with available light and not use flash. I think skin tones are more realistic without using flash but the interior of the cars is always several stops darker than the outside but I've been doing this long enough now to know generally how to set my camera before I more in for a photo. Sometimes I will experiment with camera settings but this weekend I didn't really need to for these kinds of photos as Saturday's skies were uniformly gray without the harsh lighting contrast you can get on a bright sunny day.

Youngster Christian Eckes before qualifying
Once qualifying was over, then everyone was ready to concentrate on racing. It was by far the coldest race day I can ever remember being a part of. There were times in the afternoon when there were actually snow pellets falling! From pre-race driver introductions through the Victory Lane celebrations, there was no chance to warm up and my fingertips were numb by the end of the night, even though I was wearing my leather baseball batting gloves so at least I didn't have bare skin touching my cameras.

Michael Self is the season points leader after the first two races of 2018
The race itself was highly competitive and was another great ARCA race among the "kids", the youngsters who seem to thrive in the ARCA RAcing Series. Zane Smith was in charge most of the night, but he had significant challenges from his teammates at MDM Motorsports to overcome en route to his first ARCA win. Sheldon Creed took second ahead of Harrison Burton. Daytona winner Michael Self took fourth ahead of another youngster, 15 year old Chandler Smith who had won the pole. The series moves on to Salem Speedway next weekend and I will be there again. It will be the 103rd ARCA race at the old Salem bullring and I'd bet everyone is praying for warmer weather. I know I am! I think I have only missed one of them since the fall race in 2006 and I am excited to be going back again. I've got a signature photo spot at Salem so stay tuned for more photos next week. Here's a few more from Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway to tide you over, or you can click on this link for a photo gallery.

Sheldon Creed won a Trans Am race in the rain at Road America last summer so an ARCA win is coming
It was great seeing Zane Smith (41) get his first ARCA win after racing for two different teams last season
The Fairgrounds Speedway oval is a great venue for the ARCA series and MAV TV showed the race live

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