Friday, February 15, 2019

See You Next Year Daytona

The ARCA Menards Series has a new logo
The last few days have just whizzed by as I've flown to Orlando on Southwest, shuttled to Daytona, spent the better part of three days at Daytona International Speedway, and then retraced my tracks to fly home Sunday night. This was not my first time at Daytona but it was my first time working the ARCA Racing Series event, so there was a newness to the experience that kept me on my toes. It was a big weekend for the series which got officially rebranded as the ARCA Menards Series during a Saturday afternoon press conference. It was a well kept secret but I was told early in the weekend that I needed to be ready to photograph a press conference at 12:15 Saturday afternoon so I had an idea that something big was brewing. It was cool to be there as ARCA President Ron Drager, the head of NASCAR Mike Helton and Menards owner John Menard talked about the deal. Once the deal was announced, we all got to put on our new shirts and hats so that was exciting to be a part of.

Natalie Decker has become a fan favorite
I am fortunate to have the chance to photograph the series and was excited Thursday to be the person primarily responsible for taking new headshot photos of all the drivers who were entered for the race. I did 33 of 35 drivers, plus had to redo one of them when the driver got a new uniform to start off the season. Those headshots will be used all season long on television when driver introductions or starting lineups are being announced, so I can't wait to see the FS1 telecast I recorded to see how they looked. I knew something was up when I was instructed on Thursday to photograph all the drivers without a hat and then also with a Menards hat, and not to use the ARCA hat we had used the last few seasons. As a photographer, I had a blast using the studio light setup to take those photos as I don't often get the chance to work with that kind of lighting.

Can you tell we're brothers?
I was working with another photographer, Rich Corbett, all weekend and my brother Steve came in Thursday night,  so we had fun exploring the speedway and hitting a couple of restaurants I knew about from previous trips to Daytona. Thursday's track activity was late in the day so Rich and I split up to get different angles of the cars in track. We have to be sure we get photos of every car entered so that's usually one of the first orders of business. The lighting and blue skies were perfect Thursday afternoon for that so Friday  we concentrated on people photos - drivers, team owners, crew chiefs, etc. Friday turned out to be another perfect  day with lots of sunshine and high temperatures near 80 which was a real pleasure to experience after dealing with 40 below wind-chill at hime in Indy the previous week. Racing is a people sport after all so we try to show the human side through our pictures. Most motorsports photographers are gearheads at heart so we naturally love the cars but sharing the excitement the drivers and teams feel at the track is what really makes it meaningful.

Pre-race ceremonies were completed under threatening skies
The weather Saturday wasn't nearly as nice as Thursday and Friday had been, as a persistent cloud cover had rolled in with much cooler temperatures and an occasional misty rain falling. Our race, the Lucas Oil 200, was delayed a little and everyone was ecstatic to see lap 41 go onto the scoring pylon since that meant the race was official. The alternatives if we had been postponed were not pretty so even when I started feeling some sprinkles with a few laps to go I was not in the least disappointed. We got the race in, the race was highly competitive among several young "kids", there were no serious incidents or injuries, so all in all it was a great day.

Christian Eckes led the field to the green flag
One of the best things about race day was getting to start the race in the flagstand. I have done that at many other racks on the ARCA circuit but it was first time doing it at Daytona and that was a real thrill. We had a guest flagger from series sponsor and tire supplier General Tire and I always enjoy seeing their reactions to the full field of race cars thundering past right under our feet. The whole flagstand shakes when the cars are fully up to speed after a lap or two and the view from up there is spectacular to say the least. This is my fifth season as the chief photographer for ARCA and there are "signature" photos I am trying to claim and those flagstand shots when the green flag flies are in that category. It doesn't get much better than that, and this time I ran into those same General Tire people in Victory Lane near the end of the race and they still had huge smiles glued to their faces, so you could tell they got a thrill out of the experience as well. It's hard to leave a racetrack without taking something besides memories with me and I often go through a bit of an emotional slump after a race weekend.

See you later Daytona!
This race I got new shirts and a new ARCA Menards Series hat, plus a few thousand photos and that's going to have to be enough for awhile as I  won't be going back to a race until April. This coming Tuesday I have a date with a thoracic surgeon who will be excising a cancerous spot from the upper lobe of my right lung, so wish me luck. I hope I don't need it and I believe I will come out of the operation with flying colors. I am certainly thankful for early detection and for the opportunities I have to photograph races, sports events, travel locations, and my beautiful fiance and grand-babies. Until next time I get a chance to write, here's a few more photos from the Lucas Oil 200 that Harrison Burton won for Venturini Motorsports. For even more photos from the race, be sure to go to the ARCA Menards Series website and check out the photo galleries. See you soon!

Venturini Motorsports put 18 year old Harrison Burton in Victory Lane at Daytona
Getting close to the action is one of the benefits of being the Chief Photographer for ARCA
John Menard (right) expanded his support of the ARCA Menards Series once again
Stock cars and Daytona are a match made in fan heaven
Fans came out in great numbers for the autograph session; that's why we are able to do what we do!

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