Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Rain, Rain, Go Away: Don't Come Back Until After May

Working for the series has its advantages - flagstand access!
This past weekend was a wild one in racing with "moisture" (I hate using the "R" word and I always get blamed) effecting races throughout the Midwest. It was also a weekend of firsts for me. It was my first time shooting the ARCA race at Toledo Speedway and of course our race was shortened from 200 laps to 152 by weather. It was the first time in memory that I had missed Indy 500 qualifying and it turned out weather had an impact on the proceedings at IMS as well. Now it's one of the biggest race weeks of the year where I get to go to Charlotte for the first time to shoot the ARCA race on Thursday. and then the Indy 500 on Sunday here in my hometown. Finally, the best racing week of the year is here.  I never would have imagined working three races in a span of eight days just a few years ago and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 will cap it off this Sunday.

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud won the Indy Grand Prix and then took the 500 pole
I have not missed an Indy 500 since 1976, this year's edition will be my 46th overall and it will be my 32nd shooting the 500 as a media member. When I say this is the best week in racing, it may depend on what discipline you prefer but for diehard motorsports fans, having the Indy 500, Formula One at Monaco and NASCAR at Charlotte for the 600 all this weekend usually makes for an epic 24 hours in gearhead heaven. Now I've added two more ARCA races this week so it's even bigger for me. That's another first! As my fiance says, this is the "Month of Jay" and it's HUGE with all the racing activity and my 62nd birthday just 10 days away. I am feeling stronger every week now that my lung cancer surgery is 13 weeks behind me and I am going to keep pushing to get the most I can out of life. I couldn't do any of this without her support so I am forever grateful for that.

We had to work around the moisture on Sunday in Toledo
This last week has been great for me as I have been working my regular teaching job and then rushing out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) to try to get some photos in the late afternoon, but it doesn't always work out. Driving to the track on Indy's westside from Noblesville at 4:00 pm is no easy task and it usually took close to an hour to get to IMS since there is no simple way to get there. Last Thursday in fact, I got there just as the yellow flag flew for lightning and then it rained shortly after that so I never saw a car turn a wheel that day. One thing I've learned about racing is you have to show up at the track no matter what the forecast is and my experiences at ARCA continue to reinforce that. I've been burned in the past (remind me to tell you about my Brickyard 400 in 1995 one of these days). Last Friday I worked the afternoon at IMS and then drove to Toledo where the forecast was supposed to be hot and humid all weekend. Saturday was beautiful but Sunday morning was wet and we were lucky to get 152 laps run before the monsoons hit and stopped the ARCA Sioux Chief 200 short. My checkered flag shot at the top of this article was a bit lucky but I got the shot and got out of the flagstand before getting drenched. Driving home to Indy Sunday night through torrential downpours was quite an adventure and I swore the wall clouds looked like they might drop a tornado at any moment, so it was a wild end to a very busy 72 hours.

Fernando Alonso will not race Indy this year
I tried to keep tabs on Indy 500 qualifying via Twitter over the weekend and was happy to hear that Simon Pagenaud had won pole position, especially since I am shooting the 500 for a French media company, MPS Agency. I hope his success will lead to more exposure for the photos I am providing for them to distribute to other European media outlets. I was disappointed to learn that McLaren was not able to put Fernando Alonso in the 500 but I honestly can't say I am surprised. Alonso crashed in practice last Wednesday and when I got to the garage area Thursday at around 5:00 pm and the track was under yellow for weather, the team was still putting their backup together! Their lack of experience showed and they just never caught up. There are quite a few good stories on the internet which detail the problems they encountered but I was very impressed by how the McLaren principals handled the disappointment of missing the race. Maybe they were still in shock, but they were classy and professional all the way whereas it would have been very easy to be angry and throw a fit, but there was none of that. Bravo to Zak Brown, Alo and everyone else at McLaren. I sure hope you come back next year.

Gotta love those big military jets
Meanwhile at Toledo, we were just hoping to get to lap 101 for an official race as the skies were threatening throughout the pre-race ceremonies which featured an awesome flyover which we rarely get at an ARCA race. Toledo Speedway is a "home" track for ARCA with the corporate offices nearby, so the flyover was a big thrill for everyone involved.  Once the weather intervened, the Victory Lane celebration was moved into a trackside hospitality tent and it was completely chaotic but I loved it! Shooting in close confines with a makeshift backdrop and fans crowding in to get out of the weather was a blast, but I have had enough of the liquid sunshine for this season already. We barely got to 101 laps at Salem Speedway in April then Nashville was postponed overnight by "moisture" so this was the third race out of five I've worked for the series this season that has been effected. Enough already! Charlotte is supposed to be quite hot so I am looking forward to that. Congratulations to Chandler Smith and Venturini Motorsports on its dominating win at Toledo. This kid has got some serious talent so get out to an ARCA race soon to see these young guys get after it. You won't be disappointed.

Chandler Smith is a proven race winner already
On a side note that maybe only other photographers will appreciate, I am a Canon guy and each May get my cameras cleaned and checked by Canon staff who support the media at the Indianapolis 500. I had both my camera bodies looked at on Friday at IMS and I always ask about the shutter count as it is a key component and tells you how many photos have been taken since the camera was purchased. On one camera the count was 203,300 but that body is about 10 years old. My newer camera is less than 4 years old and already has over 141, 400 shutter releases! That's almost 350,000 images snapped and the vast majority of those have come at racetracks. If you add in the other camera body I have as a backup, I'm sure the count would be close to a half a million. No wonder I have trouble with file space! Oh well. I am going to keep shooting and you should too. Look me up at the track or follow me on Twitter @alleygroup to see what else I will be photographing in the months ahead. Thanks for reading! Until next time, here's a few more photos from Indy and Toledo. You can find all my galleries online at my website, and be sure to check on ARCA's website each week this season for more photos of the young talent in the series.

Michael Self put the Sinclair car on pole but only led a few laps before Smith took over
The first day I got to IMS for practice was Tuesday and the lighting was perfect
The next generation of race fans has to come from youngsters like this boy
I was looking forward to seeing Alonso race at Indy again but it was not to be this time
Lots of good things are happening in the ARCA Menards Series so  you need to check it out!

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