Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Talladega For The ARCA Menards Series Win!

Todd Gilliland and father David enjoying the spoils of  a Dega victory
Today's blog title is for both myself and for Todd Gilliland, who led more than half the laps at Talladega Superspeedway last Friday and snagged his second career ARCA Menards Series win! For me, I made my longest drive so far this year since my lung cancer surgery in February and set a new personal best time on the return trip after shooting for the ARCA series at the biggest and fastest oval track around! The race itself was a blast. It was my third this season and it had its share of surprises, including having Brandon Lynn jump into a Venturini Motorsports Toyota and take pole position in group qualifying. He ran an excellent race but couldn't get around Riley Herbst in second or Gilliland who had the field covered most of the second half of the race. The top 10 finishers included other one-off entries like Ty Majeski and Gus Dean and they, along with the ARCA regulars, put on a good clean show right to the finish. And then Todd did himself proud afterwards with a very nice burnout! The ARCA Menards Series website has all the details on the race along with photo galleries so click here to check those out.

Brandon Lynn took a surprise pole position at Talladega
I love Dega and I love the drive on I-65 from Indianapolis, especially the section through Nashville as the road bobs and weaves through the city. This coming weekend will seem like deja vu all over again since I follow those same tire tracks south for the next ARCA race which is at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. For the Talladega weekend, I left Indy Thursday night and came home Saturday afternoon so I drove 1080 miles in three days. The one track day I had was Friday and I shot over 2200 photos on the day which started at 6:00 a.m. and ended about 10:00 p.m. when I got back to the ARCA hotel east of Birmingham. I was a tired puppy when I got home to Indy Saturday afternoon since I barely got 5 hours of sleep Thursday night after working 8 hours at my teaching job and then driving 8 hours to Birmingham. Then Friday was a 16 hour day at the track followed by another long drive home on Saturday. But it was all worth it and I still think this gig is a helluva good deal. Plus I am feeling better each day as I get stronger and am able to renew something close to my regular physical activity. The month of May will be a real test of how my physical recovery is going!

Sean Corr led quite a few laps
The weather on Friday and Saturday was a massive improvement over Thursday and I had daylight to work with. Driving down on Thursday, I hit alternating periods of heavy rain and spray pretty much all the way from Indy. Then I got to Birmingham very late and discovered the interstate was closed in downtown. Getting to the hotel was a challenge as the detour signs weren't very helpful and I drove around in circles in downtown Birmingham for awhile before I found a side street I recognized and took that to I-20 and then to the hotel. I drove through some interesting neighborhoods around midnight that night so I was happy to get out of there as I saw a lot of old, abandoned industrial sites, quite a few boarded up houses and the street lights often didn't seem to be working, so it was kind of sketchy. Thankfully I have been going to or through Birmingham since 2011 and I felt like I knew my way around or it might have been scary. I guess that's one benefit of traveling a lot by car - I am very confident I can find my way no matter where I am.

Michael Self leads the driver's points again
It might seem a little crazy to some people to make a banzai round trip of more than 1000 miles to photograph just 200 miles of racing, but that's what I'm called to do for ARCA and I am happy to have the opportunity. Through the years, I've made some good friends in Alabama while shooting for Associated Press (AP) so I look forward to seeing my "Alabama Gang" whenever I go down there. Many times I have shot for ARCA first and then stayed to shoot for AP for the Xfinity and Cup races, but I didn't think I'd be able to handle that physically barely 9 weeks after surgery so I had planned all along to blitz home on Saturday. I also wanted to get home to my fiance who was recovering from her own even more recent cancer surgery. She's one of the real stars of this road show as she supports my passion for racing photography and I send her photos or texts from the road or the racetrack to stay connected. I've tried to talk her into coming to Dega with me - she's been to the Indy 500 dozens of times - just to see how big and crazy Talladega is, but she won't do it unless I stretch the trip out a bit more. Maybe one of these days I can add a couple of extra days off to do the trip in a more leisurely fashion. She used to go racing with me quite a lot when we first started going out in 2008, and it helped her understand how passionate I am about what I do. But now with deadline pressures and specific responsibilities to address for ARCA, it's not as much fun for her. But we do love to travel together. After all, we did LeMans together in 2017 and hope to do it again next year.

Fast and wide - that is what makes Talladega great
Having made the drive to Talladega now more than a dozen times since that first trip in April 2011,  the long drive seems rather pedestrian now whereas I used to be scared to try it on my own. But that was only because I had never done it before and didn't know what to expect. Now a drive of eight hours or more is no big deal and I will have several more this season, but thankfully Nashville is relatively close - about five hours from Indy. So it's back to short track racing this weekend and ARCA is teamed up with the super late model teams from CRA and the Southern Super Series, so there will be some great racing on that storied old half mile. And another blog post to write next week after taking a couple thousand more photos. Until then, please check out the photo galleries on the ARCA website and my own at this link. Here's a few to tide you over! Thanks for reading. See you at Nashville, Or Indy. Or Charlotte. Or...

The 26 car field was full of competitive equipment with multiple potential winners
2016 ARCA champion Chase Briscoe (left) walked the grid before the race and spoke with drivers like Thomas Praytor
Todd Gilliland did a dandy burnout all along the Talladega tri-oval
Christian Eckes bounced back after missing Salem but go caught up in someone else's wreck
Grandson of "The King" Richard Petty, Thad Moffitt, ran a very reminiscent of the STP glory days

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey Jay this is Ben I'm a fan of your blogs I've been keeping up with it since last year keep up the good work!