Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Done With The Dirt: ARCA Championship at Stake

Christian Eckes was in control at DuQuoin and won
Christian Eckes grabbed another win for the Venturini Motorsports gang last weekend on the dirt at  the DuQuoin State Fair and crept just a little closer to teammate Michael Self for the ARCA Menards Series championship. Now that the Southern Illinois 100 on DuQuoin's "Magic Mile" is in the books, everyone will focus on finishing this season strong with just three races remaining. Now if we can just get these young guys to climb out of their cars and face the series photographers in Victory Lane to begin their winning celebrations, my life would be complete! Seriously though, I don't blame these young guys for wanting to celebrate and recognize their teams in the process since the drivers are only as good as the people who prepare the machines. And this year, the Venturini machines have been the class of the ARCA field, winning 12 of 17 races so far, so it's clear they have great people supporting their drivers. If Christian hadn't had to miss the spring race at Salem, the points chase would be much closer than the 70 points it is now in Self's favor.

The Brothers Alley (me on the left and Steve) got to work DuQuoin together
This was the fifth straight season that I've shot ARCA's back to back dirt races at the two  fairgrounds in Illinois and this year my brother worked with me at DuQuoin which made it even more fun. It was special too since he lives in Tucson and we don't get to spend that much time together these days so making a race together outside the Indy 500 is a real bonus. Next season I will be headed out his direction in March when ARCA races at Phoenix and I couldn't be more excited about that. I expect we'll have an Alley family gathering out there since my brother's kids and their families all live in Arizona. These dirt track races are quite unique and even though he had been to the ARCA race at Springfield with me in the past, the one at DuQuoin is a different animal and it was his first time actually working rather than just enjoying the show as a spectator. I'm sure he had fun but it's still different when you've got a job to do.

DuQuoin is unique - there's a lake in the infield!
There are two big differences between the Springfield and DuQuoin tracks for me. The first is that DuQuoin  has a lake in the infield that takes up most of the inside of Turns 1 and 2. Second, and this is huge - Springfield has tunnels to get back and forth between the outside and the inside during the race. At DuQuoin, with just two photographers we have to stay inside since there's no way to get back and forth. This year's Southern Illinois 100 was over in record time too so there wasn't much time to get the kind of variety I normally like to provide. I still followed my "10 laps and move" strategy that I normally use but the laps went by awfully fast and there was no late yellow to create a green-white-checkered finish like we had at Springfield. I was able to shoot from the outside during the sole practice session in the afternoon but for the race I worked inside exclusively.  I still haven't been able to successfully predict where to go to get a good photo of "Big Bill" Venturini when he plants "the kiss" on his winning drivers though, so there's always room for improvement.

Getting any closer to the action is just about impossible!
Since I started this blog in 2007, I have often wondered how many words I've written to describe races or events I've covered and I suppose I won't know until I compile everything for the book I want to write about my experiences in motorsports photography. One thing is certain, I have a lot of people to thank and I've probably taken a half million photos over the last 12 years as I've pursued this dream. Having the chance to shoot for the ARCA Menards Series is a true blessing as there are only a few jobs like it and I understand how fortunate I am to be in this position. I've also worked damn hard to get here and learned so much from so many great people in the process. I was telling my brother this past weekend about how I have studied (and continue to study) the work of other photographers in order to continue learning. I trust that will never stop and you may hear me say more than once that a bad day at a racetrack still beats good days at lots of other places. Mind you I love my teaching job so don't take that the wrong way, but when you're involved in something you have a passion in your soul to do, it's just different somehow. Photography is like that for me. Sometimes I wish I had come to that realization earlier in life but then I wouldn't be who I am today so I have no regrets.

Michael Self leads the season points standings but it's still a close fight
The way this year has gone has been special in so many ways - from shooting the ARCA opener at Daytona in February, then undergoing lung cancer surgery 10 days later, then getting back on my feet with races that stretched 10 consecutive weeks from the end of April through June, through this past couple of months when a new granddaughter joined the fold, to this past weekend with my brother. I never saw this coming last fall when I committed to doing all the ARCA races in 2019. Next year promises to be even bigger and better so get out to an ARCA race this year to see what all the excitement is about. You only have three more chances this season to see who will be crowned champion: Salem Speedway in southern Indiana later this month, then Lucas Oil Raceway west of Indianapolis and the finale at Kansas Speedway in October. Look me up if you make it to any of these. And by all means keep clicking on the ARCA Menards Series website for more of our photos! Here's a few I shot last weekend to tide you over.

Carson Hocevar is another up and coming driver in the series - he's only 16!
The ARCA Menards Series has been racing on dirt for more that 50 years and we'll be back next year!
The two dirt races in Illinois bring out local fan favorites like Ryan Unzicker to challenge series regulars
Ageless Kenny Schrader became the oldest pole winner in ARCA history in his Federated #52
Overheating from dust accumulation is a common problem on the dirt
Teams come up with some creative ways to keep the Illinois clay from gumming up the works

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