Friday, July 31, 2020

Finally: A Race to Photograph

USAC Sprint Cars - Terre Haute Action Track
USAC Sprint Cars at Terre Haute
fter what has seemed like an eternity, I finally got a race to photograph this week and I feel better already.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on every kind of event and motorsports has by no means been exempt. My entire year's plans went up in smoke when the pandemic quarantine was initiated back in March and until Wednesday night July 29th, I had not been to a race since the ARCA Menards Series finale at Kansas Speedway last October 18th. That's 285 days without a race car photo. For someone like me who thrives on the excitement and creative joy of shooting races, that is a record-setting duration to do without. Thanks to the fine folks at racing promoter Track Enterprises and the help of Speedway Illustrated magazine, I made it to the Terre Haute Action Track for Round 4 of the USAC Indiana Sprint Week Wednesday night so I no longer suffer from a dearth of 2020 racing photos. At least I got something, but I have to say I felt a little rusty and out of sorts.
The view from outside Turn 3 at Terre Haute

Last year I worked a total of 21 race events and for Terre Haute to be my first of 2020 at the end of July is almost unbelievable. Terre Haute is less than a 200 mile round trip from my home in Indianapolis, and it turned out to be my very first trip to the Action Track, although I have known of its existence for decades. I'm not sure why I had never been there before but I'm so glad I finally got to shoot a race there. It's a nice little fairgrounds track which is a true oval since there are two looping corners connected by two straightaways in its half-mile length. The clay smelled fabulous and I didn't mind getting pelted by some flying bits of mud when I was shooting on the outside during hot laps.

Ve rapido!
It's been awhile since I've shot a dirt sprint car race and I will never cease to be amazed by how those drivers throw those non-winged sprinters into the turns. They say you have to know how to turn right to go left on dirt and some of these guys were flicking their machines sideways at the start-finish line and flying into turn one completely sideways! The sound those USAC sprint cars make was music to my ears, as the drivers blipped the throttle to help set the car into its slide and then drove through the corners mainly with the gas peddle. I love seeing the drivers work in the cockpit too since they are sawing at the wheel seemingly all the way around the track on the very edge of being out of control. Perhaps most amazing was the fact that there were 42 cars entered and there was not a single flip or wall contact all evening.

A unique push vehicle!
So where did my feeling rusty come into play? As with anything else, practice and repetition are necessary to hone any skill and shooting motorsports is no different. I had a hard time getting my camera and my Canon app on my phone to communicate so I was unable to send out photos to social media until the evening was almost over. I managed to get two photos downloaded and posted, but it was a good exercise to remind me of the steps that are needed for the technology to work properly. I also struggled getting my flash set up to work the way I wanted it to since the lighting during the feature was not very good. Shooting night racing in those conditions has always been a challenge and I never invested in a big Norman flash unit, so I needed the practice. I got it figured out as the night wore on so by the time race winner Justin Grant climbed on top of his car in victory lane, I was in good shape. Shooting during the daylight hours was like riding a bicycle. I was back in the groove almost immediately and happy to have the opportunity.

Beautiful Indiana clay in Vigo County
Before I went to Terre Haute, I had posted on social media that I was going back to my roots at a dirt track, and there were multiple times I thought of my grandfather and the little dirt track he helped get constructed at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana. My Grandpa Jay Shue, my namesake, was on the County Fair Board and started taking me to the races when I was four years old, so the feeling I get now when I feel the clay on my face is the same I got when I was a toddler. I have come home again.

I have no idea what the rest of 2020 will entail for me in racing photography, but I am available for assignments! This year has already been the least busy one of my life as far as motorsports assignments are concerned. My staple has been the ARCA Menards Series the last five season but it's clear that the decision-makers there do not plan to use me for any races this year. It doesn't look like I will be among the few photographers who are fortunate enough to get media passes for the Indy 500 in three weeks. To top it all off, my dream of going back to LeMans in September was recently scuttled when my French friends learned they would be limited on credentials too, never mind the fact that flights from America to France are still highly restricted. People say the only constant in life is change and this year has sure served up a bunch!

My personal mantra for 2020 has been "Go Beyond" which I chose long before the Covid-19 pandemic reared its ugly head and that's exactly what I plan to do. Lots of other photographers have had to re-invent themselves so I am working hard to craft some breakout plans in new areas for the rest of this year and concentrate on new opportunities for the future. Maybe I'll see you at a racetrack or maybe I won't, but you can be damn sure I will be taking pictures. See you soon. Wear that mask! Most importantly, whatever you are doing be safe.

To see more photos from this race event, please check out this Google photo gallery.  

Winner Justin Grant
C. J. Leary on the rail in Turn 1

And they're on it!
Getting down and dirty!