Back in November of 1990, I was covering the NASCAR season finale at Atlanta International Raceway. As the day wound down, Dale Earnhardt Sr. had put together another great season and wound up clinching his 4th Winston Cup Crown.
I was photographing the festivities in Victory Lane when I noticed that Dale Earnhardt, and his wife Teresa, with their young daughter Taylor Nicole in her arms, were in the center of the group. Everyone laughed as Taylor Nicole held up her index finger indicating that her dad was #1. I framed the small group and fired away, to preserve the image for posterity. The only thing that bothered me was that there was a boy in a bright red Winston Cup cap standing right in front of the Earnhardt group. He was just tall enough that the red cap stuck up and disrupted the composition of the shot. Oh well, I thought, not much I can do about it. I'll shoot the scene as it is and than do my best to crop the boy out later. And this is just what I did for years.
Then, about 2 years ago, I was going through some old negatives and came across that shot. Once again I though about how the red cap threw the whole photo off. I looked at the one frame that I had shot which included the boy's face and was stopped in my tracks. The boy who I'd been cropping out of the photos for years was none other than a 16-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr.! At the time I had taken the photo I was not even aware that Dale Earnhardt even had a son, and now that he's one of the most famous sports figures alive, I have a photo of him and his dad celebrating a triumph in the past.
I guess it pays to review your old photos from time to time.
As NASA's Space Shuttle program continues to wind down, I'm reminded of a launch I covered for AFP back in January 2003. It was kind of a routine launch, with Space Shuttle Columbia scheduled to carry seven astronauts into orbit. The crew included Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla. David Brown, Laurel Clark and , notably, the first-ever Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.
I decided to drive down to Jetty Park in Cocoa Beach, just south of Kennedy Space Center and see what was going on down there. Looking around, I saw the usual mix of beachgoers, fishermen, spce geeks and sightseers on the beach and jetty. Then, just moments before the launch, a group of 3 men caught my eye: Orthodox Jews Nachman Segal, Dov Kok, and Neftaly Hertzel were standing on the boardwalk waiting to view the launch. I introduced myself and the three men told me that they had travelled from South Florida to watch the first Israeli astronaut begin his historic journey in to outer space. The re was nothing profound in their presence at the launch, just there simple pride and there desire to be there as their countryman entered his name on the roll of space travelers form the planet Earth.
I asked if they would mind if I photographed them watching the launch and they said that would be fine. The launch was no more spectacular than any other launch and the photos were not particularly outstanding. As the space shuttle disappeared from view, we said our goodbyes and went of on our separate ways.
A couple of weeks later I was sitting in an office at Daytona International Speedway preparing to photograph the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona auto race when I heard the tragic news that the Space Shuttle Columbia had disintegrated on it's return to Earth, with the entire crew perishing in the accident. My thoughts went to the three men whose paths I had crossed on the beach in Cocoa a few weeks earlier and tried to imagine what their thoughts might be following the pride they had felt a few weeks earlier.
I also realized again that life carries no guarantees. Today's triumphs are for today. Enjoy them for what they are and always be prepared for what life might have in store around the next corner.