Speed and Beauty - Race Cars in the Trees

After my 11th season as the official photographer for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car series, I finally feel like my transformation from a NASCAR photographer shooting stock cars on oval tracks to a sports car photographer covering many of the great American road races is complete.

One of the definite differences between shooting oval tracks and road courses is the opportunities you get to incorporate more of the surrounding scenery in your photos. From the trees surrounding course like Watkins Glen and Virginia International Raceway to the low, misty clouds hanging over Lime Rock Park , and even the Montreal Skyline looming behind Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the scenery gives you more photographic options than the concrete jungle that is NASCAR.

Even the weather presents opportunities at a sports car race. When the rain starts to fall on a NACAR event, the cars are covered up and the drivers, fans, crews, officials and media retreat to dry quarters to watch the weather radar. On the Grand-AM side of the tracks, rain tires are bolted on ad the show goes on!

So while NASCAR holds the edge in crowd size and TV audience, the motorsports photographer looking to open up his imagination should pack his hiking boots and rain gear and head for the nearest road course.

Be sure to check out my new gallery on bcpix.com: Grand-Am scenics from the 2011 season.


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Dark Days at the Racetrack_ RIP Dan Wheldon, 1978-2011

It’s been more than 45 years since my dad took me to my first race at the short track at Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts, and I guess I’m as hooked on motorsports today as I was when first heard the roar of a race car engine and the flashy race cars as a 5-year-old way back when.

If you spend that many years following racing, and you even end up making your living as a photographer of race cars, it’s inevitable that you are going to live through one of the occasional dark, tragic days that can never be far away from a world of brave young men and 200 mile an hour machines. Today was such a day.

I was not in Las Vegas when Dan Wheldon crashed and died early in today’s IndyCar race, I had just arrived home from covering last night’s NASCAR race in Charlotte, NC and was watching some NFL football on my couch when I heard the news.

I am not a regular on the IndyCar series, but have covered some races, and my job as the series photographer for the Grand-Am Rolex Series have given me the opportunity to photograph Dan Wheldon when he ran the Rolex 24 at Daytona for Chip Ganassi. (He won the race in 2006)

Contrary to many people’s belief, us photographers do not always get to meet and become friends with all the drivers we photograph, but we definitely do get an inside feel for the type of people that many of these athletes are and the kind of lives they lead.

Upon hearing the sad news today, I recalled the feelings I always had when around Dan Wheldon. He was a nice young gentleman who seemed genuinely interested in putting forth the time and effort to make his offtrack responsibilities productive, entertaining and successful. He really seemed to love what he did and took huge satisfaction and joy and his racing triumphs and life in general. I was always left with a positive feeling anytime I dealt with Dan Wheldon.

So, this evening, I am once again left with the sad empty, feeling of trying to understand how a young man can wake up one morning, get dressed and go out to do what he loves, only to never come home. In the blink of an eye, another name is added to the too-long list of great young racers who will never grow old. I can’t even begin to imagine the loss his family must be enduring tonight and my thoughts are with them in their pain.

As safety innovations are constantly improving the sport we love, we go through long stretches where the racing is thrilling, the victories are great and the dark days are behind us. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, comes another day like today.

RIP Dan Wheldon, you are hugely missed.


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A Woman's Touch

Back in 1986 I was covering the ARCA 200 stco car race at Daytona for United Press International. One of the drivers, ARCA star Bill Venturini, had shown up in Daytona for this year’s race with a new, all-girl pit crew. While this was a pretty obvious publicity stunt designed to draw media attention (which worked, by the way) and while true journalists tend to shy away from such stunts, I couldn’t resist stopping by the Venturini pit during the race to see how things went. I was rewarded with a fairly
interesting set of photos.

While women obviously took the job very seriously, as well they should in those days of no pit road speed limits, where the cars would scream in and out of the pits at well over 100 MPH, there were still some obvious differences from the usual stock car pit stop.

In those days, the driver was directed into his pit stall by a very brave sign holder, who staked his or her life on the hope that the race cars brakes were in good condition and not going to fail as the car streaked in for service. Venturini’s sign holder needed a little coaxing from the male crew chief to get into the proper position on pit road. As this photo shows, a gentle tug on the sleeve moved her out into harm’s way.

Once the car slid to a stop, the women went to work and serviced the car in impressive fashion. Unfortunately, as Venturini was poised to roar away at the end of the stop, the engine failed and the car did not move from it’s spot, treating those of use along to pit road to the view of a group of decidedly non-masculine forms pushing the race car backwards up pit road toward the garage and out of the race.

In this day of Danica Patrick mounting the latest challenge to the historically male dominance of the sport, this photo gallery provides a unique look back at the history of women in motorsports!


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