Story Behind the Picture

Flying Cars: The Future is Now

For many, many years now scientists and sci-fi writers have been promising us flying cars. But so far, these vehicles have not made an appearance on our roadways or skyways. As a veteran motor sports photographer, however, I can tell you that flying cars do exist, and I have per sally made many sightings at racetracks around the country over the past 30 years. The most recent example was just this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama, when the green Ford Mustang pictured above made a brief flight after touching wheels with an Aston Martin shortly after the start of the race.

Over the years, there have been numerous reports of flying cars at an uphill section of the Lime Rock road course in Lakeville, CN. I myself documented several instances of flying cars at tis location, such as the Porsche, pictured above at a Grand-Am race in 2007. A more recent track modification has grounded all the cars for the time being at Lime Rock.

No less than the famous NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace himself has piloted a flying car on more than one occasion. I , among others, recorded his well documented flight of a Pontiac Le Mans at Daytona in 1993. Wallace, however, has yet to "stick" a landing!

One of my earliest photographs of a flying car took place at Daytona in a 1987 Daytona 500 qualifier. Phil Barkdoll slid sideways on the front stretch before, to everyone's surprise, his Oldsmobile headed skyward, the direct result of the recent downsizing of NASCAR stock cars in the 1980's Apparently the smaller, light cars did just fine when running a high speed in a nose-forward attitude. When the cars presented their sides or rears to the wind, however, the drivers quickly became pilots !

SO, while we still await the arrival of flying cars on the public roadways of the world, they are already a fairly common sight on our racetracks, although the flights do not tend to be of very long duration, and landings remain a problem.


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The Sun, a Shuttle and I

One of the things that always fascinated me about covering a Space Shuttle Launch was the fact that once the “fuse” was lit and the shuttle lifted off the pad, you had about a minute between the time the shuttle left the ground until it was too far aloft to take much of a useful photo, except, of course, for the smoke trail left behind. There is no “pause” or “re-do” button and you can’t rewind the tape to try again, Once the shuttle is gone, it’s gone!

So on the morning of March 8, 2001 as I was preparing to photograph the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery I was especially excited after learning that the actual launch would occur right a sunrise, as the sun peaked over the Titusville, Florida, horizon.

My challenge became to find a spot where the rising sun would line up with the launch pad at Kennedy Space Cemter to create a unique image of sunrise and shuttle launch in the same frame.

I arrived on the scene plenty early and began to drive up and down US1 in Titusville looking for such a site. I was not prepared enough to have an exact location pinpointed as the spot where the sun would appear, but I studied the slowly brightening sky to try and determine an approximate location. With just a few minutes remaining before the scheduled launch, I settled on a small park along the Banana River as a likely spot for a decent photo. There was an added bonus of a group of space shuttle watchers and a stand of palm trees to add to the composition of the photo.

The final obstacle standing in the way of my photo was the possibility of a hold or delay in the countdown, which could allow the sun to rise higher in the sky, thereby eliminating the rare opportunity for a sun rise shuttle launch.

This morning, though, was one of the rare occasions when everything came together as envisioned, and I followed my one-minute game plan to capture some tight shots, wide shots, people shots, tree shots and spectacularly illuminated smoke trail shots, before the moment became a memory as the shuttle roared into orbit.

I would rank these photos as some of my favorites in the dozen years that I covered NASA’s space shuttle operations. (View the entire gallery here).


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Calamity Corner, Daytona 1984

It was February 1984 and I was covering NASCAR “Speedweeks” at Daytona International Speedway for United Press International. I ended up being assigned to cover pit road for all the races that week. I was OK with that, reasoning that if there were no crashes in the races, pit stop and checkered flag shots would be the photos that would be moved on the wire. SInce I was on pit road, I figured I was in good shape to get a few photos transmitted, which was good since I was being paid per picture on the wire.

The week started out crazily, with Ricky Rudd tumbling violently out of turn 4 during the Busch Clash, a race for the previous year’s pole position winners. From my spot on pit road, I could not see turn 4. I did, however, hear a huge collective gasp go up from the grandstands and as I turned to see what was happening, the whirling, twirling, flipping T-Bird of Rudd came crashing into my field of view. I managed to raise my camera and fire a few frames, I couple of which were moved on the UPI wire. The week wore on and the problems in Daytona’s turn 4 continued, with a Goody’s Dash Series car spinning off turn 4 and onto pit road, striking a fireman who was working in the pits (his injuries were not life-threatening), a spectacularly violent and fiery crash involving Jim Hurlbert and Natz Peters during Friday’s Consolation Race for drivers who had failed to make the Daytona 500 and Randy Lajoie’s end over end turn 4 crash during the Busch Series. I seemed to be a magnet for the action all week and managed to get several action shots moved on the UPI wire.

By Sunday, TV commentator Ken Squire was calling Dayton’a Turn 4 “Calamity Corner” and all eyes (and cameras) were focused on the corner. The green flag fell and I was at my pit road post. After a week of carnage, Sunday’s 500 miles passed without incident. For the week, I had produced $200 worth of photos for UPI, and I was ecstatic that my photography career seemed to by taking off. Calamity Corner has not been tamed, however, as over the years the final turn at Daytona’s famous speedway has seen more than its share of action, even claiming the great Dale Earnhardt in 2001.


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1984 Daytona 500 results

1 1 Cale Yarborough Chevrolet 200 running 185
2 29 Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet 200 running 175
3 26 Darrell Waltrip Chevrolet 200 running 170
4 7 Neil Bonnett Chevrolet 200 running 165
5 3 Bill Elliott Ford 200 running 160
6 6 Harry Gant Chevrolet 200 running 155
7 14 Ricky Rudd Ford 199 running 146
8 9 Geoffrey Bodine Chevrolet 199 running 142
9 11 David Pearson Chevrolet 198 running 0
10 33 Jody Ridley Chevrolet 198 running 134
11 13 Phil Parsons Chevrolet 198 running 130
12 2 Terry Labonte Chevrolet 198 running 132
13 24 Lennie Pond Chevrolet 197 running 124
14 17 Ken Ragan Chevrolet 197 running 121
15 40 Sterling Marlin Chevrolet 197 running 118
16 19 Dean Roper Pontiac 196 running 115
17 41 Jimmy Means Chevrolet 196 running 112
18 20 Greg Sacks Chevrolet 195 running 109
19 25 Dean Combs Oldsmobile 194 running 106
20 37 Clark Dwyer Chevrolet 191 running 103
21 42 Mike Alexander Oldsmobile 187 engine 100
22 36 Connie Saylor Chevrolet 186 overheating 0
23 23 Doug Heveron Chevrolet 173 ignition 94
24 38 Ronnie Thomas Chevrolet 173 rear end 91
25 28 Buddy Arrington Chrysler 170 connecting rod 88
26 12 Dick Brooks Ford 158 accident 85
27 18 Ron Bouchard Buick 158 accident 82
28 31 Joe Ruttman Chevrolet 146 accident 79
29 8 Benny Parsons Chevrolet 108 cylinder head 76
30 27 Rusty Wallace Pontiac 95 accident 73
31 34 Richard Petty Pontiac 92 camshaft 75
32 30 Tommy Gale Ford 69 engine 67
33 10 Tim Richmond Pontiac 66 cracked head 64
34 4 Bobby Allison Buick 61 camshaft 66
35 22 Bobby Hillin Jr. Chevrolet 60 engine 58
36 21 Dick Trickle Chevrolet 53 ignition 55
37 16 Lake Speed Chevrolet 46 push rod 52
38 5 Buddy Baker Ford 30 vibration 49
39 32 A.J. Foyt Oldsmobile 24 suspension 46
40 15 Kyle Petty Ford 21 engine 43
41 35 Trevor Boys Chevrolet 17 engine 40
42 39 Dave Marcis Pontiac 3 engine 37

When it's Better to be Lucky than Good

While we’d all like to think that we, as sports photographers, have a sort of sixth sense about what’s about to happen on the field of play and where we need to be to get the great shot and that we have all the skills to capture the moment, the fact is that quite often it’s far better to be lucky than good at what we do.

I was at Darlington Raceway photographing the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in March of 2003. As the laps wound down it became apparent that it was going to be a shootout between the cars of Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch. The laps go quickly at Darlington and with just a few laps remaining, the two drivers were pounding on each other trying to gain an advantage. I took up a spot on pit road, directly across from the finish line and waited for the checkered flag shot.

As it became more and more evident that this could be one of the great finishes, with tow cars side-by-side at the end, I was forced to face my dilemma: My Canon 1D, which fired off 8 frames a second had bee in for repairs for a week or so, and on this day I was using a Canon 5D, a great, full frame camera, but it only fired 3 frames a second!

Normally, in a situation like this, I would just track the cars as they raced to the line and hold the shutter button down, most likely getting a frame with the cars pretty close to the finish line. But I knew that shooting at just 3 frames a second, the cars could be no where near the flag if I just held the shutter down.

Of course, things happen quickly at a race track and the race will come to end whether you’re ready for it or not. I spent a few laps trying to get a feel for shooting a single frame with the cars right on the line and was not having much luck. I looked up and realized that as the cars raced past this time, the white flag was waving: just one lap to go and the checkered flag would fly, ready or not!

As the two cars drove through turns 3 and 4 ready for the final charge to the line, I still was not really sure what my plan was. I looked up, and in a cloud of smoke the drivers were slamming into each other as they race off the final turn. It was too much for me: I raised my camera and and pointed it at the racers as they sped toward the line, holding the shutter button down.

The slow motor drive chugged along at 3 frames per second, “clunka-clunka-clunka-clunka”.

The checkered flag flew, the race was over, and I started miserably toward victory lane, sure that I had missed the shot. I looked at the back of the camera and scrolled through the photos. I couldn’t believe my eyes: I had one frame with the cars directly on the line at the checkered flag.

As far as anyone else knew, I was the photographic hero who got the shot, but I knew better. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!


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Blind Boys and Bug-Eyed Idiots

With all the news these days about NASCAR’s “boys having at it”, namely Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya mixing it up at Richmond and then the spectacularly entertaining Kyle Busch vs. Kevin Harvick dust-up at Darlington, my mind drifts back to some of the more humorous NASCAR scuffles down through the years.

Since the 1960’s I’ve missed only a handful of Daytona 500’s, one of which was the 1979 event which featured the famous last lap crash and subsequent rumble between the Alison brothers and Cale Yarborough. After listening to that race on the radio, I vowed to never skip another Daytona 500 and, in fact, I’ve only missed one since then. It’s sentiments like these that NASCAR banks on to bring fans to the racetrack, and so while they punish the fighters on the one hand, they are actually quite thrilled with the free PR that goes along with any on-track run-ins.

I find it amusing how these fights unfold and what it tells you about the drivers and there senses of humor, or lack there-of.

A few years ago after Sterling Marlin and Greg Biffle crossed paths during a race at Watkins Glen, a radio reporter caught up Marlin in the garage and asked him what happened. I still remember Sterling’s amusing reply: “I got wrecked by a bug-eyed idiot!”, reported Sterling.

Similarly, after a Kyle Petty-Bobby Hillin Jr., encounter during the 1993 Daytona 500 resulted in a pit road confrontation (see photo above), some asked Kyle Petty what happened. “Don’t know”, said Kyle, “Go ask the ‘blind boy’ in the 90 car”. Inferring the Hillin, who drove the #90 Ford T-bird at the time, was having trouble seeing his way around the speedway. It is also interesting to note that Bobby elected to keep his helmet in place, while Kyle entered the fray unprotected.

I’ve also noticed that some driver/fighters prefer strapped-in, stationary targets, as when Michael Waltrip poked Lake Speed through the window net as he sat in his race car or who can forget the Jimmy Spencer’s through-the-window punch at Kurt Busch after a Michigan run-in.

Other drivers take aim at moving targets, as when Robby Gordon nailed Michael Waltirp’s car with his helmet as it passed by him after he climbed from his wrecked race car at New Hampshire.

More recently, The Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick Darlington bout was telling in that Harvick was eventually willing to climb from his mount and stalk back to confront Busch before he climbed from his car. Kyle, however, wanted no part of that and drove off, although he had to shove Kevin’s driverless car out of the way to do so. No matter who you sided with in that incident, you have to admit that the sight of the #29 Budweiser Chevy rolling nose first into the pit wall was fairly amusing once we determined that no one had bee injured as a result.

So, while the racing is good, and all want to know who wins each weekend, the periferal action keeps us coming back for more and also makes for good photos!


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The King and the Kid

The year was 1994. Richard (The King) Petty was a recently retired driver and fairly new full-time team owner. Jeff Gordon was a young, upcoming driver and not yet the iconic superstar the he is today.

About a year and a half earlier Richard Petty had wrapped up his driving career in Atlanta on the same day that Gordon had made his “big league” debut.

I was trolling the Winston Cup garage at Talladega in May 1994 looking for a picture when I noticed the two men sitting atop the work bench talking. Not wanting to intrude, I employed my best “fly-on-the-wall” technique, putting on a longer lens and lurking unnoticed int he corner of the garage, I snapped a few shots.

As often happens, the moment dissipated quickly, with the two stars wrapping up their conversation and going their separate ways. But this picture remains one of my favorites, as I feel it illustrates the changing of the guard that took place a generation ago when the Pettys, Peasons, Parsons and Allisons were vacating their spots atop the sport and the Jeff Gordon was moving in.


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Lessons of the Footless Gull

Several years ago, before the days of digital photography , I was walking on the beach with my camera, throwing bread to the seagulls along the shoreline, when one particular gull caught my eye.

At first I wasn’t sure, but closer inspection confirmed it: this seagull had no feet!

Of course I began to wonder how the gull had come to loose his feet. Visions of a shark attack from below as he floated on the Atlantic, or an unfortunate encounter with a tangle of wire fishing leader left behind by an inconsiderate angler came to mind.

Eventually I realized, though, that it didn’t matter how the bird had become footless. The amazing thing was that he had come to terms with his misfortune and had found ways to rise above it! He swirled and swooped with his fellow gulls above me battling for scraps of bread. He settled to the sand and rested on his knees when he became tired, then lifted effortlessly airborne when he chose to take flight. Sure, there were some differences between this gull’s life and the lives of his fellow flockmembers. For instance, I doubt that perching on a powerline was no longer a part of his life. But still, he didn’t seem to mind and went about his business as if he was no different than the birds that surrounded him.

A few years after my encounter with this footless seagull, digital photography came onto the scene. At first I thought I would not like it and was uncomfortable with the idea of no tangible film negative that I could develop and store securely in my files. Before long, though it became apparent that digital was here to stay and I began to embrace the technology.

Time went by and, as we all know, the business of photography was changed irreversibly and permanently. Image quality became better, cameras became cheaper. More and more photographers, talented and not-so-talented, were able to afford better and better cameras. The pool of available stock photography for purchase exploded and prices plummetted.

Here is where the footless seagull speaks to us. Some photographers chose to keep trying the same old things in hopes that they would work and their business would return to the levels of the past. Other photographers complained about how unfair things were and that no one understood the value of their work, many going so far as to putting down their cameras for good and moving on to other professions. The realists accepted the changes and realized that in the marketplace, a glut in supply means a diluted demand and lower prices and that ultimately the buyer decides what a product is worth. These photographers went about the business of finding new ways to create value for their photography. Whether that meant niche marketing, becoming a master of photoshop technique, or learning cutting edge SEO and online marketing strategies, these photographers found a way to survive.

So as I stand here in 2011 after almost 30 years in the business still holding a camera in my hands, I consider myself a colleague of that footless gull from many years ago: when my feet are cut out from underneath me, I’ll keep looking for ways to survive!


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Blending Still photos and Videography

I recently sat in my hotel room at The Wynn in Las Vegas and looked down upon the bustling strip of the city. The street lights cycled from greeen to yellow to red, repeating the sequence over and over and over again. Cars stopped and started and pedestrians zigged and zagged over the crosswalks and scurried across the pedestrian bridges.

I pressed the shutter on my cable release and opened an all new phase of my photo career: Time Lapse Photography.

I’d recently read an article on the technique and, having acquired a new interest in videography, decided that it was time to blend my still photo career and my video interest, and ordered an intervalometer for my digital SLR. Now, after a few unsuccessful attempts and false starts, a business trip took my to Vegas. Look down on the city intersection below my window I decided to try again. This time everything came together and , after more than 200 shutter clicks over a span of about 20 minutes, I was able to piece together the video you see above.

I know I’m not the first to produce a time lapse video sequence and my efforts are far from extraordinary, but once again I’ve found the my chosen career, photography, has provided me with a way o redirect my work and head off in an entirely new direction. I think that’s part of what attracted me to photography in the first place so many years ago: Just when you think you’ve reached the end of the line and you know all there is to know, something new comes along and turns you into a rookie all over again!


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The kid in the red cap

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.


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The Back-Stabber

I watched from the bank of the canal as the Blue Heron performed the familiar head wobble as it tried to focus on its prey. I'd seen it many times, but one thing wasn't right. This big bird was pointing toward the tall grass along the shoreline, not at the water. I was used to seeing this ritual whenever a blue heron was about to pluck a fish dinner from the water, but I realized that there probably weren't too many fish lurking in the shoreline vegetation. What was this bird stalking?

No sooner had I asked myself the question, when the bird dove awkwardly into the underbrush. It stood up with a plump Marsh Rat impaled on its bill. I clicked away with my Canon T-90. The bird stood still for a few seconds and then took flight with its fresh rat dinner, sailing away to enjoy the meal in privacy.

You can view more photos at : The Heron and the Rat.


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Was that a finger I saw?

I've often found in photography career that, just like in sports, it's sometimes better to be lucky than good. This was the case for me at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I covered the Brickyard 400 in August of 2003.

I had worked my way to the outside of the enormous speedway and was shooting from a small photo hole midway between turns 3 and 4. It was a tough shot because the hole in the fence was very small, and the cars were moving very fast and passing very close to the wall. I countered by falling back on my old strategy: SHOOT HEAVILY (you're bound to get one or two in focus).

So as I stood there pounding away on my shutter button and peering at the speed-blurred race cars through my viewfinder, something caught my eye. What was that protruding from the window of the black car that had just sped through my viewfinder? I guessed that the driver my have been waving out the window, thanking a fellow driver for letting him pass, and made a mental note to check when I returned to the media center.

Once I got back to my computer, I sat down and proceeded to flip through my race photos. When I got to the turn shots in question, I looked sadly as I rifled through one out-focus-picture after another, when suddenly, the above photo appeared on my laptop screen. Sharp as a tack and funny as hell. The black car with something hanging out the window had been Jamie McMurray, who was having a great day, playfully flipping off his team mate Sterling Marlin as he put a lap on him! One picture speaks a thousand words


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The picture that launched a career (mine)

It was March 1981 and I was studying photography at Daytona Beach Community College in Daytona Beach, Florida. I had recently earned my BA degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University and, while I liked journalism and writing, I was pretty sure that it was not what I wanted to do for a living. Having discovered photography through a couple of classes I took when studying journalism, I decided to go after my photography degree in Daytona and ws hoping that this would be my career.

This is where I stood in my life in March of 1981, which also is that annual "Bike Week" in Daytona. One day at lunch I grabbed my old Canon AE-1 (which was actually my new Canon AE-1 at the time) with a DeJur 135mm lens and drove the mile or so from the college campus to Daytona International Speedway, where practice for the annual Supercros motorcycle race was going on. I've always enjoyed all forms of motor racing and I figured that this would be a good way to spend my lunch hour and maybe good a good photo or to for my photojournalism class.

I paid my $5 and walked into the main grandstand area. I stood by the fence and watched after the dirt bikes circulated around the bumpy track and was impressed as the racers flew high over the large main jump right in front of me.

As I watched , one of the bikers looked a little different as he sailed through the air. He semed to be leaning out a little further than most as he soared toward his landing and it soon became apparent that he was not quite going to clear the top on the landing hill. I raised my camera and focused on the rider as he descended. Sure enough, he landed short of his target, the rear suspension of his motorcycle compressed and then launced him over the handlebars. I snapped a single frame since I had no motordrive or power winder on the camera and then took a few more shots of the course marshalls helping the rider up. I shot for another half-hour or so and then returned to the college for my afternoon classes.

On returning to school I processed my Tri-X black and white film and was surprised at the picture that I had. I hurried to the darkroom and made an 8x10 print. As I stood in the hallway examining the print, my photojournalism instructor walked past and looked at the photo. The instructor, Pete Wright, also happened to be the local Associated Press stringer. Pete asked for a copy of the print, slapped a caption on it and transmitted it over the AP wire. The next day the photo appeared in newspapers across the country, and I was hooked. I always look back at tht day as the day when my photojournalism career started. It was 27 years ago and I've covered the Daytona Supercross nearly every year since then, but that photo still remains the best I've gotten at a motorcycle race.


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Earnhardt Memories

Rival crewmen line up to comgratulate Dale Earnhart after his 1998 Daytona 500 victory. Photo by Brian Cleary
I became an Earnhardt fan back in 1979 when he was running for "rookie of the year", driving the #2 Osterlund Racing Oldmobile. I liked his quiet confidence, his bold driving style, the way he sat "laid back" in his race car and the fact that he was not afraid to race head to head with my heroes, Petty, Allison, Baker, Yarborough, etc.

As my career in motorsports photography progressed, I saw firsthand the Dale Earnhardt was not only an" intimidator" on the racetrack, but off-track as well. When a photographer aimed a camera at him, he had a way of staring point blank down the lens in a manner which almost dared the photographer to take a picture of him. He'd stare down the photographer in manner that said, "Hurry up, take your damn picture and get it over with!"

I saw him do some amazing things on the track and have some very vivd memories of his exploits, many of which I was lucky enough to witness in person. I was there when he cut a tire down on the last lap at Daytona, handing Derrike Cope a Daytona 500 win, I was standing on Daytona's turn 4 tunnel as he zoomed past trailing shreds of seagull after striking the unlucky bird on the backstrecth ending another gallant, but ill-fated Daytona 500 bid. In 1997 I saw him flip on the backstretch at Daytona only to get back in the car to finish the race.

Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin slammed the wall right in front of my photo location at Talladega one year in one of the most violent impacts I'd ever seen and I watched in disbelief as he walked to the ambulance under his own power clutching his injured shoulder and refusing a stretcher. That is what racing's all about, I thought at the time. And I was also there in Talladega for the final victory of his great career.

But I think that one of my strongest Earnhardt memories was at the Daytona 500 in 1998. I photographed the race from a platform high above the Roberts Tower grandstands. It was playing out in typical fashion, which a dominant Earnhardt leading the charge into the race's late stages. I, like probably everyone else in attendance waited for the "other foot to fall" and some strange bit of bad luck to once again snatch the 500 from Earnhardt's grasp. When the final caution flew and Earnhardt beet Bobby Labonte to the line to finally secure the win, I followed the car around the track in my viewfinder and photographed the historic checkered flag.

The real significance and emotion of the event didn't sink in, however, until I removed my eye from the camera's viewfinder and looked down on pitroad where virtually every crewman and official on the property had lined up to congratulate the triumphant Earnhardt. I think that will always be my strongest Dale Earnhardt memory!


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When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go

A motorcycle racer takes a break to relieve himself at Daytona. Photo by Brian Cleary
I was covering a pro-am motorcycle event at Daytona International Speedway many years ago. Stationed out at the chicane, which is a pretty remote location on Daytona's road course, out of sight of the spectators and kind of a pain to get to for photographer, I was the only person in the area, other than a few corner workers out at their station.

These events were a day-long succession of short sprint races filled with club racers who were not well known and whose skills were not on a level with the great racers who compete annually in the Daytona 200, so the racing wasn't always stellar.

These circumstances can combine to lull a photographer into a trance-like hypnotic state. It was in just such a stupor that I sat as I waited for the start of the next race. At these races, the riders circle the track once in there "sighting" or warm-up lap before returning to pit road the line up and start the race.

I watch as the group of riders approached my position on their warmup lap. Suddenly one bike slowed to a stop at the entrance to the chicane. The rider got off and leaned his motorcycle against the wall. Thinking that he must have some sort of mechanical problem, I was hoping that this would not delay the start of the race by too much. Then, I watched in interest as the rider turned to the wall and appeared to be unzipping his leathers. With his back to me, I watched as a stream of liquid appeared on the wall and ran down onto the racetrack (see photo above). Relieved, the rider re-zipped his suit, climbed back onto his bike and sped off to join the other riders on the grid for the start of the race.

I looked around the remote location and realized that I was the only witness to the unusual pit stop. I laughed to myself.

My amusement turned to amazement as the same recently relieved motorcycle rider smoked the field and won the race going away! Some people jokingly say that you should always bet on the dog in a dog race who relieves himself on the way to the starting gate, as that dog will be just a little bit lighter, and I guess the same theory must apply to motorcycle racing.

View Motorcycyle Racing photography on


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Christmas in Outer Space

Space Shuttle lifts off behind a Christmas tree in Cocoa , Florida Photo by Brian Cleary
With the holidays upon us my thoughts today drift back to December 19, 1999. At that time in my life I had a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son and my wife and I were living in Daytona Beach, Florida and I was scrambling as fast as I could to make ends meet as a freelance photographer.

That is how I found myself leaving my house at 6am on a Sunday morning to drive more than 200 miles to photograph a 1 o'clock Miami Dolphins/San Diego Charger NFL game at Joe Robbie Stadium. By leaving at 6 in the morning , I could make the drive to Miami and still arrive in time for the free, team-provided media lunch. At that time I was also covering some of the Space Shuttle launches at Kennedy Space Center in Titusville for Agence France Presse (AFP), the French wire service. I was going to miss this particular launch because of the conflicting football game that I was going to photograph.
During the long drive south to Miami on that Sunday morning I had plenty of time to think and I , as was my habit, I began to calculate what time I would be home that evening. I wasn't long before I realized that, if the game ended at about 4 pm, as usual, and if I got to my car and on the road quickly, I would be near Kennedy Space Center by about 8 pm. I also knew that the Space Shuttle was scheduled to blast off at 9 pm. I picked up my cell phone and called my AFP contact at Kennedy Space Center and told him that, if he wanted, I could try to photograph the launch from somewhere nearby and then bring the film to him at the Space Center. He told me that would be fine and even better if I could somehow tie it in with the holidays, since Christmas was only a few days off.

With my task defined, I continued south to Joe Robbie Stadium, where I shot the game, which the Dolphins won 12-9 (YAY!), dashed to my car and headed north on I-95. As usual, between traffic, stopping for gas, grabbing some food, etc, by the time I was nearing the space center, I was running a little late.
I was monitoring the launch on my radio , and knowing that I would have to drive 10 or 15 minutes east after leaving the interstate and still find a suitable site from which to photograph the launch, I made the decision to exit I-95 and drive east near Melbourne, FL at about 8:30.
Arriving on state road A1A, which parallels the Atlantic Ocean with just a few minutes to spare I drove north, hoping to find some sort of Holiday scene. Sure enough, I found a decorated christmas tree at an oceanside park, parked my car, grabbed my camera and tripod and waited for the launch, which was now less than 10 minutes away.
Although this before the days of readily available portable GPS, and while I didn't know exactly where on the horizon the shuttle would appear, I knew from experience that in a night launch a bright glow precedes the appearance of the firing column of the space shuttle rising into the night sky.
With moments to spare, I mounted my camera on my tripod, set the shutter speed to "bulb", guessed at a f-stop, about f22 (these things are bright!), and waited. The horizon began to glow, I placed my tripod appropriately and opened the shutter. The Shuttle streaked through the sky and was gone in less than a minute. I packed up and headed to the space center. This being before the days of digital photography, I processed my film and handed the frame to the AFP photo editor, who scanned in and transmitted in around the world.
For my efforts on the day, between the football game and shuttle launch, a 500 mile drive and and a 16 hour day I earned about $500, including expenses.
A successful day for a struggling freelancer in 1999!

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Shooting Race Cars in the Snow?

Matt Kenseth poses with his Championship crew in the snow in front of New York's Waldorf Astoris. Photo by Brian Cleary www.bcpix.comAs I watched the Jacksonville Jags beat the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday on a snowy, windy Pennsylvania afternoon,I thought of the winter afternoon in New York City a few years back where I stood on Park Avenue wearing a tuxedo in a blowing blizzard and photographed the newly crowned NASCAR Winston Cup champion as show shot horizontally through the photo. Matt Kenseth had clinched the '03 championship a few weeks before and I as prepared to travel to New York for the banquet from my home in Florida, I was excited by the weather channel's forecast of snow for the banquet week in New York, as I hadn't seen any real show since I was a 5-year-old growing up in Massachusetts. When the snow arrived, however, it was much more than I had bargained or prepared for, with 17 inches falling over the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of banquet week. The storm reached its peak late Friday afternoon and Matt Kenseth and his team prepared to pose with their race car on Park Avenue in front of the Waldorf. At the appointed time the driver, crew, and all the media (me included) walked out into the storm to record the traditional image of the NASCAR Champion and his crew and car in front of the Waldorf on Park Avenue. Wearing my light tuxedo in the blizzard, I might as well have been standing there in shorts and a tee shirt. I would bet that this Park Avenue Champion's shoot was the quickest, and most unusual on record. We quickly shot our photos and everyone dashed back into the warm lobby of the Waldorf. I've always liked the look of the photos from that shoot, with the snow blowing through the pictures, and yesterday, as I watched Jacksonville's Fred Taylor carry the football on a snowy field in Pittsburgh, I thoguth to myself that NFL players aren't the only ones who are called upon to perform their jobs in less that perfect weather.

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2003 NASCAR Championship Standings

1 Matt Kenseth 5022 $4,004,104 1 2 11 25
2 Jimmie Johnson 4932 $5,514,850 3 2 14 20
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4815 $4,868,871 2 0 13 21
4 Jeff Gordon 4785 $5,084,542 3 4 15 20
5 Kevin Harvick 4745 $4,953,249 1 1 11 18
6 Ryan Newman 4711 $4,804,601 8 11 17 22
7 Tony Stewart 4549 $5,200,377 2 1 12 18
8 Bobby Labonte 4377 $4,722,207 2 4 12 17
9 Bill Elliott 4303 $4,257,059 1 0 9 12
10 Terry Labonte 4162 $3,606,700 1 1 4 9
11 Kurt Busch 4150 $5,020,485 4 0 9 14
12 Jeff Burton 4109 $3,820,164 0 0 3 11
13 Jamie McMurray 3965 $2,677,799 0 1 5 13
14 Rusty Wallace 3950 $3,761,741 0 0 2 12
15 Michael Waltrip 3934 $4,463,845 2 0 8 11
16 Robby Gordon 3856 $3,651,600 2 0 4 10
17 Mark Martin 3769 $4,025,846 0 0 5 10
18 Sterling Marlin 3745 $3,932,089 0 0 0 11
19 Jeremy Mayfield 3736 $2,935,152 0 1 4 12
20 Greg Biffle 3696 $2,384,483 1 0 3 3
21 Ward Burton 3575 $3,477,961 0 0 0 4
22 Elliott Sadler 3525 $3,637,048 0 2 2 9
23 Ricky Rudd 3521 $3,072,894 0 0 4 5
24 Johnny Benson 3448 $3,389,848 0 0 2 4
25 Joe Nemechek 3426 $2,538,264 1 0 2 6
26 Dale Jarrett 3358 $4,031,167 1 0 1 7
27 Ricky Craven 3334 $3,090,116 1 0 3 8
28 Dave Blaney 3194 $2,805,891 0 1 1 4
29 Jimmy Spencer 3190 $2,543,683 0 0 1 4
30 Kenny Wallace 3061 $2,458,347 0 0 0 1
31 Todd Bodine 2976 $2,487,098 0 0 0 1
32 Steve Park 2877 $2,665,170 0 2 1 3
33 Tony Raines 2772 $2,099,813 0 0 0 1
34 Jeff Green 2656 $2,654,813 0 1 0 1
35 Casey Mears 2638 $2,617,133 0 0 0 0
36 Ken Schrader 2451 $1,984,448 0 0 0 2
37 Kyle Petty 2414 $2,270,271 0 0 0 0
38 John Andretti 2379 $2,552,390 0 0 0 1
39 Mike Skinner 1960 $1,760,934 0 1 0 0
40 Mike Wallace 1298 $1,029,527 0 0 0 2
41 Jack Sprague 1284 $1,164,808 0 0 0 0
42 Larry Foyt 1228 $1,159,149 0 0 0 0
43 Kevin Lepage 877 $742,077 0 0 0 0
44 Christian Fittipaldi 857 $1,242,984 0 0 0 0
45 Jerry Nadeau 844 $838,727 0 0 1 1
46 Derrike Cope 822 $1,008,896 0 0 0 0
47 Jason Leffler 764 $594,500 0 0 0 0
48 Scott Wimmer 733 $514,529 0 0 0 2
49 Hermie Sadler 513 $551,110 0 0 0 0
50 Brian Vickers 503 $295,189 0 0 0 0