bike week, motorcycle racing, supercross, daytona, bcpix, Brian Cleary, bcpix, photograph

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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