Monday, November 26, 2012

2012 NASCAR - Chase for the Sprint Cup

While I cover every sport that is mainstream in this country, there are two sports accounts that I am directly in charge of: NHL and NASCAR.  It is known that I'm a pretty good hockey fan (as I turned down the Blackhawks team photographer job several years ago), so it makes sense that I was assigned to it in my current position.  So how the heck did I end up with NASCAR?  Growing up in Chicago I knew nothing about the sport.  I got stuck with it simply because the season has very little overlap with the NHL season.

However, over the years I've learned the best ways to go about shooting and covering these races and GASP.... even start to enjoy going to them. 

For those of you who are not familiar with NASCAR, it is a very long season of nearly 40 races.  However the final 10 are considered part of "The Chase" which is essentially their version of the playoffs.  The top 12 drivers in all the earlier races then get a chance to get re-ranked in those final ten races with the overall points leader in those 10 races taking the championship.  I attended three of these races this year: Chicagoland, Dover, and Homestead.

Not too much special in the first race.  The Chicagoland Raceway is known as a "boring" race.  In other words, there are no crashes, and the cars don't run in tight packs.  Don't get me started on the physics or mechanics of racing, since I have no clue how any of that works.  Just trust me that for some reason, the cars in Chicagoland spread out very fast and also rarely crash.  So basically we show up, shoot a few cars racing each other, then shoot them celebrating.  Boring race = boring pictures.  Brad Keselowski ended up winning that race, and little did we know it foreshadowed his eventual championship win...

The next race I did in the Chase schedule was Dover, which is more affectionately known as the Monster Mile.  I was looking forward to this one, because it is such a short track and is also known for some pretty epic crashes.  The racing that weekend ended up being pretty clean, but I was happy with my first visit to Dover.  Being such a small track, it was very easy to walk around to all areas of the track and get lots of different angles and views of the cars.  It so happens that Keselowski also won this race.

The final race for me was one I do almost every year: Homestead.  This race track can be classified as one of those "boring" race tracks, but it ends up being pretty nice for pictures.  Going into it, I sort of had a plan of what I wanted to do.  One thing I wanted to do was hang out on the backstretch and try to get some pics racing past me with palm tress or the track with sunset in the background. 

Now while I got those shots above, I must say it is actually WAY more difficult to get that then it looks.  That particular photo position is a bit unusual for NASCAR.  At most tracks, the openings are in the turns so that you can get the cars coming at you head on.  However, that hole is on a straightaway.  Needless to say, you can just stick your head and arms out the hole to get the cars straight on unless you want to lose body parts.  On top of that, the cars actually race very very very close to the wall.  So unless you are shooting with a very wide angle lens, you will not get the whole car in the picture.  So essentially the only way you can get the shots you see above is to hold the camera really high above your head, and try to pan the camera right when the car drives by.  Oh yeah, and the cars are going at about 140mph and are separated from your body by an 18-inch concrete barrier.  It's actually kind of scary out there.

As the laps wound down, I started the long walk back to the start/finish line.  I turned around and noticed some clouds lit red due to the setting sun.  It made for a nice frame of the eventual championship winner.

At the start/finish line, I was tasked with shooting the burnout celebration, as well as any potential restarts to the race after cautions.  Typically you shoot from the infield side of the fence, but because we were with a crew of four people at this race, I felt like it was worth while to shoot from this different angle.

And finally to finish the night, off to victory lane to celebrate the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.


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