The smell of gasoline and odor of burnt rubber permeated my nostrils. The roar of the engines deafened me as the midsummer heat bore down.
Sprint car racing. I had an idea what it was, but actually had to go online to look at a few races to get a feel for it.
At the Wheel:
Sprint car racing is different from NASCAR or Formula 1 in that the track is much shorter, the races are held in heats of 6 to 8 cars, and the winner based on best lap times.
So honoring the old photojournalist adage “Arrive Early, Stay Late,” I got there about 5:45 or so about an hour before the main races. I had no contact at the course and didn’t have a pass, but using honesty and charm, I was able to get a pit pass for access in the center of the track.
I wanted more than just “cars going around a track” photos. I wanted some personal, intimate images of people working in the pits fixing cars, drivers preparing for the race, and general activity.
A shot I tried to get was the cars as they pass in front of the stands, I wanted the stands sharp but the cars blurred to show how fast they were going.
I tried various shutter speeds, but the cars were so fast, that even at 1/500th, they were really blurred.
One word of advice: Pay Attention To Your Surroundings.
While shooting the portrait of the kid in the cockpit, when he started his car, it was still in gear and it jumped hitting my shin. Yep, I have a slight bruise. But it was a little wake-up call, so to speak, for me to pay attention.
While in the pits, I also worked the cars on the track. They were running time trials so only 2 cars at a time were racing.
Using panning to accentuate speed, I spent about 20 minutes shooting cars. It quickly got boring and in reality, how many shots of cars do you really need? As I had no specific subject, I paid attention to who the leaders were and made sure I had images of them as backup.
My deadline also prevented me from staying the entire race. It’s a 45 minute drive from Deming to downtown Bellingham. I had to leave by 8:30 to leave me plenty of time to download, edit, caption, and input the photos.
I barely made deadline. But I made it.
After spending most of the time in the pits, at about 8:00 I crossed over during a pause in the racing. I also wanted to get a few photos of racers sliding around the far corner, stacked up after restart, and any other action not visible from the pits.
The pit is surrounded by a 7 foot chain-link fence and according to safety rules, you can’t get on the blocks to get a clear view. There were a few spots you can stand on to get over, but the safety officials were adamant you didn’t lean on the fence.
At about the time I was leaving, the Sun began shining through the trees at the other end of the track. I worked a few frames and as I was shooting, the sun began to reflect off the track itself. It was rather cool looking.
To view more images of the race, visit the gallery 2014 Clay Cup Nationals on The Bellingham Herald’s website.
Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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