Early today I got to shoot an IndyCar race. I’ve taken many racing photos. But never of actual on track action. My previous shots were limited to pit lane or the garage or a stationary car. Turn 1 at the end of a fast, long straight was an entirely different proposition.
I know the racing culture very well. Mainly because of my father. I’ve come to have immense respect for the mechanics that work on teams and the photographers that capture such captivating imagery. I could never be a mechanic (I can barely handle something from IKEA) and I only dabble in photography. So I quietly respect from afar.
I can’t hold a disposable camera to my photographic colleagues from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LAT Photo USA, Japan media, Firestone, local media and many, many more. But today I was a willing and very, very happy imposter. In fact it was unforgettable. I went out in the field and actually shot cars at speed. For real.
I walked over the Turn 1 with my colleague Shawn Gritzmacher (who convinced me to do it in the first place), my camera body, a mono pod, and THE BIGGEST LENS I’ve ever seen – a Canon 500mm. It was the size of a miniature pony, and like a miniature pony, I wasn’t even sure how to hold it (that’s what she said).
Fortunately Shawn gave me some tips and helped me set up the camera levels, as did Dennis Ashlock from Firestone. I practiced as the cars did their pace laps and shot away for the start. See first image above – not the cute pony. Cars flew into the corner and I fired off probably 20 clicks. Wow.
I then hightailed it about 50 yards to another vantage point in the first corner. This was a completely different challenge. With less space, less of a focal point, and less time to compose – I had to frame my shots perfectly to even grab something usable. Think about it – was I going to return to the media center without some good shots? No way. So I probably took 150 shots with a solid .03% success rate.
This experience was exhilarating. And more difficult than it looks. I had professional equipment, professional mentoring and some experience with a camera at a race track. It still took me shot after shot and lap after lap. I was surrounded by men and women that were grabbing money shots left and right. I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.
I didn’t want to leave turn 1 and head back inside. But I did. As I walked back to media center carrying my 500mm miniature pony, I noticed a immovable smirk on my face. I had rubbed elbows with some of my heroes. Unforgettable.