The race I look forward to more than any other is the Daytona 500 every February in Florida. Typically it is one of the most exciting races of the year and is always great with photo sales. During the first 8 days of Daytona it did not rain once. Of course on race day it would all change and make for a dreary and disappointing day for myself, the 100 thousand plus fans in attendance and millions watching on TV around the world.

My day got off to a less than desirable start as I woke up very sick and upon arriving at the track I went to the infield care center to be treated for the flu and bronchitis. After about 8 pills and being hooked up to some breathing machine it was back to work. Fun! 

I spent about an hour running around the garage area looking for actor Tom Cruise who was in attendance to drive the pace car. I could not find him to save my life and finally gave up.

About two hours prior to the race it was time for me to make the long walk to the outside of the track to head about 15 stories up to the roof of the pressbox/main grandstands. As I began my walk towards the infield grass to cross the track I spotted Tom Cruise on the main stage where he would greet all the drivers during introductions. I fired off a few shots.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1000iso, f6.3, 1/800th

Much to my surprise he walked right towards my position and started greeting the fans and signing autographs. I couldn’t resist the chance to get a photo with him so I simply asked and to my surprise he said yes. Totally cheesy? Yes. But still pretty cool.

Photo by Jerry Lai

After all that fun I continued my pilgrimage to the outside of the track. It was completely packed with fans which made for a major pain in the ass of a time to reach the cross over stairs. The below photo shows what I’m talking about. (the top left corner of the roof was my final destination)

Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.5, 1/8000th

Once on the roof I took a shot down below of the main stage where I had just been to show the crowd there.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f6.3, 1/2000th

I felt really bad for my friends down on pit road shooting the pre race stuff as it was more crowded with people than I have ever seen. In the below photo it shows what I am talking about. If you look closely you can see pole sitter Martin Truex Jr as well as pace car driver Tom Cruise as they stand during the national anthem.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1600iso, f6.7, 1/1600th

I noticed a congo line of crew members transporting gas cans from the gas pumps to their pit areas and fired off a shot.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1600iso, f6.7, 1/2000th 

For the finish shot I threw up a remote aimed at the finish line to ensure I wouldn’t miss the finish.

Here is a closer look which highlights all the components needed to do a remote. Lots of people are scared of doing remotes because they think its really hard. Trust me its super easy.

Now you are probably thinking, “Why not just shoot it with your handheld idiot?” The answer to that one is this same race 2 years ago coming to the checkered flag there was a massive pileup as Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick raced side by side towards the finish. (see below)

At that point I still planned to follow them to the finish…..until I saw Clint Bowyer upside down.

Sorry but I will be shooting an upside down car over a finish shot any day. Then Bowyers car rolled over in the infield grass on fire.

The finish turned out to be one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history in the biggest race of the year so I caught HELL from my editors for missing it. From that point on I promised myself to never get in that situation again. Hence the finish line remote cam!

So on each of my handhelds I had a Pocket Wizard transceiver (turned off except to shoot the start and the finish)

So as the field came to take the green flag I started shooting.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/2000th

I continued to shoot tight with my handheld to fire the remote camera. Below is how the remote shot came out.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 1600iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Then back to the handheld to shoot the cars going away from me into turn one.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/1600th

A few laps into the race Aric Almirola lost control and spun in turn three.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1000iso, f6.7, 1/2500th 

One of my goals for the race was to convey the struggling economy by showing empty spots in the grandstands but to my surprise the place was pretty full. The backstretch grandstands are the least desired seating location so I figured if anywhere had empty seats it would be there. Judging by the below photo it looked like they were pretty damn close to being sold out.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/2000th

With an airport directly behind the backstretch from time to time you can get cool photos with airplanes taking off and landing as the field races by. The below shot came out pretty cool.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1000iso, f6.7, 1/2000th 

Super rookie Joey Logano, starting his first Daytona 500 was bumped coming off turn four and slid hard into the inside wall. I have shot many many crashes but this is the first time where I actually caught the exact moment of impact where you can see the soft wall absorbing the shock of the impact.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1600iso, f6.7, 1/1600th 

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1600iso, f6.7, 1/1250th 

After the car came to a stop I noticed the tire tracks had left a cool spin pattern in the infield grass so I shot a wide shot showing the tracks leading to the damaged car.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/800th

The race was decent with a lot of three wide racing which always has you on the edge of your seat.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 1600iso, f6.7, 1/800th 

As it began getting darker I had to remove the 1.7 convertor from the camera because it was making the shutter speed too slow to avoid blurring images.

Sam Hornish Jr came to pit road with severe overheating issues as steam spewed from under the hood of his Dodge.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/500th 

A shot while later David Stremme came to pit road after blowing his right rear Goodyear tire.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/1000th 

Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr was assessed a one lap penalty for pitting outside of his pit box. It would eventually lead to more trouble for Jr.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/800th

A short while later Earnhardt Jr triggered a multi car accident on the backstretch. Note that Matt Kenseth #17 (the eventual race winner) barely dodged being involved in the accident.)

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/640th 

After the race got back to green Matt Kenseth (17) made quick work of race leader Elliott Sadler (19).

Nikon D3, 600mm, 3200iso, f4, 1/640th 

A few minutes later the caution would again come out as Paul Menard would get turned into the backstetch wall by Jeff Burton.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 3200iso, f4, 1/640th 

After that was cleaned up the green flag again came out and it was quickly back to yellow as Aric Almirola took his second spin of the day.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 4000iso, f4, 1/640th 

The yellow flag was thrown and race leader Matt Kenseth led Kevin Harvick and A.J. Allmendinger under the yellow flag as rain began to fall around the speedway.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 4000iso, f4, 1/800th

Jet dryers were brought on track in an attempt to keep the track dry enough to resume racing as soon as the showers passed.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/500th

The field, led by Matt Kenseth, was stopped on pit road as the red flag came out.

16 minutes later, after looking at the radar and seeing the rain was not gonna let up for several hours, NASCAR officials made the decision to call the race and it ended with Matt Kenseth winning his first Daytona 500.

Kenseth climbed from his car to celebrate with his crew.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/400th 

The car was then pushed into Victory Lane where Kenseth did the obligatory celebration for the photographers.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 5000iso, f6.7, 1/160th 

Immediately after shooting that photo I went underneath the photo stand and transmitted the photo out in hopes of beating all the other wire services to getting it up. I knew that the champagne shot was about 5 minutes away from happening so I hauled ass to download, edit, caption and send the jube shot out and then back to the stand to shoot the champagne.

Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 5000iso, f6.7, 1/160th

After transmitting the images it was time for the long trip down from the tower and back to infield media room for my final edit thus ending a very disappointing race for everyone (except Matt Kenseth!)

Below are some tearsheets from raceday.

Posted in Daytona, Me, NASCAR, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports   | 7 Comments

7 responses to “2009 Daytona 500: As exciting as a Prom date with your sister”

  1. Mike Vander Veer says:


    Great shots. The frame of the 20 car and the skid marks in the infield is killer! How many photos from an average race get purchased?

  2. max says:

    Defiantly a good week for you!

    great stuff

  3. Dani says:

    Great work!
    In this work remote cam work in iso-auto and shutter priority?


  4. Mike,
    The amount of images sold to publications varies from week to week. Also images get sold many years down the road as well so thats an impossible question to answer.

    With that remote I had the camera on aperture priority and as it got darker I changed the ISO accordingly.


  5. I would have never thought of putting a safety cable on the camera. Is that to prevent theft or just to make sure it doesn’t fall? I dropped my camera without even doing anything more elaborate than a photo shoot with a toddler.

  6. […] by PocketWizard Blogger Sports shooter Mark Rebilas, who has visited our blog from time to time, described the recent Daytona 500 thusly: “About as exciting as a prom date with your sister.” © Mark […]

  7. Jon Willey says:

    Did you steal that safety cable to the camera via a keyring idea form me Mark??? Cuz i’m pretty sure I invented that… Where’s my credit dude! hahaha…

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