27
Jun

The last time I shot a drag race at Bristol was in 1991 when I was an 11 year old punk kid with an old Nikon FM2 film camera. My father Gil would put me on top of a motorhome near the finish line and only instruct me to push the button if I saw a crash or a fire. Well the last time I was here it was for an IHRA drag race and funny car driver Richard Hartman would have a big fire in front of me. I shot a sequence of the whole thing only to find out when I handed my dad the camera to take the film out that he had forgotten to load the film for me. I was devastated and am pretty sure I cried when I found out. Well fast forward 20 years and check out my return to Thunder Valley!

Upon arriving at the Bristol Dragway the first thing I did was head up to the media room to check out the view of the track that looked completely different from the last time I was here.

Here is the view of the track from my spot in the media room.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Below, top fuel dragster driver Austin Lambright does a burnout in his first qualifying attempt of his first career NHRA race.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Manual

Back in the staging lanes I shot the below frame of pro mod driver Leah Pruett-LeDuc as she sat in her car preparing for her first pass. More on Leah later…

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Whenever I shoot drag racing (or any motorsport for that matter) I like exploring the track and trying to find unique angles to shoot from instead of the standard starting line angle. I ended up heading to the top of a hill overlooking the finish line to see how the view looked.

Here is the view.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA funny car driver Robert Hight (right) races alongside Ron Capps during qualifying for the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

It was a cool view but I would finish the evening back on the starting line.

Below, reining top fuel champion Larry Dixon does a burnout in his Al-Anabi dragster.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

To see more cool shots of Larry Dixon as well as all the other Toyota Racing drivers from the weekend please click the below banner to check out my Toyota photo blog.

Antron Brown (below) lifts the front end as he launches off the starting line during night time qualifying.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Manual

Ok on to Saturday.

Rain was predicted in the Saturday forecast but when I arrived at the track it was glorious and sunny as I headed to the top end for the first pro qualifying session.

I have been shooting drag racing for over 20 years but would see something I never have seen before. Motorcycles with parachutes on them!

Check out the below shot of NHRA top fuel harley motorcycle rider Steve Dorn slowing to a stop with his little mini parachute deployed following a 200mph plus qualifying run.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

I have been shooting a ton of drag racing this season (and its barely halfway finished) so sometimes it can get rather redundant to shoot. Luckily my fellow NHRA photographers who I shoot with week after week have started playing a fun game called “photo bombing.” Basically you jump in the background of someones shot unexpectedly and you ruin their photo. Haha, sounds like fun right?

Before we get more into “Photo Bombing” let me share with you guys one I did back in 2004 when I was a photographer in the Navy. We would have to do portraits of our high ranking officers for various uses. Well one day we had to do a portrait of the Executive Officer (XO) of the ship. Basically he is second in charge to the ships captain. Well back then I was a supervisor so when other photographers were doing the shoots I would keep an eye on things to make sure they were going well. Well the below photo was shot as I decided to peek my head into the shot and make a stupid face.

Luckily I was out of the Navy before he ever found out about this picture!  I highly doubt I will ever be able to top my first Photo Bomb but you know I will try!

While shooting pro stock legend Warren Johnson heading back to the pits my buddy Marc Gewertz jumped into the background of my shot and made for one hell of a funny Photo Bomb. I was laughing my ass off as I shot the below frame.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Ok back to racing.

Below, NHRA pro stock driver V. Gaines leads Vincent Nobile as he heads back to the pits after a run during qualifying for the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After completion of the first qualifying session the rains came.

Below is the view of the wet track from the starting line.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

With the amount of rain we received plus the terrible looking radar map I decided to pack up and take my talents to South Beach, uh I mean Chilis to grab some lunch and hang out and edit pics. I honestly thought the day would end up being cancelled and was actually ok with that since it would give me time to relax and catch up on editing.

Well fast forward a few hours and the rain would clear out and they would get the track dried. Luckily I keep two radars up on my computer at all times as well as constantly checking Twitter and Facebook so I easily made it back to the track without missing anything.

Luckily I didn’t miss anything because the final session ended up being action packed.

In the final qualifying session in top fuel, driver Troy Buff would have a massive fireball at the finish line, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

The fire quickly went out but flames still trickled from the engine as the car coasted past me.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

Top fuel driver Shawn Langdon (below) makes the turn off the end of the track following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA funny car driver Jack Beckman (left) alongside Robert Hight during qualifying for the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1000iso, f4, 1/1250th, Manual

Dark clouds over the track made for great backgrounds for parachute shots, like the below frame of funny car driver Cruz Pedregon.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f4.5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

The last thing on tap for the day would be the first round of pro mod. I debated shooting it from the starting line but decided to stay top end. Pro mods are easily the craziest cars in NHRA these days due to their super high horsepower which propel these cars to speeds approaching 260mph!

I joke a lot but shooting from the top end is a very dangerous and sometimes a scary place to be. On top of having to dodge parachutes that sometimes come over the wall you also have to be very mindful of parts, pieces, debris which would cause some significant injury if you were to be hit by something going 200mph, regardless how small. For those reasons the NHRA is pretty restrictive on who they allow down there to shoot. For the most part only the most experienced photographers are given top end access.

The below sequence is a great example of the insane pics you can get from the top end but also a reminder that this job is a dangerous occupation.

Below, pro mod driver Roger Burgess (left) loses control as he raced alongside Kenny Lang…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…for  a second I thought he was going to save it but then the car made a hard left turn…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…at this point I am now holding down the shutter button on my camera unleashing the 10 frames per second performance on my Nikon…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…Burgess would just barely miss hitting Lang. In the below frame you can actually see the nose of his car touching Langs parachutes…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

….Burgess would hit the wall harder than I have ever seen someone hit the wall…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…the car quickly burst into flames behind Lang…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

These next two photos show awesome action shots ruined by the car in foreground blocking my view…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…this out of focus shot kills me because if the camera had not focused on Langs parachutes this would have been a portfolio worthy shot.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…finally Langs car was out of the shot which allowed my camera to focus back on Burgess as his car flew through the air…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…in the below photo look at the bottom left of the frame and you can see one of his fire bottles rocketing away from the crash towards me!…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…I made sure to keep an eye on the bottle coming towards me as I fired off a few more frames…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

…the bottle would hit the wall a few feet from me and continue another quarter mile down track past me!

CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO and fast forward 1.40 in and keep an eye on the top right of the frame way down past the finish line and you can see me (the only guy against wall) and the fire extinguisher shooting like a missile at me.

Here is a screen grab from another camera angle showing the bottle coming at me on the left side of the frame. You can see that I am no longer shooting as I keep an eye on the bottle to make sure it doesn’t start bouncing.

Even though it was a super violent crash Burgess would emerge from the accident unharmed.

While leaving the track that night I stopped on the side of the road to get the below shot of the Bristol Dragway nestled into the surrounding mountains. There is a reason they call the track Thunder Valley.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Manual

Sunday morning we would be greeted with heavy rains which would delay the start of racing by four hours.

So how do drivers pass the time during a rain delay?

Below, Morgan Lucas and Shawn Langdon play a friendly game of cards with their crew members in their hospitality area…

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

…while top fuel points leader Del Worsham puts together a puzzle with wife Connie, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Aperture Priority

Once the rain cleared up it was time to go racing.

Below, funny car driver Jack Beckman (left) gives a pep talk to rookie driver Austin Lambright prior to his first career round of eliminations.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

After the pep talk I walked up to Jack and asked him why he never gives me pep talks before I shoot. He quickly put his arm around me and gave me a speech about having good f-stops and fast shutter speeds today. It was an awesome little speech. Thanks Jack!

In the first round of top fuel I got to see something that was pretty cool and had everyone at the track smiling when the oldest driver in NHRA Chris Karamesines would pick up his first round win in over TWENTY YEARS! Nobody seems to know his exact age but Karamesines is in his 80’s and was the first driver to ever go 200mph in drag racing. In the below shot of Karamesines on his winning run if you look closely you can see he forgot to lower the visor on his helmet. I’m sure that makes driving a 300mph rocket a little bit harder… or more fun!

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

In round two of funny car Cruz Pedregon would have a quick flash of flame as he crossed the finish line as the winner of the round, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, in the semi finals of pro mod we would get a little girl on girl action as Leah Pruett-LeDuc (near) raced alongside teammate Melanie Troxel. Troxel would take the win to advance to the finals.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f5, 1/800th, Manual

One good thing about the earlier rain delay was that it left some puddles of water in the staging lanes which worked perfectly to make the below reflection shot as the funny car of Jack Beckman waits in the staging lanes for his semi final round.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

In the semi finals of funny car Robert Hight would advance to the finals with the fastest speed in funny car history uhh I mean in the short 1000ft history of the sport. His speed of 316.45 mph would be backed up making it an official record. Congrats Robert!

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 640iso, f3.2, 1/1250th, Manual

Allan Lindsey (below), guides pro stock driver Mike Edwards through his burnout during the semi finals. Edwards would go on to win the event.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 640iso, f3.2, 1/1600th, Manual

Here are some shots of the other pro winners on the weekend.

Melanie Troxel, Pro Mod

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Robert Hight, Funny Car

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f4, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Below, the final round of top fuel would be a big matchup between Antron Brown (left) and Larry Dixon. It was an incredibly close race but as you can see in the pic Antrons parachute popped a bit early undoubtedly allowing Dixon to squeak out the win.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 5000iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Below, Larry Dixon celebrates after his first victory of the 2011 season.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Below, Larry Dixon has a little fathers day fun with his children and their water balloons at the top end.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Speaking of having fun I had to drop a Photo Bomb on my good buddy Gary Nastase as he shot Dixon after the win.

Photo by Gary Nastase

Up at the winners circle I found time for one more photo bomb as I jumped into a posed celebration shot with funny car winner Robert Hight.

Photo by Marc Gewertz

That wraps up a long Sunday of racing.

Normally I fly home first thing Monday morning after a race but I stuck around an extra day to shoot my friend Leah Pruett-LeDuc who was supposed to be testing a funny car. Unfortunately the test would be cancelled but thankfully Leah had some free time to do some portraits with me. With the help of my good buddy Jason Sharp who directed Leah and held my softbox we got some cool pics I think.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with 1600watt strobe

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with 1600watt strobe

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/250th, Manual with 1600watt strobe

Not only was Leah a fun person to shoot she also had no problem helping carry gear, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with 1600watt strobe

To see all my photos from the race weekend click here!

To see all my photos from the Leah Pruett-LeDuc shoot click here!

That wraps up a very productive weekend of shooting in Bristol. Next up for me is NASCAR in Daytona. Can’t wait!

I recently started a Facebook page for my photography. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to “like” the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing as well as my favorite photos from each event, as well as some old favorites from the last 20 years!


 
Posted in Drag Racing, Me, NHRA, Portraits, Racing, Sports, Tennessee   | 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Rain, fire bottles and Photo Bombs fly at NHRA Bristol!”

  1. Randy - CRUSHER Lewis says:

    You sure caught the beauty of Bristol, Great shots! That “bomb” with WJ is awesome. Sure like Leah too !

  2. Wow, you are an amazing photographer! I really admire how well you shoot both action and portraiture. Nice work man! Also, I really appreciate the fact that you put your shooting information under the photo so we can learn from your incredible work.

  3. Hi, I read your blog on a regular basis. Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing
    what you’re doing!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Check out my Facebook page devoted my photography where I routinely share my favorite photos from each shoot as well as favorite photos from the past. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to "like" the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing!