20
Sep

Baseball has the World Series, Football has the Super Bowl, when it comes to NHRA, the biggest race on the calendar is the prestigious US Nationals near Indianapolis. I am weeks behind on posting this blog due to an out of control work schedule so lets jump right in.

Thursday before the race I was sitting at the airport in Phoenix when I heard someone call out my name. I look over and it was funny car driver Jeff Arend. Since we were on a Southwest Airlines flight we would be able to sit together and talk about all sorts of inappropriate nonsense…. that was until someone would end up taking the middle seat between us. That person would be 81 year old Alma.

My initial thought was the flight was about to be a lot less fun with her between us… boy was I wrong.

Alma ended up being super cool and we all had a lot of fun on the flight. Here is a cool picture of the three of us during the flight.

On Friday I would spend the day following around top fuel star Antron Brown for a day in the life of blog for Toyota Racing. The below shot of Antron is just one of the many cool shots I was able to get during the day with him. To check out the blog please click here!

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

In pro stock we would have a new driver making her debut in the class. Here is a shot of Grace Howell as she sits in her Mustang prior to her first qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f3.2, 1/640th, Manual

The setting sun provided a cool looking shot (below) by lighting up the steering wheel of a funny car with the shadow of it in the background.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f3.2, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

One of the many historic front engine dragsters from yesteryear dumps out some pretty impressive flames during the Cacklefest prior to nitro qualifying, below.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

In the below photo you can see “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, one of the biggest names in the history of the sport, sitting behind the wheel of one of his “Swamp Rat” dragsters.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/125th, Aperture Priority

Friday only had one qualifying session, but the one session would occur just before sunset which bathed the track in some awesome light for photos.

Below, NHRA funny car driver Jeff Arend blasts down track in the opening qualifying session at Lucas Oil Raceway

Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA funny car driver Cruz Pedregon backs up from his burnout with his special white paint schemed Toyota Camry body. If you look at the tower on the right side of the frame you can see the sun bouncing off the tower and throwing some cool orange light onto the track. Right when I noticed it I knew I would have to figure out a way to incorporate it into a shot.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

In the below shot I was able to accomplish what I wanted by shooting funny car driver Mike Neff as he did his burnout with the tower in the background. The tower only looked like that for maybe 3-4 minutes before the sun dipped behind the grandstands.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Walking through the staging lanes looking for photos to shoot I spotted a pretty cool shot. I lined myself up to get the setting sun peeking through the triple element wing of a top fuel dragster.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below, top fuel champion Larry Dixon hangs out with son Luke Dixon prior to making a run. If Luke goes on to follow in his dads footsteps and become a driver this photo will have some value down the road.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 2000iso, f3.2, 1/500th, Manual

By setting the camera down low near the ground right next to the front wing of the car of Morgan Lucas I was able to get a pretty cool shot that you don’t see every day, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

Below, top fuel driver Tony Schumacher (left) blasts off the starting line alongside teammate Spencer Massey.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Manual

For this shot of Del Worsham doing his burnout I went with a slow shutter speed to blur out everything but the car. The flash firing from another photographers camera was just a lucky bonus.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 160iso, f2.8, 1/20th, Manual

For Saturday I would spend a good portion of the day top end shooting parachute shots. During pro mod qualifying I would have a perfect view as driver Chip King would lose control of his turbocharged car and crash. He would be unhurt in the incident. Here is the sequence….

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Way down in the shutdown area of the track there is a small photo tower that used to be used for TV. The tower is no longer used by TV anymore so I climbed up it to get a slightly different top end angle.

Below, NHRA pro stock drivers Paul Pittman (near) and Steve Spiess slow to a stop with their parachutes during qualifying for the US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, during Saturday night qualifying top fuel drivers T.J. Zizzo (left) gets a little too close for comfort with Cory McClenathan in the shutdown area. Luckily the two drivers kept their 300mph cars apart.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 4000iso, f4, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Below, a pair of top fuel dragsters are silhouetted as they haul ass down the track during qualifying.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 5000iso, f4, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Once it got completely dark I bailed on shooting top end since all the shots would be silhouettes that looked identical so I made my way to the starting line.

Below, cool shadows form in the burnout smoke of Jon Capps.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 3200iso, f4, 1/320th, Manual

Funny car driver Robert Hight (below) blasts down the track during night time qualifying.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 3200iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

For Sundays first qualifying session I would spend it in the staging lanes doing driver portraits. Here are a few of my favorites…

Pro stock motorcycle rider Bailey Whitaker

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Pro stock driver Vincent Nobile

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Funny car driver Bob Tasca III

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Funny car driver Ron Capps

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

In the middle of shooting the portraits I would take a quick break to do an interview with Full Throttle TV’s Abby Tubbs (below) for an upcoming segment about me.

Photo by Gary Nastase

Funny car driver Cruz Pedregon

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Top fuel dragster driver Morgan Lucas

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Here is a pretty cool shot taken by Diane Kubicke showing my assistant Justin Tooley and I in action shooting top fuel driver Shawn Langdon. In the shot you can see that I am hard wired from my camera to the strobe. I initially was using my pocket wizards but out of nowhere they stopped working reliably. I went to my backup set and they weren’t working well either so I used my final resort which was a long sync cable I carry with me as a “just in case” plan. These portraits are all pretty much unposed as the drivers are doing their thing so reliability with my flash firing when I take a pic is a must!

Photo by Diane Kubicke

Top fuel dragster driver Shawn Langdon

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Pro mod driver Melanie Troxel

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f11, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Top fuel dragster driver Del Worsham

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

With the session done I went back to shooting on track action for the final qualifying session.

Below, NHRA funny car driver Johnny Gray (right) races alongside Jon Capps during qualifying for the US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, top fuel dragster driver Terry McMillen provided a bit of excitement by mowing down the finish line timing blocks alongside Doug Kalitta. McMillen would be even more exciting the next day….

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, prior to first round of eliminations Monday morning I spotted top fuel driver Larry Dixon (right) chatting with Don Garlits. That was a must take photo as both will go down in drag racing history as two of the best to ever race down the quarter mi… uh I mean 1000ft.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

With the 10 year anniversary of the tragic attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001 a few days following the race the pro drivers (below) would all go to the top of the tower to help lower a giant banner in honor of those lost in the attacks.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

After shooting the close up from the roof I ran downstairs to shoot a wide shot from ground level, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual

I mentioned earlier that Terry McMillen was not done being exciting, here is what I was talking about as he would absolutely detonate his engine in the lights in a huge ball of fire, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, you can see the injector scoop sitting sideways atop of the engine following the explosion as he slowed to a stop.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

The explosion would also flatten the tire. Below, crew members take apart the engine as McMillen walks dejectedly on the left.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, the family for pro stock motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr celebrate after he won in the semi finals to earn a shot at his first career victory in the finals.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Below, the rear tires on the car of NHRA top alcohol dragster driver Chris Demke lift off the ground for a split second as both parachutes popped at the same time.

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

Bob Tasca III races alongside Ron Capps in the semi finals of funny car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Final round time to shoot the winners of the biggest race of the season!

In pro stock motorcycle Hector Arana Jr would happily hoist his first career Wally.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Pro stock winner Greg Anderson lets out a scream as he celebrates yet another win.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Funny car driver Mike Neff is all smiles as he celebrates his first US Nationals victory.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f11, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In top fuel it would be Antron Brown continuing his dream season with a victory in the “Big Go.”

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

For the winners circle shots I would once again bust out the softbox and do some portraits up by the starting line.

Hector Arana Jr

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Pro stock winner Greg Anderson

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f13, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Top fuel winner Antron Brown with youngest son Adler.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Here is a wide shot showing the photographers shooting funny car winner Mike Neff and crew celebrating, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual

Funny car winner Mike Neff

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

As all the winners circle stuff was wrapping up I noticed a cool sunset developing so I asked my buddy Ted who does PR stuff for Antron Brown if we could do a few quick portraits on track. Thankfully he said yes so we took Antron and his kids out on the track to pose for a few pics.

Here is a setup shot taken by Guy Rhodes on his trusty iPhone showing Justin holding the softbox as I kneel on the ground shooting. Behind me is Antrons wife Billie who was acting goofy to get young Adler to smile for the pics.

Photo by Guy Rhodes

And here is the resulting portrait, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 400iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

After a few family portraits I had Antron stand by himself on the track with his trophy for a few shots. The resulting frame (below) was one of my favorite portraits I have ever shot.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

After wrapping up the shoot I just had to jump into the shot with Antron for a goofy fun photo together, below.

Photo by Guy Rhodes

I was finally ready to pack up and head out and as we walked out I noticed first time pro mod winner Eric Dillard nearby so we grabbed him and shot a few portraits of him on the track…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5, 1/200th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/125th, Manual with Alien Bee Strobe

This was a rather long blog but if you still wanna see more pics feel free to CLICK HERE and see all my images from the weekend!

And with that we wrap up a long but very productive weekend of shooting NHRA.

Here is a link to my 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, Travel   | 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Explosive action at the NHRA US Nationals”

  1. Pille says:

    I really like the portraits taken with the Alien Bee – it gives so much more room to play than a simple on camera flash. Very nice :)

  2. hp says:

    Some good stuff!

    I have some awesome videos of back in the 100% nitro days and nights at Baytown and at Dallas.

    Friday night, 60 degrees you knew there would be world records at Baytown! Dallas too!

    Man when it was 60 degrees the fuel cars rocked!

    We had FOUR RACES A YEAR in Texas back then!!!
    Back to back weekends Houston and Dallas in the Spring and Fall!

    Joe Gibb’s Interstate Batteries Firebird
    Force’s Orange/gold Mustang and Tony Pedragon too.
    Wilkerson’s JCIT purple Firebird with the big flames
    Whit Bazemore driving the Winston Camaro
    Dean Skuza in his Mopar
    and of course
    Big Al Hoffman always gunning for Force.

    Great days when the all the above did half track burnouts!

    Texas ruled then, especially Baytown in the Spring and Fall when it was downright cold.

    Can’t forget how Joe Amato was king with Jimmy Prock and then came Scelzi and Alan Johnson.
    Dixon in the Miller dragster running that 4.48 in Houston with Dale Armstrong tuning.
    Kenny in the Bud King or as we call it; THE REAL BUD KING!

    Warren Johnson ruled the Pro Stock with 200 mph after 200 mph and all the rest trying to reach that milestone.
    I always win bets as to who was 2nd to run 200 mph.

    Some of the best times I ever had.

    I remember Greg Anderson’s rookie year with his win at Houston.
    I knew he’d be great.
    Jeg too.
    And Doug Kalitta! WOW!

    I loved taking the new folks who said, every time, “I never saw anything like this in my life.” They were scared too!

    TWO THUMBS UP!

  3. Michael says:

    Mark, you are a talented photographer. I scrolled down this page and could feel the rumble in my chest, smell the fuel and burning rubber, and experience the family/kids connection. Great depth in your images and I can tell you hunt for just the right perspective. Really enjoyed it.

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