The second race on the 2012 NHRA was my favorite stop on the circuit. Not because its a cool track or its a big race but because I get to sleep on my own bed every night. Lets get right to the action of a gorgeous weekend in the Arizona desert.

On the Thursday before the race began I was invited out to the track to participate in the NHRA media race. I had never done it before so I figured I’d give it a shot.

After a quick safety meeting with an NHRA official and “teachers” Matt Hagan and Antron Brown we received our helmet and headed to our family car looking Fusions.

The helmets they had us wear were ridiculous helmets that looked straight out of the 1950s. Don’t believe me? Check out the self portrait below!

It was a field of 16 drivers. In the first round I lined up alongside fellow NHRA photographer Richard Shute. He had beat in me qualifying on a holeshot but in eliminations when it counted I was able to defeat him as well as the next three drivers I met in the next rounds to win the race!

Below, NHRA funny car driver Matt Hagan (left) and top fuel driver Antron Brown (right) present me with a plaque recognizing the win.

Photo by Andy Willshire

That was a fun and interesting way to begin my weekend so lets hit the track for Friday qualifying.

Below is a cool shot of top fuel dragster driver Antron Brown as he mean mugs me while preparing to fuel his nitro breathing beast.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Manual

That Antron pic is just one of the many photos included in my Toyota Racing blog that I do following each race. Click the below link to check it out and see some of my best images weeks before you will see them on my blog!

Below, pro stock driver Erica Enders is all smiles as she sits in the cockpit of her car in the staging lanes prior to making a qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual

Below, Funny car driver Jack Beckman does a burnout in his cool looking Schumacher Electric car alongside Courtney Force.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2000th, Manual

Wearing his Marilyn Monroe tribute helmet, top fuel dragster driver Steve Torrence (below) sits in the cockpit of his car prior to a qualifying pass.

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

While cruising through the pits between qualifying sessions I noticed some awesome sun light hitting the face of Antron Brown as he chatted with his crew in the pits, below.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Below, Pro stock driver Vincent Nobile launches off the starting line during a qualifying pass at Firebird International Raceway. See that tower in the background? As a kid growing up at this track as my father Gil was on the starting line shooting pics I would hang out in that tower playing with my hot wheels cars. True story!

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.2, 1/1600th, Manual

Below, 15 time funny car champion John Force does a burnout alongside 1 time funny car champion Matt Hagan.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/1000th, Manual

The staging lanes at Firebird aim right to the west so for the second session of qualifying I spent a little time trying to take advantage of the awesome sunlight shining right onto the drivers.

Below, top fuel driver David Grubnic sits in the cockpit of his Kalitta Racing dragster during qualifying in Phoenix.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 250iso, f3.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

You would think its easy to get cool shots of the drivers being lit up by the sun but nearly every driver would position a crew member to block the sun with his body or an umbrella or they’d take the route Morgan Lucas (below) took by simply attempting to shield the sun with their hand.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 320iso, f3.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, top fuel dragster driver Khalid Albalooshi does a burnout in his AL-Anabi Racing car. Check out the sunlight going through his burnout smoke creating a cool orange glow on the track.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

For Saturday I would spend a considerable portion at the top end of the track shooting from the bridge that spans over the track. Its the only track in the NHRA with a bridge over the track so it provides cool angles impossible to achieve at any other location we race on.

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Morgan Lucas pulls off the track with a parachute out ahead of Antron Brown.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

In funny car qualifying rookie driver Alexis DeJoria would taste the wall in her Patron Tequila Camry, below.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, in one of the better looking cars on the tour, funny car rookie Todd Lesenko drives beneath me with his parachutes out following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Members of the NHRA safety safari push the car of funny car driver Bob Tasca III (below) off the track following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

A rather large crowd filled the track during the weekend, below. In the background of the shot is South Mountain, which is one of my favorite destinations to shoot lightning photography.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

Time for the only day that matters. Raceday!

Below, I cant disagree with the hat worn by the fan in the below photo! I miss 1/4 mile racing every time I shoot a 1000ft race…

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Doug Kalitta (left) races alongside Bob Vandergriff Jr during the Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, Courtney Force (right) defeats father John Force in their first ever race day matchup. As you can see from Courtney’s tire tracks, it wasn’t an easy pass.

Nikon D700, 550mm, 800iso, f8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, In a monster matchup of championship contending drivers it would be Shawn Langdon racing former teammate Morgan Lucas. Just off the starting line a fuel hose would break creating one of the bigger fireballs you will see out of a dragster…

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Manual

The fire continued for several seconds which provided a cool mushroom cloud of fire behind the Geico car.

Nikon D3S, 600mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Manual

Following the fire, the NHRA Safety Safari had one hell of a messy clean up to contend with, below.

Nikon D700, 550mm, 400iso, f9, 1/200th, Manual

Below, in round two of funny car eliminations, Johnny Gray (left) would get way out of control alongside Robert Hight. Gray would slap the outside wall.

Nikon D3S,600mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, Jon Benshoof, a crew member for Antron Brown, runs down track alongside Shawn Langdon as he chases the down Antrons car to help guide him back to the starting line.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/500th, Manual

Dan Fletcher, below, launches off the starting line in his super stock Camaro in the semi finals. FLetcher would go on to win the race, his 76th career national event victory!

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/640th, Manual

Throughout the weekend, former MLB pitching great Randy Johnson was at the track working as a member of the media. Prior to making it big in baseball, Randy was a photojournalism major at USC and even worked for the school paper. Now that he is done with baseball, Randy has returned to his love of photography.

To see some of Randys photos from the race, CLICK HERE

Throughout the weekend many of the NHRA photographers would give Randy pointers and any advice he could need in regards to covering the 300mph sport. On Sunday I approached him to explain the most important thing about being an NHRA photographer, the dreaded photo bomb. After an explanation of what Photo Bombing entailed I went back to work shooting pics. A short while later while at the end of the track shooting the winners celebrations, Randy would put his lesson to work.

Below, stock eliminator driver Leo Glasbrenner is photo bombed by a smiling Randy Johnson after winning in the final round of the Arizona Nationals.

Time for pro winners.

Below, pro stock winner Jason Line.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Funny car winner Robert Hight.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Below, Robert Hight is a big baseball fan so after winning the race and seeing Randy down there shooting photos, Hight had to go for the fist bump.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

In top fuel it would be Antron Brown taking home the Wally, below.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Below, top fuel runner up Tony Schumacher is beside himself as his winless streak continues on longer than anyone thought the multi time champion could go.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Below, a little post race photo shenanigans…

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Following the winners celebrating at the top end with their trophies, the winners head up to the starting line for the winners circle festivities, below.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Not sure why the below fan is on the ground handcuffed but I bet you alcohol was involved!

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/500th, Manual

In the press room doing interviews following the race, the sunlight hits the eye of funny car winner Robert Hight.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Two races down, 21 to go in the 2012 NHRA season.

CLICK HERE to see all my images from the race weekend.

Next blog is a wrap up of the 2012 Daytona 500.

I have a 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!

Posted in Drag Racing, Firebird International Raceway, Me, NHRA, Racing, Sports   | Leave a comment

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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!