With all the mainstream professional sports I cover these days it has really knocked down the amount of drag racing I have been able to cover. I really love shooting drag racing so in the few events I shot this year I made it a point to work as hard as I could to produce some quality images. So here are my favorite drag racing photos of 2008.

My first drag racing event of the year was preseason NHRA testing at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, AZ. It is a great event to shoot because for starters the access is great, plus its the first chance to shoot the new cars/drivers/sponsors for the upcoming season. 

Scott Kalitta does a burnout prior to a test run. Sadly Kalitta was killed a few months later in a high speed crash in New Jersey.

Nikon D300, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/2500th

With it being testing there are very few fans in attendance leading to the problem of empty grandstands in the backgrounds. One of the few ways to combat that issue is to shoot slow shutter speed shots to blur out the background such as in the below photo of funny car driver Tony Pedregon doing a burnout.

Nikon D300, 17-55mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/20th

When shooting from the starting line I always try to follow the cars as they drive away in case something crazy happens like an explosion or crash. Obviously that doesn’t happen too often, but what does happen every time is all the heat waves coming off the cars as they drive away at speed. Below is a good example of that as Ashley Force thunders down track.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 200iso, f4, 1/4000th

Tony Schumacher does a burnout during a dusk practice run.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/20th

I also spent some time down at the end of the track where the drivers climb from their cars after their run. Its not a spot many people shoot from so it provides a different perspective most don’t see.

Jack Beckman climbs from his funny car after making a pass.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1600th

The below shot of Del Worsham after a run came out really cool as a totally backlit shot. It gives a really unique perspective of an otherwise boring moment.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 200iso, f4, 1/6400th

Next drag race event for me was the March Meet in Bakersfield, CA. It is without a doubt my favorite drag racing event of the year. Instead of the cutting edge modern technology of NHRA this race is all nostalgia cars from several decades ago. The cars are wild and crazy and anythign can (and usually does) happen!

Below top fuel driver Randy Beck bounces through the shutdown area as he tries to slow down prior to crashing. Its always odd so see a vehicle doing over 200mph with all four wheels off the ground.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/2500th

He certainly wasn’t the only driver with his hands full bouncing all over the place as they tried to slow down.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

One of the coolest (and certainly most unique) angles I get occurs at this race as my father has made friends with a company that owns a cherry picker crane that myself and a video guy position directly over the track just past the finish line. We are about 20 feet above cars doing 260mph. It scares the hell out of you the first few times a car goes below you but once you get used to it boy is it a killer angle.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f9, 1/1250th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1250th

The view going the other way also provides a cool shot as the cars slow down with the parachutes out. Below perhaps the most famous drag racing car of all time, The Winged Express slows down following an exhibition run.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f9, 1/1250th

I was lucky enough to be in the crane over the track where I witnessed one of the largest explosions in nostalgia racing history as Mike McLennan had a MASSIVE fireball. Unlike todays top fuel dragsters where the engine is behind the driver, the nostalgia cars have the engine two feet in front of the drivers face. Its the most literal definition of the “hot seat.”

In the first photo you will notice a cloud of oil feeding flammable liquid all over the hot headers.

It was only a matter of time until the oil would ignite….and boy did it ignite!

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

The fire was only huge for less than a second, then it died down as the oil burned up.

(Note the flying spark plug in the upper right!)

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th

I also had a remote camera set up. Here is he shot it got when the fire was still big. The main problem with the camera being so low is the heat waves give it the appearance of being out of focus.

Nikon D3, 300mm, 640iso, f10, 1/8000th

The racing went into the night that day and instead of going to the starting line like everyone else I stayed in the crane and took advantage of some really cool side lighting that rim lit the edges of the cars.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/320th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/320th

That about wraps up the March Meet for me.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/5000th

My last drag race of the year ended up being the NHRA race in Las Vegas. I got a bunch of really cool shots in the weekend.

With my assistant Paul helping out we did some candid portraits using a softbox and 1600 watt Alien Bee strobe.

Angelle Sampey

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th

Gary Scelzi

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th

Tony Schumacher

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th

This race was one of the rare weekends I shot on the starting line. While you get a lot more good photos shooting on the starting line it is just dime a dozen crap that the other 20 photographers are shooting. Plus all the wild and crazy stuff happens downtrack at speed. Luckily I didn’t miss anything while on starting line and got some cool shots.

Antron Brown takes on Cory McClenathan during qualifying.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Since it was Halloween a few crew members got in on the fun by wearing their costumes on the starting line.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/800th

John Force does a burnout during qualifying.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/25th

The below shot of Robert Hight leaving the starting line has a really cool glow behind the car from a tow vehicle that had its headlights on.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/500th

Tried out a few real slow shutter speed shots to see what it would produce. I was damn happy with the results.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/13th

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/13th

On the last day of qualifying top fuel driver Tony Schumacher clinched the 2008 championship. While I got several of the standard boring shots of him holding the trophy I really liked this shot of him silhouetted behind the trophy.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f5, 1/250th

I ended up back at the starting line due to a rain shower that I didn’t wanna be stuck in when it hit.

The ominous storm clouds above the track made for a great background to some shots.

John Force does a burnout.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 4000iso, f4, 1/500th

The car of Scott Ray in the staging lines prior to making his qualifying run.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 4000iso, f4, 1/400th

On the actual race day I got a few shots I liked.

A pair of top fuel dragsters do their burnout before their race.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/5000th

Tony Schumacher had a small fireball during the second round of eliminations. It was nothing big compared to what I’m used to shooting but it has nice light and it looks cool.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

For the final rounds I went to the very end of the track to shoot the winners climbing from their car.

Cruz Pedregon

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th

Tony Schumacher

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th

There next two pictures are a late addition I’m adding that I forgot about. My dad invited me to some warehouse in a industrial area where a guy owns a front engine dragster and was goign to fire the engine up to produce some header flames for photos. They came out awesome.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/6th

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/6th

That ends my favorite drag racing images of 2008. Sorry there’s not more stuff but considering I only shot 3 events this year its a decent showing.

Next up in my best of the year galleries is my favorite random sport images

My site was nominated for Best Photography Blog!






Posted in Drag Racing, NHRA, Pocket Wizard, Portraits, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports   | 19 Comments

19 responses to “Best of 2008-Best Drag Racing Photos”

  1. 98percentnitro says:

    Mark- phenominal shot, all!! A steady hand, a good eye and LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!!!! Thank you for posting on the mater, and having this site up so that we can all enjoy your beautiful work!

    Happy Holidays sir…


  2. michael vettas says:

    mark your drag racing images have made me think twice about the sport, something i always thought as boring to shoot you bring to life.

  3. Jim Joyce says:

    VERY amazing shots! Not the usual drag racing photos that we all have taken for years. Great composition lighting and being able to capture the moment. Also being able to recognize the opportunity to capture some unigue situations to create a graet photo

  4. Astonished in Ahwatukee says:

    A ture artist

  5. Mike Kloeber says:

    Good work! I’ve seen a lot of pictures over the years. My dad had a color lab at home in the 70’s before computer processing was common. So you could say I have high standards. I like the various effects you employed in some of the shots. Just the right color for effect. Having a dad who is a good photographer should be of immeasurable value.


  6. Ian Tocher says:

    Great stuff, Mark.

    If you ever want to come out and shoot an ADRL event, please get in touch with me. We’d love to have you.


  7. Phil Hutchison says:

    The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Your stuff is super great. How did you get the wild sky in the Las Vegas shots?? Looks almost surreal….

  8. Robert says:

    You shoot some incredible photos Mark! Art.

  9. Fantastic work, you bring out the excitement of drag racing, that only those that participate in ever realize! Come to Colorado in July for the Mile High Nationals and then stay for the Jr Dragster Western Conference Race it should be some great racing!

  10. DAD says:

    As usual, GREAT STUFF!!!!! It makes me feel good that I have touched so many others over the years, but it’s beyond description the feeling that my legacy lives on through you and all the others that you touch. Have a FUN LIFE with your camera and pass your talent and gift to others…..Dad

  11. Mark,
    Great Photos…! Keep up the great work and be safe out there in RACING LAND.
    Jamie Jackson
    Jackson Bros Videos

  12. Kyle says:

    Excellent selection of photos for your drag racing wrap up mark. Love the lot!

    Cherry picker? Who said anything about OH&S haha

  13. From Don:

    I’ve been behind those flsmes many times and can totally apptreciate the ‘action’ in your work.

    From Waldo;

    Great front engine dragster images..reminds me of of Long Beach.

  14. james says:

    Mate, I love your work. I’m currently a loser with no job, but my dream is to get paid to shoot sports. You are an inspiration.

  15. Darrel "the Cajun" says:

    As always – the very best shot of the sport I’ve ever seen! Simply OUTSTANDING!

  16. sonny jackson/Jackson bros. drag videos says:

    Mark, great stuff and I see your dad’s leagacy does live on. The big name sanction outthere should show off there stuff instead of all those static shots. Beautiful.

  17. Tommy Naccarato says:

    I have to agree with Sonny, NHRA should be using these types of shots instead of the same old boring shots that have been used since the first issue of National Dragster hit the street!

    Your a true artist!

  18. larry davis says:

    Where are the Pro Stock race cars??

  19. T*Dawg says:

    I’m with the safety team at a NHRA track in BC Canada – and I can’t get enough of this sport. Your pictures are some of the I’ve ever seen. Of course I’m all to familiar with the fires and crashes but when they can make a full pass and nothing goes wrong there is nothing like it !!! Can’t wait to see some more photos in the upcoming season

Leave a Reply

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!