Next up in my recap of 2009 is my Best of Drag Racing photos. As most of you probably know I basically grew up at drag strips as I followed my father, Gil Rebilas,  to tracks around the country shooting drag racing. Perhaps thats why its my favorite sport to cover. Regardless, I present to you some of my favorites from 2009!

My drag racing coverage for 2009 began early in the year at Firebird International Raceway about 10 miles from my house for preseason testing.

Testing is a great event to shoot since the access is nearly unlimited, theres very few fans and a lot of the drivers have new sponsors and paint jobs that need to be shot.

Below, Ashley Force Hood reflects in the window of her tow vehicle as she gets suited up prior to a testing pass.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Taking advantage of some nice colors in his helmet and car I knelt low to the ground and used a long lens to shoot straight up the pipe at Morgan Lucas (below) as he waited in the burnout box to fire up his dragster.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

One thing I was taught growing up was to have the entire car in the shot. Now a days I have thrown that rule (and every other) out the window as I continue to refine my shooting style. Sometimes shooting ridiculously tight images can produce really cool results that helps a photographer differentiate themselves from every other shooter standing on the starting line.

Below, by shooting really tight on Tony Schumacher, I was able to take advantage of the great heat waves coming from his engine as he raced down track.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Another thing I have started doing when I shoot drag racing is looking for some cool behind the scenes type shots that people don’t normally see.

In the below photo I was driving my car through the pit area when I noticed smoke coming from the header pipes on the dragster of Larry Dixon following a run. I quickly threw my car in park, jumped out and ran over to shoot some close up photos.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Anyone who has ever been to a drag race will agree with me that when a nitro car runs at night that it is much more spectacular than in the daytime. At night you can see the massive flames from the exhaust that makes for wonderful images.

Using a flash at night can enhance photos and make them look good but I much prefer not using a flash and allowing the header flames to light up the car and give it a more dramatic look.

Below, Cory McClenathan launches off the starting line with monster header flames.


Nikon D3, 400mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

In the below photo of Brandon Bernstein launching off the starting line I set up a remote flash in the background to fire when I fired my camera and giving the photo a different look.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/80th, Manual

To see more images from NHRA testing at Firebird click here.

Now we head to Bakersfield, CA for my favorite drag race of the year, the March Meet.

Unlike NHRA drag racing where things are much more professional, the nostalgia drag racers are a lot more fun and laid back. You don’t deal with any drivers with big egos or attitudes, everyone is nice and is having a blast.

Also, the action is usually much more wild and crazy.

Below, in the first pair of top fuel cars on the first round of qualifying, driver Dan Horan (right) goes airborne after crashing into Mike Chrisman.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f8, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Horan would end up with a stuck throttle from the crash and would go hauling ass all the way down the track past me. Just after passing me the engine died and the car came to a stop where Horan would be ok.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f8, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

A few hours later the action would really heat up when Nostalgia funny car driver James Generalao exploded an engine during qualifying, below.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f8, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

As the sun began to set on qualifying I used a wide angle lens to take advantage of a nice sky as a nostalgia funny car went past me with the parachutes out.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Below, I laid down at the edge of a puddle to produce a nice reflection of a front engine dragster near the end of the track.


Canon G10, 200iso, f2.8, 1/80th, Aperture Priority

One of my more exciting shots of the entire year would be shot by one of my remote controlled cameras. I had a few remote cameras set up on one lane, while I would use a handheld camera to shoot the other lane. During nostalgia funny car qualifying I shot the car in my lane as he went through the finish line. I put the camera down and noticed the other car had blown the body off. I was PISSED for missing it but much to my delight I checked the remote camera and got the below photo as driver Tom Padilla blows the body off his car after suffering an explosion.


Nikon D300, 80-200mm, 500iso, f8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

So the fact that I got that photo means I was taking a photo of the car in my lane at the EXACT second that Padilla had his explosion. I love getting lucky!

Below is a shot with my handheld camera as the body flew through the air prior to landing.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Later that evening I shot the below photo as nostalgia top fuel driver Mike McLennan exploded an engine in a small fire. (Note the spark plug to the right.)


Nikon D3, 600mm, 1600iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, a top fuel driver has an engine explosion that sends thousands of small pieces of metal flying through the air at 250mph….duck!


Nikon D3, 600mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

To see my blog from the March Meet click here.

Now we move on to Las Vegas for some NHRA action.

Below, top alcohol funny car driver Ken Webster blows the body off his car during qualifying for the Summitracing.com Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

Not to be outdone, competition eliminator driver Peter Adams (below) loses control and slides on two wheels against Justin Lamb during first round of eliminations. Adams car never flipped over or touched a wall. Lucky, lucky guy.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

NHRA funny car driver John Force (below) is silhouetted as he rides his scooter towards the starting line.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

After losing in the final round of the event, Brandon Bernstein sits dejected in his car as it is towed back to the pit area, below.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Manual

To see all the action from NHRA in Las Vegas click here.

On to Topeka, KS for some more NHRA action.

By using a wide angle lens I was able to incorporate the beautiful cloudy sky into my shot (below) as top alcohol funny car driver Alexis De Joria slows to a stop in the shutdown area.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, top fuel dragster driver Larry Dixon sits in his car prior to a qualifying attempt.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

When I get bored I tend to try random things to get a different look to my photos such as the below shot where I slowed the shutter speed way down to get some blur as Brandon Bernstein and Cory McClenathan raced past me.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f11, 1/60th, Manual

In the below photo of pro mod driver Chip King, I exposed for the highlights to get a really dark background during his burnout.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

About a half mile past the starting line I shot the below photo as Dan Wilkerson (left) races Jack Wyatt during qualifying. Not sure why I like the photo so much but I think its due to the small cars with the big tower and the fans on the left of it. Has an industrial feel to it.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Slow shutter speed again in the below photo as Mike Neff streaks past me with parachutes out.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/30th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA funny car driver Ron Capps (near) races Cruz Pedregon during qualifying for the Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f4, 1/60th, Manual

To see more action from NHRA in Topeka click here.

My last drag race of 2009 would end up being in Sonoma, California at Infineon Raceway.

I had been there a few times for NASCAR but this would be my first drag race there.

Below I got low in the water box to shoot as a pro stock motorcycle did his burnout. Moments after taking the photo I would be kicked out of the spot by an NHRA photographer. It was fine though since I already got the shot I wanted!


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

As the sun set behind the track I used a fisheye to take the below photo of Warren Johnson as he did his burnout past me.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/160th, Manual

For the night time qualifying session I abandoned the starting line to instead shoot from the top of a big hill overlooking the finish line. It ended up being a good decision as I was able to get the below photo of funny car driver Robert Hight as he suffered an engine explosion right as he crossed the finish line.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

The next day I would be in the shutdown area shooting parachute shots when Cory McClenathan had a small fire (note the flames in the cockpit).


Nikon D700, 600mm, 250iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

My last drag racing shot of the year would end up being one of my favorite images.

Below, Antron Brown poses for photos next to his car after winning the race. By laying down on the ground and using an off camera flash I was able to get some nice light on him as well as frame the photo with his trophy in it.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual

To see my blog from NHRA in Sonoma click here.

That wraps up my favorite drag racing images of 2009. For a recap of my best drag racing images from 2008 click here!

Posted in California, Drag Racing, Firebird International Raceway, Las Vegas, NHRA, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Remote Camera, San Francisco, Sports   | 13 Comments

13 responses to “Best of 2009: Best Drag Racing Photos”

  1. Anonymous says:

    best ive seen in years

  2. Erica says:

    My favorite category. Here’s to hoping that you’ll be adding way more drag racing to your schedule in 2010!

  3. Pille says:

    I have to agree – every picture in this category is simply wonderful. Love the action, love the colors, love all the big and little moments you have noticed and captured…

    Scrolling back up to have another look 🙂

  4. Eric Marsh says:

    I do some photography myself and so am not often impressed with the work of others. These impress me a lot.

  5. Todd Veney says:

    your dad should be really proud of your work, and I’m sure he is

    really, really impressed

  6. Anonymous says:

    is easy

  7. Tony says:

    Outstanding , you have some awesome photos here ! I photographed a series last season and really appreciate the fact that you share your camera settings. Would you please take a look and some of my work and leave a comment or two , I seem to get the traffic and no conversions ?
    many thanks

  8. Ted Turner says:

    Hey Mark-
    Killer pics! I paint Schumacher’s helmets (10 or 12 a year) and would like to contact you about using part of the image above. I am doing an oil painting will be auctioned off for the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago at the 2010 World of Wheels event. Let me know as soon as you can so I may be able to get underway with your permission. I would be interested in other images thjat didn’t make the ‘best of’ list as well.

    Thanks Again,
    Ted Turner

  9. DAD says:

    I am so proud of you and what you have learned from me and added your own artistic touch!

  10. Genie says:

    YOU ARE AMAZING! I have used some of you’re setting at the last event I shot! What a difference, I like doing different things as well at the track, but you are unbelievable! I come to your site and get excited over pictures I have seen over and over again! Thanks


  11. Jim Doire says:

    Your photos are amazing. I’m also a drag racing photographer but nothing at your level. But I’m getting there! Thanks for the inspiration your photos give to me and I’m sure to others to keep improving their skills.


  12. Jason F says:

    I love your photos.I am a huge drag racing and photography fan.Thanks for sharing.

  13. […] Click here to see Rebilas’ Best Drag Racing Photos of 2009 […]

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