Every once in awhile a crash occurs that has the sports world talking for days. Carl Edwards experienced one of those crashes when he went airborne on the last lap of the Aarons 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. With its location in the tri-oval plus occuring on the last lap it would be one of the most photographed NASCAR crashes ever. Sadly I wouldn’t be one of the many photographers who would have their coolest crash shot ever. Read on to see my failure.

Here are a few images from Sprint Cup practice on Friday.

Tony Stewart hangs out in the garage prior to practice.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/320th

Dale Earnhardt Jr and Marcos Ambrose get their bump draft on as they head through the tri-oval.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f8, 1/400th

A concerned Matt Kenseth looks on from the garage. (He would be more concerned tomorrow when he was sliding upside down on his roof)


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/2000th

At the conclusion of practice their was a brief photo op with Richard Petty posing next to his car that won his 200th and final career race. Seemed worth shooting a few shots so thats what I did.


Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/800th


Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1000th

After practice concluded it was time for the ARCA race. The ARCA race is typically a carnage fest (click here to see some of the carnage from the last two superspeedway races, Daytona and Talladega.)

Surprisingly this race would prove to be very tame compared to most.

Below, ARCA RE/MAX Series driver Ken Weaver smokes after blowing an engine during the RE/MAX 250 at the Talladega Superspeedway.


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

Below, Justin Lofton leads the field through the tri-oval as shadows begin to fall across the Talladega Superspeedway.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Below you can see there were plenty of good seats available for the race.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/8000th

The only real action of the race came towards the end when a 4 car crash occured behind the leaders in turn four.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/1600th


Nikon D3, 600mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Justin Lofton, who led a lot of the race, would hold on to take the victory.


Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

From across track I threw on a 1.7 teleconvertor which made the lens equivalent to 1000mm and shot as Lofton climbed from his car to celebrate.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 400iso, f6.7, 1/1000th

After shooting the above shot I packed up and made the long walk back to the infield, stopping by victory lane real quick to shoot the tail end of the victory lane celebration.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

Saturday began with Sprint Cup qualifying. Anyone who has watched qualifying at a restrictor plate track knows that its a 3 hour + event that has the appeal of contracting the swine flu.

Here are a few pics.

The car of Dale Earnhardt Jr is pushed through tech inspection prior to qualifying.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th with SB800 Flash

Below, Michael Waltrip after climbing from his car after making his qualifying laps.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th with SB800 Flash

Below, Brian Vickers climbs from his car after making his qualifying laps.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/800th

Below, Kyle Busch is surrounded by fans as he signs autographs following his qualifying run.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th with SB800 Flash

Right after qualifying wrapped up I quickly mounted a remote camera aimed right into the tri-oval and then headed up to the roof outside of the tri-oval in preparation for the Nationwide Series race. The remote setup utilized a Nikon D3 with a 400mm lens attached. It would be triggered via a set of pocket wizard transceivers. It was mounted to an inside catch fence with a super clamp and magic arm. Here is how the setup looked.


Radio “shock jock” Bubba the Love Sponge, who was the races grand marshall, showed up with family in tow. He was just as large as I expected, his wife was hotter than I expected.


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

Below, race fans hold an American flag as the national anthem is played prior to the race.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

After a few pace laps the field of 43 drivers took the green flag.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th

Below, Ryan Newman (33) leads the field into turn three.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/3200th

One fun thing about Talladega is it is without a doubt the best track if you wanna see the stereotypical NASCAR fans.

There are home made t-shirts that couldn’t help but make you laugh.



The below guy really could have used one of those t-shirts to cover himself up. Something tells me he is a very miserable man this week.


Ok, back to the racing.

Below is a shot from my tri-oval remote camera as the field races three wide through the tri-oval (24 hours later I would be wishing I had kept that remote where it was)


Nikon D3, 400mm, 800iso, f10, 1/800th

Below, the crowd goes wild as Dale Earnhardt Jr (5) leads his driver Brad Keselowski (88) through the tri-oval.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/4000th

In the closing laps of the race Matt Kenseth (16) got spun out and flipped wildly at the end of the backstretch. Of course that portion of the track is about a mile from my shooting location, plus its blocked by motor homes.

If you look closely you can see I was all over it as Kenseth rolls over.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/2500th

There are six cars in the below photo, can you guess which one is Matt Kenseth?


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/3200th


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/3200th

The car held up surprisingly well and Matt Kenseth was uninjured.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/2000th

Here is the video of the crash.

In the end David Ragan would take the checkered flag with a last lap pass in the tri-oval. It was the first win in Ragans NASCAR career.

Finishing behind him was Dale Earnhardt Jr who congratulated Ragan on pit road following the race.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/3200th

In victory lane Ragan climbed from his car to celebrate as his crew looked on.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.7 convertor (1000mm), 640iso, f8, 1/2500th

On my way back to the media center in the infield I stopped by victory lane to get something closer of Ragan celebrating with his team.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

On to race day!

For the Sprint Cup race I was motivated to do a good job and instead of the one remote I was going to go for two remotes.

The first remote would be a backstretch camera aimed straight down the track. On first glance you may think its a dull place for a camera but the beauty of this angle was the fact Talladega is a track you can’t shoot from the outside of. Most tracks have photo holes in the outside catch fence but the speeds of this track prevent it from being safe. So by having a remote camera on the outside of the track it would provide an angle that photographers have always been unable to get.

The spot I would be setting this camera up at was over 1 mile from my shooting location so it was a perfect chance to really try out the 20 Mile Remote created by my good friend Robert Benson.

The set up uses walkie talkies plugged into a circuit box he created to work at long ranges. Obviously Pocket Wizards are the standard option for remote photography but lets face it, sometimes 1000ft range just isn’t enough.

Special thanks to my buddies Kevin Liles and Marvin Gentry for helping me safely set up the camera and test it out.

Here is a photo of the set up. (I had a bunch of good closer shots of the set up but somehow I lost the flash card.)


Photo by Marvin Gentry

After that one was all set up and good to go I headed a mile away to the finish line to set up the finish line cam.

At Talladega the finish line is past the tri-oval thus giving me a crappy shot for any burnout or other celebration that may occur there. In theory the remote camera in that position would be a perfect way to get something good. (and since you cant stand there, unique)

Below, I set up the finish line camera utilizing a Nikon D700 with a 24-70mm lens.


Photo by David Griffin

Here is a closer view of the set up.


Race time!

Below, a race fan waves his hat as the field goes by during the pace laps.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 320iso, f8, 1/800th

Below I will show you three different angles from the first lap of the race.



Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 320iso, f8, 1/1600th

Finish line Remote:


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f6.3, 1/3200th

Backstretch Remote:


Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f13, 1/1250th

While on the topic of the backstretch remote here is a wider photo showing the cameras location.


Photo by Marvin Gentry

In the below photo taken by Jason Brooks you can see how I triggered the remotes. Finish line remote was triggered via the pocket wizard on my camera. When I wanted to fire the finish line cam I would simply turn the Pocket Wizard on and either shoot with my handheld or push the test button. The wire you see going up to my camera on the right was connected to a push button trigger that I would push when I wanted the backstretch remote to fire.


Photo by Jason Brooks

Only 6 laps into the race the Big One occured going into turn three when Jeff Gordon got sideways triggering a huge pile up. In the below photo note that Mark Martin (5) is on his side and Kasey Kahne (9) is driving beneath Jamie McMurray (26).


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 320iso, f8, 1/2500th

Below is a wide angle shot showing an overall view of the entire track. (I had to tilt the camera sideways to fit the whole track in the shot)


Nikon D3, 10.5mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/6400th

Below, Jimmie Johnson makes a mid race pit stop. The reason I like the shot (and others may hate it) is for the sun glaring off the side window of the car. I’m not saying its something great but its certainly different from the usual pit stop shot.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/8000th

Below, Kyle Busch, who had lead numerous laps, got spun in turn four while leading.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/4000th

A short while later Jimmie Johnson would be involved in the second big one of the day as he was clipped during a multi car crash taking him for a high speed slide.

First up is my view from the handheld camera:


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/5000th

The shot was complete garbage, but as I shot with the handheld I was also pushing the trigger for the backstretch camera.

Here is the view that camera saw.


Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f13, 1/1000th

Below, the car driven by Jeremy Mayfield, who was involved in the wreck, sits on the inside of turn four as safety crews work to extinguish flames.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/4000th

Ok, lets get to the end of the race since thats all anyone cares about anyways!

Coming off turn four to the checkered flag rookie driver Brad Keselowski followed behind race leader Carl Edwards. In the middle of the tri-oval Keselowski got below Edwards, in an attempt to block him Edwards attempted to cut him off. In most situations Keselowski would have dipped down low to avoid the accident but after the penalty given to Regan Smith on the last lap of the last Talladega race there was no way he was going to dip below the line. Below is what transpired.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

These next few photos are uncropped.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1000th


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/800th

At this point now I am totally screwed and I know it as I watch the car of Edwards climb higher and higher while the available space in my view finder to fit a car grows smaller and smaller.

The next shot is the last shot before the car becomes to big for my lens.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/800th

Now I am officially screwed. Although the fans and the fence block the car, the sheer fact of how high in the air he was makes me really wish I had been wider but the issue with that is my lens set up is perfect for 95% of ther track, its just that 5% directly in front of me where problems can occur.

Unlike most photo blogs where you only see the good shots I try and make it a point to also show my failures. Below is a massive failure as I show you the contact sheet showing the shots where the car was too big for the frame at the peak of his acrobatics. UGH!


After all the good stuff directly in front of me Edwards landed on his wheels and slid away from me. Once small enough in the frame I could once again shoot decent shots.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1600th

After coming to a stop Edwards quickly climbed from the destroyed car.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Then Edwards did a classic thing that people will talk about for years to come. He climbed from the car and ran about 50 yards to the finish line so he could finish the race.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Heres the view from my finish line remote.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f6.3, 1/2000th

Lost in all the commotion of the wild crash was the fact that Brad Keselowski, who was making only his fifth career Cup start, had won the race.

In case you haven’t seen the video yet here you go. Multiple camera angles!

With Edwards car and safety vehicles near the finish line, Keselwoski did his burnout in the tri-oval. So much for the entire purpose of my finish line remote!


Nikon D3, 600mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Keselowski climbed from his car in victory lane where he was promptly doused with gatorade by his crew.


Nikon D3, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

After shooting that my focus immediately changed when I was told by my co worker JD that Edwards car had hit the catch fence and debris had flew into the crowd injuring spectators.

From the roof where I was the front row of the upper deck blocked the view of the fans on the lower level so I pushed and shoved my way down the grandstand steps to get a front row view to look below.

I was expecting to see numerous injured fans but thankfully I only saw medics as they surrounded a female fan who had been hit in the face with debris in her second row seat.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f3.2, 1/2500th

I could see the injured fan blinking and moving her arms so I knew it wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it was still a bit eerie to see a bloody fan being stretchered out directly below me as she looked up towards my position.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f3.2, 1/640th


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f3.2, 1/1250th

The girl was the worst of the 8 injured fans but after a few days in the hospital for the facial cut and a broken jaw she was released.

I pushed my way down to the ground so I could cross the track and head to the infield media room to begin transmitting images.

I stopped briefly to shoot the damaged catch fence since I knew it would be a big story.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 250iso, f4, 1/1000th

While down there I saw another fan being carried out so I quickly took a shot of that.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 250iso, f4, 1/640th

Back on the inside of the track I retrieved my worthless finish line remote and fired off one last angle of the damaged catch fence.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 250iso, f4, 1/800th

That ends a wild and wacky weekend in Talladega. While I failed as an individual with one of the biggest crashes in the last 10 years the team I was working with did a great job thus making the weekend a success.

Here are some tearsheets from the weekend.


















That ends the Talladega wrap up. Perhaps I can redeem my failure this weekend. I highly doubt we will see anything near as exciting as Dega was though.

Posted in Me, NASCAR, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Sports, Talladega   | 11 Comments

11 responses to “Carl Edwards is cleared for Liftoff”

  1. Jason Brooks says:

    Very cool having the photo in here. Glad I could help you show the setup!

  2. Katekirk says:

    This was really cool to read and I appreciate how you shared the story of what you think you didn’t catch — but there was something interesting in the closeup of Carl’s flight as well. And not only the race itself, but the race atmosphere complete with sunburn wifebeaters 🙂

    What a great life you lead, thanks for sharing it.

  3. Alan Stewart says:

    GREAT shots as always, Mark!!!

  4. Hey Mark,

    I introduced myself to you at the race last weekend, you got some great stuff. I posted what I got on my blog if you want to take a look.

    Aaron’s 312: http://www.joshdweiss.com/photoblog/2009/04/25/aint-no-talladega-nights/
    Aaron’s 499: http://www.joshdweiss.com/photoblog/2009/04/26/dega-ii/

    Hope you had fun with Pouya.


  5. Ariel says:

    Nice collection as always Mark. 🙂

  6. Wild action and great commentary, as always. The videos are a nice complement to see just how big those crashes were.

  7. Mark,
    At least you had a better day than I did.
    You can almost see me standing on the tower coming out of turn two.
    Oh well…..the only action I had was a few fans cutting some ZZZZZZ’s along the backstretch.
    Maybe I’ll see you next week in Darlington, or maybe at the Allstar.


  8. Tim O says:

    You’re ridiculous.

    These shots are off the charts cool.

    The view you bring to this blog, and to your work, is unlike any other. Truly unique.

    Also, I don’t know anyone crazy enough to plunk a D3, with lens out on the backstretch at Talladega — that’s dedication.

    Amazing as usual – keep up the great work!

  9. Ted says:


    Awesome photos, great reportage/storytelling. You have NO bad shots, your blog is awesome. You put your gear in hard to find places for the unique shot. Great blog, looking forward to the Richmond pics..

    *Next time you’re in Atlanta, give me a shout, I’ll give you a tour of TBS and the Studios, you can browse around the digital images department, they have all the cool stuff.**

  10. Joey says:

    Great shots as usually………Really enjoy the “remote” setups and explanations!!

  11. […] one of these in his blog for Talladega. FWIW, Mark just made the SI cover a couple of weeks ago. Carl Edwards is cleared for Liftoff at Mark J. Rebilas Blog __________________ Members don’t see ads in threads. Register your free account today […]

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