22
Jul

It has been a while since I last shot the 300mph cars of the NHRA so I decided that I had to hit up their annual visit to the wine country of Sonoma, CA. Flights and rental cars were rather expensive for the weekend so I decided to make it a road trip and drive up to the San Francisco area. Lets get on to the racing.

As usual I would spend most of the weekend in the shutdown area of the track shooting head on images.

Below, Tony Pedregon slows to a stop with his parachutes out following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

One big benefit of shooting the cars coming right at you is that the massive amounts of heat waves the cars produce blur out backgrounds making for cool looking images such as the below frame of NHRA top fuel dragster driver Tony Schumacher (left) racing alongside teammate Antron Brown during qualifying for the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

The late afternoon light at Sonoma is perfect for photos such as the below shot of NHRA top fuel dragster driver Cory McClenathan as he slows to a stop following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Ok lets fast forward to the night time qualifying session….

I always struggle with where I should shoot for night qualifying sessions. On one hand if I go to the starting line I can get lots of cool and artsy pics of the cars with the massive header flames coming from the exhaust but on the other hand if I stay at the top end of the track I will most likely be the only person to get photos should anything wild or crazy occur since everyone else will be at starting line.

After some thinking I decided to stay at the end of the track for the pro session.

I learned pretty fast that the light in the shutdown area was horrible compared to the light from the start to the finish line.

Below, the funny car of John Force is silhouetted as he trails smoke down past the finish line.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

NHRA funny car driver Jack Beckman (below) slows to a stop following his pole winning run during qualifying for the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Long time funny car racer Gary Densham would provide some fireworks for the sold out crowd during his qualifying pass.

One thing I have learned in my many years doing NHRA is when a car is smoking and/or shooting out weird colored flames that something bad might be about to happen…

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

As soon as I saw the haze of smoke and odd header flames I held down the shutter button as the show began…

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

The engine let go with a boom and small fire….

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Although the fire was small (compared to most funny car explosions) the concussion of the explosion was enough to lift the body and break it in half. Once the air got under the body it instantly blew the body off the car….

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

My father Gil, who has been covering drag racing since the 70s calls explosions like this a “Funny car puzzle” …. looking at the below photo you can probably see why!

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Luckily for Densham once the body was gone the fire quickly went out and he was able to safely bring the car to a stop.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

Here is video of the explosion.

After several minutes of safety personnel picking up all the parts and pieces off the track we got back to racing.

Below, NHRA funny car driver Bob Tasca III (left) races alongside teammate Tim Wilkerson during qualifying for the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 6400iso, f4, 1/400th, Manual

Tim Wilkerson slows to a stop with the parachutes out following his qualifying run, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f3.2, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

In the below frame of Ron Capps I shot at a very slow shutter speed to achieve a blurred speed look. (He was only doing about 20 miles an hour in the shot)

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f3.2, 1/25th, Aperture Priority

On to Saturday.

When I headed up to the top end I noticed some crew members from Gary Denshams team going through all the pieces of his destroyed body looking to salvage any useable parts from it, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/125th, Aperture Priority

Pro stock motorcycle rider Hector Arana nearly pulls his skin off as he takes off his helmet following a qualifying run, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Below, plenty of good seats still available! (in the interest of fair reporting the 2 fans were on a grandstand about an 1/8th mile from the dragstrip)

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 250iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

I knew if I stayed at the top end the entire weekend I wouldn’t have very much variety for this blog so I went up to the starting line for a little while to shoot some different stuff.

Below, NHRA pro stock motorcycle rider Angie Smith does her burnout prior to making her run.

Nikon D700, 85mm, 250iso, f1.8, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

The one person in drag racing I get scared to photograph is pro stock driver Warren Johnson, below. While the guy has never yelled at me or anything he just always seems unhappy.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Below, multi time champion Greg Anderson gets strapped into his car prior to making a run.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Top fuel dragster driver Mike Strasburg (below)

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Top fuel driver Bob Vandergriff reflects in his tow vehicle as he heads to his car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Troy Buff does a burnout during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

In the below photo of David Grubnic sitting in his car surrounded by his crew members you might notice most of the crew guys smirking. The reason is while I was shooting this photo funny car driver Tim Wilkerson was dripping water down the back of my neck. I wont lie, it felt good!

Nikon D700, 85mm, 250iso, f1.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, water flies off the rear tires of NHRA top fuel dragster driver Terry McMillen as he drives through the waterbox prior to his burnout.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Brandon Bernstein sits strapped into his dragster, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Funny car driver Melanie Troxel sits strapped into her In-N-Out Burger car, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Below, I get all up in the face of defending funny car champion Robert Hight as he prepares to climb into his car.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Thats about it for Saturday. On to race day.

From the second floor of the media center I spied funny car driver Bob Tasca III walking through his pit area near the body of his car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Pro stock motorcycle rider Angie Smith pushes her bike through the staging lanes, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Below, prior to the first round I spotted top fuel driver Larry Dixon all alone surveying the track.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

7 time top fuel champion Tony Schumacher (below) heads off stage following driver introductions, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

After shooting driver introductions I set up on the top end of the track.

Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo

Below, funny car driver Melanie Troxel slows to a stop with her parachutes out following her first round loss.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

After the first round of pros I decided to change shooting positions due to the high amount of heat waves that were ruining my head on shots. I headed up on a spectator viewing hill near the finish line to shoot for awhile. I would soon find out that I should have stayed in the top end position when comp eliminator driver Brandon Huhtala lost control and crashes alongside Dean Carter, below.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After narrowly miss hitting Carter, Huhtala’s car got turned around backwards….

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

….when a drag car is going backwards at speed theres always a chance of wind getting beneath the car and causing it to go airborne.

In the below shot you can see the back wheels trying to lift off the ground….

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

….the car didn’t look like it was going to go airborne…

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

….until he hit the wall and it lifted the car off the ground. This is where the cool shots were about to happen…

UNTIL everyone who was sitting in the grandstands all stood up to watch….

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

…..and my camera focused on the heads of stock drivers Gary and Eric Waldo (below) as Huhtalas car went airborne…

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

…..yep at this point I felt like crying as the out of focus head on one of the Waldo brothers blocked what would have been a pretty wild shot.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

……the only good thing about these shots is I now know the answer to “Wheres Waldo” !

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After the highly challenging nose stand Huhtalas car came back down on all fours..

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

And slid to a safe stop.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Huhtala would walk away from the accident while I screamed and cussed at my garbage images!

Here is a lackluster video of the crash.

Below, NHRA pro stock driver Jeg Coughlin Jr (left) defeats Greg Anderson during the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

NHRA funny car driver Bob Tasca III (near) defeats Cruz Pedregon during the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway, below.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Funny car driver Ron Capps, below, races down track.

Nikon D700, 200-400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

For the final rounds I headed down to the very end of the track to shoot the winners celebrating.

Below, pro stock motorcycle rider Michael Phillips celebrates after winning.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

Below, Jeg Coughlin Jr celebrates atop his car after winning pro stock.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

NHRA funny car winner Ron Capps (left) talks with top fuel dragster winner Larry Dixon after the Fram Autolite Nationals, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB800 Flash

That brings to a close an interesting weekend in Sonoma. Not sure when my next drag race will be but I can’t wait.

Here are some web clips:


 
Posted in California, Drag Racing, NHRA, Racing, San Francisco, Sports   | 5 Comments

5 responses to “Gary Densham and his Funny Car Puzzle in Sonoma”

  1. Doug says:

    Nice job, looks like a fun time and no one hit your rental car this time.

  2. Great stuff as usual Mark!

  3. Tom Whitmore says:

    Great shots Mark..I really enjoyed looking at them!

  4. Mike Rogers says:

    Sorry Mark, but, for the 1st time ever, some of your images look soft on this Sonoma Set, is it me, the computer, ummm is your camera alright!? Something is way out of norm…..

  5. […] Gary Densham made a qualifying run, his funny car exploded at 292.52 mph, and it was quite a mess. Such a mess that the final round of qualifying for the top […]

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