17
Jul

A few months ago at NHRA pre-season testing at West Palm Beach I rented a helicopter to do some aerial photography. It was a learning experience that made for some good shots but also left me anxious to get in the air and do it again. This time at an actual NHRA race! Get ready for liftoff…

A few weeks prior to the race I was approached by the track about using some of my images from last years race for the track. I instantly remembered that the track has their own helicopter. A few minutes of chatting landed a good trade off, a few hours air time in their helicopter for some images. After what I paid for the helicopter in testing I knew a good deal when I saw one!

For day one I would be on the ground shooting my standard stuff.

Below, NHRA top fuel driver Antron Brown launches off the starting line during qualifying.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual

NHRA top fuel driver Keith Murt launches off the starting line just before sunset, below.

Nikon D4, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/640th, Manual

The darker it got outside the brighter the header flames would shine as the drivers launched.

Below, top fuel driver Steve Torrence launches with the wheels up and some super orange flames. It was weird but after this first shot the flames were back to the light yellow color we normally see.

Nikon D4, 400mm, 1250iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual

Tony Schumacher kicks out some flames as he launches off the starting line in qualifying, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f4, 1/500th, Manual

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Ok time to go airborne!

Here are a few overall views of Royal Purple Raceway during qualifying for the NHRA Spring Nationals.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Unlike the student pilots I flew with in West Palm, my chopper pilot for this flight was a highly experienced former military pilot and current rescue chopper pilot. What that meant for me was when I asked to hover in a certain spot the pilot did it with the ease of a video game.

Below, NHRA pro stock driver Erica Enders (left) launches alongside Mike Edwards during qualifying for the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA pro stock driver Jason Line (top) does his burnout alongside Vincent Nobile during qualifying for the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Basically what I traded to do was shoot each pair of cars from a different angle. I would tell the pilot where I wanted to go after each run and we would get in position every time before the next pair. It was easily the most fun aerial shooting I had ever done. Even better than when I flew in a Seahawk Navy helicopter off the coast of Alaska shooting aerials of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

Below, a rear angle view as pro stock driver Greg Anderson does a smoky burnout.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Below, looking nearly straight down from the chopper gave me a cool angle as NHRA top fuel dragster driver Terry McMillen does a burnout during qualifying.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Even though it was by far the easiest spot to shoot from, I didn’t spend all my time shooting above the starting line. I wanted to challenge myself so we posted up a few hundred feet above the finish line to shoot the cars at speed.

Below, Heres a close up view of the NHRA top fuel dragster of Tony Schumacher crossing the finish line at 318 mph. It was ridiculously hard to pan with a car moving that fast from a bumpy helicopter hovering in the wind!

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Below, Schumacher slows down with a parachute alongside Khalid Albalooshi.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 400iso, f8, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Below, Top fuel teammates David Grubnic (right) and Doug Kalitta race side by side during qualifying.

Nikon D4, 400mm, 160iso, f5, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

A really liked the below shot as NHRA top fuel dragster drivers Morgan Lucas (top) and Steve Torrence launch off the starting line during qualifying at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston, TX.

Nikon D4, 400mm, 160iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

I almost got my first crash from the air when NHRA funny car driver Terry Haddock got his funny car on two wheels alongside Todd Simpson during qualifying.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

From the air, the staging lanes looked quite colorful as its filled with funny cars and pro mod cars waiting for their turn to attack the track, below.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Below, rookie of the year contender Courtney Force does a burnout during qualifying.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

NHRA pro mod driver Leah Pruett slows to a stop with the help of her two parachutes following a first round loss, below.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 640iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

That wraps up my aerials for the weekend. Back to the ground I’d go for Sundays eliminations.

Below, top fuel dragster drivers J.R. Todd (left) has entirely too much fun with Antron Brown during driver introductions.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1600iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Steve Torrence (right) narrowly defeats T.J. Zizzo in round one of the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

Below, the family and crew for pro stock driver Vincent Nobile celebrate one of his four round wins on the day.

Nikon D4, 400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

I really liked the below frame of top fuel driver Morgan Lucas as he waits in the staging lanes to run. The bridge filled with fans crossing behind added a nice element to the shot.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 160iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Lets move on to the pro finals where the winners would be crowned.

In pro stock motorcycle it would be Andrew Hines (below) celebrating the win…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

…while runner up Hector Arana Jr was not near as happy.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

In pro stock the winner would be Vincent Nobile for the second year in a row….

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

….as a bummed runner up Dave Connolly was left to wonder what happened.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

In funny car the winner would be JFR driver Mike Neff.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

And we wrap up the weekend with the top fuel final in which Morgan Lucas would race to his second Wally of the year.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

In the winner circle (below) a fan would let Morgan rock his NHRA themed sombrero as fiancé Katie Pallone and crew chief Aaron Brooks enjoy the moment.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

And that wraps up another race. To see all my images from the weekend searchable by drivers name CLICK HERE.

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 Aerial Photography, Drag Racing, NHRA, Racing, Sports, Texas   1 Comment

One response to “Helicopter provides best seat in house for NHRA Houston”

  1. Kevin says:

    Dear Mark, I seriously doubt you flew with a student pilot. That was most likely not the case and further extremely illegal. If you were to mention that at all as you did, apparently, for comparisons sake; the more correct statement should probably have “less experienced pilot” Keep up the good work, KB

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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!