Every year the cars and stars of the NHRA converge on Firebird International Raceway to test out their cars in preparation of the 2009 season which begins in two weeks. Preseason testing usually is the best time to get images of the drivers due to the small crowds and great access. Continue on to see my first motorsports shoot of the new year!

On the first day I got out there and walked around and got right to work looking for shots as crewmembers were unloading the cars from their haulers.

Below the car of funny car driver Jack Beckman is unloaded from the hauler.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/5000th

The car of funny car driver Ron Capps is pushed into its pit area after being unloaded.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/8000th

Rookie top fuel dragster driver Spencer Massey warms up in his car prior to a test run.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/250th

The car of funny car driver Jack Beckman goes through a tech inspection.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

I headed to the starting line to get setup and look around. The track sat empty of all action…

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/4000th

…but that was about to change as the track opened and drivers were invited to take their turns racing.

At Firebird they have all credentialed photographers wearing these really cool photo vests……too bad they look like construction worker vests. In the below photo you can see how happy I am to wear the brightly colored vest.

Photo by Brian Losness

Robert Hight prepares to climb into his car in the staging lanes.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/200th

Spencer Massey does a burnout during testing.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f18, 1/30th

Funny car driver John Force sits in his car prior to making a run.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

A few minutes later he blasted off the starting line on a pass.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/4000th

After a few more passes I got bored and called it a day.

Day two was a nice sunny day with temperatures in the upper 60’s. Prior to making a run funny car driver Jim Head walked down the track inspecting conditions.

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

Below I shot funny car driver Ashley Force reflecting off her tow vehicle as she prepared to climb into her car for a run.

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

Then she climbed into her car.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

Once strapped into the car it made for a nice shot of Force as she waited her turn to run. Lots of photographers shoot in car shots like this with flash but in my opinion it looks horrible compared to naturally lit, plus a lot of drivers get mad if you are firing flash when they are about to run.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/160th

After shooting drivers in their cars I started walking towards the startlign line to shoot some cars. On my way I stopped and tried to shoot a photo of Cory McClenathan through a bunch of crew members that made for a somewhat interesting layered photo.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/8000th

Another thing I noticed was the overabundance of credentialed “photographers.” I counted over 40 “photographers” who had credentials. You would have thought it was the Daytona 500 with the amount of “photographers” running around.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f5, 1/4000th

The background is filled with heatwaves as top fuel champion Tony Schumacher launches off the starting line.

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

The next two shots don’t look like anything too amazing but the crazy thing is they were shot via remote from over a half mile away using a remote set up created by photographer Robert Benson.

Brandon Bernstein pops the parachute to slow down from a 300mph run.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2000iso, f11, 1/1250th

Troy Buff blows an engine as he crosses the finish line.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 2000iso, f11, 1/3200th

For more info about the 20 mile remote check out the link.

Jack Beckman gives a crew member a fist bump prior to climbing into his car.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 640iso, f5, 1/1000th

For Beckmans run I slowed down the shutter speed big time to do a pan blur of his burnout.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 100iso, f14, 1/30th

As John Force was waiting his turn to run I shot him driving around his car on his little scooter as he talked to various drivers and crew members.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 400iso, f5, 1/640th

I got down low directly in front of the car of Morgan Lucas as he prepared for his run.

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

Lucas smoked the tires right at the hit of the throttle. The header flames and heatwaves took a throw away photo and made it pretty cool.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

Below I shot a picture of the rear slick on a top fuel dragster as it sat still and then I shot the tire the moment the driver hit the throttle to show the severe stress that Goodyear Tires go through with these 8000 horsepower machines.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/8000th

I shot a semi close up shot of top fuel driver Antron Brown as he sat in his car waiting to run. The colorful reflections off the side of his car makes it look like two photos side by side which I like. (the odd blue look around his eyes is due to the photo being shot through his cars windshield)

Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f4, 1/1000th

Southern California based photographer Will Lester sets up a wide angle remote camera at the base of the starting line. To see some of Wills awesome racing photos click here.

Below the car of Steve Faria spits out heatwaves as he races down track on a top fuel licensing attempt.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/6400th

A crew member provides some shade for top fuel driver Cory McClenathan as he waits to run.

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

Funny car driver Jim Head sits in his car prior to making a pass.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/400th

My day ended with another cool heat wave shot as Larry Dixon deploys his parachute while still on the gas.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f4.5, 1/5000th

On the final day I waited till late in the afternoon to head out to the track to take advantage of the great light. One of my coworkers had to fly home early so I was lucky enough to get his parking pass which was much better than the one I had been using the other days. I couldn’t resist including my car in a photo with a nitro funny car in the background.

While driving through the pit area a short time later I noticed some nice light coming in as the Larry Dixon car warmed up in the pits. I honestly nailed the brakes and ran from my car to shoot a few shots.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

As you can see, all the crew members are wearing gas masks, the reason for that is the nitro methane fuel they use makes your eyes water. To some it sounds like a pain in the ass but trust me, it is the greatest smell and feeling in the world to be up close to one of these cars running.

After they shut the car off some smoke trickled from the header pipes.

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

Cory McClenathan sits in his car as the sun lights up his eyes for a cool look…where’d his umbrella holder go?

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Back trackside the sun was dipping lower into the sky and if positioned in the right spot you could see a blinding reflection off the timing tower.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1000th

I shot a wide angle shot of top fuel driver Antron Brown as he drove past the shining tower.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 400iso, f3.5, 1/500th

So it looked pretty cool but still wasn’t as cool as I felt it could be. Below, funny car driver Matt Hagan was racing in the far lane so I was able to use a zoom lens and get close on the car and make the shining tower fill the entire frame. The result was much cooler looking.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/320th

The sun dipped behind the mountains on the horizon as a lone fan watched the racing from his grandstand spot.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/8000th

The best part about darkness setting in was that you could now see the flames from the exhaust as the cars raced.

Del Worsham launches off the starting line on a pass.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/250th

So now with it being pretty dark outside I wanted to mess around with some off camera flash images. I busted out a set of pocket wizards to sidelight cars as I shot from head on. I didn’t have a tripod or anything to mount the flash on so I resorted to simply setting the flash and pocket wizard on the wall aimed where I wanted to light the vehicles. Here is how the setup looked.

The first car I tried to do the side flash with was Cory McClenathan. As soon as the light turned green and he launched from the starting line I shot pics. For some reason the flash didn’t fire.

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

It was still a cool photo but wasn’t what I was looking for. For some reason if I was standing more than 20 feet away from the remote flash it simply wouldn’t fire for some reason. I ran to my car and pulled new batteries from the trunk and replaced the batteries which I figured would fix the problem. I tried a test shot from 100ft away and had no luck. (The next day while talking to friends about the problem they mentioned perhaps the antennas and/or circuit board had gone bad on the devices which severely limited the range) Anyone wanna buy me some new pocket wizards??

So what I ended up doing was moving the remote flash’s position much closer and I stood in the center of the track behind the starting line and used the flash as a background prop to add a cool effect.

First up was funny car driver Robert Hight. As he lined up the car for his run I positioned myself where the flash would be visible just above the edge of the car. The exhaust was pretty much aimed right at my face and while the car was there idling tears were just streaming down my face as the fumes overwhelmed me. I forced myself to stay there to shoot the launch.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/250th

The next car up was Mike Neff in the unsponsored John Force Racing car. I stood downtrack a bit and shot a slow shutter speed wide shot as he raced downtrack.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/50th

I headed back to the spot behind the starting line and moved the flash to the other side of the track to shoot top fuel champion Tony Schumacher as he made his run. The flash really made this shot pretty cool as it shows one of the front tires off the ground. I also benefitted from another photographers flash going off directly behind the car out of frame which added some good fill light.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/160th

For the last run of the day Brandon Bernstein lined up to run. I had to run and move the flash back to the other side of the track. For the burnout I shot to line up a Budweiser sign on the tower with his Budweiser sponsored car going past.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/125th

Bernstein backed up into his rubber tracks as the burnout smoke hung over the starting line making for a unique looking shot.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/125th

For the launch I got closer than I did with the other cars and once again benefitted by catching the flash of another photographer directly behind the car. If only the grandstands were full this shot would probably be a portfolio image.

Nikon D700, 14-24mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/80th

With that NHRA testing wrapped up for me. I had some hassles over the weekend but overall I had a pretty good weekend.

Here are a few web clippings I found so far.



My site was nominated for Best Photography Blog!

Posted in Drag Racing, Firebird International Raceway, Me, NHRA, Pocket Wizard, Portraits, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports   | 15 Comments

15 responses to “NHRA Preseason Testing in the desert”

  1. My guess if that your pocketwizards are fine, but they just don’t like sitting on a concrete block like that, which will just kill the range. Try getting them up off the wall, maybe with a table-top tripod or something else that will raise them off that wall so the antenna can function better.

  2. Norman Blake says:

    The most interesting pic’s I’ve seen from any of the test sessions.

  3. Dom says:

    yet again another intresting set of pics mark. With the shot of morgan lucas how far in front of the car are you?
    Also some very intresting color detail and depth are you shooting slightly under exposed?
    Finally I have acouple of questions id like to ask you, would you be all right if i shot you off a email??

  4. The PWs will work best if the antennas are pointed up. Failing that, make sure the antenna on the sender and the receiver are in the same direction more or less.

    If you were shooting with the PW on your camera’s hot shoe (antenna up), the antennas were aimed different directions, and the range is going to be very limited. Stick the one on the remote onto the Nikon flash stand that came with your speedlight so it’s upright, and you’ll be back in business.

    Nice photos, even with the equipment problem.

  5. Brian Fowler says:

    “portfolio image”? That picture is a classic! How could it capture that moment any better?

  6. sta says:

    These are by far the best selection of shots I’ve seen put together….ever. Subject, lighting, contrast. A terrific bunch of shots. You ARE the man, Mr Rebilas!

  7. Frederik says:

    Awesome photo’s Mark! I really liked the “layer shot” and the flash images are cool as well !

  8. Nice utilization of a “borrowed” parking pass.

  9. Les Welch says:

    Brian … Nice of you to leave early!

  10. Wes Cunningham says:

    Hey Mark,

    I love that tire shot. I’ve always been interested in seeing the tires fold up like that.

    Anyway, congrats on the Sportsshooter contest win! Since you use Nikon, I’m guessing you won’t get much use out of the Mark III eh? Well I’ll take it off your hands…be in contact 😉

    Kidding, congrats though!


  11. Brian Husen says:

    Great shots of drag racing, like Ive never seen before. I work on Dixons car and am interested in buying some pics. Please contact me. Thanks

  12. John says:

    You ever think the drivers probably don’t appreciate you shooting that flash right in their eyes, especially at night? How would you like that if you were in the drivers seat?

  13. John,
    In none of the shots on this blog did I have a flash in any of the drivers faces when they were in the car. When I shoot drivers up close sitting in their cars I don’t use flash for that reason. I assume you are referring to the shots of the cars racing on track. For starters the flash looks much more powerful in the photos than it is in actuality and second of all if a driver is looking all the way to the side, where my flash was set up, he has some major issues. I know many drivers and they say even when the starting line is filled with photogs, nearly all of whom are using flash, they experience zero problems since they are looking at the tree or down track. If it was half the problem that you seem to think it is then NHRA would have banned flash photography many years ago.


  14. Kyle Sharp says:

    John, it’s something that these drivers get used to VERY quick. To add to that they are not concentrating on anything apart from the tree and then keeping the car in the groove, you will find that they won’t even notice the flash.

    When was the last time you heard a pro drag racer complain about the flash?

    Mark, use your speedlight feet for your pocketwizards to stand them up, works a dream 🙂

  15. Bob Beckman says:

    For some inexplicable reason I am DRAWN to the pictures of “Fast Jack”.

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