After a few weeks of shooting baseball I was more than excited when NASCAR made its first visit of the year to the Valley of the Sun.  While the race itself usually isn’t very exciting, the light for shooting photos of the race that begins in the day and ends at night is typically amazing. With three races on tap for the weekend things were shaping up to be a fun, productive weekend at home for me.

Thursday at the track really didn’t have much important stuff going on so I was debating not going at all. With the Sprint Cup drivers not taking the track for practice until Friday there was really no client needs to take care of….or so I thought.

One of the good things about being a freelance photographer is you never know when the phone is going to ring with a client needing archive images or needing images shot. The day before the race weekend was to begin I got a call from one of my editors who needed me at the track on Thursday to shoot a couple of quick portraits of rookie driver Kristin Bumbera, who would be racing in the evenings Camping World West Series race.

I got to the track around 4:30pm Thursday afternoon to try and knock out the portrait during qualifying.

She was one of the first cars to qualify so when I got out to pit road to find her she was already in the car for her run. I shot a quick photo of her in the car using an off camera flash.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/250th

Obviously that shot wasn’t gonna work for the client so I hung around and waited to shoot her after she got out of her car following her lap.

I shot a few shots of her after her run as I tried to do my best to get what I need without having to bother her from her job.


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

It was a decent photo but still nto what I wanted. As she was walking back to her hauler I quickly stopped her and set up a few minutes prior to the race to shoot a few portraits on pit road before she climbed into her car for the race.

As I was heading out of the media room to get prepared for the race I saw grand marshall of the race Jimmie Johnson speaking to the media. For the last few years the Jimmie Johnson Foundation was the sponsor of the race so I quickly fired off a few shots of Johnson.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f3.5, 1/250th

A few minutes before the race started I found Kristin on pit road near her car and had her sit on the pit wall as I fired off a couple of quick portraits using a Nikon SB800 flash off camera. The images are nothing super professional but they get the job done. The nicely colored sky was an added bonus.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/125th


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/160th


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

With all of the portrait stuff I needed to accomplish out of the way it was time for the actual race. I didn’t need to stick around for the race but hell I was already there and who knows what amazing photo I might potentially end up with.

I chose to shoot the race from the inside of the track in turn two.

High above me on the outside of the track on the roof were all the team spotters ready for the race as the dusk sky slowly turned to black.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/250th

About ten laps into the race the race leader, David Gilliland, suffered a blown tire and pounded the outside wall in a shower of sparks.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

Later in the race long time racer Jim Inglebright blew an engine and his car burst into flames as he was driving away from me. I really wish the wall wasn’t covering up the bottom of the car but I was very lucky to even get that shot since it was shot through a fence.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

That was about it in the excitement department for me. With about 20 laps remaining I headed onto pit road to shoot the race winner crossing the finish line to win the race. It is a totally boring shot but it is a shot everyone seems to take since lots of publications use it.

Below, NASCAR Camping World Series West driver Jason Bowles takes the checkered flag to win the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 150 at Phoenix International Raceway.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

In victory lane I did my standard set up of one camera in each hand. I do that so I can get a wide shot with the entire car with one camera and a close up vertical of the celebrating driver with the other.

Here is the wide shot:


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/160th

And here is the tight shot:


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/200th

That wraps up a short and sweet day one in Phoenix, day two would be much longer.

Friday had me getting out to the track at 9:30am to get set up for the Sprint Cup series practice that began at 10:10am.

I would spend the next few hours walking around the garage looking for cool driver shots and car shots. Here are a few shots I liked from practice.

Below, Kasey Kahne sits in his car prior to heading out for practice.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f5.6, 1/500th

Below, Greg Biffle sits in his car as he prepares to head out on track.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f5.6, 1/400th

Below, Sprint Cup Series drivers wait in line for the track to open for practice.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/4000th

Below, Water splashes as driver Todd Bodine drives through a puddle in the garage on his way back out on track.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

I really like the simplicity and nice background of the below shot of Mark Martin as he sits in the garage looking on as crew members make adjustments to his car.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f5.6, 1/500th

The below shot of Jeff Gordon is probably one of my favorite Gordon headshots I have taken as he is perfectly framed between his car and that of teammate Jimmie Johnson as he walks towards his hauler following practice.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/320th

Below, the car driven by Juan Pablo Montoya is pushed through the garage following practice.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

Up next on the schedule for the day was Nationwide Series qualifying. I typically don’t shoot Nationwide qualifying but I really had nothing else going on so after finishing up editing and transmitting some of my Cup Series images I headed out on pit road to kill some time.

Below, driver Brian Scott hams it up for the camera as he sticks his tongue out at me.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th

In the below photo of driver Ken Butler III right after shooting that photo a NASCAR official grabbed me and proceeded to yell at me because evidently “taking photos with flash is distracting to the drivers.”


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/250th

Butler didn’t complain that I was distracting him, nor have any of the other hundreds of drivers I have shot in the same way in the past few years. The only time I have ever had complaints of flash in the cockpits was with NHRA drag racers when it was dark and they were running next (which makes a lot more sense compared to a driver on a sunny day who was 5 minutes or more from heading out on track.)

Oh well moving along!

Right after Nationwide qualifying came Sprint Cup qualifying.

The light for afternoon qualifying here in Phoenix is pretty nice so I always look forward to shooting in it.

Below, driver Carl Edwards (right) talks up close and personal with crew chief Bob Osborne prior to climbing in his car.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/800th

Below, Martin Truex Jr is rim lit by the sun as he stands along pit road waiting for his turn to run.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

Below, Jeff Gordon talks about something small.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/500th

Then something big.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/500th

(I will take the high road and leave all the perverted jokes of what he could be talking about to all you guys)

While shooting drivers on pit road I noticed Kurt Busch sitting on the pit wall and several photographers surrounding him shooting photos. The chance to be a jackass and screw with my friends photos was too good to pass up so I sat down close to him and started making faces and being an idiot to provide some comedy relief for the crew.


Photo by Erik Perel

Ok back to work.

Below, a scruffy looking Tony Stewart hangs out watching the action as he awaits his turn to qualify.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Below, driver David Reutimann races down the front stretch on his qualifying attempt.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f8, 1/200th

That background was pretty cluttery and crappy so I noticed the empty grandstands (which in the interest of fair reporting were closed) and tried to figure out a way to incorporate them into a car shot. The below photo of Jeff Gordon heading down the front stretch looked much better in my opinion than the cluttery background shot above.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th

In the end it was old man rivers …….I mean Mark Martin who won the pole position for the race.

Another one of the standard shots most photographers need to take for their coverage is of the pole winner holding the pole award flag.

While heading to the spot where they were set up to do the photo I decided to go on top of the bridge that was close by and see if maybe I could get a cool angle from there of Martin as he was surrounded by the photographers shooting his photo. Of course with my luck Martin came out in street clothes instead of his uniform, which makes the shots pointless in my opinion.

Here is how the shot ended up looking.


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

Surrounding me on the bridge were cheering fans who kept yelling for Martin to wave to them or look up. I ended up getting a nice frame as he looked up towards the fans and gave them a thumbs up.


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

After quickly heading into the media room and transmitting 10 photos I got together all my gear and got going on my half mile walk to the outside of turn two where I would start off shooting the Nationwide Series race.

Anyone who has been to a NASCAR race probably has seen the endless sea of motorhomes inside the track and outside. Phoenix may be hot but nothing beats the view.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/640th

The race got underway and as with most Nationwide races in the last few years it was a battle up front between Carl Edwards (60) and Kyle Busch (18).


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th

It wouldn’t last very long though as both would have problems.

Edwards got into Michael Waltrip on the other side of the track and spun him out. Waltrip wasn’t happy with the move as he would pull alongside Edwards, as they drove past me, with his hand out the window apparently signaling WTF!


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

He had his arm out the window for several hundred feet to really get the point across that he wasn’t happy.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

After shooting on the outside for about the first 1/4 of the race I headed to the inside to see if I could get anything interesting.

Below, Nationwide Series safety personnel watch from the entrance to pit road as the field races by.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/640th

I headed over to the inside of turn two to shoot some photos such as the below shot of NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier (12) as he leads a pack of cars through the turn.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/30th

Over my radio I heard that Carl Edwards was having engine problems and would pit shortly so I got in his pit and waited for him to make his stop. When he pulled in the crew lifted the hood to have a look at what the problem was.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/640th

After several seconds they closed the hood and sent him back on track. I went to the end of turn two on the inside and shot a bunch of boring car shots.

Below, race leader Greg Biffle drives through turn two.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

Edwards problems evidently weren’t fixed as a few laps later he pulled off track near the entrance to the garage for the crew to once again look under the hood.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/250th

I didn’t plan on walking over to the car until I heard over the radio that team owner Jack Roush was under the hood helping the crew work on the car. Normally millionaire owners don’t get down and dirty so I hustled over there to see if I could get a shot of Roush at work.

The below shot worked perfectly making me glad I took the small bit of effort to walk over there.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f5, 1/200th with SB 800 Flash

In the end it was Edwards teammate Greg Biffle who would take home the victory. It was a big victory for Roush racing since it was the 100th Nationwide Series win for the long time owner.

Below are my two shots of Biffle climbing from his car to celebrate in a shower of confetti and sparks.

Wide Shot:


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/160th

Tight Shot:


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/250th

A few minutes later Biffle, Roush and his crew held up a banner signifying the 100th victory.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/250th

That wrapped up a long and busy day two of NASCAR. Two down one to go!

Race Day

After getting to the track about 3 hours early to beat the traffic (most other tracks you have to get there about 5 hours early) it gave me a few hours to catch up on some photo editing I had been neglecting. As the clocked ticked down closer to race time it was time for me to get set up and ready to shoot.

We all had a good laugh listening to the pre race press conference with grand marshall Michael Strahan who spent several minutes hamming it up with driver Carl Edwards.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th

For the start of the race I would once again start on the outside of turn two. With the 5:30 start time for the race I would get about 15 minutes to take advantage of some light pockets that shined through the grandstands onto the track.

With racing you never know who will end up being the winner so you should always shoot several angles of as many of the drivers as you can. That way you will be covered with good photos of the winner regardless who it is.

Below, Pole sitter Mark Martin leads the field through turn two.


Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 800iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

I moved about 100 yards towards turn one and found a nice spot where you could shoot a wide angle shot showing the full crowd and have the racers in a small pocket of light that made for some nice frames such as the below shot of Jeff Gordon.


Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 800iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

As the cars drove away from my down the backstretch I noticed a few hundred yards past me that once again the cars would enter a portion of the track still lit by the setting sun. I left all my gear where it was sitting and ran down there to fire off some shots such as the below shot of Jeff Gordon (again) racing towards turn three.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1600th

A few minutes later the sun was blocked by the grandstands and eliminated the sun flare and provided a few minutes of the cars being faintly rim lit such as the below shot of Jimmie Johnson.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th

Once the sun was completely behind the grandstands leaving turn two completely in shadows it was time for me to move on to a different spot to take advantage of the sun light. Below is an example of how boring and flat the photos looked in the shade as Carl Edwards led Jimmie Johnson.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

While walking clockwise around the track I was in turn one when the caution came out leading to the first round of pit stops. By pushing my camera up against the catch fence I was able to shoot right through the fence as race leader Mark Martin made his pit stop.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 800iso, f3.5, 1/1000th

After shooting some pit stops I continued my walk to turn four. I stopped briefly at the end of the front stretch to shoot Mark Martin as he led the field to the green flag on the restart. You can see the turn four grandstands bathed in sunlight which was where I was heading.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 800iso, f4.5, 1/3200th

Once in turn four I got to work shooting all the drivers as they raced directly into the sun off the turn. Usually when the sun is out most of the drivers wear shaded visors so you can’t see their face but every now and then there will be a driver who has a clear visor on and it leads to cool photo where you can see their face as they drive.

Below, Joey Logano races out of turn four onto the front stretch.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f4.5, 1/1600th

Cropping the same photo in a bit really shows you how cool of a photo it can be when you can see their faces.


With the economy in the toilet this year most races have seen a noticeable drop in attendance with numerous empty seats, not at Phoenix where a damn near capacity crowd looked on.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1000th

The next two shots are great examples of how different a shot can look in two directions from the same spot I am standing in.

Turned to the left shooting away from the sun you have nice light mixed with a mountainous background.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/800th

Now from the same spot but instead of shooting to the left I am shooting to the right directly into the sun with the grandstands as a background.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/6400th

Notice the drastically different shutter speed change I had to make between the two images.

It was about time for me to head inside the track to transmit some images but on the way I stopped once more as shadows were beginning to fall across turn four and exposed for the sunlight hitting the fronts of the cars and got some cool shots of packs of cars racing with totally black backgrounds.

Below, Mark Martin leads Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f4.5, 1/1600th

Once back inside the track via a tunnel in turn four I briefly stopped to shoot a photo of the rows of fans seated on the turn four mountainside watching the action.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/400th

After about 45 minutes spent in the media room editing and transmitting images I headed out onto pit road to shoot some pit stops. By this point it was completely dark outside.

Below, Tony Stewart comes in for a pit stop.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

The next pit stop I would shoot was Matt Kenseth. After he pulled into his stall I held the camera over the pit wall on the ground to get a more dramatic angle. A nice added bonus occured when a crew member took off the right front tire and a cloud of brake dust flew up and blocked a light in the background adding a cool effect to the photo.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th

Once the stop was complete Kenseth got hard on the gas and left his pit area in a cloud of burnout smoke.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th

I had a few minutes to kill so I walked over between turn one and two and shot a wide shot of race leader Mark Martin (5) racing through a pack of lap down cars.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

In the end nobody had anything for Martin and the 50 year old driver took the checkered flag to win his first race in 4 years.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

Martin is one of the old school drivers who doesn’t believe in the fan favorite celebration of a burnout so I knew not to expect that. Instead he drove a polish victory lap and stopped near the finish line to receive the checkered flag from a NASCAR official.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/800th

With the checkered flag in hand, Martin slowly drove away and headed to victory lane.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

On to victory lane.

Where is the shot of Martin standing on his car like EVERY driver always does? Oh yea he didn’t do that. He simply climbed from his car and right to the post race interview (yes that is a giant plastic Subway sub on the roof of his car if you were wondering).


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/250th

Normally as soon as the driver climbs from his car and stands on the car to celebrate I leave victory lane and run into the media room to transmit the shot so I can beat all the competition with getting it out to clients, but with the lack of that shot I was forced to stick around and wait for something that would work.

A few minutes later several other drivers and officials came in to congratulate Martin on the victory. Below, teammate Jimmie Johnson offers his congratulations.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/320th

I was lucky enough to get a quick moment of actual happiness from Martin as he briefly held his arms up while talking to former teammate Kurt Busch, who had came by to offer his congratulations.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/250th

After posing for all the photos with him and crew wearing about 20 different hats it was time for the champagne, which usually makes for good shots.

They came out ok but still nothing amazing.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/250th


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/200th


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/250th

After the champagne I hauled ass into the media room and moved all the celebration shots and some various race action stuff while Martin spent about 45 minutes in the press box answering questions from the media. I was all done and ready to go but waited for Martin to return to victory lane to photos of him alone with the trophy.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/250th

After that shot I was completely done and packed up the car and got outta there (to sit in traffic before I found a nice short cut through a housing community)

Next up is my favorite track on the schedule. TALLADEGA!

Here are some web clippings from the weekend.












Posted in Desert, Me, NASCAR, P.I.R., Portraits, Racing, Sports   | 8 Comments

8 responses to “Old man wins race, celebrates by not celebrating”

  1. Ricky says:

    As always you nailed the shots. Great work!! Love your blog, hope to get to your level someday.

  2. John Tucker says:

    Do you use flash for the victory lane shots?

  3. Jack Megaw says:

    That Kurt Busch photo is priceless!

  4. Erica says:

    Martin’s lack of enthusiasm is precisely why new younger drivers need to replace the ageing ones. Amazing images as always… I’ve heard a lot about Kristen. Hope she does well.

  5. Frederic says:


    great post as usual.
    I really like the way you manage to play around with lightpockets and the different angles to create interresting pictures.

  6. Jamie says:

    That shot of Jack Roush is awesome! It’s really cool to see him working on cars.

  7. Great shots as always, but I particularly like the one with the 24 car in the sun in the corner.

  8. BobM says:

    I never used to look at credits on photos until I started reading your blog Mark, today I picked up a USA Today and was skimming through it while I was checking into a hotel, looked at the credit under the photo of the injured fan from Talladega on the top of the sports section and surprise, it was you. Good Work as usual.

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