It had been three years since my last venture to New York to shoot NASCAR at the historic Watkins Glen International, and after the fun I had shooting the previous road race in Sonoma I figured why the hell not.  Watkins Glen is in the middle of nowhere New York in the picturesque Finger Lakes region. Like the surrounding hills and green of the region, the track is a beautiful place to shoot. On to the fun!

As I previously mentioned, the track is in the middle of nowhere. That means that I have to fly into Philadelphia and drive the four hours over to New York. Its only 250 miles but throw in the slow east coast speed limits and construction every five minutes and it becomes quite the journey.

Friday morning began like every other race with shooting Sprint Cup practice.

First I shot in the garage.

Below, Carl Edwards runs to his car prior to the start of practice.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Even though his window net was up I was able to shoot from the small place between the window net and the body of the car to get a nice in your face photo of Juan Pablo Montoya (below).


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Shooting through the front window I was able to get a nice photo of Denny Hamlin (below) as he prepared to pull out of the garage and head on track.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

After a few minutes in the garage it was time to head out on track for some car shots. Whenever I shoot a NASCAR race ona  road course my whole objective is to get unique shots of the cars that you can’t shoot on the standard circle tracks.

Watkins Glen has lots of hills along with nice green backgrounds and baby blue guardrails. Most spots on track lack catch fences so you can really produce some nice and clean photos.

Below, three time Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson crests a hill.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Along with the clean and green backgrounds I was lucky enough to have a sunny day with my favorite background of all….nice white puffy clouds! So you better believe I went nuts shooting photos that included them.

Below, Dale Earnhardt Jr makes his way through the inner loop.


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

Max Papis (below) makes his way into turn nine on the track.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

By titling the camera and putting the car in the bottom corner of the photo I was able to get even more cool puffy white clouds as old man Mark Martin raced by, below.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

From the oldest driver we head to the youngest driver, Joey Logano (below) as he navigates his way through the inner loop.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After practice I had a little downtime and used that to transmit some images before the start of Sprint Cup Series qualifying.

Below, Kasey Kahne watches down the main straight away as he waits his turn to take a qualifying lap.


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

After a few minutes of shooting the drivers getting into their cars I realized I would be better off shooting where the drivers climbed from their cars since you could get much closer to them.

Below, Denny Hamlin, fresh off his victory the week prior in Pocono, is interviewed by the media following his run.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

By getting low and shooting up I was able to clean up the backgrounds and make for a much nicer shot, such as the below photo of Jimmie Johnson.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Below is a detail shot of the side of Jimmie Johnsons car as it sits next to the car of Kurt Busch.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

The grandstands were pretty empty during qualifying so when I shot the below shot of Tony Stewart as he made his lap I slowed the shutter speed way down to blur out the crappy empty stands.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f10, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

I liked the below photo of road course racer Boris Said after he climbed from his car after qualifying. I just really like the cars lined up in the background of the shot.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

After qualifying on my way back to the media room I spotted a few fans I wanted to shoot.

First up was a female fan, below, who had a Dale Earnhardt Sr. tattoo on her leg. Classy!


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

Next up was a younger fan with a mohawk (below) who painted tire tracks across hsi face. What a bad ass!


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

After about an hour break that I used to caption and transmit some qualifying photos it was time for the Rolex Series race. While I didn’t need to stick around for the race I figured I would shoot for a little while to see if there were any cool photos to be shot.

Below, the field of racers are lined up as they head towards the green flag.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

The race started about an hour before the sunset so the low light plus awesome clouds made for some nice wide shots such as the below photo as the field headed past me.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below are a few shots from a sequence as one of the Porsche sports cars lost control and spun off the last turn of the track and hit the outside tire barrier.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

As the sun dipped lower into the sky a bit of light was shining through the shadows in turn 11 and by underexposing the hell out of the shot I was able to get some nice rim light on the cars, below.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Shortly after the above photo I was yelled at by a track employee that I was standing in an area I wasn’t allowed. He proceeded to make me stand in a crappy position about 15 feet  off the wall. The below photo of one of the racers spinning out shows the nice pole in the foreground blocking my shot that I was standing next to in the earlier shots.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

After realizing that shooting in that turn was ruined due to my “new position” I instead made the short walk to pit road to shoot the next round of pit stops under the awesome near sunset sky.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

As one of the sports cars made his pit stop I held my arm over the pit wall with the camera resting on the track to shoot a low angle rear shot of the pit stop. Since I was shooting at the last pit stall on pit road there was really no danger of being hit by any other cars.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

These cars are required to make a driver change during the race so I was able to get a cool shot of one of the drivers walking away from the car as the pit crew changed the tires.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

I got up and shot from normal eye level as a crew member headed back towards the wall with two tires that had just been changed.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

Right after the pit stop a Rolex official came to me and proceeded to chew me out for sticking my arm over the pit wall without being in a fire suit. He almost pulled my credential but after a few minutes in my face yelling at me he allowed me to get back to work.

After being yelled at two times in 15 minutes I was about ready to head back to the hotel and relax. Before leaving I took advantage of the nice sky for a few more photos.

Here is a photo of me in action shot by co-worker Matt Kartozian.


Photo by Matt Kartozian

And here are the shots I was getting from that angle.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

A city of Bath fire truck loaded with crew in full firefighting gear look on as cars race by (below).


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

And with that it was off to Chilis for a few adult beverages.

On to Saturday.

On tap for today was Sprint Cup Series practice followed by the Nationwide Series race.  I started off the practice shooting in the esses to try and get some cool shots that showed the cars road racing.

Below, Jimmie Johnson lifts his left front tire as he races through a turn during practice.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/3200th, Manual

Below, Juan Pablo Montoya leads Kyle Busch through turn three before the headed down the backstretch. The catch fence in in place over a pedestrian/vehicle tunnel below so cars don’t fly out of the ballpark.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Manual

One unique attribute of the Watkins Glen course are the baby blue guardrails around the track. Most tracks have boring white walls. Since the blue walls are different from all the tracks I got down low and shot through the gap in the guardrail to produce a blue fog type effect in the top and bottom of the shots such as in the below photo of Denny Hamlin lifting a tire as he leads Bobby Labonte through the esses.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Manual

For the final practice session I spent some time in the garage area looking for some photos to shoot.

Below, I laid on the ground to get a low angle as crew members changed a rear end in the Toyota driven by racer Max Papis.


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

As A.J. Allmendinger (below) waits to be interviewed I shot a clean frame of him with his car in the background.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/1600th, Manual

From inside the garage I took advantage of some nice light shining in and side lighting driver Dale Earnhardt Jr as he prepares to climb into his car.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Below, I underexposed the car of P.J. Jones as crew members work on his car.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/2000th, Manual

Ok time for the Nationwide Series race.

I started the race from the outside of the track entering the backstretch.

Below, Marcos Ambrose leads a pack of drivers through the esses.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

Watkins Glen is a 2.5 mile 12 turn road course so the odds of getting a crash aren’t too great since there’s so many places the action can happen. Since I am only one man I have to use my best guesses and hope to be in the right place at the right time to get some action.

While shooting at the exit of the inner loop I was lucky enough to be in a good position to get drivers Matthew Carter (61) and Robby Gordon (55) as they spun off the track into the gravel pit.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, Carter is covered in a spray of rocks and dirt as he comes to a stop in the gravel pit.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Under increasing cloud cover it made everything dark and gloomy looking which worked out well to have some evenly lit shots.

Below, Kyle Busch races through turn nine.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f3.5, 1/3200th, Manual

I really liked the trees framing the straight away as drivers raced into turn 10, below.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Manual

Below, a helicopter flies low over the track shooting video for TV as Robby Gordon leads a line of cars through turn nine.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Michael Annett (below) trails the field as they head out of turn nine prior to a restart.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5, 1/1600th, Manual

Earlier in the day I showed you how a shot looked shooting through the slit in the wall. I once again used the same idea but this time instead of using an 80-200mm lens I shot with a 24-70mm lens which showed more of the guardrail and made for an artsy looking shot that eliminated the motor homes over looking the track as Kyle Busch (18) led a pack of cars through the turn.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 250iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Manual

As the race winded down it was time to head back near the finish line in preparation of the finish shot and celebration. On my way I shot from the beginning of pit road to get a cool angle, below, as Tony Raines made a pit stop in the closing stages of the race.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/2000th, Manual

In the end it was Australian racer Marcos Ambrose taking the checkered flag to win for the second year in a row at Watkins Glen.

As he came around on his victory lap I waited with the rest of the photographers for it to be safe to cross pit road so we could shoot up close as Ambrose celebrated. I didn’t see the NASCAR head of security who usually gives us the signal to cross pit road so I ran across after I saw a few of the other series regulars crossing. (evidently we ran across too early…more on that in a few)

Below, crew members cheer as Ambrose drives by on his victory lap.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Manual

He then proceeded to do a nice burnout to celebrate the victory.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Eventually he emerged through the smoke and drove past me holding the checkered flag.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

After he passed me I ran the short distance into Victory Lane to shoot Ambrose as he climbed from his car to celebrate his victory (below).


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/500th, Manual

That ended the day and all that was left was Sunday, the day of the main race.

In the pre race photographers meeting a NASCAR official read off a small list of photo vest numbers who needed to meet with him after the meeting. Of course my number was one of the numbers called out.

Three of us photographers were then summoned into a closed door meeting where we proceeded to be yelled at for crossing pit road before the official had given us permission. (sorry no cool photos from inside the meeting!)

After the happy little ass chewing it was about time for the race.

The weather forecast had called for rain but it wasn’t supposed to arrive until an hour after the race began. Of course the forecast was wrong and ten seconds before “drivers start your engines” was to be said lightning and rain pelted the track. I noticed a lot of lightning striking behind the turn I was set up in so I knelt down against the guardrail with the camera braced against a post and tried my best to get a photo of the track with a lightning bolt striking.

I set the camera up with a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second and waited to see the flash of lightning. While nobody is fast enough to shoot lightning that way my only saving grace would be one of the lightning bolts that struck repeatedly in the same spot. I got one such bolt (below) which made a good shot to tell the story of the day. Note the sign on the TV screen in the right corner “Heavy Rain Please Seek Shelter.”


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f13, 1/20th, Manual

Once the track was sufficiently doused with rain I hopped in my rental car and headed back into the infield to relax in the media room and send a few photos. Below you can see several fans seeking shelter from the rain under the tunnel in turn three.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/125th, Manual

Once back inside I walked around pit road for a few minutes to look for some more “weather feature” images. The below photo of a pit crew members napping on the wall with a car under a rain cover behind worked perfectly.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

The sky on the horizon in the below photo showed some sun light but don’t be fooled, a few minutes later NASCAR cancelled the race till the next day due to the amount of daylight left vs the time it would take to run the race.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Manual

The race being cancelled till Monday really messed up all my travel plans and resulted in having to book another hotel room near the track for the night as well as changing my flight home by a day. Always fun!

Monday morning at the track we were greeted with bright sunlight and hot muggy temperatures approaching 90 degrees, fun!

Unlike me, numerous fans would be unable to make it back for the race on Monday due to thinks such as jobs! The below photo with empty seats and a sparsely populated infield illustrated that story well.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

I went into the garage area and shot a pretty cool photo of the cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Martin Truex Jr and Elliott Sadler sitting in their garage stalls. To continue my weekend of getting yelled at I was quickly booted from the garage by a NASCAR official since the garage wasn’t open to anyone yet.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Below, a crewman for David Ragan pulls a cart of fuel tanks towards pit road.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Manual

A track drier cleans off the front straight under sunny skies, below.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

For the start of the race I would once again head to turn three which was a nice place to shoot a start shot. As I walked towards my shooting position I noticed a stuffed animal poking through a chain link fence. I am always looking for random quirky photos so I made sure to incorporate it into one of my shots (below).


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f10, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

My shooting position was on the top of a grass and field of yellow flowers. By laying down in the grass I was able to incorporate the cool grass and flowers into a photo, below, as cars raced by in the background.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f14, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Below, Kyle Busch (18) leads a pack of cars up the hill towards the backstretch.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f4, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

I liked this shooting position because as the cars began their accent up the hill towards me the cars came up from out of view and I could do random shots with the bottom of the cars being blocked from view like the below shot of Kurt Busch.


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

Below, the winner of the Nationwide race Marcos Ambrose leads Jimmie Johnson through turn three.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Manual

Since the odds of being in the right spot for a crash were against me due to all the turns I instead made it my goal to head all around the track and shoot as many different angles as possible. Below, Tony Stewart leads Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson through the inner loop.


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Below, Juan Pablo Montoya races through turn nine.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

I once again busted out the shooting through the guardrail shot as Jeff Gordon led Elliott Sadler and Jeff Burton through turn nine, below.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/3200th, Manual

The below photo taken by my buddy Jared Tilton shows how I achieve that effect.

NASCAR:  August 10 Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen

Of course a few minutes after leaving that spot Jeff Gordon would be involved in a pretty intense crash exiting the turn. Check out the below video of what I missed.

Not a single photographer got the crash so at least I wasn’t the only one to miss it.

After heading back to the media room to transmit photos it was getting close to the finish of the race. I headed down to the inside of turn one to kill some time.

Below, Patrick Carpentier spins as he exits turn one.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

His out of control car would slam into the side of the car driven by Elliott Sadler, who had also spun.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

As he re-fired his car after the crash excess fuel would ignite producing a big fireball from the side exhaust. (stupid guy in red shirt in background ruins the photo).


Nikon D700, 400mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

The crash would bring out a yellow flag and bunch the field back up for a double file restart. Being in turn one would be a perfect place to shoot the subsequent restart. I shot with a wide angle (below) to get the nice clouds in the background into the shot with the field of cars as they raced through the turn.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Turn one is at the bottom of a downhill straight away so all the drivers would downshift entering the turn which resulted in flames shooting from the exhaust such as in the below shot of Joey Logano.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

It was a nice angle and the flames made for cool shots so I did my best to shoot similar photos of as many of the drivers as I could.

On a track as big as Watkins Glen the fans only have a view of a small portion of the track in front of them, when the cars would pass us in turn one everyone would turn around and watch the action on a big screen TV (below).


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

With 4 laps to go I would leave turn one and get set up across from the finish line to shoot the checkered flag shot and celebration that would follow.

Tony Stewart would continue his impressive season by picking up his third win of the year and further stretching his points lead.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f3.5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Below, his crew members celebrate the win.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f3.5, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

This time I waited for the NASCAR security official to give the go ahead to run up to the pit wall to shoot the celebration. Below, Tony Stewart celebrates with a burnout.


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


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Manual

After the burnout I ran to victory lane to get set up. On the way the strap on my 400mm lens came undone and my camera slammed to the ground. The lens never hit the ground but there is a nice crack in the D700 camera body. Luckily everything still seems to be working fine.

In typical Tony Stewart fashion (below) he climbed from his car and faced his crew giving us a nice shot of his back.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/800th, Manual

At least for the trophy photo he was facing our direction. Good job Tony!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual

For the champagne celebration we got lucky and he ran towards the photographers as he was chased by a crew member spraying champagne.  I liked that I was able to have the whole car in the shot as well as all the crew members celebrating in the background.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

After shootign a few more posed celebration photos my long weekend of rain and getting yelled at was over!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Manual

Here are some image usages from the weekend.




















Posted in Lightning, Me, NASCAR, New York, Racing, Sports   | 9 Comments

9 responses to “Right Turns, Rain and my trip to the NASCAR Principals office”

  1. Marvin says:

    Ausome blog!!!! So did you get a paddling in the principles office?

  2. Gavin Baker says:

    I love your work. I often use your pictures as wallpapers for my computers or phones. Everyone who sees them is in awe. You are very talented. Keep up amazing my eyes please.

  3. Kim Miller says:

    I love NASCAR but you take GREAT pictures of all kinds of things!!! They are really some of the most interesting shots! Love the angles! Thanks for sharing your talent with ME!! I love looking at them! Take care ~ Kim

  4. Pille says:

    Ouch! Not a nice weekend with all the yelling, rain delays and dropping your camera… but great shots as usual. And I love the lightning shot, very cool 🙂

  5. Cam Laird says:


    Great thorough coverage! I’m sure you keep your pic editors very happy!

    Well done mate!

    Cam Laird

  6. Shane Falco says:


    Thanks for telling a story and providing tips – your blogging is awesome and your photos are even better. Thanks for all the effort you put into creating them and sharing them!

    What type of PP do you do to your photos, if any?



  7. I can’t imagine why you would ever get in any trouble, I have never seen you violate any of the rules at an NHRA event!

  8. Ted says:


    Great photos Mark, the Montoya and lightning photos really caught my eye but ALL are fantastic photos. Too bad you got yelled at rather than just being treated like a human, who’s trying to do their job.

  9. Shannon Frost says:

    Great shots, creative as usual. Excellent.

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