With how busy I have been covering NASCAR during this years Chase for the Cup I gotta admit I was starting to get bored with the repetition of covering several races. I haven’t shot an NFL game in well over a month and really miss shooting it, however a weekend in Talladega was more than enough to help me realize why I love covering NASCAR so much. Continue reading to see exactly why I love restrictor plate racing!

For the last year the track has been advertising the race weekend as Hallow-Dega due to the fact the race weekend coincided with Halloween. With that in mind everyone was predicted a much crazier than normal infield fan environment. I have always wanted to check out the infield at night but always am too lazy to spend the extra time there but as more people discussed how crazy they expected it to be I decided to force myself to stay around and check it out.

Friday at the track began as all others with me shooting around the garage during practice.

Below, I shot at an f2.8 aperture to have a shallow depth of field (blur out the background) as Kyle Busch walks through the garage prior to practice.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Earlier in the day Hendrick motorsports announced that Lance McGrew would be the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr so I made it a point to get a photo of the two together in the garage, below.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Also in the news was the fact that a few days before the weekend, driver A.J. Allmendinger (below) was charged with a DUI near his home in North Carolina. I shot him as he was sitting in his car prior to practice, he had his visor up where you could see his face but when I stopped in front of his car to shoot him he quickly lowered his visor. Thanks buddy!


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

After all the drivers climbed into their cars and headed out on track there is not much reason to stick around the garage. With that in mind I headed out on pit road to shoot some car shots as the drivers raced through the tri-oval.

Below, the “Dega” on the outside wall made for a good background as a giant pack of racers drafted through the tri-oval.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

From the same spot as the above photo I shot with a wider lens (below) to get a different look to a similar shot.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

There was about a 30 minute break between Cup practices which allowed me some time to transmit some images and then shoot some more garage stuff as drivers prepared to head on track for the second practice.

Below, I stuck my camera into the hole in the window net on Mark Martins car. Normally the drivers ignore the photographers and continue to look ahead but Martin ended up looking at me which made for a cool photo.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Below, Kevin Harvicks crew chats at the back of his car as the drivers wait in line to head out on track for the second practice.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Like the shot earlier of Mark Martin in the cockpit of his car I shot a similar photo of points leader Jimmie Johnson in his car. Instead of sticking the camera in the side of the car I instead shot a little further back which shows you the space between the window net and the body of the car.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

Following the final practice of the day I noticed a crowd of media surrounding the hauler of driver A.J. Allmendinger. With his DUI arrest a day earlier I figured he had a small press conference scheduled. With nothing better to do I waited with the media to shoot the below photo as he gave about a 3 minute press conference to the members of the media.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Manual

With that we were done shooting for the day.

Normally I would be hauling ass out of the track to go somewhere for dinner but this time I would be hanging out with a group of photographers to participate in the first annual “Talladega Shrimp Boil”

As a west coast guy this would be a first for me. I am used to my shrimp being fried and breaded.

Below, John David Mercer (left) dumps potatoes, sausage and corn into the pot as David Griffin (right) stirs the pot.


Photo by Chris Graythen

After the shrimp was boiled it was dumped onto a table of ice for everyone to dig in, below.


Photo by Chris Graythen

Having never had to peel the outside of a shrimp off the meat it kicked my ass and took forever for me to peel it off, below.


Photo by Chris Graythen

Lets move on to Saturday which fell on Halloween.

I was hopeful to get shots of several drivers wearing masks or costumes around the garage and pit road but sadly qualifying was rained out.

I did find driver Carl Edwards in costume as he dressed as the before version of Subway spokesman Jared Fogle (below) while Fogle dressed as a buff Carl Edwards. Kinda funny yet a tad bit creepy.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/200th, Manual

Since qualifying was cancelled by rain I ventured out to the Cup garage to look for some feature photos.

Below, the car of Matt Kenseth is reflected in a rain puddle as crew members push the car into the garage.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Crew members pushed the covered car of Paul Menard (below) into the garage as rain falls.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f3.5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Below is a view of some of the action in the photographers workroom.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

After a few hours the rain finally let up which allowed for track drying so they could get the truck race in. Track drying at Talladega takes a few hours to complete so with a few hours to kill a few of us drove around the infield looking at some of the sights.

Below is the view of a sea of campers in the infield near turn one.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f4.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

A trio of women in their flintstones costumes (at least I think they were costumes.) With Talladega fans you never know.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Once the track was dry it was over to the outside of the track where I headed up to my spot on the roof to cover the race.

Shortly after arriving there I spotted the below fan who was drunk as a skunk.


Nikon D700, 600mm with 1.4 convertor (850mm), 500iso, f5.6, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Below, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Colin Braun (6) and Tayler Malsam (81) spin during the Mountain Dew 250 at the Talladega Superspeedway.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 640iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Midway through the race the sun actually came out and illuminated the sparsely populated backstretch grandstands.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 640iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Truck driver Mario Gosselin (below) got turned sideways and spun through the tri-oval beneath my position.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 640iso, f4, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Usually the Talladega truck race is one of the wildest races of the year but this time around it was a pretty tame race……

….until like five laps remaining when a big time pileup occurred on the backstretch with numerous trucks involved.

Below you can see the truck of Rick Crawford (14) getting airborne. Lucky for him the truck came back to earth.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

The cleanup would take a few minutes so I killed some time shooting random crap I saw around.

Below, smoke from numerous campfires linger over one of the RV campgrounds outside the facility.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

High above the track the Goodyear blimp slowly circled, below.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Once the race got going it was Kyle Busch (below) who would go high to pass Todd Bodine coming to the checkered flag.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Busch celebrated with his standard finish line burnouts.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 2500iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

After there race while walking back to the media center I stopped on the track to shoot some photos of the redesigned catch fence put up after Carl Edwards scary crash in the spring race.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

The nice dusk sky looked too good to pass up so I once again stopped to shoot a few feature type shots of the track.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

After about an hour of editing in the media room it was time to head out to the infield to shoot some Halloween fan shots.

When I walked outside I was stunned to see all the smoke from campfires glowing red around the scoring pylon in the center of the infield, below.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Manual

It was awesome walking through the RVs parked on Talladega Boulevard and seeing nearly everyone in random costumes.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 6400iso, f2.8, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

Stewie Griffin (below) walks down the road.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 6400iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Aperture Priority

Below, crew members for A.J. Allmendinger (below) mingle with some girls in the RV area.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

I am not even gonna explain the below costume. Just use your imagination!


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

Everywhere you looked was people dressed up roaming the streets.


Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/50th, Manual, SB-800 Flash

After about 45 minutes roaming around I was ready to head back to the hotel bar.

Sunday we were greeted with a bright sunny day for the first time all weekend.

While driving to the track I hung out the side window of my buddies mini van and shot the below photo showing the small Hooverville of tents and RV’s that pops up outside the speedway


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

For NASCAR races at Talladega traffic into the speedway (below) takes up nearly all lanes of the roads inbound.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

After getting into the track and parking there was a little less than three hours before the race would begin. Sounds like plenty of time to get all ready for a shoot right?

Nope, not when you are setting up two remote cameras about a mile apart from each other.

First remote I set up was a camera on the inside of the tri-oval.

I used a D700 with an 80-200mm lens aimed at the exit of the tri-oval in case any crashes happened as the cars made their way to the finish line.

I would fire that remote with a Pocket Wizard placed on my handheld camera that would trigger the Wizard on the remote camera.

In the below photo, my camera is the bottom one. The camera above mine was a finish line camera set up by NASCAR Scene photographer David Griffin.


The first remote took about ten minutes to set up. My second camera would take much more time.

Below is a shot showing all the components required for the backstretch camera I was setting up.


1. Magic arm with superclamp

2. Nikon D3 with 300mm f4 lens

3. Set of two way Motorola radios

4. 20 mile remote by Robert Benson

5. Mini phono plug

Below, I work to position the camera exactly where I want it aimed.


Photo by Kevin Liles

In the below photo you get an idea of how the set up looks once the camera is placed in position. Note the safety cable from the camera to a chain link fence. Whenever setting up remotes always ensure you have a backup to keep the camera where it belongs in the event of a super clamp failure (very very rare). After shooting that photo I also used the camera strap as an additional safety cable by wrapping it around the big metal pole.


One final check of everything (below) and we are all set to go.


Photo by Kevin Liles

Special thanks to Marvin Gentry and Kevin Liles for their help with the remote set up and recovery following the race.

After set up was complete I had less than 30 minutes till the race was to begin so I had to hustle but I made it to my shooting position just before the national anthem.

Below, four F-15 Eagles perform a fly over of the track prior to the race.


Nikon D700, 10.5-17mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

The field of 43 drivers (below) come through the tri-oval on their way to the green flag to kick off the Amp Energy 500.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

The below photo is the view from my tri-oval remote as Jeff Gordon leads the field in the early laps of the race.


Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 800iso, f8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

A cone flies through the air after being hit by Kurt Busch (below) as he spins through the infield grass after blowing a right rear tire.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Looks like a 200mph lawnmower.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

You would think that after the last Talladega race and all the excitement of it that this race would be sold out.


Jeff Gordon leads the field past a semi empty grandstand down the backstretch, below.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

The sun glimmers off the side window on the car of Jimmie Johnson (below) as he pits midway through the race.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

As the race went on the light got better in the tri-oval where I was able to take advantage of the nice shadows coming off the cars such as in the below photo where Kyle Busch (18) leads a single file line of cars.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

The sun shines brightly on the newly installed catch fence to protect the fans in the tri-oval, below.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Jeff Gordon (below) leads the field through the tri-oval as shade begins to consume the track.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

The story of the day was how boring most of the race was due to the drivers lining up and racing single file for about 75% of the race.

Below, Jamie McMurray leads the single file procession of drivers off turn four.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Normally Talladega is the most exciting race and I never have time to even set the camera down for fear of missing something. At this race I was able to set the camera down and be texting back and forth with friends.

As the race got into the closing laps there was a feeling of anticipation in the air as everyone knew the action would soon get wild and crazy.

With five laps to go all hell broke loose when Ryan Newman (39) got turned sideways on the backstretch and went airborne big time (below).


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

The spot of his crash was in the furthest point from my shooting position so the photos weren’t very good.

Below, Newman slides on his roof as Kevin Harvick (29) locks the brakes on his car.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Here is a video of the crash. Trust me its worth watching!

The crash occurred about 200 yards past my remote camera. If only it had happened earlier, I would have been sitting pretty.

Speaking of the backstretch remote camera…

The whole purpose I placed it there was to get a unique angle in the event of a backstretch crash (which is pretty common at Dega).

While I didn’t end up getting any crashes with the camera I still got a few cool shots from an angle that nobody else got since at Talladega photographers aren’t allowed to shoot against the wall on the outside of the track.

Below, Jamie McMurray (left) leads the outside line as Kasey Kahne leads the inside line in the closing laps of the race.


Nikon D3, 300mm, 640iso, f9, 1/2500th, Auto ISO

I won’t lie, after the Newman flip I was bombarded with phone calls, texts and comments coming in to My Facebook asking if I had got it. I was livid that my shots were crap due to the location of the crash thus making me not a happy camper at all.

After the clean up was complete the race got going again with just two laps remaining.

All my bitterness about the Newman wreck quickly evaporated when coming off turn four to the white flag Kurt Busch (2) got turned sideways…..


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

……setting off a multi car accident….


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

….Martin Truex Jr (1) slid down track after hitting the outside wall where he clipped the rear end of the car driven by Mark Martin (5) sending him upside down for the first time in his 1009 career NASCAR races….


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After the above shot the camera hit buffer and went from 8 frames per second to about two, ugh!


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Even though the camera was shooting slow I still got a few shots I really liked such as the below shot as he slid on his roof in a shower of sparks.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

As soon as Martin landed back on his wheels I switched over to the car of Jeff Gordon (24), below, as he crashed with Scott Speed (82) and Robby Gordon (7).


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Here is a quick layout I put together showing Mark Martins flip sequence.


Think the still photos are crazy? They are nothing compared to the videos of the crash.

Even though he flipped his car at 200mph, Martin was able to get his car to refire (below) and limp the car across the finish line.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Below, a dejected Martin Truex Jr walked away from his car following the pile up.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Lost in the confusion of the wild finish was the fact that driver Jamie McMurray had won just the third race of his Sprint Cup career.

Below, McMurray takes a slow victory lap past all the skid marks from the race ending crash.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

He celebrated by doing a nice burnout at the start finish line, below.


Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Even though about 75% of the race was horribly boring single file racing the wild and chaotic finish sure made up for it.

Next up is NASCAR racing this weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway!

Here are some web clips from the event:











Posted in Me, NASCAR, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports, Talladega   | 6 Comments

6 responses to “Scary Fans and Scary Crashes dominate Hallow-Dega”

  1. Jason Gynn says:

    Another awsome blog mark, good to see you still coma away with something special from the event.

    Where are you off to next??

  2. Tim O says:

    I can only imagine how bored you must have been in person at the race. It was awful to watch.

    Great shots – as usual.
    How come your gear doesn’t get stolen off the back wall, or your other random remote cameras? There were lots of people dressed in costume who’d be easily disguised…

  3. Mark T says:

    Once again wonderful fan pictures. Thanks for letting me post these at PeopleAtNASCAR.com

  4. zany Dawn says:

    Dude! You do some amazing things with your equipment! Do you need an assistant? I learn FAST! Thank you Mark. YOU ROCK!

  5. Christophe Knevels says:

    Hello Mark

    As always you’ve provided us with real goodlooking pics. But i’ve got a question. Do you use PW plus 2 or Multimax ?

  6. JustinL says:

    Can you go more into detail on your remote camera? Was it manual focus (then gaffer taped down the focus rings), and were you in Av mode as well?

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