If the Phoenix International Raceway wasn’t 30 miles from my house I doubt I would come to this race. While it is a fun track to drive on its not quite as fun as a fan. So instead of hanging out waiting for some action I decided to really put in 100% effort and try and kick some ass. Continue reading to see what I came up with.

When we got to the track Friday I went right to work and headed into the Cup garage to shoot some head shots and see if there were good feature pics to be taken.

It should be noted with the giant points lead Jimmie Johnson has with two races to go I spent a lot of time shooting him throughout the weekend.

Nikon D300, 14-24mm, 640iso, f2.8

The other person I spent a lot of time shooting was Carl Edwards who is second in the points behind Johnson. Below is the result of being an idiot and forgetting to change your exposure after shooting in the garage.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/500th

Pathetic eh.

I then saw a small puddle off to the side in the garage and decided to work that with the mountain in the background.  When doing reflection shots they come out best when you get as low as possible to the water. By being really low and close to the water it makes a small puddle look much bigger.

Here is how I looked while doing the shots. (all I need is a chalk outline)

Photo by David Griffin

And here is how the shots came out from that position.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

After the practice was over and I edited and transmitted images it was about time for Cup qualifying. I shot a ton of normal boring head shots then I decided to head to turn two on the inside and shoot a few car shots since there was nice light.

By not using lens hoods it sometimes gives you interesting lens flares. I’ll be honest, I didn’t try to get this shot but was pleasantly surprised with what I got in this shot of Carl Edwards.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

This shot of Greg Biffle…..not so much.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/320th

After a few more attempts I walked along the inside of the track back to the media center to transmit before the truck race was to begin. About 100 yards from the media room I saw some cool rim light on the cars heading into turn one and fired off a few quick shots such as the one below of Sterling Marlin.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 250iso, f7.1, 1/5000th

As I was about to head out for the 1/2 mile walk to my shooting spot I stopped to shoot a photo of the teams in the Cup garage working on their cars as the setting sun produced some nice pastel sky color.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/320th

I could have come up with something nicer but I was running late getting to my shooting spot so thats all I came up with.

Finally up on the roof…..with 15 minutes to spare….I fired off a quick shot of the sunset over the parking lot.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/125th

The truck series had a very tight points race between Ron Hornaday Jr and Johnny Benson so those two drivers would be the focus (pun intended) of the shoot.

About 15 seconds into the race Ron Hornaday Jr (33) lost control of his truck and crashed hard. In the below picture you can see his championship competitor Johnny Benson (23) passing below prior to getting a little damage from being clipped.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/500th 

Hornaday suffered a lot of damage and it appeared his shot at the championship was over.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/500th 

The crew was able to make enough repairs for Hornaday to get back on the track about 26 laps down. All Benson would need to do to head into the last race with a massive points lead was to race safe and not crash. Evidently he didn’t get the memo. Below is a collage of FOUR separate incidents he was involved in.

With all those incidents and time spent in the garage to make repairs to his truck the destroyed truck of Hornaday was able to actually make up the 26 laps he was behind on Benson. Now going into the final race of the season the championship race is seperated by a razor thin margin of 3 points (roughly one position on track).

In the latter stages of the races multiple crashes occured.

Colin Braun is punted and spins to the inside wall.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/500th 

Kenny Wallace sparks after crashing.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/500th 

The race finally ended with Kevin Harvick winning the race.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 5000iso, f4, 1/500th 

And with that a long day one was complete.

Day Two would be the shortest day of the weekend with a 200 mile Nationwide Series race.

I was positioned in the same roof spot as the previous day. But this time on lap two of the damn race we were forced to move from our spot because security decided that we were blocking the path of fans. It would have been great had we been notified before the damn race started but whatever.

The other place they allowed us to go was a very good spot for the turn but we didn’t have a clear view of the finish line so I would have to eventually find a new spot.

The race was surprisingly tame with not much action. 

David Reutimann sparks as he looses a tire on the backstretch.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/6400th 

Rookie driver Justin Allgaier (12) spins after contact with Marcos Ambrose (59) in turn two.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/1250th

As the race got into the later afternoon light pockets moved across the track allowing for very dramatic lighting.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1250th

Here is a wide view showing how they looked.

Scott Wimmer makes a pit stop after blowing a tire.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/5000th

As the finish was fast approaching and me not having a good angle of the finish line I headed down to ground level to position myself properly.

Carl Edwards was leading the race so a good location would be needed for his backflip if he held on to win.

The light pockets looked just as cool from ground level as evident by this photo of Edwards.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/2500th

With a few laps to go rookie sensation Joey Logano spun and crashed into the wall.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/5000th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/5000th

Carl Edwards held on to win the race and give the fans what they wanted.

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/3200th

Nikon D3, 600mm, 800iso, f5, 1/3200th

That was the end of Day Two. 

After a relaxing evening hanging out with a bunch of my friends in town for the race I was all relaxed to kick some ass. Normally I shoot the Cup race from the roof but decided to take advantage of my higher than normal motivation and see what I could do when I gave 100%.

The day certainly didn’t get off to a good start when we got to the track and I realized I left one of the D3’s back home so I would be relegated to a D3 as my primary body and a D300 as my secondary body. Also by forgetting the third body it made doing a remote camera impossible.

With NASCAR you pretty much have to arrive 4-5 hours early to avoid rotting in horrible traffic. So when you get there that early it can be pretty boring. I walked around and shot some pre race feature stuff such as the below shot of the car of Clint Bowyer going through pre race tech inspection. Nothing great.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 500iso, f7.1, 1/4000th

For the race I decided to start off in a spot I hadn’t shot from in a few years. The turn four mountainside. 

When you shoot a lot of racing its always a good idea to shoot photos that show off the unique angles/backgrounds/lighting the various tracks have to offer.

Nothing says Arizona more than deserts. So being on a mountainside in the desert with a Saguaro cactus in your shot is probably as good as it gets.

Nikon D300, 80-200mm, 320iso, f4.5, 1/1000th

I also shot a pretty cool wide shot from the mountain with a great sky. I had to shoot the picture in RAW since with a JPEG it was impossible to have the sky and ground equally exposed.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1000th

The clouds began building and you could smell rain in the air.

Nikon D300, 80-200mm, 320iso, f4.5, 1/2000th

With thousands of fans drinking beer on the mountainside the track operators had everyone taken care of with a long line of port-a-potties  I would hate to use one of those at the end of the race. Ewww

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 250iso, f5.6, 1/3200th

I hiked down the mountain to shoot some photos from the outside of turn three.

A few minutes after I got there Brian Vickers blew a tire and smacked the wall and slid along the wall 3 feet away from me. I love it.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

As I was down there the clouds continued to build and right after this photo of Jimmie Johnson (below) it started raining. 

Nikon D300, 14-24mm, 100iso, f16, 1/60th

After a 20 minute weather delay, which gave me some time to transmit photos, the race got back going under sunny skies.

The below two photos are shot seconds apart and really illustrate the difference light can be when looking in different directions.

Into the sun:

Nikon D300, 80-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/8000th

Away from the sun:

Nikon D3, 400mm, 640iso, f6.3, 1/2500th

I walked along the outside of the track over to the exit of turn two to shoot some pictures in the great light pockets i discussed earlier.

The below shot of Jimmie Johnson was exactly what I had wanted since he was dominating the race and could potentially clinch the championship today.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f3.5, 1/2500th

As the race was getting into the later stages I once again decided to transmit some more photos. I edited right from my shooting location with a camera nearby in the event a crash occured that I could shoot.

Photo by Matt Kartozian

With my transmit finished it was time to walk about 3/4 of a mile from the outside of turn two back around to turn four and take the tunnel inside the track to the media room to put down my stuff and get in position for the finish.

The light continued dipping lower into the sky creating different light.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/2000th

After my long walk back and a few cautions later the sun had set and now the day race had turned into a night race.

There was still some nice purple sky so I decided to go wide on a Matt Kenseth pit stop to show it off.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/30th

As he left his pit box he did a huge burnout which is pretty race so that plus a cool slow shutter speed made for one of my favorite shots of the weekend.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 500iso, f2.8, 1/30th

In the end nobody had anything for Jimmie Johnson and he won convincingly and left Carl Edwards in his dust with only the smallest chances of passing him for the championship next week in Miami.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

For victory lane I set myself up down low and shot with an 80-200mm in one hand and a camera on the ground with a 14-24mm to see if I could get the same moment with two different looks. It worked out pretty well.

Tight shot with 80-200mm:

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

Wide shot with 14-24mm:

Nikon D300, 14-24mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/250th

After I shot that I ran next door to the media room to quickly transmit the images to maximize sales then headed back out to victory lane (liberty lane as some people call it) to shoot the champagne celebration about 10 minutes later.

When I shoot in victory lane I typically don’t use a flash and rely on other peoples flashes going off to provide a much cooler looking off camera flash light.

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

And with that a very good weekend came to an end. Only one more race to go!

Here are some various web clippings from some usages I got from the race:








Posted in Desert, Me, NASCAR, P.I.R., Racing, Scenic, Sports   | 13 Comments

13 responses to “Thunder in the Arizona Desert…NASCAR Style”

  1. Byron Hetzler says:

    You are such a friggin’ stud!

  2. MarkNYC says:

    By no stretch of imagination I am a NASCAR fan, but dude, another visit to your blog (which is expected to occur the very next time your post new stuff) and I will be screaming out words like “drafting”, “yellow flag” or “Richard Childress Racing” in my sleep. Loudly.

  3. I’m amazed you got this up between the race and the cards game. Greats shots too.

  4. Tim says:

    Mark – You really make this job look like there isn’t anything else in the world that would be more fun to do!

    Plus — thanks for bringing us behind the scenes — it’s really neat to gain some understanding of the why, how and what it might be like to spend a day in your shoes.

  5. Martin says:

    That’s a great set of photos. Rather than stick with a single angle, you certainly moved around a lot, and as a result, you’ve got great photos from a wide variety of angles!

  6. scott says:


    Thank you so much for this blog. Your photos are amazing and the detail in which it is written is second to none. Your insight into each image is an great help to all photographers and I truly appreciate the time you spend working on it.

    Thanks Again


  7. dale johnson says:


    Mark please contact me, I would love to get permission to use this picture on Kenny Wallace’s website (www.kennywallace.com)


    (Couldnt find a contact button on page to contact you)

  8. Michele says:

    I love the dramatic lighting and the wide angle shots that you used for this race. The use of lighting on the track really makes the colors pop out. Now if only I could do the same thing…BTW, the Kenseth shot is my fave as well. I am a sucker for burnouts!

  9. Danny says:


    Your images have never been better. I really enjoy your Nascar work & I’m very happy for your success. So… when can we get some more half naked girl shots!!! Oops, I mean portrait photography “practice”!!!

  10. Andrew Weber says:

    Good shit man defiantly one of your best blogs as far as variety. Keep up the good work.

  11. I envy you so much!!! They published your photos on many very important websites, congratulations Mark!

  12. Paul M says:

    You take awesome photos. I have yet to find any of the big wreck on turn 3, as I was too far away to see what happened (being on turn 4) and my longest lens being a 28-135 IS.

  13. Echo63 says:

    Great Photos mate
    love your work

    I really like your “Behind the scenes” shots, like your overexposed shot after shooting in the garage

    the water/reflection shots are amazing too
    i have bookmarked ur blog, i will be back to look again

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