Normally when I post a drag racing blog I typically lead off with my coolest photo of the weekend. When a destroyed camera is the lead photo I am pretty sure you can guess what the story of the weekend will be for me!

For about the past eight years I have really gotten into setting up remote cameras. There are two reasons for this, one is to put a remote camera in a place thats too dangerous to stand or a place photographers are not allowed to stand. The second reason is by setting up a remote camera (or two) I am able to get multiple angles of the same moment. In the past several years I have done countless remotes. I have had some close calls but then again I have had many more close calls from where I myself was standing and had to run for my life or dive to the ground to avoid death. Thats all part of the job of being a sports photographer and its honestly part of the fun of my occupation.

For the California Hot Rod Reunion nostalgia drag race in Bakersfield, CA, I would set up a remote camera in a spot that I have done every year at that track for awhile. While setting up the Nikon D700 camera with a 400mm f2.8 lens that morning I had no idea that it would be the last time I would ever set up that camera again.

Shooting down past the finish line (top end is what its called in the biz) is by far the most dangerous place to shoot in any motorsports I have ever shot. The reward for that risk is you get really cool angles of the cars coming right towards you and it is also the best place to set up if you wanna shoot crashes (for those of you sick people into that sort of thing). Yea a big part of the danger is parts and pieces off of crashing or exploding cars but by far the biggest risk down there is parachutes coming over the wall and snatching you and/or your camera up. While its pretty rare, it has happened in the past and the results usually aren’t pretty.

I have shot countless crashes from the top end of numerous drag strips around the country but anytime I am at this particular track I have to be very mindful of whats going on. Most tracks have walls that are straight down to the track surface, at this track just past the finish line the walls in the shutdown area are like the walls in temporary construction zones where the bottom is wider than the top so if you hit it instead of bouncing off it the cars have a tendency to ride up on the wall which is very bad.

Below is an example of the straight walls (on left) and the beginning of the construction zone walls with the lip so you can better understand what I’m rambling about.

Below, my buddy Guy Rhodes lets me know that the camera is successfully firing as I tested the remotes range from my shooting position about 200 feet further down in the shutdown area.

Ok on to the moment of impact….

In the first round of qualifying for nostalgia top fuel dragster, driver John Weaver (in the far lane) would lose control while racing James Day.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

I was initially following James Day in the near lane until I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Weaver was way out of control.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

Weaver quickly got the parachutes out which usually straightens a car out….

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

But in this situation it appeared that the throttle was slightly stuck open (judging by the heat waves still pouring from the headers) so gaining control wasn’t gonna happen…

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

By this point it was time to make the decision to stay put and keep shooting or run like child. Below is my last shot I took before I bailed. (Note the remote camera being a bad ass and not running)

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

As I started running the camera fired the below frame which shows the car missing the camera but the parachute coming in to ruin the day.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

When Weaver hit the wall the car rode up on the wall and rolled the car on its side. In the below frame from Guy Rhodes you can see the last instant of the cameras life…..

Photo by Guy Rhodes

After running from the track I quickly looked to make sure no parts or pieces were flying my direction before resuming shooting as the car headed away from me in a cloud of dust and smoke.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/3200th, Manual

At that point I was pretty pissed that I ended up running for no reason and missed the crash but its better to be safe than sorry.

My anger quickly turned to shock when I looked over at the wall where I had my remote and noticed it was no longer there.

I started walked over to the spot expecting that the camera had simply fallen over to the ground during the crash….. until I saw my manfrotto magic arm and super clamp laying in the middle of the track.

At that point I knew I was completely screwed and began to pick up all the parts and pieces of my camera and lens.

My father Gil has destroyed at least four or five remote cameras in his career and I knew I would eventually kill a camera. I figured if it ever happened that I would quickly begin crying. Not sure why but I took the situation pretty well. Perhaps it was because several of my friends were across the track shooting me retrieving all the parts of the camera but all I know is that being sad wasn’t gonna help the situation at all so all I could really do is laugh as the cameras fired away at me.

Photo by Guy Rhodes

After picking up all the pieces I sat them on the wall so all my buddies could see.

Photo by Jon Lemoine

While I was able to find most of the camera the one thing that was missing was the compact flash card that had been in the remote. I knew that even if the camera had fired with the car coming at it that it would be way out of focus since the remote had been focused on the finish line. Even knowing that I still really wanted the card back so I could at least know what the camera had seen in its final moments.

I spent a lot of time searching for the card alongside the track as well as on the track following the day. Even the track owner and an NHRA official (below) spent some of their valuable time searching as well. Thanks guys.

Guy Rhodes and I found out that with the big piece remaining of the 400mm that you could quickly light fires by aiming the sun through it….

Photo by Guy Rhodes

….or you could make yourself look like a cyclops…..

Photo by Guy Rhodes

The day ended with nobody finding the flash card and that sucked. Suffice to say I got rather inebriated that night!

The next day while driving out to the track I got a text from my friend Dave Kommel letting me know the flash card had been found and was still intact!

Below is the photo from the camera. Yea its far from the coolest remote shot but I think it still tells the story of the imminent Nikon destruction about to occur.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f9, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Here is an awesome little video Guy Rhodes produced with a short interview with me about the occurrence. Check it out!

Here is a link to the photo blog from Guy Rhodes with some of his favorite images from the weekend!

Here are some studio shots of all the various destruction of my gear.

Nikon D700:

Nikon 400mm f2.8:

Heres a few more various angles of the lens:

Here is the Pocket Wizard as well as my super clamp and magic arm which was the only thing from the whole setup (with the flash card) to have survived the accident.

The rest of the weekend I really didn’t get too many cool shots but here are a few….

During funny car qualifying Dave Benjamin had a small fire, below.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

If this thing has a toilet built in sign me up!

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

If you look closely at the parachutes in the below photo of Nate Bugg in his funny car you can see the remains of someone who was cremated and wanted their ashes spread from inside the parachute of a funny car. I wanna do that.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

Below, check out the rear tires in the air on the Mert Littlefield funny car as the parachutes pop following a run.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

Not sure who this is in the below frame but I love the shot.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

The parachutes deploy on the nostalgia top fuel dragster driven by Brett Harris following a run, below.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

A little fire in the cockpit action from top fuel dragster driver Adam Sorokin

Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Heres a closer view…

Nikon D700, 600mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

At the end of the day on Saturday they ran a fuel altered exhibition with Randy Bradford taking on Mike Boyd in the famed “Winged Express.” Anyone who knows anything about drag racing knows how wild and crazy that car is. If you didn’t know that let the below sequence of him on the burnout nearly crashing into the other car and narrowly missing a crew member standing on the track.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 800iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Sunday was a pretty tame day until the last few passes of the day.

First up in the lights a AA/Gas car blew his passenger side door off in a bunch of pieces.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

And then on what would end up being the last car down the track for the weekend nostalgia dragster driver Greg Leahy

lost control off the starting line and rolled the car. (Click picture to see bigger)

Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Leahy would be fine and climb from the not too damaged car, below.

Nikon D700, 600mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After the race was done for the day I had to do a group shot with two of my best friends Justin Kase Conder (center) and Guy Rhodes (right).

And that wraps up a very expensive weekend for me. Can’t wait for this weekends ADRL drag race in Dallas.

See ya!

Posted in California, Drag Racing, Me, NHRA, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports   | 80 Comments

80 responses to “When a 200mph Parachute meets a Camera the Camera Loses”

  1. lucho says:

    nice story…. shit happens
    thanks for posting

  2. Dale Oshima says:

    sorry about your loses. I can not imagine losing a 400f2.8 and a D700. Are you going to be attending the Winter Nationals?

  3. SPS says:

    hope you had proper insurance !

  4. Viveca Koh says:

    OUCH!!! I *feel* your pain! But great story – respect to you for posting and taking it all so well :))

  5. Mike says:

    There’s one quote I always remember from you… “It is my belief that if you don’t destroy a camera here and there you’re probably not trying hard enough.” In which case I guess this can only be a good sign that you’re still pushing the boundaries!

  6. ryan says:

    Ouch!! Well now you have an excuse to buy better equipment.

  7. pringle says:

    Wow, can I just ask something about your setup?
    I understand how the magic arm attaches to your (deceased) camera, but how does the super clamp hold onto the concrete barrier?

  8. […] of an out-of-control dragster taking out what appears to me to be a very nice camera setup. When a 200mph Parachute meets a Camera the Camera Loses – Mark J. Rebilas Blog Reply With Quote   + Reply to Thread « Using the Whole […]

  9. […] When a 200mph Parachute meets a Camera the Camera Loses […]

  10. Kirmeo says:

    You have insurance for this kind of thing, don’t you? Maybe its too expensive, what with you leaving cameras right at trackside for cars to snatch them and smash them on the ground. :p

  11. […] Mark Rebilas to zawodowy fotograf. Gdy wybrał się ze swoim wartym 11 000 dolarów sprzętem na wyścigi, nie przypuszczał, że z powrotem przywiezie go w kawałkach – bolid pędzący z szybkością ponad 250 km/h zahaczył o ślicznego Nikona. źródło: markjrebilas.com […]

  12. […] out the embedded video below to see pictures of the camera being destroyed. The owner of the camera Mark J. Rebilas simply said "its all in a days work".Via: Gizmodo /**/ You can receive our articles for free in […]

  13. […] Mark Rebilas to zawodowy fotograf. Gdy wybrał się ze swoim wartym 11 000 dolarów sprzętem na wyścigi, nie przypuszczał, że z powrotem przywiezie go w kawałkach – bolid pędzący z szybkością ponad 250 km/h zahaczył o ślicznego Nikona. źródło: markjrebilas.com […]

  14. […] Check out the full story along with some amazing pictures over at Mark Rebilas’ blog. […]

  15. […] Read Marks story, with lots of images,  here. […]

  16. Michael says:

    The ability to switch to Canon… *gg

  17. Ron says:

    Awesome photos.

  18. Andrew G says:

    Apart from losing a camera, which should be insured anyway, so who really cares. I never realised how easy shooting drag racing was, with shutter speeds like that pretty much every shot should be perfect.

    I wish I had it that easy.

  19. […] Mark J. Rebilas blog, http://markjrebilas.com/blog3/?p=10225 This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with […]

  20. Chris Tanouye says:

    Hey Mark I think you might want to invest in a few of these


  21. […] deseje ver mais informações Mark fez um post em seu blog relatando o “estrago” [Translate] Artigos Aleatórios Divulgar […]

  22. Hello! i’m a photographer (an autodidact one) from Argentina, i would like you to visit my site (www.DavidMarceloFinzi.com) and see my photos… I have a Nikon D5000 and would like to have a D700, but it’s out of my money… Well, see my photos and tell me how can I do better…


  23. Gregg says:

    Exciting post. You should publish this in sportsshooter.com, if you haven’t already.

  24. […] in position to capture them can sometimes mean that you (or your gear) is in harms way. In fact, Rebilas lost a remote setup to a drag car not too long […]

  25. Keep up the superb piece of work, I read few posts on this website and I believe that your blog is real interesting and holds circles of superb information.

  26. Clint Dobbs says:

    The real tragedy here is not the destruction of the camera, costly though it may have been, but rather the destruction of Butch Blair’s “Fugowie” dragster.

  27. […] Class Mark Rebilas joins us again and we take an extensive look at remotes, including what can go wrong. Check out Mark’s photoblog and follow him on […]

  28. […] Navegando por internet le pegue un vistazo a la curiosa historia de el fotógrafo de california, el americano Mark Rebilas,  aficionado al las grandes carreras de vehiculos de tipo dragster. Ya sabeis esos vehiculos impulsados con una tremenda capacidad en caballos y que necesitan de un paracaidas o varios de ellos para hacer un frenado final en la pista con seguridad, o al menos con la seguridad de que van a tener los suficientes metros como para parar antes de llegar al final de la pista. http://markjrebilas.com/blog/?p=10225. […]

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