Explosive weekend closes out the NHRA Season in Pomona

The NHRA season always ends in Pomona, CA but it always conflicts with my NASCAR schedule as its always during the race weekend in my hometown of Phoenix. This year I decided a month in advance that I would be doing Pomona and skipping NASCAR. Keep reading and you will see that I made the right decision.

So for the lone pro qualifying session on Thursday I promised myself that I would make it the one qualifying session of the weekend where I would shoot on the starting line.

I kinda liked the below photo of NHRA pro stock motorcycle rider Katie Sullivan during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The reflection of the track in her visor looked cool.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 100iso, f3.5, 1/1000th, Manual

I stayed on the starting line all the way through the pro stock bikes but the voice in my head told me to go to the top end. I have learned that when the voice in my head tells me to do something I am usually better off listening to it.

So off to the top end I went…

Below, NHRA funny car driver Grant Downing climbs from the roof hatch of his car after an aborted qualifying pass.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

The first fireball of the weekend came courtesy of top fuel dragster driver Tim Cullinan (below) who lit it up around half track.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

While it was a nice fire photo it didn’t make leaving the starting line worth the effort, damn you voice in my head. So with that in mind I headed back to the starting line to shoot a few pair of cars.

Below, top fuel dragster driver Morgan Lucas does a burnout during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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

The late afternoon light at Pomona ranks right up with Seattle and Phoenix as some of the best light on the tour which makes for nice looking photos.

Below, Larry Dixon launches off the starting line on a qualifying run.

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

On to a few images from Friday.

I don’t know the name of the below crew member for a pro stock motorcycle team but his beard is wicked. I love how it aerodynamically flows over his shoulder as he drives a scooter down the return road.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, top fuel dragster driver Stig Neergaard experiences a small fire during second round of qualifying.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

He came to a stop a few hundred yards past me. The car was pretty backlit so I used it to my advantage by shooting the scene as a silhouette as a member of the NHRA safety safari extinguished the flames.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

A short while later it would be funny car driver Tim Wilkerson sitting in the hot seat as his car would blow up in the lights, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Manual

While the fire never got huge it did stay lit long enough for me to shoot some more photos as he came precariously close to where I was shooting alongside the wall….

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f4, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f4, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, the safety safari was quickly on the scene to put out the flames and get Wilkerson out of the car. He was unhurt in the fire.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f9, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

After the racing ended for the day I hopped in the car and headed to Hollywood to go to a book signing with my buddy Gary Vasquez to meet one of my favorite cast members from the Howard Stern Show, Gary Dell’abate, who is better known as Baba Booey.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

While waiting in line for 1.5 hours I spotted the hearse belonging to the music group the Bleeding Deacons (below) as they drove past the line to the cheers of the crowd.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/13th, Aperture Priority

Below, Baba Booey can be seen on the left signing autographs.

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

And finally my money shot with Mr. Chompers himself!

Photo by Gary Vasquez

Ok back to the track for some Saturday action.

In the first top fuel qualifying session of the day I shot what has got to be in the top 5 of largest fireballs I have witnessed when Lex Joon lit up the afternoon sky with the below fireball.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, pro stock driver Greg Anderson (right) kisses wife Kim Anderson after clinching the 2010 pro stock championship during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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

Back to what I was saying earlier about the awesome late afternoon light in Pomona….

Below, sunlight fills the cockpit of the funny car driven by Bob Bode following his final qualifying lap.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f4.5, 1/2000th, Manual

Here is an even closer look as he headed past my position along the wall. Light like that makes a photo nerd like me rather giddy.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f4.5, 1/2000th, Manual

In funny car the championship was down to 14 time champion John Force and second year driver Matt Hagan.

Below, I shot wide to fill the frame with the nicely lit mountains as Force and Hagan did their burn outs alongside each other.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 640iso, f4, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

John Force (left) races alongside Matt Hagan in the final qualifying session, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f4.5, 1/1600th, Manual

As the sun dipped behind the horizon and darkness took over it enabled the flames from the headers of the top fuel cars to be very visible, which is always a great element for cool looking photos.

Below, top fuel dragster driver Terry McMillen (right) races alongside Chris Karamesines during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 2500iso, f4, 1/800th, Manual

Below is a wide shot showing the three powerful Musco lights set up on the spectator side of the race track.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

While bright lights are usually a very good thing when shooting at night, the placement of the lights in Pomona isn’t good for a top end shooter such as myself since it makes everything coming at me a silhouette.

The below photo of Morgan Lucas with the parachutes out is a good example of what I am talking about.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 4000iso, f4, 1/800th, Manual

Whenever I am faced with less than desired shooting conditions I will bitch up a storm for a few minutes but then I typically try and adapt and make the best of it.

As cars were getting towed back to the pits following their runs I noticed a particular spot on the return road where the bright lights dramatically lit the cars driving by so I set up and shot as the car of Antron Brown (below) was towed by. I love the edge lighting look it produced.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 4000iso, f4, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

That wraps up Saturday. On to race day!

Sunday would be all about the remaining three professional championships still up for grabs.

Top fuel was quickly decided in the first round when Larry Dixon won his race and clinched the championship.

Below, Dixon holds the championship trophy high above his head as he celebrates at the end of the track.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with SB900 Flash

After being presented the trophy Dixon was paraded in front of the packed grandstands to celebrate with the cheering fans, below.

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

The points situation in funny car was a semi close battle with John Force and Matt Hagan. To win his first championship all Hagan had to do was not let Force finish two rounds ahead of him.

Easier said than done.

Hagan would end up losing in the first round. When he got out of his car it was painfully obvious to him that he just opened the door for Force to win the championship. I have been shooting sports for 20 years now and I normally don’t feel too bad for people who are dejected after losing but as I shot the below photos of Hagan sitting against a trailer ┬áby himself I couldn’t help but feel terrible for the guy.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f4, 1/320th, Manual

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f4, 1/320th, Manual

Ok enough of the depressing emotions, lets go to the opposite side of the spectrum to happiness by my good friend Will Lester, below, who decided to ham it up as I shot John Force being interviewed after winning his first round race.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

All Force had to do to clinch an unprecedented 15th championship was to win one more round of racing.

And win he did!

Below, John Force celebrates as he climbs from his car after defeating Bob Bode (not pictured) to win the 2010 funny car championship.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with SB900 Flash

In all my years of covering NHRA I actually had never been at the end of the track to shoot John Force winning a race or a championship so I loved finally being able to get cool photos of him celebrating.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/100th, Aperture Priority

As Force was driven up the return road in front of the cheering crowd he jumped from the vehicle to celebrate with the fans, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

For an old man with bad legs Force ran pretty fast. In the below photo you can see me on the left shooting my ass off as Force celebrated.

Photo by Will Lester

Below, John Force hoists the championship trophy on the stage.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Manual

Below, I got down low to the ground and shot up at the championship trophy in the hands of pro stock motorcycle rider L.E. Tonglet as he celebrated his first championship. Not a bad year for the rookie!

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

Right after shooting Tonglet at the end of the track with his trophy I headed back to my position to shoot competition eliminator. Comp is pretty much the slowest class of cars I will shoot on a regular basis since every once in awhile all hell will break loose.

Below, com driver Steve Kent would get out of the groove and roll his corvette.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

As the car slid to a stop a fire erupted from the car. Luckily the safety safari was quickly on the scene and Kent would emerge unhurt.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, Larry Dixon checks out his trophy as he poses for photographers in the staging lanes.

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

Nostalgia top fuel dragster driver Brett Harris sits in the cockpit of his car prior to making a run, below.

Nikon D700, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

For the final rounds I was at the end of the track to shoot the race winners celebrations after climbing from their cars.

Below, John Force would not only win the championship but he would end up winning the race as well.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1250iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB900 Flash

Top fuel driver Antron Brown was his usual fun self after winning top fuel, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1250iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual with SB900 Flash

And with that the 2010 NHRA season came to a close. I can’t wait for the season to start back up in less than 90 days!

Here are some web clips from the weekend…

6 Responses to “Explosive weekend closes out the NHRA Season in Pomona”

  1. Ed O'Connell says:

    Your Drag Racing photos are always terrific, inspirational. I was wondering, why you prefer the D700 to the D3’s, What triggers your decision to choose manual over aperture priority, and when using the 1.4 tele-converter do you use manual or autofocus? Thanks Ed

  2. Bob Packett says:

    Always enjoy your great drag racing photos. Rarely miss a nostalgia race at Famoso.
    Am am an old motorcycle, altered, fuel altered, dragster (front and rear engined) fuel and blown alcohol builder/driver. Thank you.

  3. ERIC BRUNS says:

    …Mark…….Man, once again you come through with the amazing shots !!!……Been a long time web site subscriber and fan,,,both of the yours and the racing !!!…….Keep ‘em coming, you’re the greatest….E

  4. Lewis Bloom says:

    meeting Boy Gary, now that’s cool, met him last year at a Bruce Show in Buffalo, he was smoking a cigarette outside our hotel at 12:45 am, Love your stuff/ work

  5. Robert Curtis says:

    As always… awesome stuff! Question for you Mark… Your color balance is ALWAYS spot on! Are you using manual white balance settings?

  6. Frederic says:

    Once again a terrific set of images from this event.
    We can feel the tension, the emotion in the pictures of Hagan against the trailer.

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