NHRA season off to fast start in Pomona

A week earlier I was on the east coast covering NASCAR in Daytona, a few days later it was over to the west coast to shoot the season opening NHRA Winternationals. As everyone knows, drag racing is one of my favorite sports to shoot. With that in mind it was off to Pomona, CA motivated as hell to start off my 2011 NHRA season with some good shots!

In previous years I would shoot between 2-5 NHRA races a year but this year thanks to Toyota Racing I will be covering nearly the entire season. Along with photography for them I will also be doing a photo blog from each event. Its a work in progress so feel free to let me know your ideas of stuff you’d like to see.

Click the below banner link to check out the blog I will be doing all season for Toyota Racing.

Ok time for some pics.

With it being the first race of the season I would spend a lot of time trying to get shots of all the new drivers, sponsors and paint jobs throughout the pits.

Below, the injector scoop on the funny car of Jack Beckman sports the Aarons lucky dog logo.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 800iso, f5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Top fuel driver Spencer Massey (below) poses for photos in his spiffy new Prestone fire suit prior to the first round of qualifying at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Funny car driver Tony Pedregon blasts off the starting line in his American Racing sponsored car, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f4.5, 1/2500th, Manual

Shooting directly into the sun and underexposing the photo enabled me to get the dramatically lit shot of funny car champion John Force, below, as he did one of his patented long and smokey burnout, below.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

Below, top fuel dragster driver Tony Schumacher all suited up back in the staging lanes prior to climbing into his US Army sponsored car.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Below, top fuel driver Morgan Lucas does his burnout during first round of qualifying.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

I wanted another angle of Lucas so as soon as I shot the burnout I ran all the way back behind the water box and around to 225ft down track on the other side of the track. I was out of breath but still able to get the below shot as Lucas raced down track in a sea of heat waves.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 640iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Fridays lone qualifying session ended up being a complete washout due to persistent rains so lets move on to Saturday.

All week the weather had shown Saturday to be a day with no chance in hell of any racing occurring. I’m talking 100% chance of rain all day according to the weather reports but somehow we would get the entire day in….

…..after a delay from a morning storm that actually dumped pea sized hail at the race track.

Below a mini snowman stands watch over the Terry McMillen pit area.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

Following the end of the rain NHRA chief starter Rick Stewart (below) was out on track helping the rest of the safety safari with the track drying process.

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

Back in the pits we found former MLB pitcher (and future hall of famer) Randy Johnson hanging out with Ron Capps in the NAPA funny car pit area. As you can see in the below photo Randy is really tall… or Capps is just really short. Hmmm, actually I think its both…

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual

Having pitched several years for the Arizona Diamondbacks in my hometown of Phoenix, I have spent countless days photographing Randy. I learned long ago to give him his space so he wouldn’t rip my head off or throw a fastball at me. With that in mind you can understand my concern when I got the below photo with him staring right at me as he walked towards me.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

As he approached me the first thing I thought was oh crap, instead he started chatting with me about photography. Turns out, since retiring from baseball Johnson has become quite interested in motorsports photography and he asked me for some pointers which I happily gave him.

Here is a funny photo shot by my buddy Jason Zindroski as I talked with Johnson. Several people have commented that this photo reminds them of when a small animal flails its arms in an attempt to make them look more intimidating to a predator. Hell I still look like a pansy…

Photo by Jason Zindroski

Below, fans in the pro pit area look on as funny car drivers warm up their cars creating a noxious yellow cloud of nitro methane. Smells so goooood!

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

The morning storm placed a decent amount of snow up on the nearby mountains which made for a good background in the below shot of pro stock driver Greg Anderson being towed to the tech area for inspection.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Top fuel dragster driver T.J. Zizzo slows down from his two parachutes after a qualifying run, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

The last few years, the lone female racing pro stock, Erica Enders has had tough times driving for an underdog team that rarely made the field. 2011 got off to a great start for Enders as she would qualify in the top spot with a 6.55, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f5.6, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

In the final session of funny car qualifying for the day we had a crazy moment as John Force (left) would cross the centerline just past the finish line in front of Bob Bode at over 300mph…..

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

…. at this point I held the shutter button down shooting 8 frames per second as it appeared to me that a collision was imminent…

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

… check out the parachutes from Forces car opening right above Bodes car!

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

It was an insane moment that left me saying wow… and shaking for like the next 10 minutes.

Click here to check out the video to see how wild it was!

Following his pole winning qualifying lap of a 4.03, Cruz Pedregon was towed back to the pit area. I saw a puddle from the earlier rain so I laid down just at the edge of it to get the below reflection shot. I got up with a bit of mud on me but it was worth it.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f5, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

The best thing about the crappy weather over the course of the weekend was that it left really cool looking clouds in the sky which I used as often as I could in my photos.

Below, with his parachutes out top fuel dragster driver Shawn Langdon slows in the shutdown area.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 160iso, f5.6, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

The temperatures in the final qualifying session were in the low 50’s so I figured all the fast drivers would go up in smoke due to the cold track conditions. Boy was I wrong…

Below, Larry Dixon (left) runs a national record time of 3.77 alongside Spencer Massey. Setting the record also awarded Dixon 20 points which will come in handy as he works to defend his 2010 championship.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 800iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

As the cars went through the finish line side by side I really wanted to get a nice wide angle shot with the clouds in the sky so I quickly dropped down the long glass and grabbed the wide angle. The below frame is the result which is my favorite frame of the weekend because it looks like a painting.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f5, 1/2000th, Manual

Even after they passed me and headed away it made for cool shot with the lens flare as Spencer Massey drives off into the sunset. #cliche

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f5, 1/2000th, Manual

That wrapped up a full day of action on a day that weather forecasters predicted wouldn’t happen. On to Sunday!

Overnight more weather had come through the region and rewarded us with even more snow on the mountains. It was a beautiful setting for a drag race.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

Below, Del Worsham warms up his Al-Anabi fueler in the pits prior to his first round behind the wheel of a dragster in about 15 years. You see how most of the crew members are wearing gas masks? Thats because the nitro fumes makes it near impossible to breath as well as making your eyes water uncontrollably. Tears were streaming down my face, like I had just watched “The Notebook,” as I shot this pic. Right after I got one I liked I hauled ass outta the pit area towards breathable air!

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f5, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Another one of my favorite images of the weekend was the below frame of top fuel driver T.J. Zizzo as he talked with some fans during driver introductions. Behind Zizzo on a banner were some of the greats in the sport. He is relatively new to the game so maybe one day his face will be on that wall. Zizzo seems like a super cool guy so I hope he does.

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

During the first round of top fuel, driver Troy Buff would suffer a large engine explosion and fire. I was all the way down at the end of the track nearly a half a mile away so the shot was ruined by heat waves. Speaking of heat waves check out the mushroom cloud of heat around the flaming car!

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

By the time Buff made it down to me only some small flames trickled from the engine.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Manual

As members of the NHRA safety safari converged on the scene to put the fire out a large flame gave the guy on the right quite the warm surprise.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below, the upset of the weekend had to be when low buck racer Terry McMillen (right) knocked off new national record holder Larry Dixon in the first round.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

After the 300mph damn near bump draft with John Force the day prior, Bob Bode would once again live on the edge as he would have an engine explosion and small fire in the first round. Check out the tire tracks going back and forth from when Bode was hard on the brakes to get his car to a safe stop.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 200iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

After advancing to the semi-finals top fuel dragster driver Antron Brown (below) would head up the return road hanging out of his tow vehicle to acknowledge the crowds.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 320iso, f5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Below, funny car driver Robert Hight (near) defeats his boss, John Force, in the second round.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, Randy Johnson shoots photos on the starting line during the semi-finals of the pros.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f2.8, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

In the semi-finals in top fuel it would be Shawn Langdon (far lane) defeating Antron Brown to advance to his second straight final round dating back to last year, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/1600th, Manual

NAPA funny car driver Ron Capps (below) does a smokey burnout in the semi finals.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 500iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below, funny car driver Matt Hagan blasts off the starting line on his way to a final round matchup against Robert Hight.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

After the semi-finals of the pros I walked from the starting line back to the media room to edit pics but I stopped when I noticed the killer light barely touching the eye of competition eliminator driver Clint Neff as he waited in the staging lanes prior to the first round in his class.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

For the final rounds I would end up down at the end of the track to shoot the winning drivers climbing from their cars.

Below. I got low to a puddle to do another reflection shot of the mountains behind the starting line. The light was drastically different from the image earlier in the day which makes a great example of how important light is and how you can produce two totally different looking shots from the exact same spot.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

2011 is the 60th anniversary of the NHRA so in recognition of that all the trophies (or “Wallys” as we call them in the biz) are pewter instead of the standard copperish color. I am sure every driver really wants to win one of these trophies. Actually it doesn’t matter if the trophy was made out of wood, they’d still want it!

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

The first professional class winner of 2011 would be pro stock driver Jason Line.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Next up would be the funny car final between Matt Hagan (left) against Robert Hight, below.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1250iso, f5, 1/1600th, Aperture Priority

Robert Hight would end up coming home with the win. Below he celebrates even as his car is still moving.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 200iso, f4, 1/125th, Aperture Priority

And we close out this blog with the final round of top fuel dragster which would be contested between teammates Shawn Langdon (right) and Morgan Lucas. It would be a good race but as with every other race in drag racing history there could only be one winner.

Nikon D700, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 1250iso, f5, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

And that winner would be Morgan Lucas (below) who would celebrate with his fourth career victory.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Having grown up in southern California the local win meant a lot to Morgan who was happy to show his excitement for the world to see.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

And that wraps up my first NHRA race of the 2011 season. Gainesville cannot come soon enough!

4 Responses to “NHRA season off to fast start in Pomona”

  1. [...] Continue reading and see more photos on Mark’s blog. [...]

  2. Jeremy says:

    Great photos and great blog! I look forward to seeing the next race results! Subscribed!

  3. Kendra says:

    Fantastic photos! Some beautiful shots of the crazy weather.

  4. [...] Continue reading and see more photos on Mark’s blog. [...]

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