Del continues dragster domination in Houston

After missing the race in Charlotte due to another shoot I was happy to get back on the circuit at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston, TX for my fourth NHRA race of the 2011 season. It would end up being an interesting race with two predictable pro winners and two surprises.

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Ok on to some images from Friday.

The last time I shot a race at Houston was nearly 14 years ago back in 1997. Upon arriving at the track I quickly saw the track looked exactly the same.

Below, back in the Mike Neff pit area I shot as they warmed up his car. I got the idea to try and get a different photo by using the big fan to blow out the nitro and it wasn’t too bad until I QUICKLY realized the fan was blowing all the fumes right at my face. Within 30 seconds the tears were streaming down my face like I had just watched Bambi or something…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 800iso, f3.2, 1/640th, Manual

For the first pro qualifying session I decided to make the walk up to the top of the grandstands around half track to get something different. When it comes to drag racing you will quickly become stagnant as a photographer if you are always standing in the exact same spot. No thanks!

Below, pro stock motorcycle rider Karen Stoffer (near) races alongside L.E. Tonglet during qualifying for the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/1250th, Manual

In the below frame of top fuel driver Spencer Massey you can see some serious tire distortion as he crosses the finish line. Check out the contrail coming off his rear wing!

Nikon D700, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

For the second pro session it would be spent on the starting line since the light would be pretty cool and if there were a few delays perhaps we could get a rare night qualifying session.

Funny car driver Tim Wilkerson prepares to back up following his burnout, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below, NHRA funny car driver Jon Capps launches off the starting line during qualifying.

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

The cool thing about late afternoon sun light is it is at such a low angle that it sometimes puts some great light onto the drivers faces as they sit in their car.

I’m sure top fuel pilot Antron Brown was annoyed by the bright light in his face (below) but damn it makes for nice pics for us photographers.

Nikon D3s, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

As the sun dipped lower towards the horizon it made for better light each pass.

With the sun at my back I shot the below frame of Del Worsham as he launched off the starting line alongside Doug Foley.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/500th, Manual

After that pass I looked behind me and saw a decent sunset was developing. With all the 15 or so other photographers shooting on the left side of the track I made the decision to be different and go shoot on the right side of the track without the “good light” to see what I could come up with.

Below, top fuel driver Tony Schumacher launches off the starting line on his way to the top qualifying spot.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/320th, Manual

Another mistake many photographers (including myself) make is to not look around at whats going on away from the cars to find cool photos. While shooting the cars towards the sunset I noticed if I underexposed the shot enough I could produce a pretty cool looking silhouette with the fans in the crowd in front of the nice sunset. The below frame is the result.

Nikon D3s, 80-200mm, 100iso, f5, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

One of my favorite frames of the weekend is the below shot of top fuel driver Morgan Lucas as he does his burnout in front of the great sky. While editing the pics from Friday at a local Chilis that night I heard people behind me talking about the photo and much to my surprise I turned around to see it was Morgan himself checking it out.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/400th, Manual

Following the burnout shot I ran my little ass off to get over to the other side of the track to shoot Lucas as he launched. My main reason for running around like that is it makes it look like more than one photographer was covering the race which is good since it makes it seem like more than one photographer was there for my clients.

Nikon D3s, 80-200mm, 400iso, f4, 1/320th, Manual

That wraps up Friday. On to another day of qualifying.

Below, NHRA pro stock motorcycle rider Hector Arana pushes his bike as a helicopter lands behind him during qualifying for the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 250iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

For the third pro qualifying session I would spend it shooting top end.

Below, top fuel dragster driver Del Worsham (left) races alongside David Grubnic during qualifying for the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 400iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

After smoking the tires and coming to a stop before making the turn off top fuel driver Tony Schumacher (below) would need a helpful push from members of the safety safari. By climbing down into a drainage ditch I was able to get a super low angle which made for a cool frame.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f6.3, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

During funny car qualifying in the third round I could feel some rain drops falling. Much to my surprise they allowed the pair of cars on the line to run. Seldom seen NHRA racer Jon Capps would quickly smoke the tires and pull off at the first turn off where I was shooting. As he climbed from his car I could hear him screaming and cussing. Upon popping out the roof of his car he would throw his gloves up in the air out of frustration for having to run in the rain.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Manual

Easily one of the coolest funny car paint jobs in awhile is the STP car driven by two time champion Tony Pedregon, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5, 1/1000th, Manual

For the final pro qualifying session I would once again head back to the starting line to look for some cool pics.

Below, pro stock motorcycle rider Shawn Gann waits in the staging lanes prior to making his run.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 320iso, f7.1, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

The winner of the cool t-shirt of the weekend had to be the crew member for champion L.E. Tonglet who rocked a badass Mr. Rogers shirt. #pimp

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 320iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

The only good thing about the threat of rain (which we had all weekend) was the cool dark clouds above the track.

The below frame is a good example of what I am talking about as pro stock driver Erica Enders does her burnout in the overcast conditions.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 250iso, f4, 1/2000th, Manual

Below, funny car driver Brian Thiel is framed by the wheel well of the cars body as he hangs out in the staging lanes prior to the final session.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 400iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

By sticking my entire camera into the cockpit I got the below frame of top fuel driver T.J. Zizzo as he waits to run. If I stuck my camera inside the cockpit of a NASCAR the chances are good the driver would grab the camera or punch at it….

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f4.5, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

By going up to the second floor of the tower/suites behind the starting line it gave a cool angle to shoot straight down on the cars as they went right below me prior to racing. You can really get a feel for how long the dragster of Morgan Lucas is when you see it from this angle.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

The bad luck story of 2011 in the world of NHRA certainly has to be Melanie Troxel who extended her non qualifying streak to 5 races. In case you are counting, there has been 5 races so far this season…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Manual

The second best shirt of the weekend has to go to the below crew member on the team for Jon Capps.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Below, heatwaves blur out the crowd as funny car driver Cruz Pedregon thunders down track during the final qualifying session.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Following the final session on Saturday I hauled ass to downtown Houston to shoot a baseball game between the Brewers and the Astros at Minute Maid Park. I was completely worn out from a full day at the track but ended up having a great night with a few pretty cool pics. Here are a few favorites….

Below, an overall view of Minute Maid Park from the upper deck during the Astros game against the Brewers in downtown Houston.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, Milwaukee Brewers batter Prince Fielder breaks a bat in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks throws to first base in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Manual

The game would end in great fashion as Houston Astros batter Jason Bourgeois would hit a walk off single in the ninth inning setting off a great celebration right in front of me.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Manual

Ok enough baseball back to drag racing.

On Sunday I got to the track nice and early to bust out some pit shots as teams prepped their cars for the first round of eliminations.

Below, funny car crew chief Johnny West tunes the engine on the car driven by Brian Thiel.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

Below, a huge crowd looks on as funny car driver Cruz Pedregon warms up back in the Snap-On Tools Toyota pit area.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Manual

Its always fun watching the fans up close when the nitro cars warm up. With the fumes making it hard to breath along with making your eyes water it only takes a few seconds for most of the up close fans to head the other direction from the cars.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f4, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

With tricky track conditions I figured the first round of eliminations could make for some wild and wacky runs. The wildest race had to be Morgan Lucas as he took on Terry McMillen, below. Both cars got super out of shape but it would be Lucas who would make it to the stripe first for the win.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f6.3, 1/2000th, Manual

A wild moment would occur at one of the turnoffs as a wind blown parachute came dangerously close to a safety safari crew man who would have to dive over a wall to avoid the blossomed parachute on the car driven by Bob Vandergriff, below. ¬†Ask anyone who’s worked on the top end and they’d almost all tell you that errant parachutes are their biggest fear. Lord know they’re my biggest fear after a parachute destroyed 14k worth of my camera gear.

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

Below, pro stock motorcycle rider Michael Phillips (left) after defeating Hector Arana Jr. during the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 250iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Manual

I would once again do a cockpit camera angle which gave me the below frame of top fuel driver Del Worsham as he prepared to race in the semi finals.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f5.6, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

Its always cool to see “low buck racers” have successful weekend. Below, funny car driver Bob Bode would have his dream weekend come to an end courtesy of Jeff Arend in the semi finals.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/3200th, Manual

Many people on the NHRA circuit are anxiously awaiting the debut (later this year) of Courtney Force. Below Courtney gets some pointers from father John Force. I always hated listening to my dad as a child but I am guessing if he had 15 championships I would probably have to listen.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

Here is a detailed view of the 60th anniversary pewter trophies, or Wallys as we call them in “the biz.”

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 200iso, f4, 1/2500th, Manual

Speaking of Wallys lets jump to the final round where we had two predictable winners and two not so predictable winners.

PREDICTABLE:

Pro stock motorcycle rider Andrew Hines celebrates following his 24th career victory.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

UNPREDICTABLE:

Pro stock winner Vincent Nobile cries as he celebrates with father John Nobile following his first career victory.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

UNPREDICTABLE:

Funny car driver Jeff Arend celebrates following his third career victory.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

PREDICTABLE:

Top fuel dragster driver Del Worsham celebrates following his 28th career victory to extend his points lead in the premiere class in drag racing.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

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

Back up at the starting line following the race they conducted the winners circle ceremony.

The celebration would continue for 19 year old Vincent Nobile (below) as he celebrated with his father John Nobile, right.

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

Below, funny car driver Jeff Arend celebrates on the podium with daughter Jenna following the win.

Nikon D3s, 70-200mm, 320iso, f2.8, 1/800th, Manual

Below, Del Worsham shows off his new trophy to go along with the other 2 trophies so far in the young 2011 season.

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

And with that the weekend came to an end.

Next up is NHRA in Atlanta!

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4 Responses to “Del continues dragster domination in Houston”

  1. Tommy G says:

    Great work as always, Mark. These are awesome.

  2. Scott says:

    Mark,

    Your pictures are amazing….. I love the sport, and your pictures bring a beauty to it that cannot be described. The thing with pictures is that they are a moment in time, that lasts forever. Being able to study the detail, the emotion of the situation, the subject adds so much more than what can be grasped in real time.

    I thank you for sharing your photos, they are wonderful. Thank you also for being a fan of Drag Racing, so we can see your amazing work.

    Thank you,

    Scott

  3. Marc says:

    My freakin’ gawd, Mark … what can I say? I’ve been shootin’ NHRA pics for almost forty years and my best shots don’t equal your worst. But I don’t have that cute red vest either. LOL! And rather than sulk, all I can say is: good on ya’ man, good on ‘ya. Keep ‘em coming you talented SOB!

    Best,

    Marc
    SLC,UT

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mark… Loved the blog from Houston. The shot of Vince Nobile and his father captures such great emotion. John has been racing for a long time, pouring lots into his career and now with his son. To see him so happy for his son makes me cry too! These guys (drag racers) try so hard, fight incredible odds, and get knocked down so much. Too see this is wonderful. The national dragster or Nhra needs to show this like you do. The ND weekly mag is not what it used to be. Would be great to see coverage from the lower ranks about some of the sportsman drivers who are coming up. So many start so young.

    I think you sense of humor and your young at heart attitude would do good for allbaspects of the sport. Thank god for you and your blog. Love it and looking forward to Atlanta. Thanks for fueling my passion even more. Best of luck to you..
    #wallywhateveryracerswants
    Sincerely Maggie Zane

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