NHRA heats up in Chicago

Following the wild and exciting weekend I had in Bristol at my last NHRA race I pretty much knew this weekend would not be near as good for photos but I was still excited to check out Route 66 raceway in Joliet, IL. This track along with Denver, CO and Brainerd, MN are the three remaining tracks on the NHRA tour I have not yet been to.

I am writing this blog from my hotel in Amsterdam during my vacation so forgive me if its shorter than most…. and if the spelling is incorrect.

Oh yea, and check out my photo blog I do for Toyota Racing. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be able to cover the whole season PLUS it gets updated several days before mine does so do me a favor and check it out!

Is Cruz Pedregon from the dark side? He sure does look Darth Vaderish in his all black helmet as he prepares for his first qualifying pass Friday at Route 66 Raceway.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

On funny car champion John Force’s first qualifying run he broke right at the starting line. Most other top level racers would be livid and quickly disappear from the publics view. Not John Force. After climbing from his car he proceeded to run alongside the fence and high five the fans, below.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f3.5, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Below, I catch the flash of another photographer as I shoot a rear 3/4 angle of funny car driver Matt Hagan doing his burnout. A lot of time drag racing photographers will shoot these type angles to get the grandstands in the background. I did it because the light at this track was, to use a good phrase, less than desirable.

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

Below, top fuel driver Morgan Lucas looks like a statute as he prepares to slide down into the cockpit of his GEICO dragster.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

In the below photo shot by my buddy Guy Rhodes you can see me wearing my new sunglasses as I stand around on the starting line. I am on the fence with them. I feel like these glasses are reserved for pilots or Columbian drug lords so I feel like a jackass in them. However a really hot girl picked them out for me so I guess as long as she likes them thats all I should care about? #yes

Photo by Guy Rhodes

The below photo is a prime example of the aforementioned “less than desirable light” phrase earlier as top fuel driver Antron Brown does his burnout while a crew member runs alongside the car. There’s ways to use back light such as this to produce dramatic photos but then its usually hard to read any of the sponsors on the sides of the car (something sponsors like).

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Back in the staging lanes shooting pics I found some good light hitting a funny car engine. By shooting dark it made everything black except where the light was hitting the engine. I always like getting shots that show an artistic side to this sport.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

In my first full season shooting NHRA I have quickly learned that many drivers like pointing at the camera for pics. Apparently funny car driver Bob Tasca III is also a fan of the finger point as he aims right at me (below) prior to suiting up for his second qualifying pass.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

The second session of qualifying was going to be good for photos since it occurred at dusk and would end in darkness.

Once the sun dipped behind the starting line grandstands I figured it was gone for the day. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a small opening in the grandstands which allowed the sun to poke through slightly. By exposing for the bright sun it made the funny car of Dale Creasy Jr (below) nearly completely black and blended into the background excluding the header flames and slight rim lighting on the car. This is a great example of the “artsy shots” I try to find at the track. Pics like this put me in a good mood.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1600iso, f10, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Next up was Jack Beckman so I decided to fool around with that light again since it would quickly be gone. This time I wouldn’t expose so dark on the shot and would shoot from a slightly different angle with a wide angle lens. The resulting shot has a different look to it but is equally as cool.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

The below shot of funny car driver Johnny Gray launching off the starting line is an example of an off camera flash hitting the car from a different angle than the angle of the camera which results in a cooler look than an on camera flash would provide you. Now don’t go thinking I was motivated and set up the flash. No way, this was just dumb luck of me catching another photographers flash. Thanks photographer!

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 500iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual

With the sun now gone all that remained in the sky was a faint pastel orange glow on the horizon. It looked like a good background for pics but I would have to work fast as it was getting darker by the second.

Below, another super underexposed shot resulting in a cool silhouetted look as crew members wait in the staging lanes with driver Keith Murt. The blue reflecting off the car is simply the blue sky.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f2.8, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

In the below shot I got all the way on the ground to shoot top fuel driver Shawn Langdon waiting in the lanes for his run. The white spec in the top of the frame isn’t a spot on my lens, thats the moon.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

In the below shot I would once again shoot from a low position but this time put the camera right up to the car of top fuel champion Larry Dixon as he waits to race. On the left side of the frame is the car of Terry McMillen which sports a great paint job for photos.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Below, top fuel points leader Del Worsham throws some massive header flames as he blasts off the starting line.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Manual

When I get bored with my photos I typically slow down the shutter speed to produce cool looking speed blur shots.

In the below frame I slowed to 30th of a second shutter speed to blur the cars of Shawn Langdon and David Grubnic as they raced down track.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/30th, Manual

I would get another dumb luck shot catching another photographers flash, this time perfectly above the engine on the top fuel dragster of Rod Fuller as he did his burnout, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f9, 1/40th, Manual

That would wrap things up for Friday.

Upon arriving at the track Saturday I headed to the R2B2 Racing pit area to do a few simple crew portraits.

In the below photo shot by my buddy Jason Sharp you can see me unsafely straddling the top of a ladder shooting while Guy Rhodes holds a softbox on the side.

Photo by Jason Sharp

Here is the result of the ridiculously simple setup with funny car driver Melanie Troxel posing at the front of her car, below.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4.5, 1/250th, Manual with 1600watt strobe in Softbox

After knocking out a bunch of solid shots on the starting line Friday I would spend this day looking for cool shots at the top end where I would once again have to endure terrible light until nightfall.

Below, NHRA funny car driver Robert Hight slows in the shutdown area via parachutes following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f7.1, 1/2000th, Manual

While the light was bad shooting down the track it was glorious if you shot the opposite direction such as in the below shot of pro stock motorcycle rider Shawn Gann.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1250th, Aperture Priority

We would be provided a wonderful sunset which made for a great background to the below shot of fans on their RV’s watching top fuel qualifying… or perhaps the sunset?

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f3.2, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Top fuel driver Morgan Lucas liked the sunset so much that he purposely smoked the tires so he could coast past me at 12 mph (below) to ensure I got the sunset in the background with his car. Got it Morgan!

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f4, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

In the below shot of Tony Pedregon I didn’t even notice the supercharger backfiring until 2 hours later while editing the pics at a TGI Fridays bar.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 5000iso, f4, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

Time for raceday.

Below, funny car driver Melanie Troxel signals crew chief Aaron Brooks as they warm up her car prior to the first round of eliminations.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

Most young fans look up to their favorite drivers but I guess in the below case you could say they’re looking down on top fuel driver Morgan Lucas prior to his first round race. Hopefully they got a good look at Morgan as he would unfortunately lose in the opening round.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 800iso, f4, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

In one of the more odd things I have seen in my years shooting NHRA was top fuel driver Rod Fuller being shut off on the starting line in the first round due to a flat front tire, below. I have never seen a car get a flat between the burnout and the launch.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Below, John Stewart, crew chief for top fuel driver Shawn Langdon walks from the car prior to Shawn winning the round. Langdon would make it all the way to the semi finals.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Top fuel driver Larry Dixon (below) peers out from beneath his gas mask as he warms his car up in the pit area prior to the second round.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 800iso, f3.5, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Here is the view from behind as top fuel driver T.J. Zizzo lights up the tires during his burnout in the second round of elimination.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 250iso, f3.2, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

Crew members for pro stock driver Erica Enders celebrate following her victory in the semi finals, below.

Nikon D3s, 400mm, 250iso, f4, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

And that wraps up my favorite images of the weekend in Joliet. I will surely be jet lagged to the max when I fly back to the USA in a few days to repack and fly up to Denver to begin a rough three week stretch of consecutive races. Wish me luck!

If you have way too much time on your hands Click here to check out all the photos from the weekend.

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One Response to “NHRA heats up in Chicago”

  1. jack stuart says:

    Always great Pictures and done so in place of an event. How do you get yourself in a place where you know or think will be the right place at the right time?

    Also some education on the Camera and how to use?


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