My fun weekend at the Brainerd Zoo

With doing the NHRA tour this year I have had the opportunity to visit several tracks for the first time. Brainerd, Minnesota would be the final track on the season that I had never been to so I was looking forward to checking the track out as well as making my first visit to the infamous “Zoo” at the tracks campground. It would end up being quite the fun and interesting weekend.

Since I had never been to the track before I made it a point to head right out there as soon as I got into town on Thursday night to try and get my bearings and see the layout of the track. The place was pretty much dead with all the pit areas closed down and dark except for the R2B2 funny car pit area where the crew worked late into the night putting together the teams second car, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 5000iso, f2.8, 1/400th, Aperture Priority

Friday would be spent all over the starting line as I took advantage of some of the unique shooting areas this track provided. With no walls behind the starting line to block my shots I was able to literally get down on the ground and produce some cool looking low angle shots such as the below frame of Larry Dixon launching his Al-Anabi top fueler off the starting line.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/1250th, Manual

To see more photos of Larry Dixon as well as the other Toyota Racing drivers please click the banner below to check out my Toyota NHRA photo blog that I do the Monday after each race.

In the below frame I shot tight on the car of Johnny Gray as it spit out some big flames, raw fuel and heat waves following his burnout. Just after the photo was taken they would shut off his car and he would have to wait till the next session to make a pass.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

In the below frame of funny car driver Melanie Troxel doing her burnout, I laid all the way on the ground and shot up at her to incorporate the clouds into the background. That would be the theme of a lot of my shooting this weekend so be prepared for many more low angle wide shots with clouds to come!

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Pro stock driver Mark Hogan (below) does a nice wheel stand as he races down track during qualifying. The wheel stand would be the only excitement for the small team as they would fail to qualify for eliminations on Sunday.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/1000th, Manual

Below, funny car driver Robert Hight pretends to take a picture of me with his imaginary camera… either that or he is trying to squish my big head.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f4, 1/800th, Manual

Below, top fuel dragster driver Rod Fuller stares me down from the comfort of his 320mph car.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 640iso, f5, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

Here is a steering wheels eye view of top fuel legend Chris Karamesines (below) as he sits in his car prior to making a qualifying pass. Nobody knows his exact age but the rumors are that he is between 83 and 117 years old. Regardless of his age he looks a lot better than most people in their 60’s.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.2, 1/500th, Manual

Below, top fuel driver Terry McMillen kicks up the front end as he launches off the starting line.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.2, 1/3200th, Manual

Brainerd would be the second appearance of the season by long time fan favorite Cory McClenathan, below. Unlike the last race he participated in in Topeka where he failed to qualify, Cory Mac would make the starting field and run on Sunday.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.2, 1/3200th, Manual

Under some pretty cool looking clouds (below) Larry Dixon is backed up by a crew member following his burnout during Fridays second session.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.2, 1/3200th, Manual

Most of the time when you are shooting the far lane and the car in the near lane comes through your frame it will ruin your intended shot. But sometimes it can add to a photo like the below shot of Chris Karamesines as Larry Dixon flies through the frame in the foreground.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/320th, Manual

In the below shot of Morgan Lucas and crew waiting to run I got down low on the ground in front of the car to produce what I thought was a pretty cool frame. Seconds after shooting this pic I would end up being yelled at by an official for shooting in a place I wasn’t allowed. At least I got the shot!

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f5, 1/320th, Manual

Fans are silhouetted as they watch qualifying from the roof of the tower suites, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 800iso, f5.6, 1/5000th, Manual

One of my favorite images of the weekend was the below shot of Antron Brown racing down track alongside teammate Tony Schumacher. On top of the fact that its a cool shot of two of the current kings of the sport I also liked the third car in the shot of Doug Kalitta being towed back to the pits in the background.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 500iso, f4.5, 1/400th, Manual

That wraps up Friday.

For Saturday I would spend the day shooting top end trying to get some variety to my take.

Below, pro stock motorcycle rider Hector Arana pushes his bike back towards the pits as he awaits his crew member to push with their pit bike.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f5.6, 1/400th, Manual

Below, NHRA top fuel dragster driver Rod Fuller slows to a stop with a parachute alongside Keith Murt during qualifying for the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

Qualifying in the nitro classes would lead to some sacrifices to the engine gods as a few drivers would blow some stuff up.

Below, top fuel driver Luigi Novelli blows an engine with a small fire….

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

…Same story for top fuel driver Dom Lagana….

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f6.3, 1/1250th, Manual

… and even funny car legend John Force would have a bit of a boomer. It was a dumb luck shot that I was taking a photo the instant the engine exploded.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/1600th, Manual

Here is a close up view of oil flying all over the place from the engine of top fuel driver Scott Palmer. This oildown would lead to a semi long cleanup… which I used to nap in my rental car.

Nikon D3s, 400mm with 1.4 convertor (550mm), 320iso, f5.6, 1/2500th, Manual

Below, pretty skies above the car of Del Worsham as he is towed back to the pits following the final session of the day.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

By laying down in the grass I shot this frame of the car of Melanie Troxel being towed back to the pits with some green grass in the foreground. If you look closely at the side window you can see the crew member inside giving me the peace sign. Usually the crew guys only hold up one finger when I shoot them so I was happy to get two for once.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 320iso, f6.3, 1/2500th, Manual

And with that Saturday was finished….

..on the track at least.

After getting all my images edited and sent out to clients it was time to make the visit to “the Zoo.”

Basically the Zoo is the nickname for the crazy campground area in which wild and crazy fans (and many drivers and crew members) have created a massive partying tradition that has been going on for decades every time the NHRA comes into town. I had heard countless stories from drivers and crew guys telling me some of the crazy stuff that goes on there so with my camera in hand I decided to experience it firsthand.

Below, a random hot girl dances atop one of the many crazy contraptions people make with vehicles so they can drive around the campground area.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/800th, Manual

The below vehicle was two junkers chained together with sails on masts created by the crazy folks at nitropirate.com

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

I had never seen a couch and coffee table capable of doing wheelies until I shot the below frame.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

I don’t even know what to say about this junker…

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

Yep a jaccuzzi was even built into one of the fans “vehicles” driving around.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f8, 1/60th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

The guy in the bottom left of the below photo looks like he’s having a blast as everyone else parties. #lightweight

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

I don’t even know what to say about the below photo of a group of crazy guys hamming it up for the camera as one guy does a drunken backflip. Surprisingly he stuck the landing perfectly. If he was 12 years old I would have suggested he join the Chinese Olympic team…

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f4, 1/250th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

I would even get in on the action in the below shot by hopping on the nitropirate station wagon (below right) and help bounce the car up and down to make the rear bumper scrape the ground. Thanks for the pic Barry.

Photo by Barry Bergeron

Not sure the story here but my guess is the guy is either a traveling panties salesman… or he’s a creepy pervert.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 400iso, f6.3, 1/125th, Aperture Priority with SB-800 Flash

Here are a few shots to help illustrate what I meant about everyone driving random vehicles up and down the roads through the campground…

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1250iso, f2.8, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/100th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Hey Cletus, pass me a beer. OK!

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 640iso, f4.5, 1/100th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Below, fake Bret Michaels shoots a photo of a man who is far too happy to be riding on the front end of a quad driven by another man.

Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 2500iso, f5, 1/6th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Revelers surround a giant bonfire, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 800iso, f4.5, 1/40th, Manual

One of my favorite images from the Zoo was the below frame of my buddy Todd silhouetted by the big bonfire.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1000iso, f2.8, 1/1250th, Manual

Below, fans participate in the rickshaw races in the Zoo.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 5000iso, f2.8, 1/30th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Whats a drag race without a pair of drunk girls on a mechanic bull?…

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f5, 1/30th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

My evening at the Zoo would end following one hell of a spectacular lightning show, below.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 4000iso, f5, 1/3th, Manual

Time for race day!

Below, top fuel driver Doug Kalitta greets a sea of fans during pre race introductions.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 320iso, f4, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

Earlier this year the NHRA changed their starting lights (christmas tree) from the yellow staging bulbs to the new blue LED lights. Most of the drivers and fans I have spoken to don’t mind the change but I bet the owner of the below leg tattoo hates it! Good luck fixing that dude!

Nikon D700, 400mm, 320iso, f4, 1/5000th, Manual

These next two photos are a good example of how the same scene can be viewed from two completely different angles.

In the first pic (below) you see the crew members for top fuel driver Morgan Lucas standing alongside the car during the national anthem. I held the camera high up over my head near the rear wing of the car to shoot a different angle from what you would typically see if you walked by… unless you were a ridiculously tall guy like Manute Bol.. but then again if you were Manute Bol then you wouldn’t be alive to read this post.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

29 seconds after the that angle I went around to the front of the car and shot the below frame with the camera sitting on the ground to produce a completely different angle of the exact same scene. The reason you can see the deep blue sky in this shot but not the other is that in the first image the camera was aimed towards the sun and unlike the human eye which can see colors in nearly any scene, a camera has problems seeing the variance of exposures in a given scene. What that means is in order to have gotten a blue sky on the first shot that I would have had to expose much darker which would have made it nearly impossible to see details of the car and crew members in the foreground.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Below, top fuel points leader Del Worsham jokingly blocks me from shooting him as he waits in his car prior to his first round matchup. While many drivers are very serious prior to racing, Del is always laid back and fun to work with.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/4000th, Aperture Priority

Below, heat waves and pieces of rubber fly as top fuel dragster driver Cory McClenathan races down track during the first round of eliminations.

Nikon D700, 400mm, 320iso, f4.5, 1/5000th, Manual

While walking through the staging lanes I noticed a good scene for a photo with the car of pro stock driver Rodger Brogdon leading a line of several pro stock cars behind him. The colorful cars plus the green trees and nice sky made for a clean photo.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/4000th, Manual

After a first round where it was totally sunny with blue skies, we would be greeted with heavy cloud cover for round two. Cloud cover always makes for great backgrounds in images.

Below, Tony Schumacher prepares to hop into the cockpit of his US Army dragster. Schumacher would advance to the final round for the fourth race in a row (#wow) where he would lose for the fourth race in a row. (#ouch)

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In the below frame of Del Worsham I would expose for the dark clouds and use a flash to light Worshams car at the bottom of the shot as he launched off the starting line against Brandon Bernstein. The last time I saw clouds that evil looking was in Topeka where funnel clouds dropped from the sky.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In the below shot, funny car driver Johnny Gray appears between smoke in the foreground as he does his burnout in the semi finals.

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5, 1/800th, Manual

By severely underexposing the below shot I turned the fans in the grandstands into silhouettes as a beautiful cloud covered sky straight out of the intro for “The Simpsons.”

Nikon D700, 70-200mm, 100iso, f2.8, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Final round time!

Pro stock motorcycle winner: L.E. Tonglet

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Pro stock winner: Greg Anderson

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Funny car winner: Johnny Gray

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Top fuel winner: Antron Brown

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Here is one more shot from the weekend as I shot wide to show the photographers lined up to shoot winner circle photos following the race. This is one of the more tedious parts of a weekend at the races but necessary shots that clients need of their drivers.

Nikon D3s, 24-70mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

And that wraps up race 15 on the NHRA season. Up next is the biggest race of the year, the US Nationals. I think its time to bust out the soft box and studio light for some staging lanes portraits!

Here is a link to my Facebook page for my photography. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to “like” the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing as well as my favorite photos from each event, as well as some old favorites from the last 20 years!

2 Responses to “My fun weekend at the Brainerd Zoo”

  1. Good pictures, as always!

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

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